This Congress Gets High Approval Ratings: US Tennis Congress
Monday, August 26, 2013 at 5:00AM
Amy Eddings in Mental Toughness, PJ Simmons, Tennis Vacations, US Tennis Congress, tennis camp

My tennis hate for Road to 4.5 Tennis blogger PJ Simmons has just reached a new high.  It was already simmering when he told me it took him just five years to improve from a brand new, 2.5 beginner to a 4.0 player. (I've been playing for 10 years now, and have stalled at 3.0.)  When I learned that he's created the US Tennis Congress, a new tennis immersion experience for adult recreational players, my Tennis Hate churned into a rolling boil.

"I see Rafa and Serena and Roger and Sabine." PJ Simmons' magic racquet won't turn you into a tennis pro, but he hopes his US Tennis Congress will get you closer.

"Amy, I'm doing it!  I'm living my life around tennis!" he said as he slid onto the bench across from me at my favorite SoHo cafe.  We were meeting for the first time, after corresponding through e-mail and text.  I spotted him immediately.  He was carrying an unstrung tennis racquet.

Great, no strings. Easier to slip the racquet around his foot and trip him on his way to get his cappuccino.

Contrary to its name, the US Tennis Congress in Atlanta this October is not a gathering of tennis geeks in some limestone building to debate the merits of the Western grip.  It's a weekend of customized training in technique, nutrition, strategy and mental toughness for adult recreational players.  Yep, Haters.  Customized.

Instead of players following the lead of the clinic's pros, the pros at the Congress will take their cues from the players.

"Most adult players, when they go to camp, they're paired in a hit-or-miss fashion with three others and one pro, and they do a lot of drills," said Simmons.  And, he said, they're not necessarily drills on the skills you want to focus on.

"You may go in wanting to work on your serve, but you only get the chance to do that in a separate half-hour private session.  Very few people take advantage of that.  Or you want to work on your singles game, but you do a lot of doubles drills."

He knows of what he speaks.  The 46-year-old self-described tennis addict estimates he's been to two Bollettieri tennis camps, a Vic Braden camp, and about 25 camps at Total Tennis.

I think PJ and I are twins who were separated at birth.

Instead of players following the lead of the clinic's pros, the pros at the Congress will take their cues from the players.  The foundation of the three-day workshop (there's a four-day option, too)  is seven master classes that are built around what participants want to work on, like footwork or doubles strategies or the serve.  Here's how the website describes the process:

When you register, we’ll ask you for details about your current level and goals, what you’re particularly focused on improving now, where you may be hitting walls, and other questions to help us understand your background priorities. Your answers will directly influence the curriculum and determine which classes ultimately get offered. The pros on the faculty will also use your feedback to design sessions that address your specific interests, questions and challenges.

How about Tennis Hate?  Yep, Simmons has that covered. The US Tennis Congress offers workshops like "Fearless Performance: Practical Tools for Mental Toughness in Matches" and "Building a Winning Pre-Match Routine."

Adult players are sophisticated about learning.  They don't just want to go out there and hit on a court.  To have other people take that seriously means so much." 

I will get a chance to offer my Black Socks Strategy.  I'll be moderating a discussion about mental toughness for the rec player (or, Tennis Hate 101) with two both men who've reached #1 world rankings in their age divisions: Jeff Greenwald (age 46) and Bob Litwin (age 65). 

Other faculty members include former pro tour player and Internet tennis tipster Jeff Salzenstein, technique guru John Yandell, USTA player development coach Rodney Harmon and Emilio Angel Sanchez Vicario, who's got 3 Grand Slam doubles titles and an Olympic silver medal in doubles to his long Spanish name.  You've probably seen ads for his tennis academy on Tennis Channel.

Simmons said he modeled his concept of the US Tennis Congress on the TED conference, the Clinton Global Initiative (he was its deputy chairman of climate and energy issues from 2006-2008) and….salsa.

"I used to be a salsa dancer," he said.  "Each year, there is an International Salsa Congress in which you can go in at any level and can focus on different aspects of the dance." [Like shines, above.  And I thought the service motion was hard....]  

"I thought, 'Why can't there be something that allows tennis players to work with the best of the best in a strategic way?'"

A lot of tennis camps do this for juniors, their bread and butter, but adults?  They get sloppy seconds.  PJ Simmons said camps are missing a big opportunity.

"I am a total tennis addict.  And there are other people like me, I'm not a freak," he said.  "[Adult players] are sophisticated about learning.  They don't just want to go out there and hit on a court.  To have other people take that seriously means so much." 

The inaugural US Tennis Congress runs Friday, October 11 through Monday, October 14, 2013, at the Dolce Atlanta Hotel & Conference Center and the Peachtree City Tennis Center.  Space is limited.  Reserve a spot at or call (917) 300-1238.

Article originally appeared on I Hate Tennis (
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