Graeme and I took 8 kids to Cebu over the long Easter weekend for an intensive clay-court training session.
Our flight left Hong Kong at 1:30am, and after a slight delay at the airport, we finally arrived in our five star resort and hit the pillows by 5am. The kids got in a few hours of needed sleep before they headed to CITCI for their first session on the red dirt.
For many of the juniors, it was their first time playing on clay. We started the session with some movement work – 100 slides from side to side, hitting air forehands and backhands. This exercise became our daily warm-up routine.
We did a three-hour session working on consistency, depth, height, and cross-court high percentage clay court tennis. It took a while for the importance of consistency to become engrained in the kids, but eventually they realized that the courts were too slow to try and hit winners and they settled into playing longer, more well thought out points.
It was a great first session and it took a lot out of them. After a round of Shirley temples back at the hotel and a quick swim, they were out cold by 9pm.
Day 2 started with a fifteen minute run around Plantation Bay Resort. There was a lot of complaining but we got through it and had breakfast then headed to CITCI again for another tough day of training in the heat. We did another three-hour session, working on similar things and including some point construction (DNO Theory). In the afternoon, we did a serving clinic. They focused on landing inside the court, the technique on their ball toss and developing a routine before each serve.
The bus ride back became an event in itself, with John McDermott stealing the show as head MC and DJ. He managed to perfect Graeme’s accent and had the whole bus in stitches. It was a long day and the kids were again, out cold by about 9:30.
Day 3 was match day. Our kids got a good morning warm-up session in, followed by a motivating team talk before the matches began against Team Cebu. We ran a timed singles and doubles tournament and managed to play a total of 36 matches in one day.
To me, this was the highlight of the trip. Our kids really came alive during these matches. Graeme and I were impressed with the fighting spirit they displayed. They showed a desire to win, but more importantly, a willingness to stay out on the court and earn wins rather than throw the towel in when things were not going their way. I felt they dealt with the pressure of people watching extremely well and were able to adapt their games when needed. For some of our kids, it was their first tournament at this level. Sammy, for example, had not played a tournament before and he rose to the occasion and managed to find ways to compete and even win.
The matches were all played in a competitive but also sporting fashion, and after the final results came in and Hong Kong had lost to Cebu, we all went to lunch together and became friends again.
In the evening, we went out to an Italian restaurant and had a pizza and pasta night. It was a great way to end a perfect day.
Day 4 was the last day for some of our juniors. Our CIS crew were flying out Sunday afternoon. We trained again in the morning, working on some of the key areas that had let them down during their matches, and areas they felt they needed more improvement on: consistency being the main focus.
Graeme took Joseph, Mark and Vishal to the airport, whilst the remaining kids got some down time in the pool, riding the in house water slides and playing table tennis in the games room. We had a group meeting and decided that we all needed a break from the courts and decided to go into town and watch a movie in the evening.
There wasn’t much choice and we opted for the comedy: Arthur. It turned out to be a bit of a laugh and a good break away from the courts.
Final Day. We decided to book the centre court at Plantation Bay Resort, which is where the Davis Cup tie was held between Japan and the Philippines earlier on in the year. The court was built specifically for the Davis Cup match, and we thought it would be a treat for our kids to play on the same court that top 100 ATP players had played on. We ran a two-hour session on what was probably the hottest day of the whole trip. Sabrina then played Chris a set, which went down to the wire – Sabrina winning 7-6 in the end.
At the end of the session, looking at the kids, we realized that we had got as much as we could out of them. They had given us one hundred percent and they were shattered. It was time to go home.
Graeme and I believe the trip was a great success. It was very challenging but also a lot of fun. Tennis is a solitary sport and sometimes being with a team of players can help make it more fun. Playing on clay is essential for any aspiring tennis player. The conditioning, both physically and mentally, that comes with playing longer, more thought out points, just doesn’t exist on hard courts. We also felt that taking the kids away from the comforts of being in Hong Kong, opened their eyes to new things and gave them a chance to motivate themselves rather than always being told what to do. We saw huge improvements in only a few days.
We will be running another trip to Cebu during the summer. Dates will be confirmed shortly, and we strongly recommend any players who are committed to improving to come join us on the clay courts for some great training and match practice.