The Story Of The Youngest NCAA Coach Shows A Massive Disparity Between Italian And American Sport’s Systems - UBITENNIS
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The Story Of The Youngest NCAA Coach Shows A Massive Disparity Between Italian And American Sport’s Systems

Nico was born in Cagliari, he has two university degrees which he received in Florida, and he coaches the Rollins College tennis Team at only 23 years old. His story shows why everything is different overseas.

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In the United States, the term ‘education‘ does not translate, to the concept of ‘education’ that we are familiar with in Italy or in Europe. Even the term ‘college‘ does not correspond to the Italian and European universities. In the United States colleges are much larger structures with world-class facilities; they are in fact small towns. Some of them even have their own police department. Extracurricular activities are one of the main ways in which students express their talents outside the classroom and are fully supported by the universities.

 

Among these activities we have sports. Not in the sense that the student has to sneak off campus to play tennis, perhaps feeling guilty for taking time away from books. In college, sports are a very serious matter. There are teams, coaches, there are stadiums with thousands of seats. The Tiger Stadium in New Orleans hosts the home games of the University of Louisiana football team and can hold more than one hundred thousand people. That’s about 250% of the Juventus Stadium capacity! Everything is under the NCAA. The NCAA was founded 114 years ago, it manages sports competitions and championships among US colleges. Don’t let the “university sports status” fool you. They take it extremely seriously and most professional football and basketball professionals are required to spend a year in the NCAA. The second of the six titles won by the University of North Carolina basketball, in 1982, materialized thanks to the decisive basket of Michael Jordan in front of 60,000 people and 17 million viewers. (Four times the spectators who attended the Wimbledon final between Federer and Djokovic last year).

The point is: in the United States you don’t have to choose whether to pursue a university degree or play sports at a high level, dreaming of a future as a professional athlete. You can do both.

It would be too simple to conclude that American sports culture, combined with the concept of education, is light years ahead of the Italian one. “I wouldn’t say so. It is a parallel universe. It’s like living on another planet, it’s not better or worse: it’s just different. The concept of the Italian university is not comparable the American college experience.” To tell us this difference is Nicolò De Fraia, known as ‘Nico’, since most Americans struggle with the pronunciation of his full name. In fact, Nico lives in Orlando, Florida, and at only 23 years old he is the Head Coach of the Rollins College tennis team. Difficult to track all the ages of all the coaches of the NCAA teams, but there is a rumor that Nico is the youngest of all; he is certainly among the youngest.

Nico was born and lived in Cagliari up to his teenage years; after being among the best under 12 and under 14 tennis players in Italy he moved to the Bruguera Academy in Barcelona for two years. He never returned home: first, he landed at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, where in addition to the tennis training, he concluded the unusual ‘trilingual’ high school course started in Cagliari and continued in Barcelona. ​​Consequentially, after high school, he accepted a tennis scholarship to play for the University of Central Florida (UCF), the largest university in the United States- with nearly 70,000 students this year. In 2017 he obtained his first degree in psychology and in the meantime, he trained under the wing of UCF Head Coach, John Roddick, Andy’s brother, and coach early in his career. Nico says: “John is a great person, like all the members of the Roddick family”. Nico talked well of  his good friend Tommy Paul, who is currently ranked number 57 in the world: “I am convinced that he will do great things, from the baseline he is really strong.”

Nico De Fraia with the team at Rollins College

In search of a prestigious business school, De Fraia moved to Rollins College in Winter Park, the top-ranked business school in Florida according to Forbes, where he took advantage of the remaining two years of eligibility to continue playing in the NCAA championship. Following the excellent results on the court, in 2019 in which he had a 20-1 record at the top position, he received the honorary mention of ‘All American’, which is a prestigious honor reserved for a hypothetical American sports team composed of the best players in the league. In the same year, he completed his second degree in International Business and began a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA), simultaneously while accepting the role of assistant coach of the Rollins College men’s tennis team. In January of this year, the previous coach retired, and Rollins promoted Nico to the role of main coach which he holds with another coach.

 

Nico De Fraia’s story highlights the possibilities offered by American academic-sports programs to those who deserve them. Nico moved from UCF, University ‘Division I’, to Rollins College, which instead is in ‘Division II’ (there is also Division III). The difference is not purely sport based. The fact that in Division I colleges sports play at a semi-professional level which goes hand in hand with large monetary investments and intense recruiting methods, which favor the formation of more competitive teams. Nico says that in some games at UCF there was live TV. In prestigious Division II (and D-III) colleges, the focus becomes academic: in most cases, it makes no difference whether the candidate is an athlete or not, he must still have certain grades to be accepted.

This helps the growth of young athletes, who can make their choices based on their academic and athletic levels at 18 years old. A fundamental aspect of the youth’s developing path. Nico helps us understand this concept with the example of Jannik Sinner on one side, and Kevin Anderson and John Isner on the other. “Sinner is 18 years old and he is a top 100 ATP player; for him, it would make no sense to go to college because it would take time away from a professional career already started. However, if at that age the player is not developed enough to be a top professional, he can get an education and compete at semiprofessional levels until the age of 23 years and grow as a player and as a person, like Anderson and Isner did.” In fact, they faced each other as students, in a match for the NCAA title in 2007, when they were 21 and 22 respectively, and eleven years later competed for access to the Wimbledon final, during a grueling semi-final to the bitter end which sent the South African to challenge (unsuccessfully) Novak Djokovic.

The crucial difference between the two systems is that from the Italian, or more generally European tennis training path, a young athlete who has unsuccessfully attempted to become a professional is usually stuck without a valid working alternative because he invested everything in the sport. An athlete who instead attended college and at the same time tried to play tennis, even in case of failure, still has all the possibilities to build a professional curriculum outside of sports. These are possibilities that obviously must be seized by means of commitments, sacrifices (also economic), and great time management skills. Nico, who is an NCAA coach, MBA student, and will shortly begin an immersion track with NASA says: “Time management is extremely important here”.

Nico told us that he faced and beat Tsitsipas (a year younger than him) in a youth tournament when he was 15 years old, proving that he does not lack talent – and this is also supported by Claudio Pistolesi, who knows and trained him for some time in the United States. With great maturity, however, Nico also realized that probably even if he made the maximum effort, he would not have been able to make a good enough living off a career in future tournaments. The first doubts came after a shoulder injury from which he had difficulty recovering when he was still investing 100% in his tennis career. He rolled up his sleeves and left his comfort zone, first helped by the family and then walking on his own legs, and he understood that he had to invest also and above all in academics.

The skills that Nico acquired with his academic career proved to be essentials for him to manage the role of coach at a prestigious college like Rollins College founded in 1885. His roles involve sport-related decisions as well as manage the budget made available by the university and national-international recruiting. This mix of sports and academic careers makes us wonder one last question for him: How and where do you see yourself in ten years?

 

“I honestly don’t know, but I’m open to everything. I hope to be able to be in a place and position that benefit both myself and the community. Families need to understand that tennis can certainly be part of a boy’s growth, but it can’t be the top priority before a certain age, regardless of his level.”

Article originally written By Alessandro Stella and translated by Nicolò De Fraia

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Do Your Players Understand The Tennis Score System? – If They Don’t, They’ll Struggle Mentally

The more unrealistic expectations players have got, the more they are going to struggle with their thoughts and emotions.

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A frustrated coach calls. Asks for a mental tool to help “fix” their player’s mentality. But it’s not always a mental tool that is required. Often, it’s about going back to the basics. It’s about educating players about the realities of tennis. First step is getting players to know how to count. Second step is educating players about the score system. Close to every coach gets the first step done properly. The second step, not so much. And let me be the first to say, I have not been any better myself. 

 

So how do we start to educate players about the score system of tennis? 

A bold but true statement, that needs to be taken into account. “Tennis players are a bunch of losers” as Kelsey Anderson once entitled a blog post of hers. The reality is that tennis players lose a lot when playing matches. 

Craig O’Shannesy has made statistics in tennis easy to understand and digest. Craig’s work is a cornerstone in helping players with more realistic expectations. More realistic expectations equal less frustration and anger on court. 

So, let’s have a look at a key static to help educate the player you are coaching. 

Roger Federer
-103 titles
-1200+ match wins.
-20 Grand Slams
-Nearly $130 million in prize money

Undeniably one of the best tennis players to ever live. 

How many percentages of the points he has played in his professional career has he won? 

Before I knew the statistic, I guessed 70% or even 75%. After all, we are talking about Roger Federer.

I was wrong!

55%. 

Meaning that Roger Federer has lost 45 % of the points that he has played in his professional career. Almost half the points he has played. I was astonished the first time I heard this statistic! 

We are not talking about your average professional, it’s a player that has dominated the sport together with the rest of the so called “big three”. 

Talking about “the big three”. Interestingly Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the only 2 other players to equal Federer on 55 % of points won in their professional career. 

So what does this statistic mean to players?

A lot of players believe that they should be winning 8/10 points to win a match. That they have to destroy the other player. They play 3 good points and then miss an easy put-away forehand and yell “I’m sooooo bad!”. 

The reality is that if a player is only messing up on every 4th point, they are doing an unbelievable job. Tennis is a game of mistakes. No matter how hard players try they can’t avoid making mistakes. We want to minimize unforced errors but player’s thinking that they can go through a match without making mistakes and losing a lot of points is simply unrealistic. 

When a player’s internal reality is different from the reality they are faced with in matches, it will lead to frustration and anger. The frustration and anger will be termed as bad behavior and a mental problem. The mental problem is often attempted to be fixed with mental tools. Could be a physical routine or a breathing technique. While the mental tools can treat the symptom and be very helpful in acute situations, it’s important to address the cause of why the frustration and anger arises in the first place. 

From the 55% statistic on Federer how is it possible to help the players with more realistic expectations? 

Here are 2 coaching advice to reinforce to players:

“Expect to lose almost every other point even in the matches that you are winning” 

“If you can keep you opponent from winning 2 points in a row for long enough – eventually you’ll win”

Remember that unrealistic expectations lead to players experiencing frustration and anger. The better we educate players about the realities of tennis, the more realistic expectations they will have. The more realistic expectations the more focus and mental energy can be spent focusing on their gameplan and executing their shots. The more focus on executing their shots, the bigger opportunity of performing well. The better the player perform, the bigger the opportunity of winning the match. 

By Adam Blicher
Danish Sport Psychologist Consultant Adam Blicher is a member of the International Sport Mental Coach Association

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Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. – A Tuskegee Airman And Tennis

Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. wasn’t a formidable tennis player and he was much more than a Tuskegee Airman as Mark Winters brings out in a tribute to an extraordinary individual who passed away in late December 2020…

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Annually, the third Monday of January, in the US, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The national holiday celebrates the memory of the Baptist minister and Civil Rights activist who was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

 

Ordinarily on MLK Day, I reflect on the experiences that I have had in life and in tennis. As an example, I think back to the time I spent with Arthur Ashe while attending UCLA. (Interestingly, King sent a letter to Ashe in February of 1968, praising his character, along with his commitment to Civil Rights. He concluded his message by saying that he looked forward to meeting him in person, which did not happen.) This year, included in my thoughts, were a salute to Naomi Osaka, who made a statement at the US Open without saying a word. She did it in a quiet and sincere manner by wearing social justice facemasks that protested a spate of police interactions throughout the United States that had left innocent men and women dead or significantly injured. She knew that turning a blind eye to injustice was wrong. It always has been.

On January 18th, my usual day of introspection was very different.  It changed dramatically after I learned that Theodore Lumpkin Jr. (known to most as Ted) had passed away on December 26, 2020. Word was slow to reach those in the tennis community concerning Lumpkin having lost his battle with COVID-19 just a few days before his 101st birthday. 

Readers are probably asking – What exactly does Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin Jr. have to do with tennis and for that matter, Martin Luther King, Jr.? 

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Here is the story. Actually, an overview of his life which could serve as an outline for the production of a documentary. Lumpkin was born in Los Angeles and while attending UCLA in 1942 he was drafted. As a Second Lieutenant in the US Army Air Force, the 21-year-old became a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron. Because of his poor eyesight, he was unable to qualify as a pilot so he served as an intelligence officer in the all-Black unit that was known as the “Tuskegee Airmen”. The name stuck like glue, because it was based in Tuskegee, Alabama. (They were called the Red Tails because the tails on their planes were painted red.) After World War II, thanks to their exploits and their courage they soon became revered. (As an aside, by the end of WWII, Lumpkin had reached the rank of captain. He remained in the Air Force Reserves until 1979 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.)

Coincidently, Tuskegee forms part of the foundation of the country’s tennis history. Beginning in the1890s, Howard University and Tuskegee Institute, (both Black schools) were among the first schools in the US to offer their students an opportunity to play tennis. 

On November 30, 1916 in Washington, D.C., players led by the Association Tennis Club of Washington and the Monumental Tennis Club of Baltimore formed the American Tennis Association. The organization came into existence because the United States Lawn Tennis Association had a policy of not allowing African Americans to compete in USLTA tournaments. Due to that exclusion, the ATA’s specific goal was to provide “People of color an opportunity to develop an appreciation for the gentlemen’s game”. 

When it came to tennis, Lumpkin wasn’t a top competitor. He enjoyed the game but for him, the sport offered much more. It provided him with the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships on and off the court. That’s why the people in the Los Angeles tennis community, particularly those who played at Harvard Park, became a part of his extended family. 

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Ronita Elder, Theresa Brown, Ted Lumpkin, Delores Simmons and James Walker

Lumpkin had spirit but it was dignified. Combined with his concern for those around him, these characteristics defined his quiet but captivating presence. It was one that resulted in the respect that he received from his tennis cohorts, though he was only a recreational player. 

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Harvard Park honored “Living Legends In Our Community” including Don Bly, Ted Lumpkin, Earthna Jacquet and Jean Richardson


Lumpkin was humble and rarely talked about the fabled Tuskegee Airmen. In an oral history though, he said that the “Airmen” endeavor was “an experiment…” It was an early version of the proven fallacy that “African Americans” don’t have the intelligence or skill to play quarterback in the National Football League (American football). In this case, it was the intellect or ability to be a combat pilot. The truth has been documented and the bountiful successes African Americans have realized in both endeavors is now a given, and it is backed up by facts.

In 2007, US President, George W. Bush honored the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian recognition. Barack Obama, in 2009, invited the surviving Airmen to attend his first inauguration. In 2012, Lumpkin was inducted into the West Coast African American Hall of Fame. While he was pleased, it was clear that the acknowledgement didn’t defined who he always was.

With Lumpkin’s death, there are only eight Tuskegee Airmen surviving. Theodore (Ted) Lumpkin led an interesting, challenging and rewarding life. The essence of this man was goodness. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, as always, is a tribute to more than just one man. Ted Lumpkin has passed on, but he will be remembered for the life he lived. Tennis lost a long-standing friend who helped pave the way for every person of color who came after him. May He Rest In Peace. 

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EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Top Names Get Preferential Treatment But That’s Part Of The Tour’

Marcelo Demoliner celebrated his birthday in quarantine, his doubles partner isn’t allowed to leave his room for 14 days and he believes there is a difference in treatment between the top players and others. Yet, he refuses to complain about the situation he finds himself in.

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Marcelo Demoliner pictured during the 2020 Australian Open. image via https://www.facebook.com/mdemoliner89)

Like his peers, Brazil’s Marcelo Demoliner passes his time in Melbourne quarantine by training, sleeping, eating and posting amusing videos on social media.

 

Demoliner, who currently has a doubles ranking of world No.44, is required by Australian law to abide by a strict isolation period before he is allowed to play any professional tournament. Although he is allowed to train unless he is deemed to be a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19. An unfortunate situation 72 players find themselves in, including Demoliner’s doubles partner Santiago Gonzalez

During an email exchange with UbiTennis the Brazilian sheds light on what he labels as an ‘usual experience’ that has prompted criticism from some players. Roberto Bautista Agut was caught on camera describing conditions as a ‘prison’ in a video leaked to the press. Although he has since apologised for his comments. Demonliner himself is not as critical as others.

“It is an unusual experience that we will remember for a long time,” he told UbiTennis. “It is a very complicated situation that we are going through. Obviously, it is not ideal for us athletes to be able to go out for just 5 hours a day, but mainly for the other 72 players who cannot go out, like my partner Santiago Gonzalez. They have a complicated situation of possibly getting injured after not practicing for 14 days, but it is what it is.’
“We need to understand and adapt to this situation considering Australia did a great job containing Covid.”

With three ATP doubles titles to his name, Demoliner is playing at the Australian Open for the sixth year in a row. He has played on the Tour for over a decade and has been ranked as high as 34th in the world.

Besides the players complaining about food, their rooms and even questioning the transparency of the rule making, Tennis Australia also encountered a slight blip regarding the scheduling of practice.

“I was a little lucky because I stayed in one of the hotels that we don’t need to take transportation to go to the training courts. It made the logistics issue much easier. The other two hotels had problems with transportation and logistics in the first two days, but I have nothing to complain about, honestly.”

Demoliner remains thankful for what Tennis Australia has managed to do in order for the Australian Open to be played. Quarantine can have a big impact on a person mentally, as well as physically. Each day players spend at least 19 hours in their hotel rooms which was no fun for the Brazilian who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday.

“Without a doubt, it is something we have never been through before. I’m luckily having 5 hours of training daily. I am managing to maintain my physical preparation and rhythm. It is not the ideal, of course, but I can’t even imagine the situation of other players who are in the more restricted quarantine.”

image via https://www.instagram.com/MDemoliner/

Priority given to the top names

As Demoliner resides in Melbourne, a selected handful of players are spending their time in Adelaide. Under a deal struck by Tennis Australia, officials have agreed for the top three players on the ATP and WTA Tour’s to be based in the city. The idea being is that it will relieve the strain on Melbourne who is hosting in the region of 1200 arrivals.

Craig Tiley, who is the head of Tennis Australia, has insisted that all players will have to follow the same rules wherever they are based. Although some feel that those in Adelaide have some extra privileges such as a private gym they can use outside of the five-hour training bubble. Japan’s Taro Daniel told the Herald Sun: “People in Adelaide are being able to hit with four people on court, so there’s some resentment towards that as well.” Daniel’s view is one echoed also by Demoliner.

“I do believe they are receiving preferential treatment, quite different from us. But this is part of the tour,” he said.
“The top tennis players always had these extras, we are kinda of used to it. We came here knowing that they would have better conditions for practicing, structure, hotels… they also have merits to have achieved all that they have to be the best players in the world. I don’t know if it’s fair, but I believe the conditions could be more similar than they are in this situation.”

Some players were recently bemused by a photo of Naomi Osaka that surfaced on social media before being removed. The reigning US Open champion was pictured on a court with four members of her team, which is more people than what those in Melbourne are allowed to train with.

https://twitter.com/mdemoliner89/status/1351079924719898632

As the Adelaide contingent continues their preparations, those most unhappy with them are likely to be the 72 players who are in strict quarantine. Demoliner is concerned about the elevated risk of injury that could occur due to the facts they are not allowed to leave their rooms. All players in this situation have been issued with gym equipment to use.

“I think that they will be at a considerable disadvantage compared to who can train. But we need to obey the law of the country, there is not much to do … until the 29th they will have to stay in the room and that is it,” he said.
“Whether it is fair or not, it is not up to me to say because I am not in this situation. The thing about having the other players who didn’t have contact with the positive cases to also stay in the rooms is the concern about the risk of injury, specially for singles players. It will be a tough challenge, especially at the beginning of the season.”

In recent days, officials have been holding video calls with players to discuss ways to address these concerns ahead of the Australian Open. Which will start a week after they are allowed to leave their rooms.

When the tournaments do get underway there are also questions about how the public will react to players who have made headlines across the country for their criticism of the quarantine process. A somewhat sore point for Australian’s with some nationals unable to return home due to the government restrictions. On top of that, people in Melbourne are concerned about a potential outbreak of COVID-19.

It is a very complex situation. I fully understand the reaction of the Australian population considering the recent events… the effect that the players are bringing, the risks to the population,” Demoliner said of the current circumstances.
“We know this and obviously they are concerned with the whole situation, which is still very uncertain. On our side, though, they did allow us to come here to play. It is important to remember that the decision to welcome us was approved by the Australian Government, otherwise we would not be here.”

Demoliner is one of three Brazilian doubles players ranked to have a top 100 ranking on the ATP Tour along with Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo.

SEE ALSO EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Melbourne Bubble – ‘Players Can’t Act Like Spoilt People’

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