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Is Your Child Ready?

The joy of early tennis success is exciting. It can happen more frequently for female players’ as females develop physically faster. Some  young players can match the power of female pros early on. When an adolescent is athletically talented and committed to her sport, demonstrating dominance in her age group she will move on to the next level of competition. She will continue moving up to the next level until the end over end trajectory displaying physical skill, athletic ability, and results will at some point bring her to the decision of college tennis or professional tennis. Obviously this is the short version of the scenario.  There are often bumps in the road on the way. But let’s assume she has moved forward in a fairly rapid progression, has had the opportunity to test the professional tour and produced some impressive results.  The player may be physically ready for the next level but is she psycho-socially, mentally and developmentally ready for the next step? Even following the guide-lines of the WTA Player Age Eligibility rules the developmental stresses on young players are not to be underestimated.

Even though a player is supported by her parents supervision as she steps into the professional arena she will be taking on the pressure of repeat performances to maintain rankings, playing on different surfaces, in different time zones, with different weather conditions. The top professionals devote their lives to being prepared for these challenges. When you think about an adolescent making a commitment to training, participating with coaches, agents, attending player functions, participating in sponsorships obligations on a day to day basis it is not difficult to see how developmentally it can be overwhelming. it is not a surprise when these rising stars burn-out, lose their drive, or begin to doubt their abilities which can lead to drops in their performance.

So far this is glum, but the following are three inspiring articles, the first Australian, Ash Barty, turned pro just after 14 years old. She left the professional tour in 2014, returned in 2016 and became number one in the world in 2019. Canadian, Rebecca Marino, turned pro at 17, retired at 22, and at 30 returned to the tour. She is now making it into main draws. American, Coco Gauff, turned pro at 14 years old and is currently 36 on the WTA tour. She took some breaks along the way after feeling that she temporarily had lost her purpose for playing.

These are a rare breed of athletes that have an opportunity and a platform to participate at these levels. Mental, social, developmental readiness is as important if not more, than physical readiness to thrive and grow as a person and an athlete.

Ash Barty

Rebecca Marino

Coco Gauff

End of Year Reflections

End of Year Refections

No doubt 2020 has been an extremely challenging year for athletes’ of every level of participation. It is easy to fall into the void of focusing on the negatives as there are an abundance to list. Everything from athletic seasons being cancelled, athlete’s missing out on their freshman year or senior year of high school competition, the list can be extensive.

Without being inauthentic with your feelings it is equally important to recognize the headway that is occurring in taming Covid-19, and athletes’ getting back to their lives. A vaccine is looking promising and health care workers are beginning to receive it.  Yes, it doesn’t make athletes feel any better that they have lost a season but in the long run it is a blip on the larger screen of time. The bigger picture is that the Pandemic has effected the world not just the Bay Area. You are not alone.  The high school athlete is particularly vulnerable to the stresses that the pandemic has created in their lives. The Greater Good Magazine has an informative article explaining why the younger population may be more stressed, anxious or depressed than other age groups. The article isn’t sport specific but it is still a useful read.

Another website through the I.O. C. discusses the biggest mental challenges that Olympic Athletes have been facing during Covid-19. These athletes’ across the globe have not been able to compete, or train to the level they would normally train in preparation for the 2021 Olympics and also face decisions as to whether to continue in their pursuits or decide to leave their sport. The website offers a lot of good information and resources that young athlete’s can identify with. Athletes across the world share similar thoughts and feelings, doubts and hopes for the near future.

Kenyan superstar Eliud Kipchoge is featured in a video interview and offers some excellent insight/advice for all athletes. One of his quotes, “I’m a marathoner, and the marathon is like life, we have many courses in the world, flat courses, uphill and downhill and this period of Covid-19 is like an uphill course, where we need to live in a slow way, in a positive way, in order to finish the race well.”

As 2020 comes to a close this is an opportunity for young athletes, parents, coaches and teams to reflect on how they participated during this life challenge. Was more time and energy spent in the space of being angry, frustrated, feeling gipped, helpless? Or did they rise to the occasion with action that focused on, “Yes this isn’t fair, this isn’t what I chose, or how I want things to be, but it isn’t forever. I have used this odd period of time being creative to stay current in my sport. I have used this time to the best of my ability so when the window of opportunity to play/compete again I will be ready to jump in and play.”

Untold Athletes

Bay Area local tennis stand-out David Ball took his tennis talents to BYU three years ago. 2020 was to be Ball’s senior year which like most American athletes have been shuttered by the Coronavirus pandemic. Although the NCAA will allow some senior year athlete’s an opportunity to return to play next year, Ball wondered if he should move on with the next piece of his life or return to the team he felt so connected to. During the pandemic downtime he started an Instagram account, Untold Athletes, an inspirational site for athletes to share their stories. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ball about Untold Athletes and the motivation for its creation.

SZ:  Technically 2020/21 is your senior year playing tennis for BYU. What inspirational life lessons if any have you learned being on a college team that you didn’t anticipate as a freshman?

DB: I feel like I could write an entire book about life lessons I learned while playing at BYU, so I’ll just mention a few. One: A rise in tide lifts all the boats. It’s truly amazing how big of a difference one individual can make on a team. During my time at BYU, we had a losing season, and also reached the highest national ranking in 37 years. The difference was just a few individuals. Hard work and good leadership are contagious. The actions of one individual can help or hurt an entire team tremendously.

Two: Self-belief is so important. Tennis is such a mental sport, and I experienced long winning streaks and losing streaks throughout my career. In those times where I wasn’t performing, it was almost always because I didn’t have strong self-belief. In those moments, reach back and find that love of the game and remember what has gotten you this far.  

SZ: Untold Athletes is a site with relatable, motivational stories from a wide range of athletes. What inspired you to start this site? When did it launch?

DB: I started Untold Athletes one day after my senior season was cut short to COVID-19. The shock of having my season come to such an abrupt stop left me wondering where I would fill this newfound time and how I could fill the void that tennis had provided. After talking to so many athletes around the country that were coming to terms with how their seasons ended, I realized I wanted to create a platform to tell the amazing stories of athletes and provide them with both recognition and closure.

Untold Athletes launched in mid-March and almost immediately received strong national attention. I’ve always felt that every athlete, no matter what level they play at, has a powerful story. My hope is that Untold Athletes can continue to be a platform that empowers athletes and allows readers to be inspired by these powerful stories.

SZ: Who does the site reach and how does your audience become aware that it exists?

DB: Untold Athletes began on Instagram and initially targeted college athletes. I’ve been surprised however to see how many people have been interested in following along with these stories. We’ve seen coaches and parents take real interest in our platform. We’ve also seen many young athletes follow our accounts to learn more about what it takes to become a college athlete and what those realities look like.

I think our followers mostly become aware of our platform through social media. I think the stories that are told are relatable and honest, which makes them very easy to share. Some of the stories we’ve shared have received over 100,000 impressions which has been extremely rewarding to see these athletes get the recognition they deserve.

SZ: Have you made your decision as to whether to return to BYU for your senior tennis year or move onto the next steps of your life? Either way what influenced that decision?

DB: Because the season was cut short, I was granted an extra year of eligibility. After a lot of thought, I decided not to return to BYU for my extra year. Instead, I decided to accept a job offer at Zoom, a company that has obviously been doing well and one that I felt was helping the world during a challenging time. The job offer and the desire to take the next steps in my life were big decisions in my life, but I also knew there would be uncertainty, because of the virus, with the 2021 season. It was very hard to not return and be with my teammates, but ultimately I’ve felt good about my decision.

SZ: What advice if any do you have for the athletes that are going through the same difficult situation as you have this year?

DB: I would tell athletes to use this time in the most constructive way possible. If you’re not competing as much as you’d like to, use it as a time to step back and take a deep breath. Evaluate how you’re doing things then work to improve yourself. I’d also remind everyone to have fun. If this has taught me anything it’s that the things that you love can be taken away in an instant. Cherish the opportunities you have as an athlete and when you do, I promise the game will give you more than you can ever imagine!

SZ: What do you foresee in Untold Athletes next steps as a resource for athletes?

DB: I hope that Untold Athletes can grow to become a community where athletes, coaches, parents, and fans can come together and rejoice in the power of sports. Too often sports storytelling platforms are reserved only for the best of the best, but I think we miss out on so many opportunities to learn from each other when we have that attitude. In 7 months we’ve shared stories on over 100 athletes, ranging from topics of injury, identity, mental health, victory and so much more. Everyone has a story, and every story deserves to be told!

Dave thank you for taking time out of your busy day for this interview.