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It seems every week we read something about the USTA that is bad or some article published by either the WSJ or the NYT that assures or reaffirms the demise of American tennis. As an avid tennis fan, father of a talented 10 year old and student of the game, not to mention defacto coach. It boggles my mind how the governing body of American Tennis wishes or thinks it can create a number one player. Then the myriad of coaches all of whom are so opinionated with illogical reasoning like:
– Give us $20 Million and we will produce champions.
– Forbid foreigners from getting college scholarships.
– My rate is $250+ because many, many years ago I taught a talented player for a short
– But in the past decade, I have not and cannot produce another champion.
– Not the best athletes are in tennis, implying the ones with the most ability don’t play it
– And not explaining that tennis is expensive and if this assertion was true doing nothing
– to make it more affordable and accessible to those with more supposed talent.
– It is all Patrick McEnroe’s fault and how dare he be paid $800K on a $20M Budget .
That does seem absurd, but if someone is willing to pay, there must be a reason.
In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that the USTA will produce a champion for the following reasons:
– The Swiss Federation did not produce Federer
– The Spanish Federation did not produce Nadal, Ferrer and the others
– The Serb Federation certainly did not develop Djokovic, or Ivanovic
Yet, we here in the US believe that since many, many years ago there were champions called Connors, McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras, and the last best star Roddick (2003), all of whom happen to be extremely talented and happen to be born here, we need to recuperate this dominance of the sport that once belonged to us and is now, part of some other countries like Spain, Serbia, Croatia, Scotland and France where they have nowhere near the size we have or our might or our ability to fund ourselves.
The first question with this kind of reasoning should be, how much did the USTA help in those decades those stars? and did they at that time the 70,80, 90’s all put them under the rules they now train? I have no idea, but I suspect they helped indeed, but very little in the overall development of the players and probably much more with the funding of trips and getting players wildcards. Did the USTA have a budget then of $17M? and many coaches and training centers? The answer is NO. Yet, somehow we expect this organization to produce what they have never produced, only now with more funding than the other countries at the top combined. This is something that I do not understand, why does the USTA now expect to produce such players? When the records of decades past proves they have never done so.
In my humble opinion, the USTA Player Development program fails to understand the basic premise of tennis. It is an individualized sport and it requires individualized training. So, the notion of molding a tennis structure that is clearly defined (as the USTA Player Development mission states) seems counter to the individualized need of each talented player. A rigid structure only provides jobs for those in the structure but will never produce results. This does not seem hard to figure out. Or ask yourself, did the US golf association produce Tiger woods, or the NBA produce Lebron, or the NFL Brady?
Then there are four other key aspects in which the USTA Player Development is also unable to understand.
1. The key to the success of American tennis are the parents and the biggest roadblock.
2. The key decision to hiring a coach is not how good or bad he is. It is , is this facility near
my home? In other words it is a logistical problem.
3. The cost of training a kid is mind boggling expensive, and prohibitive to precisely the
kind of parents that have their champions at home, not the country club kind. Hard
working Americans with two working parents.
4. The USTA has to offer services other than tournament software and ranking system that
no one can easily understand.
Lets talk about these one by one.
1) The Parents
There are two kinds of parents those who know tennis and those who do not. There are problems with both. Those who know, actually think they know ( 90% never competed at any high level) and never reached the levels of performance they are asking their kids to do. Maybe I am uninformed, but I don’t remember reading about Connors kid, or McEnroe’s or, Sampras’. They probably don’t play tennis. Yet the parents of somewhat competent kids think they know and make decisions that mostly hurt the child’s chances in becoming a professional player. Then there are those parents who know nothing about tennis and unfortunately are also a problem since they will let the coaches do most of the work, but have no way of knowing that the coaches are actually doing the right thing. This is where the USTA Player development has to work, educate and promote the “best in class” knowledge of how to be a good parent to a tennis child. I was lucky to attend one seminar for my child, but the core issue to be solved: Parents Ignorance was never addressed as such.
In summary, parents are ignorant and standing in the way of the tennis champs we need. USTA please help address the problem, and not with the 10 parents selected for a regional camp, but for all tennis parents, monthly meetings, conferences, exchange of experiences. The parents are the biggest problem in US tennis and the last in the pecking order for the USTA priorities. Focus on the buyer of services, the user of the offerings and the key to the kids. EDUCATE the parents under a well defined structure, process and program to do so. This is where a path and a core philosophy is needed. Its is the customer base that is never seen as a customer base.
2) The logistics
The names of current US tennis possible stars, Kozlov, Tiafoe. Mmoh had a logistical benefit.
Kozlov, dad is a coach, easy access to tennis facilities
Tiafoe , dad a worker at a tennis facility where they live.
Mmoh a tennis pro dad from Nigeria training at Bolletieri.
Young, parents are coaches, access to facilities are a given
Bryans, father is a coach and owns a tennis facility
The logistical problem is that for any given parent, they are basically stuck with a coach that is within the vicinity of their life possibilities. This effectively means, that many talented players have only the ability to drive a few miles from their home and get some sort of training. The problem then later arises as the quality of such training and the limitation of the distance. It is hard to argue that if your are born near a facility you have a better chance than if you are not, but then you depend then on the quality of who is there and if you can afford it. Diminishing possibilities by the second for parents who want better training.
What is the USTA to do? Figure out a way to certify centers where prices are affordable, and know that the coaches offer a quality program. All web based so people can know who runs the facility and allow the private coaches to be references for the USTA programs and education.
Its is also important to understand that of the four names listed above, three are immigrants and a lot of your tennis future has to do with your work ethics. America is a comfortable place, and a key ingredient to develop a champion is to develop “hunger” in the kids, yet we mostly as parents make sure our kids feel the need for nothing.
3) The Cost
Paying for lessons, equipment, trips and incidentals easily can be $1,000.00 month. Or $12K a year after taxes which effectively means spending nearly $16K. Out of reach of most people further diminishing the possibilities of continuing in tennis as a sport. I will further illustrate this with my sons example.
2 tournaments a month @$45.00 $ 90.00
8 private lessons month @70.00 $560.00
16 group lessons month @25 $400.00
Food and gas $250.00
Equipment, shoes strings etc. $100.00
This means that in order to have $1,400 available I need to make at least $1,800.00 before taxes to afford it. This number is by all means expensive. Imagine kids who live in areas where snow prevails 3-4 months and the charges are per hr. or rental fess $90.00. Impossible, how does the USTA expect people to do this in a sport that takes 10 years to develop with the “proper training”. It is simply not possible.
The USTA has to tackle this issue in order to make things possible long term. The pool of people diminished more and more and the probability of building a champion with these costs and odds are virtually nonexistent.
4) USTA Services
When my son got some decent quality in his strokes at age (8), I went online hoping to find a USTA service that would guide me and tell me how off of high my son was in relation to his peers. To my surprise, no such services were offered. I spoke to the head in Florida and asked then how do I know that the coach he is under is any good. There was no reply. This I could not believe, here I am a devoted father, educated, interested and thankfully able to pay a good amount of money to find out and the response from the governing body was. We have no way of telling you anything about your kid or the coach. That is when I decided to do the coaching myself, study the game and help my son become the best he can be. Tennis is an individual sport that actually needs a team. The team is comprised of many people: The parents, The coach, The peers, The federation and region. When are we going to start acting as team for the benefit of our kids?
The USTA has to offer services like, assessments, rankings of coaches, clinics, psychologists all at affordable prices with some frequency and match play. If there is an area where we can improve is in providing our kids with match play. Nearly it’s never offered and it is a key development issue for the tennis stars.
Enough of the writing, page four seems too long and boring now, no one will read what I just wrote.
I don’t mind, I just needed to put my opinion in paper and maybe get some people to share it and get the ball rolling. We need the USTA, just like we need roads, police and laws. But we don’t need them to expect to create a champion. It is simply not possible and trying to prove otherwise is simply foolish.
As far as the illogical comments from the coaches,
– No one is going to give a coach $20M to someone who has never handled $20M.
– Foreigners should be allowed to compete for scholarships, no quotas for Americans
in an individualized sport.
– $250 hr. coaches still have dismal records in producing new champions.
– Tennis is a sport where hard work will always beat talent, simply ask Ferrer.
– Patrick McEnroe can earn what he wants, who cares.
I hope you reach out to me, I enjoyed writing my opinion would like to know yours. I can be reached at @palenquej
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The comment below was made by Scott on the article “Want to Know the Biggest Mistake in Modern Day Coaching?” I found the comment very interesting and decided to publish it as a new post.
The first thing young athletes must be taught is when playing against a better tennis player there is little to no pressure felt by them because the expectations are not felt as much because they are suppose to lose. So when enabled mentally and physically to rip the ball with no pressure of course they’re going to play higher to their opponents level; making them appear better than they are. And the one that most tennis parents can’t understand is when they are the better player and suppose to win, ALL the pressure is now on them.
So what do many tennis players do when confronted with win or you under achieving? They play tight, not to lose, engulfed in the thought process of letting someone down, perhaps a parent(s), coach or friend-Pier Pressure; they all amount to the same: paralysis by over analysis. This gives way to negative self-talk, such as, “what will everyone think of me if I lose to this lower level player?” And a plethora of such-like stinking thinking. But that’s where the player has their priorities out of order, completely! Most likely because they receive the wrong guidance in junior tennis.
Many parents and tennis coaches are too much ‘result oriented’ now instead of ‘developmental oriented’ now and let’s wait and see what your work ethic amounts too; how your natural ability develops in areas such as speed, agility, racket-head speed and how their mental approach develops such as coach ability, passion from the heart, willingness to embrace pressure and leave it all out on the court, etc. In order to do this my colleagues have come up with the concept that in practice, Orange Bowl, pressure on – pressure off; the 3 most important measuring sticks since nobody can predict the future, especially with INJURIES, even to the most gifted athlete in the world.
With no crystal ball we coaches are responsible for educating the parents but instilling the truth in each player and that’s YOU CAN ONLY CONTROL “THE CONTROLLABLES” and that starts with the acronym ACE. Every tennis player is capable of controlling their ATTITUDE. Attitude equals Altitude. Attitude is not how you act, it’s how you react. Examples include Positive Self Talk. If a player hits 2 consecutive forehand unforced errors in the net, a Positive Reaction ( self talk ) such as, “that’s OK Maria, let’s aim that ball higher when 4 feet behind the baseline from the rally zone and You’ll make those NEXT TIME!” Or her Attitude can be negative, as in, “OMG Maria, your forehand is horrible today. The first 2 points of the match and you have no feel, no control, your forehand stinks!” Which of these Controllables gives Maria a chance to make some adjustments while settling into the beginning of the match and therefore understands the power of the mind. She doesn’t have to understand it, but her attitude is solely up to her and usually developed through repetitions in practice. CONCENTRATION can be controlled.
Are you out there thinking about the school dance tonight, twirling your tennis racket like its a baton, daydreaming? Or did you visualize yourself for 20 minutes using the power of positive thinking watching yourself play flawlessly in this match. Are you more concerned with the action on the court next to you or are you concentrating on your game plan, how your winning your points and compartmentalizing them so you know how to win the key points. Concentration must be practiced by strengthening your attention span. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can waltz thru practice and then Turn It On for a match.
Whatever you practice the most is what you get better at, so, if you practice sloppy habits you’re developing sloppy muscle memory. The most important to me is EFFORT as the 3rd controllable. Effort requires you trying your hardest to have a good Attitude. Effort is required for concentrating and staying focused. But when a tennis player stops trying, starts tanking, they must be pulled off the court because it only gets worse. If you tolerate your child behaving with a bad attitude, wasting time, making a mockery of herself and those working with her, she doesn’t deserve to play if she’s NOT GOING TO TRY! If she’s trying with a good attitude and simply can’t handle the pressure which is most cases then when they finish you commend their effort, comment on how they acted professionally sand concentrated.
Do not be result oriented because if they know if they try their hardest they improved and got better that day. It will take the pressure off them and they will learn to play hard every match winning and losing but understand a tennis player must face that losing is a big part of tennis because out of 128 only 1 wins and that player lost last week. So commend attitude, concentration and effort over winning and losing and over time they will gain that Chris Evert mentality where she says, “I taught myself to be mentally tough and win.” I hope this helps!
I got sick to my stomach reading a blog where one tennis coach happens to mention running a girl through some hand-eye coordination tests to assess her ability at age 12 and another coach nearly crucified him for sharing an opinion. You want to know what’s wrong with Jr. Tennis? Well, I’ll let the egomaniacs bark at the moon; as to my philosophy, I’m about coming to the table with Solutions. Not problems. But because on this very site the same thing happened to me, I’ll share one problem with American tennis: THE COACHES!!! THEIR INFLATABLE EGOS THAT TRASH OTHERS BECAUSE THEY THINK THEY KNOW MORE. So 50% of the introverted, but super knowledgeable coaches are silenced so the type A opinionated know it all dominates the forum. Me? I know very little about tennis and admit it. Why? Because the more I learn the more I realize how little I actually knew, especially in 5 year increments. I am nothing but a servant to the people. I am a sponge that reads 5 hours a day; not all on tennis but topics of interest; topics that are life and death, make my family rich or poor, understand how the economics of America work and how to be prepared if the dollar collapses n need.
And this boy and girl who cannot face the tiniest bit of adversity and her mother asking for help is why I’m writing at 4-5am on a Friday night. Not because I have a big ego but because I’m compelled to help. I made a comment last week; I have no idea about what but the response I received from a fellow coach only strengthens my opinion that most coaches have egos too big to learn or even have enough professional courtesy to foster more dialogue. Disagreeing must be thought of as Embracing Debate and brainstorming a positive procedure without an inevitable dig or stab in the back. Until then, until debating your belief is thought upon as an opportunity to expound your concept and be challenged in a good way that makes you weigh both sides with an OPEN MIND, these forums are useless. I remarked and someone reacted by saying, “well I hate to burst your bubble there but this way is better.” GREAT! I learned something. That’s what this forum is for but why conclude, since you’ve never shaken my hand and looked me in the eye that I have a bubble to burst. You have the wrong egotistical pro. Just because I shared a thought?
I know maybe 5% the knowledge of Dr Loehr, Pat Etcheberry, Nicky B., Nick Saviano, Harold Solomon and Pat McEnroe, just to name a few, there’s a thousand more. But Attitude can’t be preached and not practiced because these juniors study your tone of voice, body language and the way you react to problems. As my mentor Gabe Jaramillo tells his staff repeatedly, “I don’t want to hear problems, I want to hear and be a part of the solution. Come to me with solutions” because that challenges you to stretch yourselves like you ask your students to do; don’t give me lip service, show me you can demonstrate leadership qualities. If you will just do that the possibilities are endless.
So why don’t tennis coaches come up with some answers and solutions.? Commenting about the powers that be must be the problem because no changes have been made may indeed have tremendous validity but Ask me about American Junior Tennis and I’m not gonna SLAM the powers that be; I’m gonna show you how to change the powers that be, meaning have them removed. You think they’re permanent? Nothing’s permanent except us growing older and passing away, our life is but a vapor, like a mist that appears and quickly vanishes. I like the powers that be, as friends; but we are missing the Elephant in the Room. We can’t even be professionally polite when disagreeing. And you want to change American tennis by listing the problems?
Allow me one last time to reference the tennis coach who said to another coach who had performed a hand eye test on a 12 year old whose mother quit her job, was driving 4-6 hours a day and costing her $100,000/year because $1,000/week to train = $52,000 and quit her $48,000/year job because she thought, or I’m sure was told by a dishonest pro that she could make money playing pro tennis. That’s a net gain after all travel, coaching, hotels, training for 5-10 more years which is equal to $500,000 – 1 million dollars just to put in the necessary 10 years or 10,000 hours of average training to become Pro Status. So he tosses her some wide balls inside the service box and asks her to use a continental grip to do the normal hand eye coordination and agility drill/test. Out of 20 balls, the girl can’t reach 10, hits 5 that bounce twice before they hit the net and knock the other 5 over the fence. So 1 equaling beginner and 10 equaling making every shot with balance, displaying touch with droppers and control with depth. The girl scores a 1.
What do most American tennis coaches say?: “hey, not bad at all; with 4-5 hours of repetition and taking more lessons and spending more cash, I’m in no place to burst your dream of playing pro. So keep working hard and you just never know.” Really? You just set that girl up for failure until she comes across a coach that has the fortitude to be openly honest and say, “you know what, I believe you could possibly play D-2, D-3 college tennis one day, wouldn’t that be awesome?”
And now you’ve given back the girl, the mother, the money and the unrealistic expectation an attainable goal, not by playing God, but by using your common sense in seeing she had no hand eye coordination and was unable to move. But that she’ll be top 100 WTA? After expenses and taxes she better be top 65-70 to net a dime. But don’t forget the million you spent to say you were there. If every pro would conjure up 1 or 2 solutions and openly share them; then you’re building a platform for adding and tweaking those ideas up into a plan. I call it A Business Model. And there is great power in #’s.
Do you think 100,000 tennis pros can shake up the establishment? I do. Working together, not being condescending, will double or triple your input. Encourage debate, it’s called freedom of speech. And just because you disagree with someone, try to empathize and not fight by insulting someone’s Harvard intellect. We are all working on the same team and for the same goal. To grow the sport of tennis and share a sport for a lifetime for those that want to hit and giggle, increase overall health, develop relationships and bring American tennis back to the top.
Yes, there’s cheaper sports with more popularity but so what? We have country tennis clubs in FL leasing courts to 3-4 Academy’s after school. Parents will do anything for their children. But in my opinion it starts with a new plan, but also honesty to parents and building relationships with your students. Last comment. The gentleman calling his fellow pro out on the test, you could be right just as well, and may be. Pete Sampras was 14 when he had no idea how to hit a 1-hander. Some top pros began at 13 years old. I just know there’s 3 sides to every story: yours, his and the truth.
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Want to know the biggest mistake in modern day coaching? – It’s ‘Over coaching’. Here’s 5 things that lead to over coaching:
1. Over explaining something that is actually simple to understand.
2. Trying to add on another thing and then another and another.
3. Teaching concepts that are too advanced for the age group you are working with (example: Giving a drill Roger Federer or Cristiano Ronaldo does to a 10 year old).
4. Their choice of words used are even difficult for a NASA scientist to understand.
5. Bombarding the athlete with constant instructions and cues – in other words: “Paralysis by analysis”.
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In my experience, one area a lot of tennis players don’t consider enough is, is investing time and finding the right type of tennis string and tension to use.
This is especially evident in juniors tennis players. They spend money and time on the racquet, but little on the right string choice.
Another thing, is that they want to use the combinations their favorite pro players have – this can be a big mistake.
Your choice of tennis racquet and string has a huge influence on the health of your arm/shoulder/wrist. Take time and test strings, not just the tennis racquet!
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