As a coach for over 20 years, it is always such a pleasure to see a player come full circle.
About a month ago, I was teaching my regular Saturday morning schedule when Lauren Embree and two of her University of Florida teammates showed up at the Marco Island Racquet Center.
They were here on spring break and Lauren asked me if they could use a court to hit on, so I put her on her home court No. 1, where she had perfected her skills as a youth.
My young 9-year-old student, Jasmin Schauer, who was having a lesson on court No. 2, was mesmerized by the girls hitting on the court next to us. I stopped for a water break and was talking to Jasmin's mom. We noticed Jasmin sitting on the bench in between the courts watching the girls hit.
The mom commented to me that she had never seen her daughter be so focused on something in her life. I asked the mom if she minded if I spent the last 10 minutes of the lesson just letting Jasmin watch Lauren and the girls hit.
"My first impression was 'wow' the girls are really powerful," Jasmin said. "Watching Lauren Embree and the other two girls practice made me see how all the hard work they put into tennis since they were my age got them to be so good."
Jasmin saw how good she could be if she really focused, kept practicing and worked really hard.
"It made me want to work even harder to maybe be as good as them someday, she said.
In one month's time, she has graduated from the 10-and-under, 60-foot court pressure-less tennis balls, to full court, regular pressure balls and has moved up in the City Kids Junior program to my top group of players.
Lauren was pleased to learn that Jasmin was being inspired by Lauren and her UF hitters.
"Knowing that little girl looks up to us as players puts a smile on my face," she said. "I am glad she knows that with hard work you can be successful."
Embree credits her father, Keith with her success.
"I give a lot of credit to my dad for going out there every night when I was younger," she said. "I am glad the young girl got to see us hit. I'm sure she will be a great junior."
Embree was again chosen the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
She leads her Florida team into the NCAA tournament into the round of the Sweet 16 this week as the defending team champions. Embree also will play in singles and doubles competition when the team championship concludes.
No. 2 Florida went against No. 15 Michigan on Thursday in Athens, Ga.
I have known Lauren Embree since she was about 9 years old. I had the pleasure of observing her with her dad, Keith, hit thousands of balls here at the Racquet Center.
As a professional instructor and coach, I realize how difficult it can be to have the patience, to allow young players to grow and improve at their own pace. As a tennis parent, I realize how difficult it can be to not want to push your child too hard and too fast, because we feel they are not keeping up with the expectations that as a parent we may unknowingly and unconsciously be wanting them to achieve.
Tennis is different than all other sports, in that it is individual competition that does not allow coaching during match play. This alone puts a lot of pressure on kids at a young age, that honestly creates an environment of emotional pressure they are not yet mature enough to deal with.
As a coach, I saw that Lauren, at a very early age, had the focus, drive, devotion and commitment to aspire in a sport that requires a lot of self esteem. As a tennis parent , I saw that both of Lauren's parents, Keith and Nancy, had the patience and understanding to let Lauren grow and achieve at her own pace, while at the same time stand behind her.
They gave their support and always let her know she could take it as far as she wanted to, but that it was her choice to devote the time and effort to accomplish her success.
Lauren had one of the best junior careers that, as a professional coach, I have ever seen. She won several national titles and held top national and international juniors rankings and was wild-carded into Grand Slam professional events.
She has gone on to prove herself as a top-notch college athlete at UF and seeing her practice and hit with her Gator teammates has reenforced my belief on how beneficial team tennis is for players of any age.
The camaraderie and moral support that Lauren and her Gator teammates showed during their hitting session, is the same that I see from my members at the racquet club who are in their '50s, '60s and '70s, as well as the juniors who participate in my City Kids Juniors.
The sport of tennis is a social activity that we can utilize our entire life. While we may not have the God-given talents of Lauren or the players we watch on TV, we can play and compete and socially interact with our friends, and make new acquaintances.
Middle school, high school and college tennis, along with Junior League Tennis, present a format for kids to really shine, because coaching is permitted and the events are scored in a team format. In this team format players are not all alone and have teammates to cheer them on. Even if you may not win your match, you have participated and competed with the team. And like other sports, I may strike out when I'm at bat, or I may miss a free throw, or drop a pass, but my team can still win.
The Marco Island Racquet Center offers a full spectrum of activities, ranging from private lessons, daily adult clinics, to juniors tennis groups. We also have daily round robins, league play, a visitors' players game finder book and a ball machine for practice. The Racquet Center also has two racquet ball courts and we now have three pickle ball courts. We also do racquet stringing and re-gripping.
Check out my web site at marco-island-tennis.com and drop by and see us at 1275 San Marco Road, or call 239-394-5454.