Early Years As A Player

A note from Coach Carey

Tennis in Christchurch, New Zealand

I was born in Christchurch, New Zealand and have one brother (Christopher) and one sister (Angela) who both played some tennis at some stage of their lives. My parents both played club tennis, but only socially, so I really never played too much with them except on Sunday afternoons at the local church courts. I remember that tennis was fun and it seemed that I was always on my bike heading for the courts to play someone, or to find a partner by hanging out at the hitting wall. I broke so many windows at the school courts hitting wall (as my power increased so did the number of windows I broke and besides, who was the designer who put windows in a building right next to a hitting wall!) that the local Priest made me fix ANY window that broke anywhere in the school. That wasn't so bad as I had to get out of class to do the job.

Why I love tennis

Some of the ideas in teaching and coaching that I have today stem from the experiences of those days. I was too shy to really call other players and its seemed that it was hard to find good practice partners. (I was determined that I would help kids today not have the same problems). After a year or two of smashing that wall and shattering the daily calm of the nun's and priest's existence, I got bored with only playing recreationally so I joined a small club (Waimairi) which, if you wanted to sound it out would be Why-mar- ee. I was able to hook up with the best mentor I could ever imagine, Mr. Bob Pratley, who was a guy who played at the club and who seemed the most friendly chap at the place. He played league himself and he asked me to hit. I think my dad was worried about me biking the 7-8 miles it took to get to the club, so he arraged for Bob to "be there" when I arrived as he was around there more than I could figure out why. I would bang on the concrete block wall for 30 minutes, and then Bob would show up. No cell phones!

Bob and I had epic battles and very often no one else was playing. He would literally NOT miss a ball unless I forced him to. He was a good soccer player, very fit with somewhat of a "gut" so I thought I could wear him down - wrong. He could run all day! So I developed my game against him and I set a goal that if I was to be a good player I had to BEAT BOB soundly. Stay tuned! It took me forever to take him out. I developed a good approach shot that I would aim to his backhand and he really couldn't pass me too well as he sliced all his backhands. He could, however, lob the ball over a net man as easily as a kid scarfs down a piece of candy. So I developed a good overhead over my backhand side as he was always befuddled as to why he could lob over that side and yet I could smash every lob back down at him.

Well, he began to ATTACK the net against me to stop me from hitting overheads off his slowly deteriorating backhand lob strategy. Now, I had to pass a big man at the net who was at least a foot taller than me, or lob him. What do you think I did? I LOBBED him, as it was the most painful shot for him (he would smile as he came in to the net, but frown as he ran away from the net so I put two and two together) Not painful for him physically, but definitely mentally. He would just shake his head every time I did that, and it wore him down a bit as he would start to miss some easy approach shots or volleys. His attacking plan was not as strong now as he had hoped. Well, wouldn't you know it, he began to COUNTER this strategy! He started to DROP SHOT me and bring me in to the net so I really wasn't in control of the points anymore. This really bothered me as I wanted to be the one who came in when it was in my best interests. The reader will now be asking,"What did Carey do next.?" Well. I developed a better serve and volley game and attacked all his second serves to stop him from drop-shotting me! And this went on for months!!

I then entered my first tournament at age 13 (In New Zealand we had under 13, under 15, under 17, under 19) as I had won some league matches against a few of the top age group players so I had a little confidence going that I might be able to win some matches. In Christchurch where I lived the tennis was very well organized. The tournaments were massive all-week affairs that included ALL of the age groups that I mentioned. Opening day included a huge crowd of players (usually 250 or more) sitting on the grass court grandstands listening to the officials detail the weeks schedule. It was very fun and then we were "off to the races" so to speak. We had to umpire a match if we were in the bottom half of the draw (the top half was were the lucky ones to play early) and it was often a tough day in the sun. If we umpired an under 19 match those guys/gals took us to the cleaners. They tried to intimidate us little guys with comments such as,"C'mon that ball was in by at least a foot. How can you see that up there little boy. Are you really going to call that out?" And at times later in my career you might umpire a player you had just beaten, and he was in another age group as well, and he was mad at you. You got very tough with this, and after a while I learned to do two things: First, win every match and then I didn't have to umpire, and I was first on as the top seed. Second, I stopped letting the players walk all over me with line call protests that were just ridiculous and petty; and often retaliation for a previous call they didn't like anyway. Remember that they made the calls and I only was there to keep score and overrule obvious calls, but NO ONE told me what that really mean't I had to do! I quit even saying anything unless the ball was CLEARLY a mistake. That shut them up. It was a bad system allowing mature players to badger younger players and it is not used today. We use trained adults today, so I hope the reader will forgive my strong feelings on the subject and be glad we have good help today - even if you think a roving umpire is not enough, you wouldn't want your 11-year old up in the chair in the sun arguing with two hot-headed teenagers!

Stay tuned for the next phase....

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