Influencing The Next Generation –What example are you setting?

One of my favorite activities is to share stories of the lessons that I have learned throughout my many years being involved with tennis. I love the game so much. In addition, teaching and helping others runs through my veins, so I hope you will enjoy and find value in the following story.

Right after high school, I went to train at the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club in Carlsbad, California. I spent roughly six hours a day in training, not to mention the fact that I often left on trips to play pro tournaments throughout the U.S.  In addition to playing and training, I would help out as a student coach with the high school group in order to give back after my long hours of training.

One specific day, my coach at the time arranged for a few of the players from a local, California D2 team to attend and hit in with some of the better players in the high school group.  Included in the high school group was one standout 12-year-old girl named Pam that we knew would LOVE the experience.   And, it would provide the college players a chance to be mentors, a great example, and a potential inspiration, which could then raise Pam’s game to an even higher level. Boy, were we wrong!  (We will get back to Pam near the end of the story. Stay tuned.)

The College players arrived 10 minutes late and showed little effort or urgency in getting onto the court.  I looked over at the high school players (who were initially excited that they were coming) and literally every single student was watching the college players’ slow and lethargic movements.  I still remember how drastically the vibe changed. It went from excitement to the question of: “This is the work ethic that a top D2 player has?” Eventually, the college players got themselves ready, and the high school players were called over and warmups began.

It is always exciting for me as a coach to watch the dynamic between older and younger players (high school vs. college players).  The high school player sometimes puts so much pressure on themselves that they feel they need to constantly hit winners (and end up losing badly). But other times, they are fairly clueless about the gravity of the situation. And, they end up making it a heck of a match (a win in this case is not uncommon). The college player feels pressure from the first ball in warmup, as they do not for any reason want to lose to a young buck.

The matches started. There were three total matches, comprised of the top 1, 2 and 3 players from the college team and the top 1, 2 and 3 players from the high school group.  The number one match started off tight in each set. The college player, as expected, was able to win the key points and won the match 6-3, 6-3.  The number two match was about as tight as they come, with the college player winning the first set, the high school player winning the second, and they were deadlocked at 3-3 in the final set as time expired for the day.  The number three match was similar to the number one match, with one exception. The high school player took it to the college player and won 7-5, 6-2.  This college player was not pleased and showed it.

Did you think I forgot to tell you about Pam?  Now it was Pam’s turn!  She was so excited. I can still remember to this day the nervous smile on her face.  Pam jumped in and started a set against the number 3 college player.  This is the same college player who had just gotten beat by a 14-year-old and was now walking around with his sense of entitlement showing. He was rolling his eyes at having to hit with a 12-year-old girl, saying out loud to his teammates that it was “a waste of time”.  I glanced over at the high school players, and they all heard him loud and clear. We put a stop to the singles match quickly, as Pam’s eyes were beginning to well up with embarrassment. Even sadder was the reaction from his two other college teammates: they actually agreed with him! They even had the nerve to approach my coach at the time and describe how it was a waste of time. They felt they were being marketed because the parents were watching (I still have no idea what that means) and that the level of tennis was not high enough for them to attend in the future. I am not sure if there has ever been a more obvious case of entitlement in my experience!

I am still to this day horrified by how this scenario played out. And, to be honest, it is just one of the many experiences that has been frozen in my memory and which has helped shape the standards at High Altitude Tennis Academy.  Yes, we can prove that our modern developmental method works with actual data.  BUT, the biggest part of what we do is to show each student how much we care in order to earn their trust. That way, we can teach character, class, and championship leadership. We joke that we are the entitlement removal experts. But really, after retelling this story, it’s no joke.

So what is my main purpose in telling you this story?  My hope is that even one up-and-coming college athlete will spend the time to read this and realize how important their role is in the future of this great sport. Younger kids are watching your every move, and you are teaching them whether you like it or not.  What example do you want to set? What type of person do you want to be remembered as when this journey called life is all over? It’s one of the greatest gifts in life to be able to positively affect someone else’s life. Don’t take it for granted, and don’t miss an opportunity to be a big buddy to an aspiring future tennis star!

By: Ryan Segelke
Founder of High Altitude Tennis Academy.
Denver, Colorado, USA.


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