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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