Tracy Lawson blog: The junior tennis experience, then and now

April 19, 2017 03:08 PM

Tracy Lawson teaches tennis with a focus on early development at the Ahwatukee Tennis Club in Phoenix. She is a past-president of USTA, Central Arizona, and she currently serves as chairperson of a number of USTA committees, including the Central Arizona Junior Council, Southwest Section Junior Competition Committee and Southwest Section Coaches Commission. In addition, she is a member of the national USTA Junior Competition Committee. Lawson is a member of the USTA 10 & under Workshop Faculty, USTA Player Development EDC (Early Development Camp) Lead Faculty, and she is a consultant for USTA Player Development for Early Development Camps and Train the Trainers. She has developed 10U events and other tournaments, boosting junior tournament participation in the USTA Central Arizona District, and she was selected to be a Net Generation Ambassador.

Lawson is married and has three children, who are all involved in tennis. Daughter Kelsey played four years of varsity tennis for DePaul University and now works for USTA Central Arizona as its Early Development Coordinator. Son Alex played for the University of Notre Dame, where he earned All-American status and is currently on the pro tour, ranked No. 271 in the world in doubles. Youngest son Zach played high school tennis and continues to play intramural tennis, along with other sports at Notre Dame.

Lawson is blogging for for the next several weeks. In her second blog, she writes about how tennis today is so different from when she played as a junior.

By Tracy Lawson

Tennis today is different in virtually every way from when I played. There are obvious differences in equipment, strokes, how kids learn to play with different balls and court sizes. Something that isn’t talked about much is how different the tennis experience was for a junior player years ago.

Tracy-Lawson-blog2At 12, I had done well enough in the Southwest to earn the opportunity to play national tournaments. 1977 didn’t have computers or smart phones to book flights, save boarding passes, enter tournaments, check rankings, check draws or even call home. To enter a tournament, you’d get endorsed by the USTA, and they’d send you a paper entry form. I’d fill the form out and mail it in.

My first big tournament was in Charlotte. From there, I was to go to Ohio and then Florida. My parents couldn’t afford to come, so at the age of 12, they sent me across the country to play. They gave me an airline ticket booklet containing all the tickets for the summer – “Don’t lose this!” – handed me $70 – “Make it last!” – and put me on a plane.  

I arrived in Charlotte, having changed planes unassisted in Atlanta, and someone from the tournament picked me up. They took me to the club where I was assigned a host family. I repeated this scenario every summer, every city, every tournament, for the time I was in juniors.

If you find this shocking, a 12-year-old girl traveling by herself for a month of consecutive tournaments in different states, I wasn’t alone. I was with my doubles partner, Roberta. We were unafraid and excited. This was how most of us traveled to play tournaments. There weren’t many coaches or parents traveling with players then.

We learned so much, like how to:  

  • Problem solve when the tournament forgets to pick you up at the airport (remember, no cell phones);
  • Make friends, get along with people;
  • Communicate with housing, tournament staff, flight attendants, etc.;
  • Advocate for ourselves;
  • Be responsible for match preparation: check draws, arrange warm up, have water, etc.
  • Manage time, BE on time;
  • Play matches without anyone watching, play better next round with no coaching;
  • Manage money, not lose your money;
  • Send thank you notes, be grateful.

It was a lesson in independence, responsibility and resiliency. It was a lesson in compromise. But, most of all, it was fun. We were getting life experience AND got to play tennis. Ranking wasn’t the motivation. In fact, rankings came out only once a year, to your home club, on a printout.  

A few girls traveled with their parents, but most of us were on an adventure that tennis gave us. Tennis has become a big business with a potentially big payoff. The investment in every respect, at every level, has changed. Points, ranking, UTR, ROI seem to be the focus today. But the opportunity to make it an adventure is still there, if parents and coaches choose to see the value in it.

Roberta and I remember the experience was our payoff.