Over my 9 years coaching at West Ottawa, I've gone to A LOT of USTA tournaments to watch my players compete. This was one of the most enjoyable tournaments I've ever gone to watch. Here's a basic progression of my USTA tournament experience throughout the years:
Phase 1 - The first 9 years:
- Every tournament would have between 1-4 kids entered total.
- 1 or 2 of the kids would be USTA regulars, who knew the process and were very high level players. These were the kids that would eventually go on to play college ball.
- The rest of the players would sign up on a whim to try it out, get crushed, and then stop entering into future tournaments. There would basically be a small revolving door of a few players who didn't understand the USTA system, try it out, then drop out of it.
- I would constantly encourage players to enter these tournaments more, but it never really materialized into much. I would leave thinking "There's so much room for improvement, but I don't know how to make it happen".
- Key players in the program (you know who you are) started to pick tournaments and promoted them to their teammates, rather than me be the one pushing it.
- We started regularly getting 8-20 players in a USTA tournament, depending on the time of year and distance needed to travel. Our participation in USTA events is now literally the best of ANY TEAM in West Michigan.
- Many of the players are inexperienced, but they understand that it takes time and they are patiently sticking it out and improving steadily
- Our players looked as talented and experienced as the players from ANY SCHOOL. We are pushing far through the draws. When we are the seeded players, we almost always play to or exceed our seed. And when we are unseeded, we are regularly upsetting the seeded players. We are playing aggressively and smart. The tournament director pulled me aside on Saturday evening to compliment how good ALL of the West Ottawa players looked. We had more players entered than any other school, and the quality from top to bottom was terrific.
- Basically, by sticking together as a group, we don't have the revolving door of players dropping out that we had years ago. It took a couple years, but our group is maturing. There's lots of players who can potentially break out in any given tournament these days and have a strong result.
- A special shout out to Drew Dykens, who made it to the Finals of the Boys 14's in his first ever Level 5 Tournament. He had to beat a seed, plus two other very solid tennis players just to get to the finals, and he just about beat one of West Michigan's top juniors in the finals.
- Another huge shout out goes to Kayla Lebster, but the details of why will come in an upcoming post I'm working on. In short, she's met a pretty cool milestone recently, and we are going to take an in depth look at what we can all learn from it.