Feb 3 2014

Snow and Tell (a not so tennis-y post)

Birmingham | Weather       Clif Render      

Interstate GridlockThe highs in Birmingham this past weekend were in the 70's (Fahrenheit) - perfect weather for tennis. This was not the case, however, last Tuesday, January the 28th when the entire Birmingham Metro area froze solid. Tuesday and Wednesday of last week (January 28th and 29th), tens of thousands of people were stranded away from home, thousands of cars were left abandoned, very few roads were left passable and no one's life went untouched by the furious grip of mother nature. These are the details of my journey and of the people who shared in it...


Jan 2 2014

How To Avoid Getting Bumped in 2014

Doubles | NTRP | Rules | Singles | Team Captain | USTA       Clif Render      

I don’t know about you, but I'm really looking forward to playing tennis in 2014. For the first time since I started playing tennis 6 years ago, I'll be playing at a new USTA NTRP rating level, and I can't wait to get started! Of course, I probably should have started playing at this level some time ago but for various reasons (none of them intentional), my computer rating has not changed in all that time. For the longest time, I didn’t question accuracy of the system's assessment of my abilities. Over the past year or two, however, I've had a number of people tell me that they couldn't believe that I continued to stay at my same rating level while many of the people around me (some better, some worse) got bumped up. This prompted me to spend a good deal of time researching the system and how it works in order to understand it better. So, what I'd like to do to kick off 2014 is to share a little bit of what I've learned about how the system works and how your play influences it's analysis of your abilities.

Before I get started, let me add a little disclaimer. I absolutely DO NOT endorse gaming or artificially manipulating the system in any way. Having played at a level where sandbaggers are common (are there any levels where they're not?), there's nothing I hate to see more than a sandbagger who's more concerned with winning and making it to Nationals than they are concerned with playing good competitive tennis. That being said; I still think it's beneficial for us to understand exactly how the system works, so we will all know what's going on...


Dec 2 2013

It's All Babolat's Fault

Babolat | Equipment | League Tennis | NTRP | Technology | USTA       Clif Render      

Babolat AeroPro Drive 2013Today is December 2nd, 2013. The 2013 Year End Ratings just came out and, because of my brilliantly above average play this last year, I got bumped up a rating level. "Yaaaay", you say? Yes, "Yaaay" and "Boo", all at the same time. You see, I've played at the same NTRP rating level since I first started playing six years ago. That's a LONG time! In that time, I've been a player, captain, co-captain, partner and adviser, and I have loved every minute of it! I know all the other captains at my level around town. I played with many of them on multi-club teams, and I've grown comfortable with my place in the Birmingham tennis ecosystem. Unfortunately, that place is no more. I have just been pushed out of that place of comfort, and now I have to learn how to fly all over again before men's leagues get started back up in the Spring. My entire tennis life has just changed and whom do I have to blame...I mean...thank for all this? There is no question in my mind who is responsible. It is Babolat's fault plain and simple. So, thank you, Babolat. You've turned out to be a great big pain in my butt cap!...


Nov 30 2013

Court Burns, Blisters, and Cramps, Oh My!

Apparel | Health | Injury Prevention | League Tennis       Clif Render      

I have always been a decent athlete - naturally good at most sports but I never played them at a very high level. I played sports in elementary school, in Junior High School, and a little bit in high school but never anything at the college level. So when I started playing competitive recreational tennis (is that an oxymoron?) as an adult, there was a lot that I needed to learn. If you're a former collegiate athlete then you probably already know all of this. If not, read on.

First off, yes, you really do need to wear UnderArmour. Well, not necessarily UnderArmour but any good brand of performance undergarments are a huge help. Early on I discovered that after running or playing tennis for an extended period of time, I would find painful red rashes appearing in between my legs and on my sides. At first I thought it was from something I might have been exposed to working in the yard...


Oct 23 2013

How to Lose a Great Partner

Doubles | League Tennis | USTA       Clif Render      

Several weeks ago, I spent three days straight in bed suffering through major back spasms. Back issues have been an ongoing issue for me. When I stop exercising my back and my core, I end up overdoing it, getting hurt, and facing several painful days in a state of almost complete uselessness. Well, work has been particularly demanding of late and so, what did I do? That's right. I quit exercising. And I did, indeed, suffer for it.

Well, I'm two days shy of the two week mark, and I have made great progress on the road to recovery - so much so that I felt good enough to play tonight in a USTA league match. We were short on people, and I really love the guys that I'm playing with so I was really itching to get out there. The captain put me on the third doubles court which was good since I really didn't know if I would even be able to complete a full match. I've only been on a tennis court twice in the past two weeks. The first time was 5 days ago when I just hit with the guys for thirty minutes. That thirty minutes resulted in a good bit of pain. The second time was 2 days ago (with my son who's way awesomer than me) when I was on court for an hour and ended up tight but only hurting a little bit. I honestly expected that I would not be able to finish the match. As it turns out, my premonition was correct but not for the reason I expected...


Oct 8 2013

The Coman Tiebreak Demystified

Doubles | League Tennis | Rules | Singles | Team Captain | USTA       Clif Render      

If you have played USTA League Tennis at any point since the early 2000's, then you probably have some kind of experience with the Coman Tiebreak Procedure. Even though it has been the USTA standard tiebreak procedure for many years, there is still quite a bit of confusion over it. Finding official non section-specific rules can be a very difficult and frustrating experience. The best information that I could find on the USTA's website was in the Improve Your Game section on the Tiebreakers page. There are many other places online that offer information about the Coman tiebreak online, unfortunately, most of them just repeat the same information:

The Coman Tiebreak Procedure is played out the same as the standard tiebreak except that court sides are changed after the first point, then after every four points (i.e., after the 5th, 9th, 13th, 17th points, etc.), and at the conclusion of the tiebreak.

Remarkably unhelpful.

Most league players (like myself) head into a tiebreak knowing in general how it should work but missing certain key details that we don't even realize we need to know...


Aug 26 2013

One Simple Tip to Win Close Matches

Doubles | League Tennis       Clif Render      

The other night I was engaged in a real battle. We were very evenly matched with our competition. We had traded games back and forth and were all tied up at 2-2 in the first set when, all of the sudden, it happened. We got broken. We had lost focus just for a moment on my partner's serve, and that was all it took. We were now down a break. We were really close to breaking back during the next game but just couldn't convert. They consolidated and were now ahead at 4-2. We got broken again, and it was now 5-2. The wheels were really beginning to fall off, and I had absolutely no idea why.

That was when my partner realized what was happening and summarized both the problem and the solution in one simple phrase. He hopped over to me and said "Hit good shots, not great ones." That one sentence stopped me in my tracks. "Hit good shots, not great ones," he had said. Thinking back, I realized that he was right. We were very evenly matched with our competition but, because we were so evenly matched, both my partner and I were trying to make great shots and failing. In a situation where any little thing could mean the difference between winning and losing, we were simply trying to do too much. We were actively giving the match away. He was exactly right. Ugh...


Aug 11 2013

Open Source the NTRP

History | League Tennis | NTRP | Rules | Tencap Tennis | USTA       Clif Render      

As an active adult who loves playing sports, I am continually amazed at how well the USTA Adult (Age 18 and over) League System works. The USTA organizes and manages league play for (at last count) over 800,000 adults around the country. That's a pretty big endeavor. The fact that the system works at all is amazing! It really is a testament to the hard work of thousands of individual volunteers, pros, coaches and staff members around the country. If USTA League Tennis was only a localized endeavor, manpower alone would be enough. But, since the sport also involves District, Sectional, and National levels of play, a little electronic assistance is an absolute necessity.

Enter the NTRP. The NTRP (The National Tennis Rating Program) is the rating system that the USTA devised to group league players into common ability levels in order to make league play more fair and competitive. It is this system that is the backbone of what makes USTA League play work nationwide. Think about it. Without a common rating system, Players from different areas of the country wouldn't be able to play each other on even footing. It would be like tournaments only having an "Open" Division rather than subdividing players into common levels of play. How many of us would even consider playing if we knew that we had no chance of winning? But it's not just about winning, of course. It's also about seeing improvement...


Aug 9 2013

Questions to Ask Your New Doubles Partner

Doubles | League Tennis | USTA       Clif Render      

When reading through a great post on Doubles communication by Kim Selzman of TennisFixation.com on P.J. Simmons' The Road to 4.5 Tennis Blog, I realized that there is one aspect of on-court communication that doesn't typically get a lot of attention - the introduction.

You can read my thoughts about about the Six Key Questions to Ask Your New Doubles Partner over on P.J.s blog. Enjoy!


Jul 31 2013

The Tennis Psychologist: Psychology for Club Players and Captains

Book Review | League Tennis | Rules | Team Captain | USTA       Clif Render      

As a USTA League tennis player and captain, I'm always on the lookout for good information about captaining. While there are a few good blogs and forum threads out there, there has traditionally been very little in the way of published material specifically geared toward captaining a team. If you're interested in improving your game, your tactics or your mental outlook during play there are tons of great options on the market. If, however, you are looking to learn more about the deep dark hidden world of captaining, your options have traditionally been quite limited. Now, thanks to the wonders of self-publishing, this is no longer the case.

The Tennis Psychologist: Psychology for Club Players and Captains is a truly great resource for captains looking for a fresh perspective. While I may not necessarily agree with every position taken by the author, I can't deny that this book does a fantastic job of covering nearly every significant aspect of being a captain and doing it the most effective way possible.

The material in Lobley's book is presented in a clear and concise manner and is easily followed. It's a quick read packed with lots of excellent food for thought. It is cleanly divided into sections that are very well self-contained and can either be read as a part of the overall narrative or separately as need and interest directs....