Summer is here so it’s time to get out and play in the sand. Well maybe not sand, but definitely clay!
Watching the French Open has brought back the ongoing debate over why certain countries have better clay court players than others. Naturally the discussion always come back to the Americans not having enough experience on clay and why our junior tennis players are not spending more time training on clay courts.
I can still hear the whining and complaining that accompanied the first of April every year in our household. The first of April marked the beginning of the clay court season for our son. I dreaded that month. I knew I was going to have to put up with the nonstop complaining both to and from the court about how much he hated playing on clay. Consistency was never the strong point of my son’s early tennis career. Hit it hard and if that doesn’t work hit it harder was the typical game plan. So moving onto clay exposed his lack of consistency and any laziness in foot work caused his game to go into the toilet bowl. This left me listening to the broken record repeating “I hate clay” for forty-five minutes while sitting in traffic. Oh yes the wonderful clay season.
The question may be asked why did I continue to make him play on clay if he disliked it so much? The answer is similar to any question asked of a parent when they have to make the hard decisions. Sometimes you just have to do what is best for your child. Incorporating a clay season into his tennis schedule had much less to do with his tennis and more to do with his physical well-being. Clay is much better on your knees and legs than the constant pounding on the hard courts. So many young tennis players come off the intense summer season with stress fractures and almost all tennis players will complain about pain in their knees after years of intense playing. So the decision was made to protect his knees and legs and have him train on the softer surface for the summer season.
The secondary gains of playing on the clay court were always noticed in the fall when he returned to the hard courts. His foot work was improved, consistency was getting better but most importantly he played smarter. Clay teaches you to use your brain rather than brawn.
Was it worth it to suffer through the miserable month of April? You better believe it! By May he was embracing the clay and loving the “slide” across the court. He loved the creativity of the game, experimenting with touch, trying to get the ball to kick higher or die when it hit. He learned to deal with the inconsistency of the surface and make adjustments according to how “fast or slow” the court was playing. Most importantly he loved getting into fun-filled arguments with his buddies over which ball mark was the correct one.
His summers on the clay not only protected his body and improved his game. It also has taught him the skills to maintain clay courts. His coach made sure that the clay court season wasn’t only about playing tennis on clay but also on the grooming and maintenance of clay courts. Part of his summer fees were waived if he put in a certain amount of hours working on the courts. Now at eight-teen he has the ability to work for a tennis club with clay courts if he chooses.
I hope you find time this summer to get out and play in the sand, or rather clay. When you are frustrated with the surface just remember how happy your knees will be in a few years.
The balls in your court now, what will it be hard or clay courts for the summer?