In the first part of my interview with my buddy Garry Valk, we talked about his daughter, Alli, finding a passion for tennis and sticking through the tough times brought on by losing.
“It’s a sport of losing,” Garry said last week. This stuck with me. How do young tennis players go on?
The conversation picks up after Garry told me about Alli making it to the BC Nationals and having a tough time.
KC: But at least she made it, right? She wasn’t discouraged by the losing, she accomplished her goal of making it to this level.
GV: Sure, but it’s always a moving target. This is the beautiful thing about tennis, it teaches you both to live in the moment, to accept what you are by also realizing it’s within your power to work for more. These days Alli is a nationally-ranked tennis player, but she’s still hungry because she keeps chasing kids who are better than her.
KC: You’ve coached your daughter a lot in tennis. How do you approach teaching the game to young athletes?
GV: First, I don’t put pressure on her to win. It’s an individual sport, the pressure has to come from within. Tennis is the toughest game I’ve witnessed. It’s the toughest sport. It’s physical, they’re on the court 15 hours a week. They have to learn footwork, forehands, backhands, serves. Good players will target your weaknesses and exploit them. So, to coach, you have to help the player understand her weaknesses.
KC: What are some common weaknesses in young tennis players?
GV: The weaknesses are so specific, like handling a high ball to the back hand side. Young players just lack the strength. Good players challenge your movement, they move you side to side. Most players can hit balls standing still that are hit up the middle, so as soon as you move the player it’s really hard to hit that ball.
KC: So it’s more strategy then technique?
GV: Yes! Way more. Tennis is mental in so many ways. It’s the only sport you’re not allowed to coach. You can barely look at your kid as they’re playing. The whole way through each tournament, they’re on their own.
KC: That's got to be tough for you. So it’s all about the practice habits then?
GV: Practice habits, repetition. The mental part of tennis is how you deal with your emotions. What if your opponent is cheating you on big points?
KC: Wait, what? How can you possibly cheat in tennis?
GV: Buddy, they cheat. Believe me. They don’t call their shots properly.
KC: Wait, they’re responsible for calling a ball in or out? There are no referees to yell at?
GV: That’s right, it’s based on the honour system, but they’re kids. Some don’t honour the honour system. How do you deal with that as a player? Every player handles it differently. It’s the hardest sport to parent. When you watch a match and you’ve seen your daughter train so hard and she’s getting cheated and you can’t do anything.
KC: How do you move on?
GV: Every kid has to deal with those situations, it’s not about the coaching. I’ve always told Alli that those kids will never last, so you just play the right way and just get better than them. Those points won’t matter in the end. At the end of the day, tennis is a game of losing, so those points won’t matter.
In part 3 of coffee with Garry, we’ll talk about how the positives in tennis out-weight the negatives, specific shots Alli Valk is working on how tennis is more dangerous than hockey.