This week I am in West Chester Pennsylvania coaching for the USTA Eatsern Section at Boys and Girls 14 Zone Team Championships (Zonals). The top players – 24 of them – play against top players from other USTA Sections. There are 4 Zone Team Championships and all of the sections are represented. Larger sections have more teams than smaller sections and some sections may have teams at more than one zonal event so that the event to make it even. As the name implies, zonals attempt to put teams from the same zone of the country together at the same zonal.
So why do I take time away from a busy summer to coach zonals. It’s not the money, financially it’s the lowest pay period of my summer, but zonals is a unique experience. I get to coach against and along side of some really great coaches. To see what they do differently and what they do the same. More importantly, I get to see what works and what doesn’t. The team with the most talent doesn’t always win, coaching does help. It’s also an opportunity to work exclusively with players who are all nationally ranked. Probably the most rewarding part of zonals is taking a group of kids that are used to competing against each other and making them into a team. That is rewarding in many ways. Zonals should be a truly positive experience in a players junior tennis career but also, these kids are going to have to learn to play on a team if they want to play college tennis, which most of them do. Let’s face it, very few Eastern kids make it to the pro’s. There aren’t a lot of Christina McHale’s out there. I was lucky enough to have Christina on my team at 14 and Under Zonals but to say I coached her would be a lie. Truth is she was never in a match that was close enough that she needed coaching and with 5 singles matches going at the same time and coaching only allowed on changeovers, there was always a match on court that was a lot closer and needed my attention. I don’t believe she ever lost more than 1 game in a set so the extent of my coaching was to tell her to keep doing what she was doing. On the other end of the spectrum, there have been matches where I needed to talk to my player on almost every changeover. Sometimes it’s just a matter of them feeling more confident with their coach watching, sometimes, particularly in the younger age groups, the strokes are there, but the tactics and strategies are not yet as fully developed.
Another big things for me at zonals is what happens after the matches are done for the day. Most of the time, the coaches from the EasternSection go out to eat together. It’s fun to talk shop with so many talented coaches. Even when we arrange things for the kids to do, the coaches sit together (it’s more fun for the kids that way). I hope to write more about the event in the coming days and who knows, I may have the next Christina McHale on my team again.