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Athlete Centered Coach #23 - FOMO

Throughout the past 36 years, I have observed a concerning trend: a decline in recreational tennis participation and a significant gap between casual players and those deeply dedicated to the sport. It was simpler to guide players from novice to intermediate to advanced levels. An older statistic that stuck with me, possibly from the 1990s, indicated that one would progress to the intermediate level of every twelve beginner children and start engaging in matches. For every twelve intermediates, one would advance to become a tournament player. However, 66% of tournament players would only participate in one event before potentially quitting tournaments and even the sport. I am unsure how many kids played a single tournament, shifted their focus to high school competitions, or dropped out entirely. Unfortunately, I lack data on this aspect. This sobering data motivated me to aim for at least 2, and perhaps 4, intermediate players from my beginner classes, followed by 2 to 4 advanced players from that group.

My approach was fairly straightforward. I initiated them with two-hour weekly sessions in a small group, covering all strokes, engaging in games, and progressing to set play. Those who excelled in set play moved to the intermediate level, while those who struggled repeated the beginner class.

Players advanced through the levels until we had enough time to commence advanced classes.

Over time, the number of weekly requests for one session has gradually risen. Initially, 95% of players attended twice weekly, but now 95% attend only once. I am striving to encourage more players to return for two weekly sessions. The main obstacle appears to be the fear of missing out, as parents tend to overschedule their children for various activities, resulting in a lack of depth in their tennis experience despite having a broad range of experiences.

Developing relationships with parents to help them see a better way requires time, trust, and nurturing. Without a strong passion, there is a risk of lacking success and missing out on opportunities to engage with other highly motivated individuals. Research indicates that the people we surround ourselves with greatly influence our character, thoughts, and behavior. Therefore, it is important to consider whether we want to cultivate a culture of excellence, passion, and fulfillment or one of distraction and disappointment. Reflecting on missed opportunities in the past, such as not playing enough tennis, can serve as a reminder to allow younger generations to avoid similar regrets. I aim to overcome the fear of missing out and embrace the joy of focusing on specific goals. Pursuing a clear objective may require prioritizing certain activities while dedicating time and effort to excel in what truly matters. My goal is to start producing more advanced players very soon!


Bill Patton has been coaching tennis for 36 years; he is a USPTA Elite Tennis Professional, author of 8 books in print, and lives in San Diego, CA. He coaches at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, CA. 619-736-8975


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