How to Develop New American Tennis Stars

How to develop new American tennis stars

American tennis lost its dominance in the world, and it is in a deep crisis. Here is the excerpt from the article “Developing Top Talent or Hindering Process?” which was published in The New York Times. August, 25, 2012:

“Questions swirl about the way the nonprofit U.S.T.A. spends money. Its budget comes almost entirely from the $200 million in revenue from the United States Open, which begins Monday. The U.S.T.A. spends 15 percent of its money on player development and 70 percent on community tennis development, said Gordon Smith, its chief operating officer… Patrick McEnroe suggested that it would probably take 15 to 20 years to see what the new U.S.T.A. initiatives produce.”

I asked Chris Lewis,  a tennis coach of America’s strongest junior tennis players, to share his thoughts about the issue.

Chris, if you were putting in place a national development program, and you had twenty million dollars plus available to you, how would you spend it?

Considering that no American reached the third round of the men’s singles at Wimbledon for the first time in 101 years, this is a question that needs answering, and fast.

Many believe that the appalling 15+ year decline in US tennis since the days of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang is occurring because the sport no longer attracts the nation’s most talented athletes. Others believe that continued American dominance is unrealistic due to tennis’ globalization in the past few decades. Some point to a lack of both modern coaching methods and competent coaches, or a lack of clay courts, or an obsolete “American” style of playing, or that the USTA isn’t doing enough to help players – the list is as varied as it is long. Every passionate tennis fan has strong opinions regarding the current swamp that US tennis is mired in, including me.

I’d like to address this issue at its most fundamental level; namely, the framework upon which national development systems are built. Let’s examine the typical national model. The hallmarks of all such bureaucracies include: a top-down approach, centralization and conformity. A person (or committee) at the top determines how things are going to be done, and then everybody in the organization must conform to his decisions. Inevitably, the director of the national coaching program determines that young tennis players nation-wide must develop a certain style of playing, a blueprint is drawn up, and, in fear of losing their jobs, all of the coaches within the organization “agree” that players should play the way the director wants.

Aside from the fact that recruitment of the most talented young players in the country invariably involves severing an existing and successful coach/player relationship, this regimented approach neglects to consider that every player is an individual with particular physical and mental attributes and a unique personality. When you attempt to coach identical strokes to all the top tennis talent in a country, you deprive those players of the opportunity to learn to counteract a variety of styles. In the main, players are practicing with and competing against mirror-images of themselves — never learning to deal with the unfamiliar. By adopting uniformity, you preclude the possibility of an exceptionally talented youngster developing his or her own style, based on his or her own unique physical attributes and tendencies, and in harmony with his or her own unique personality.

Would John McEnroe have been a champion if, as a 12 year old, a Borg-like game had been imposed on him? Would it have suited his temperament to be molded into a patient, heavy-hitting baseliner? When you nationalize a particular playing style, you exclude the possibilities of innovation and creativity. By necessity, uniformity only looks backwards. It usually takes the current top player in the world as the model, and then an attempt is made to produce clones of that player, thereby excluding the possibility of the future development of playing styles as unique and radical as Connor’s, Borg’s, McEnroe’s, Lendl’s, Becker’s and Agassi’s were in the days when national programs didn’t exist.

Would Pete Sampras have been allowed to switch to a one-handed backhand so late in his junior career? Development of unique individual tendencies cannot be planned or tracked, and is not related to previous statistical success. Because of the personal element, a national body is ill-equipped to produce champions, who, invariably, do not conform to the average of the points on a graph. Sampras’ late alteration was a bad idea in general, but a fantastic idea for him. A private coach adept in nurturing the personal traits of each player could help make such a decision, a national body could not.

A national body is not only in direct opposition to private coaching in philosophy and results, it is in direct competition to it in the real world, meaning the two options cannot co-exist peacefully. By establishing a national, centralized program, you quickly alienate the private coaching community when their best players are enticed away. This leads to an unhealthy ‘”us” versus “them” mentality, with the national organization being increasingly criticized as the nationalization of player development further expands. A further decline in playing standards accompanies this expansion as private coaches lose more of their players, and become increasingly hostile towards the organization that is meant to act in their interests, not contrary to them.

Such a bureaucracy, once established, will always expand, and always use their power to regulate, not persuade. Typically, they follow a pattern like this: Someone within the organization decides that one reason why the country isn’t producing players is because the national program is inheriting players who have already been “ruined” by incompetent coaches. Their answer, then, is to grab the players when they are even younger (more expansion). Or, a clipboard-holder in the organization then decides that every 10-and-under player in the country should conform to his desire to see them playing with shorter racquets and pressureless balls (more regulation). The consequences of this dictatorial approach are devastating to player development. Through further expansion, you deny coaches whose players have been enticed away any chance of actualizing their players’ potential. Consider the consequences when all the private coaches and their varied approaches to player production are deprived of the opportunity to develop their players, instead forced to watch them sacrificed to a homogenous program that demands uniformity at the expense of creativity and variety.

Would American tennis have been better off if Nick Bolletieri, Wayne Bryan, Robert Lansdorp, Gloria Connors, and every other coach who contributed to the development of a top player had lost their best students to a national program? Think of all the hours each of those coaches spent planning and managing the details of what’s involved in producing a champion. This planning process happens largely off the court, in deciding the best course of action for each student as an individual. Does the same amount of thought go into each of a national coaching program’s coach/player relationships, where, in many cases, the relationship with a coach is an involuntary one? Through further regulation, by mandating that every 10 and under player be banned from competing with racquets and balls that a great majority of coaches think are in the best interests of a young player’s development, you preclude those coaches from acting on their own conclusions, which draw upon decades of practical observation and experience. At the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen, all that expertise is rendered useless. Would Martina Hingis
have won the French Open Juniors (18 & Under) as a twelve-year-old if she’d been forced to play with a toy racquet and balls until she was 11? I doubt it. What do you think?

At this stage, things usually degenerate to such an extent that it becomes obvious national programs are synonymous with failure. When it comes to producing champion individuals, centralization, standardization, uniformity, rigidity and regulation do not work. What, then, is the antidote?

There are three essential components that need to be in place when it comes to producing champions. The first is that the player needs to have a certain amount of physical talent and mental toughness to one day be internationally competitive. The second is that there must be in place an environment that is conducive to ensuring that talented, tough players are given the best opportunity to allow their talent to reach its ceiling of potential. The third component is player choice; i.e., whether the player chooses to actualize his or her potential by doing justice to both his talent and the environment that gives him the opportunity to maximize it.

When it comes to development programs, what we are really talking about is creating an environment within which gifted players have the best opportunity to flourish. When identifying these environments, the evidence consistently points to a committed, passionate coach teaching, guiding and mentoring a gifted player to a successful pro career. How, then, do
we best ensure that such relationships are given the best opportunity to thrive in the future? First, it’s imperative to understand that tennis is a highly individualistic sport. Aside from a shared ability to win, the only thing that many of the great champions had in common was that they had virtually nothing in common. Nothing better illustrates this fact than the contrasting styles and personalities of some of the game’s great rivalries, like McEnroe and Borg, Evert and Navratilova, Sampras and Agassi, and Federer and Nadal. Incidentally, it’s a useful exercise to look at who the primary coaching influences were in the development of these players (John McEnroe – Tony Palafox and Harry Hopman, Chris Evert – her father, Martina Navratilova – Billie Jean King and I also understand that Tony Roche had an influence, Pete Sampras – Peter Fischer, Andre Agassi – his father and Nick Bollettieri, Roger Federer – Peter Carter, Rafael Nadal – Toni Nadal). Second, like players, coaches also have their own unique methods and personalities. The best ones are independent thinkers who wouldn’t survive for a second in a regimented environment, where they would be expected to ignore their own knowledge and conform to the dictates of a “one size fits all” approach. Can you imagine Wayne Bryan, Nick Bollettieri and Toni Nadal working within the confines of a stifling bureaucracy? With such a diverse range of players and coaches out there, it’s essential that players and their parents are free to determine for themselves who is the best coach. Any wider program or system must take this into account.

So then, back to the original question, What would I do if if I had upwards of twenty million dollars to spend in order to maximize the chances of creating future champions? I would use the money to create the most competitive tennis environment for both players and coaches in the world. I would make use of the exceptional junior talent that I see everywhere as well as the enormous coaching talent that exists throughout the country. I would create a level as possible playing field for both players and coaches by offering them significant incentives, available to all in order to develop players and produce results.

Instead of severing successful and existing coach-player relationships by seducing the top junior players away from the committed and passionate coaches who develop them, I would support those players and coaches.

Here’s how I would do it: I would first design a US tournament infrastructure that offered year-round competitive opportunities to as many young players as possible. This infrastructure would place an equal emphasis on entry-level professional tournaments as it would on junior tournaments. To optimize the chances of young American players transitioning from top juniors to successful pros, I would make lower-level professional tournaments and the invaluable ATP ranking points they offer as accessible as possible. This would mean putting in place a year-round circuit of events on different surfaces and in as many locations as practical.

After establishing a comprehensive tournament infrastructure, I would design an objective and transparent player incentive scheme that directly linked results and rankings to player funding. The criteria for funding would be publicized prior to the beginning of each year so that players could plan their schedules accordingly. To reward results at the junior level, I would select a number of the highest status junior events and link performance in those tournaments to financial reimbursement for expenses incurred. For example, the winner of a high status junior event might receive 100 percent reimbursement for all legitimate expenses (coaching, accommodation, travel, restringing etc.) related to the event. The finalist might receive 75 percent reimbursement, the semifinalists 50 percent, and the quarter-finalists 25 percent. The total amount of reimbursement per player, per tournament, would be firmly set at a reasonable level. To further assist juniors receiving financial support based on junior tournament results, I would assist the top ten juniors in each age group based on their national year-end junior rankings. For instance, the number one ranked junior in each age group might receive an amount equal to 80 percent of tennis related expenses for the year, with a cap of, say, $20,000 for each number one ranked player. Percentages of expenses and capped amounts per player would be adjusted on a sliding scale downwards based on each player’s ranking.

In addition to having a financial incentive scheme for junior players, I would have an ATP and WTA ranking-related incentive scheme for players aged 19 (or younger) up to 22 attempting to break into the pros. The criteria I would use for these transitioning players would, as I stated earlier, also be objective and transparent.

Here’s how an objective incentive scheme for the transitional players would be established: I would document what each of the top 100 ATP and WTA players from the last 10 years was ranked at year’s end from the ages of 19 through 22. The results from this analysis would enable me to identify extremely reliable statistical criteria that could then be used to determine the players most likely to achieve a successful pro career. It would also be useful in determining the amount of financial assistance offered to each player who met the criteria.

To concretize the above, let’s say that after conducting such an analysis, I find that 95 per cent of 19 year old male players who eventually reached the world’s top 100 were ranked inside the world’s top 800 when they were 19, and 95 per cent of 19-year-old female players who eventually reached the top 100 were ranked inside the top 650. Let’s say I also find that 95 per cent of 22 year old male players who eventually reached the world’s top 100 were ranked inside the world’s top 275 when they were 22, and 95 per cent of 22 year old female players who eventually reached the top 100 were ranked inside the top 225 when they were 22.

Using this data, linking a financial incentive scheme to a developing player’s ranking progress based on his or her age would be simple. I would opt for a three-tiered scheme that offered more assistance to higher ranked players than to mid- and lower-ranked players of the same
age. In other words, a 19 year old male player ranked 750 at the end of the year might receive an incentive payment of, say, 75 per cent of annual tennis-related expenses up to a maximum of $10,000; however, a 19 year old male player ranked 300 might be eligible for a payment of
75 per cent of annual tennis related expenses up to a maximum of $25,000. Ineligibility for the program would kick in when players either turned 23 or made it into the world’s top 100.

In addition to being objective and transparent, this system would be fluid and dynamic. Even if players qualified for financial assistance one year, the scheme would demand from them continued progress in order to qualify the following year. Conversely, players whose rankings and results precluded them from receiving assistance one year would have as much of a chance to qualify in subsequent years as the players who qualified the previous year. Under the criteria outlined above, the scheme would offer equal opportunities to all. There would be no
subjectivity, no bias, no favoritism. It would be driven exclusively by performance, results and age. By implementing such a scheme, I would be giving players, parents and coaches not only a powerful incentive to succeed but also a fair way to benefit from significant financial assistance while still retaining a full range of coaching and tournament options.

Finally, it needs to be said that this is a highly complex subject. I do not attempt to address many of the issues that such a complex subject raises. What I have done is outlined, in principle, a national framework that maximizes the chances of producing champions. A framework that offers players (and their parents) the widest possible choice of coaches by offering earned financial support in a highly competitive environment supported by a national body that doesn’t play favorites.

I expect there will be many who agree and many who disagree. Let’s hear from you, as this is a discussion that needs to be had.

Thank you Chris for the very informative article. It would be interesting to hear comments from USTA officials. I will ask them about their opinion.

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Comments

How to Develop New American Tennis Stars — 114 Comments

  1. Nailed it, that’s why I got away from coaching top players,…who came up with the idea that a socialistic approach could create a capitalistic result?

    • USTA must dismantle ‘Player Development Program’. It is not producing any results. They must use those resources to support players and coaches who can crack into top 150 in ATP/WTA rankings. Let the junior players be developed by their own coaches. Also there is a development process that is required to transition from a top junior to a top professional player.

      • Obviously neither you or any of your players have been a part of the USTA player development… My son is part of it now, and without their help he would not be progressing as fast as he is…

  2. When Isner turned 23 he was around 600 in the world. Would it not be better to reward players based on their ATP ranking “progress” rather than simply age? Compare a 22-year-old player who has been playing Futures for 3 years and is 600 to a 23-year-old who has played for a year and is 600. Which one has more potential? Which one deserves support, the one who went to college or the one who had enough money to play ATP circuit for three years instead?

    • Hi Peter,

      Player support would be determined by both ranking and age. The criteria would be very lenient. Further, I’m pretty sure that John would have received a full ride at college.

          • You are so right…. I worked with and around Nick B during the 77-88 years …. the comraderie of the 8 or so future top 20 players was so keen to the development of the individual players attitude… Nick rarely tried to change strokes… Arias forehand… Courier backhand, Agassi attitude, so many others had the chance to make what they did better by “hard love”and hard work… there are so many greats that all worked so hard together and then individually as their game took them into the big time… Annacone couldn’t stay on the baseline with any of them…. so the chip and charge worked for him… volleys… so important !!!! angles, deep corner approach shots…. I was there on the side lines before there was an Academy…. nick started the concept… now there are thousands of “Academies” some good, some worthless…. IMG has toned down an era that we need to never forget the NBTA…. more top players trained there than anywhere in the world…. sorry to see it dismantling…..

  3. This is a great article about the reason why the US and all other western tennis playing countries have declined over the last couple of decades. As of next week there will not be a single US male player ranked inside the ATP Top 20 for the first time in ranking history. Australia is a shadow of the nation that once prided itself on producing Grand Slam champions. Great Britain is constantly ridiculed for its poor performance despite millions of pounds annually invested in player development. Even New Zealand, where the writer hails from, no longer competes seriously on the international tennis circuit. What do all of these nations have in common – national programmes that grow bigger by the year yet produce players who seem to get worse every year. Let’s invest in players and coaches who perform year on year and not throw money away on bureaucratic national tennis programmes that only succeed in abject failure.

    • I agree. New Zealand’s situation today is the result of 15+ years from the late 80s of a coaching group whose key priority seemed to be securing their own jobs and excluding anyone who challenged their ways. They were out of their depth in terms of player development and most of the top talent eventually became too homogeneous and lacking that last 10% which was needed to get you from 150+ ranked journeyman to the top 50. Their legacy is to have turned NZ’s top talent, at a cost of many hundreds of thousands of dollars each, into local tennis coaches.

      Brett Stevens alone, their one success story, was a lost ship for his formative years and only really cracked the tour once he was so disillusioned with system he sought out the advice of a coach (ex top pro Brian Fairlie) who’d been shunned by the local system. His advice to Brett, even brief as it was, was the spark Brett needed and soon after he went on his great run – making up for lost time.

      Much of this kind of thing has happened in Australia as well as the US and elsewhere.

  4. Chris, my only concern with your system is that if it so results orientated, that often leads to players NOT developing their games, cos they wanna keep winning, to get the funding, and they are only interested in the ‘now’ not the future. Cos often when you’re making changes and developing your game, your results do suffer, right?
    Also, How would you handle someone who wants to play up an age group or 2 and wants to develop their game and they might not do as well results wise? How do you determine their funding(cos they could dominate a younger age group and get plenty, but their goal is long term down the road?)

    • Exactly, Just like how the Williams sisters didnt care how they performed when they were juniors but they had the end sight in mind.

  5. Well said! I like the fact that you addressed the main issue, which is this is a highly individualized entity in tennis. One thing I think would also add to your outline is taking into consideration the ‘growth’ of the athlete, and how that pertains to his/her developmental process. With that being said, development has to be thought of in terms of stages; with one key catch, the athlete controls the stages they are in. But glad to hear there is some thought provoking ideas in motion!

  6. This article hits the spot and reflects what I have been saying here in Australia for 20 years, you can’t institutionalise tennis as it is an individual sport. Australia, USA and Great Brittain have spent ten’s of millions of dollars each year for decades protecting their players from competition. Australia plays it’s challenges in places where the natives don’t even go so that players get a false ranking which bites them in the butt eventually because they are not competitively tough when facing those from Europe or Sth America. I have proposed to Craig Tiley Australia’s Director of Tennis($1 mill per year no less!!!) to stop this nonsense and get our players competitive from a young age like it used to be but he can’t get his head around the concept. Hopefully the lack of top 20 players from the USA at the moment will wake up the officials in charge to bring in staff who know how to fix the problem rather than the politically astute staff in charge now.
    I am pissed at the way Australia has declined over the years and unless the board of TA make changes we will continue that slide.
    It takes guts to change direction so let’s see if the USTA or TA have any.

    • You are not going to see the leaders from national federations showing any guts while they are earning large salaries. A change of policy and direction amounts to an admission that they have got it wrong for years and would cost them their jobs. The powers that be would never do that voluntarily and jeopardise the weekly pay cheque. They usually tend to circle the wagons, hire more “yes” men at added expense to the sport and conduct a PR campaign based around the next 10 year strategic plan. It is easy to see why some of the players lack the competitive edge when they grow up in this protectionist type of environment. Conversely, it is easy to understand why individuals like Kim Warwick and Chris Lewis forged successful pro careers in their time.

  7. Mark, you raise a legitimate issue and one which exists irrespective of any incentive scheme.

    The above aside, the whole question of short term results versus long term development would require a long article to fully do it justice.

    Meanwhile, my thoughts on the issue are as follows:

    I would be reluctant to implement any initiative that further encouraged players to play up an age group as I think too much of this goes on as it is. Too many young players (encouraged by parents and coaches) avoid the pressure of playing their peers. This is usually rationalized in the name of “development”.

    In those genuine instances where a player has demonstrated that it is in his or her interests to play up, the player wouldn’t be any worse off because of my proposed scheme. In fact, I think because
    of my scheme, more players would choose to stay in their own age group, which would be a good thing.

    But the question is how can we cater to the prodigy whose results justify playing up so that he or she is better off than now.

    If it were me coaching such a player, before recommending that they play up, I would want them to first prove that they were dominant both locally and nationally. When it comes to national domination, we are talking about a few exceptional players across the age groups.. This means that in the course of proving their dominance, they would benefit greatly from my proposed scheme.

    Now, let’s say a precocious 13 year old wins every 14′s title in sight. It’s certainly in the player’s interest to move into the 16′s; however, by doing so, it’s unlikely that the player would
    receive the same amount of financial support as if he or she had stayed in the 14′s.

    To accommodate such cases, I would put in place criteria that, if met, would make further funds available to the player. For instance, if our hypothetical 13 year old of whom I spoke above were to win all the 14′s supernational events, I would have no issue making available a significant amount of funding for expenses incurred the following year. This would give the player the option of playing up an age group without feeling as if he or she were making a financial sacrifice to do so.

    As for making it easier for young players to develop, I think you could adjust the ranking system so it was geared more towards a points-average rather than a points-cumulative system. This would enable top players to gain a higher ranking with fewer tournaments, leaving more time for development.

    Additionally, there would always be the possibility of devising an age-neutral ranking system that was based on the status and age group level of the tournaments combined with head-to-head results.

    These are great points for discussion. Thank you very much for raising them.

  8. Kim Warwick, thank you for your insightful contribution. For those readers who aren’t aware of Kim’s credentials, he reached a ranking high of number 15 in the world, and was coached by Vic Edwards, one of Australia’s most respected and well-known coaches (he also coached Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who was a former world number one). Kim was not only a world class player, he is now a world class coach.

    When you have such astute students of the game voicing such legitimate concerns regarding the institutionalizing of an individualistic sport, it pays to listen.

    Thank you, Kim, for your comments.

  9. Great idea, very practical. It would free up and encourage the creativity of the individual, rather than chaining him to the system like the present scheme does. The incentives should be on rewarding results. America excelled as a free enterprise country. It is sad that it is turning into a socialist nightmare where non-production is rewarded and the successful, creative individual shunned or penalized. This is happening to some of the best tennis coaches in the country, who lose their best students to the USTA.

  10. Oscar Wegner, a huge name in tennis in the USA, thank you for your thoughts. I can tell that we wouldn’t disagree on much. All the very, very best to you.

  11. What I have experienced in the entire state that I coach in is that the problem comes from the coaches.

    To begin with, coaching qualifications are not mandatory. The majority of players who were highly ranked in the NCAA or WTA/ATP can be excluded for the best part from needing mandatory qualifications. However, there are some who have no idea how to teach kids of all levels. Furthermore, you then have those coaches who have not played to a high level, don’t have coaching qualifications and are permitted to ruin a kid’s tennis career. While I agree to an extent the overuse of the institutionalization of tennis, I believe it is necessary to screen out the coaches who should not be working with junior tennis.

    My second point, and perhaps the most important in my eyes, is the mentality of the coaches. I have frequently seen and heard coaches tell juniors not to aim to be a pro but to aim for college. This is said to juniors of 12 or 13 years of age and maybe even younger. The attitude in most sports is to go through college before going pro. That is a system that does not (most of the time) work in tennis. Juniors need to be taught the mentality that they are aiming as high as possible with their tennis career. Encourage the junior to stay in school and use college as a backup if professional tennis is not a realistic option. If you explain to a young junior at the age of 12-13 that they are not good enough to be a professional they will not work as hard as they can because their goal has been lowered. I believe, especially where I am, that many juniors have been told this and they no longer put in the amount of work which is necessary to become a professional tennis player. Growing up I was always encouraged to aim to be the best and it led me to have a professional career. A person with more talent and less injuries than I had would have done better with the ethic which was instilled in me. The vast difference I see now creates a mediocre atmosphere for junior development and a lack of effort on behalf of the junior.

    In summary, sort out the coaches, cut out the guys/girls who think they can teach, and remove those who are only interested in making money. In its place, implement a high coaching standard and an underlying ethic to become a professional tennis player. We are the best models for the juniors, and if we direct them correctly, more juniors will have a greater chance of a successful professional career.

  12. Interesting point, Alex. Thank you for your comment. I remember how I was surprised with a low qualification of some local coaches when I just came to America. Actually, everyone who can keep the racquet can announce his/her self as a tennis coach. The first coach of my kid graduated with honors from Sports University (5 years full time student), then worked as a coach assistant for three years, and only after that she was allowed to coach kids in tennis school.

  13. Well written article by my fellow pro Chris Lewis. What I find so interesting is that many top pros both WTA and ATP are “hiring” coaches from our era of tennis. Annacone with Federer, Lendl with Murray and now Connors with Sharapova. Pros from our era have such a wealth of knowledge that it is actually quite astonishing that so few of that era are actually “in” the system which we know as the USTA PD. The most obvious conclusion we all get to, it is not MONEY that makes great players, although it is a commodity vey much needed and in short supply for most ordinary folk who have a talented kid with their eyes on a pro tennis career. But the coaching and the relationship and trust that develops over many years is the most important. Many other factors need to “align” themselves too but for the sake of not writing an encyclopedia here, I will stick to the last sentence…for now…:) There are tons of examples. That has not changed. What I see happening in junior tennis and I see that in all countries that have a national and powerful organization in direct conflict with privateers like myself and many others is that these powerful organizations are most likely not going to go away. Too much money, too many vested interests in seeing it continue and it is big business for those “in” the system. So I don’t see that changing perhaps in my lifetime….
    But there is another very important point I would like to bring up here which is also very devastating to the continued growth of a talented kid and that is when parents think they can “jump” from one “expert” to another, one hitting partner to another, one club to another, one academy “try” after another. These parents are actually working backwards. We all heard the saying ” too many chefs in the kitchen and no meal comes out right”. I see so many kids are confused by the different messages from each “expert” so in the end they are lost and confused.
    Tennis excellence is a very individual quest for each player. No one “shoe fits all”, if that was true I would be working for the USTA PD! But I can tell you one thing. Show me a kid with hunger, drive, self motivation, guts and a brain that works and thinks every point through until the last point is played and I can make that kid a champion. Those “old school” values have never been more important and Imo is in short supply. We have become a nation ( oh hell here I go again) of entitled, spoiled individuals, not willing to go the extra mile, not willing to sacrifice and looking for the quick fix and the shortest route to fame, money and glory. Tennis history is littered with junior tennis wrecks. We have become “result oriented” instead of “process driven”. We cannot just point the finger at the USTA and say there is the problem. It is but one issue in a line of issues I can think of that has brought America, Australia, England ( no wait, it is cured with the Scotsman winning Wimby) and South-Africa to the sad state they are in now when it comes to tennis.

    • Hi Johan. Just great to hear from you. So many of this blog’s readers will be fascinated by what you have to say. Once again, we have a former world class player (a career ranking high of number 7) and world class coach making a valuable contribution to this discussion.

      In my article, I speak of the anti-individualistic approach that is synonymous with national development programs. If ever there were an individual whose playing style was *not* the product of a “coach by numbers” approach to developing players, it is Johan.

      • It is my understanding that Pete Sampras offered to coach a future champion and the USTA turned him down. From articles and stories I’ve read about Tony Roche, it was not only his skill as a coach but the stories from his years a pro that he passed along that helped develop Roger Federer into a better player. Roger’s performance at the AO 2007 speaks for itself and the great work he did with Roche. The future champions must not lose the chance to work with former greats. The beauty of the game demands it.

    • Hi Johan and Chris. This article is definitely doing the rounds and stimulating great minds to stir. There is definitely huge value in what you are saying however over competing must be addressed and the fact that size of players has a huge impact on results of younger players. This being said they tend to be noticed and warded more opportunities and hence develop faster. Many coaches lack the luxury of the experience you have and therefore lack the ability to notice that certain techniques have no long term future in the game. Therefore i believe parameters do need to be set around extremities in technique, game styles etc and their future limitations. In my short career as a coach (25 years) I have been fortunate to coach and see some countries best juniors be left in the dust due to bad advice. How do you propose to deal with these issues? Coaches buy players with talk and hence buy results which later become funded. Looking forward to your comments.

  14. Chris, your ideas on how to manage the USTA funds and Player Development program are phenomenal. That would certainly be a formidable step in the right direction. I also believe that the basic problem in America is that the USPTA and PTR, and to a certain extent the USTA Player Dev. have shied from modernizing coaching, thereby shortchanging the developing of American tennis coaches and tennis players into modern tennis for decades. I spoke with USPTA’s George Baczo shortly before he passed away with cancer, and he confided to me that he had erred in minimizing, as the USPTA’s Director of Certification, the evolution into open stance and topspin that I initially introduced in the Spanish Tennis Federation School in Barcelona in 1973. Dennis van der Meer approached me at the TTC conference in 2005 in NY and told me that he liked my works and had adopted some of the techniques. But Dan Santorum won’t touch me with a 10 ft pole. Fred Viancos of the USPTA invited me to do a clinic in Dallas and he was very pleased with the outstanding results, but nothing further came out of it despite my offer to share my products with the USPTA. Patrick McEnroe confided that he had seen my first book (Carlos Goffi had it) in the early 1990s and that it helped him fix his forehand and resuscitated his career (got to the semis of the Australian Open).
    Am I too far out or too far ahead? Perhaps this is a good time and place to define my viewpoint of what modern tennis is, so there is no confusion as to what I think needs change and what mindset is necessary.

    Here is a recent article of mine, which some may find helpful:

    Tennis has changed as follows!

    The conventional, linear concept of a tennis stroke is rapidly disappearing. Today’s top tennis is more like Martial Arts, where the effect of the short, one-inch-punch rotation has been known to be dramatically effective. The instantaneous change of force direction, making the forward action extremely short, has some powerful and devastating effects on the object so contacted. In tennis, this discovery has application in very definite but peculiar ways, paralleling the effects of a whip, where the tip cracks when exceeding the speed of sound. So pronounced is the racket-head acceleration that to tame the stroke’s power it needs to be deflected across the ball’s path, thus the windshield-wiper swing was born. You approach the ball slowly and suddendly you withdraw that forward momentum, swinging across you body. The ball rotation achieved therein is another weapon that impairs the facility and accuracy of an opponent’s stroke.

    There is another aspect in tennis that can also be borrowed from masters of Martial Arts. It is the ability to slow down time. Although innate to the human spirit, this ability has been buried. The constant pounding of material sciences leads in a different direction than the ethereal abilities and perceptions of the soul. Conventional tennis teaching focuses on thinking of not being late, on hurrying to prepare. Martial Arts demonstrates that not-thinking and waiting, delaying action, actually slows down time. This state of awareness, which tennis players of all levels experience at times and in different degrees and some call “The Zone”, makes the game feel like in slow-motion or at least in slower motion, increasing perception, feel and control.

    Moreover, intending to use parts of the string bed other than the center has helped stabilize the racquet angle and to further control.

    I played with these innate abilities in 1954. I had a world-class forehand in no time. Then I listened to conventional thought and changed my game. I played the world’s best players in the 1960s with poor results. It took me nearly a quarter of a century to come full circle. The result is MTM (Modern Tennis Methodology), a system that rebels against conventional thought and where all the natural wisdom of a player falls into place.

    To sum it up, I have heard, over the last few decades, so many successes with these principles, that it astonishes me that they have been so easily dismissed by the above mentioned “authorities”.

    • The calibre of contributors to this discussion could not better illustrate the thrust of my article. For such extraordinarily capable folk to be the victims of such a divisive and exclusionary national development program is abhorrent. My only interest in such a program is to see a stake driven right through the heart of it. And the sooner the better.

      Oscar, thank you for your shining intelligence.

  15. In my case, our coach allowed us to have our own personality tennis style on the court (ground strokes). Later he would fix what needed to be fix without invading our own natural tendencies. My group of tennis players (in the 70′s) was the best in South America always winning the South American championships and some orange bowl. The next generation came with a new coach who implemented the socialistic tennis system. My country lost its South American top position. Never again we produced high quality tennis players, except for one player who was # 6 ATP. I come from a small tennis club in South America who have produced one Hall of Fame tennis player, one three time Grand Slam champion, seven top 100 players. After the socialist effect, like in the US, we are dreaming.

    • Pepe, I once had the bad luck to listen to a “consultant” from your part of the world who claimed that when Argentina was a major tennis force it was the result of its national development program. I spoke at length about this with Guillermo Vilas, who gave me the facts. Turned out that the consultant should have been arrested for fraud.

      Thank you very much for comments.

    • Oscar, It was not in the places you have mentioned. But your question makes me think the problem is well spread. It is Ecuador Regards.

  16. Unfortunately in Australia, as Kim Warwick knows, TA has been getting it wrong for years. The guys at the top, elected or on salary, will not listen to criticism. In most businesses you could not get away with that but TA have created a monopoly which, thus far, they
    are getting away with.

  17. Unfortunately, it is a problem in most countries, and some have two Presidents of the same tennis federation creating more problems than help.

    • The player development scheme outlined by Chris Lewis would surely produce better players than any of the socialist models that have been implemented by national bodies over the last three decades for the simple reason that funds would go directly to the players to invest in their individual careers. This would cut out the “we know what is best for you” middlemen working for the federations whose main priority is job preservation. However, while Chris’s scheme is far superior it may not be the best way to invest $20 million.

      How about these 3 options.

      1. Invest the money in to more junior tournaments throughout the USA and in to Futures, Challengers and ATP/WTA tournaments. Players will then earn money as a direct result of winning matches each week rather than earn it through an end of year ranking as proposed by Chris Lewis. This would certainly lead to increased competition right through the ranks – just like it was when the English speaking countries dominated men’s tennis. Spain is the strongest tennis playing nation in the world and this is largely due to the huge number of tournaments the Spaniards play on their home turf where they learn how to compete and win every week of the year. Dog eat dog – you bet.

      2. Do nothing. I never hear anyone talk about the US Golf Development Programme and the US seem to do pretty well internationally in that sport. Why? Because they have the US PGA Tour, the Web.Com Tour, hundreds of good teaching pros at clubs and academies unaffected by national coaches poaching their students. The US also has a good college system that grooms golfers like it used to do for tennis players back in the days of Connors, McEnroe, Gottfried etc. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan sure ain’t the result of any national golf development programme. Come to think of it, neither are Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. No national golf programmes in those countries either. Funny that.

      3. Give the money away – invest the $20 million in successful tennis playing countries like Spain, Argentina, Serbia and Russia on the condition they establish national programmes like the US and Australia. This would not ensure the development of home grown stars in the States but it would guarantee that our rival countries would never again produce players of the calibre of Nadal, Djokovic or Del Potro. In effect, this strategy would level the playing field considerably and provide US players with a better chance of winning majors because the opposition would become weaker over time. If the US can’t make ‘em then it sure can try to break ‘em.

      All three options would be preferable to the programmes currently in place at national level. Who knows, the US may even get a player back in to the top 20.

      • Hi Geoffrey,

        1). I did suggest this.

        2). Yes, a valid option.

        3). Brilliant. Although there would be one further redeeming feature — the policies of this anti-development could be closely monitored so that the US could implement that which was the exact opposite, thereby guaranteeing even further success.

  18. Geoffrey, isn’t part of the problem with the current crop of US players, is that there ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH Futures, Challengers and Tour Events for the boys here and that they’re not taking themselves outta their comfort zone and travelling abroad in order to compete?? Most of them don’t like playing in Europe or competing on clay and we know Europe is where the toughest competition is at the moment, right? They’re just competing against the same (mediocre) players all the time…
    In Spain it works cos it’s central to the whole of Europe so there are many different players, from different countries, coming in to compete week in and week out.
    The US players have it too easy nowadays…They’re soft! It’s Adversity that creates champions!!! (more often than not)
    Chris thanks for your insight and comments, you’re right on the money. Remember how much he Aussies, Kiwi’s, South Africans used to have to travel back in the day? It was tough!
    Really enjoying the comments. Thanks everyone

  19. They definitely need to get out of their comfort zone and try to play more in Europe and adapt more to clay. Want real competition?, go to find it in the continent that has 81% of the top current 100 players in the world. Something different and better are doing over there.

  20. Reading this article is just a reminder of what a crying shame that people like Chris Lewis are not involved in New Zealand tennis. Chris is exactly the type of person we still need here. But sadly, his firm opinions have not always what people in NZ have wanted to hear.

    It’s no coincidence that Marina Erakovic has been the only New Zealander who’s had any success in recent years. She was coached by Chris Lewis early in her career.

    By the way, I’m no coach nor administrator, I just commentate and report on the game. But Chris, you are still hugely respected here in NZ and hopefully one day I’ll get to commentate on a Kiwi who will match or maybe even surpass what you achieved. I live in hope.

    • Folks, Glen is a prominent sports broadcaster in New Zealand. Glen, thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment on it. Yes, it would be great if we had someone alongside Marina flying the international flag.

  21. Glen, correct, and if Chris can’t go I’d love to come over to NZ and visit. It must be a lovely country and very fine people! Or with Chris, if he needs any help!

  22. Some good thoughts Chris and I always remember you and I would ‘discuss’ these sorts of things when you were still in New Zealand.

  23. Chris you are spot on. Look over the past 10 years the US has had many top ITF plsyers in the juniors. But the transition to the pros has been non existent especially on the mens side. I have been developing top juniors in the trenches with them for over 35 years. Alienating the coach at home is a big problem !!

  24. When looking at a framework or overall role for a national organization it is imperative to first understand the culture of the nation that it represents. The foundation of American social values are individual freedoms and the foundation of American economic values are free market principles. It appears to an outsider, that an overly involved government and by extension an overly involved national organization is inappropriate given the cultural values that underpin the country. Surely a framework that is based primarily on competition and individual choice is more appropriate. Having said that it is my understanding that the USTA is focusing on providing a strong structural competitive framework. Improvements such as under ten competitions are an excellent idea but should be implemented without restriction the individual choice of players or coaches.Tennis Australia were leaders in creating the research used in the above article regarding the % chance of success given achievements.

    • GD Jones, coach of Kevin Anderson (and doing a superb job), thank you for your insight and eloquence. Both are much appreciated. It was a real pleasure to read your comments. All the very best with Kevin and everything else.

  25. It is my understanding that TA uses that research heavily in their funding and incentive scheme and is fairly transparent with that. Whilst no theory or system will be perfect I believe that a result based incentive scheme is the most efficient way to run player development and in particular in USA is most fitting with the constituents that the national body serves.

  26. Lots of good ideas and good article!!!! But why can’t anyone see the biggest problem of all….. That USA looses every year great American juniors to universities that are doing a better job in bribing these juniors in college. And looking at real statistics … 1% or less players that graduate every year break through the top 200 in the world… Look back at the top 30 best juniors at 18s 7 years ago and see what they are doing now… In other countries their top players are all thinking professional…. College is a great experience but I think our juniors are been mislead into thinking that college is a good transition to the pros…it will never be for tennis, it can work for other sports but not for tennis.

  27. At Roger Federer’s website I’ve been raising the same concerns for YEARS. It is a relief indeed to find this terrific article that not only slams the current gestalt at the USTA, it provides a pathway to winning. The 2013 USO marks ten years since the last American man won a grand slam. This is a national tragedy.

    • WCR, thank you for taking the time to read the article. There is certainly much frustration out there. However, it’s great to know that there are so many like-minded, intelligent people who understand where the problem lies.

  28. Chris, I believe separating the coach from player is 100% the wrong thing to do. Creating competitions that entice the best players to compete against each other is definitely the way to go. Allowing these players and coaches the opportunity to view the future of the game at its highest level is also a key ingredient. TV takes away the full impact of the game live. Supporting these players and their coaches to have access to all this allows them to see the pathway to the end goal with clear, accurate vision. Through your incentives the best will play your events. I believe your ideas are evolving through this discussion into the vision and pathway. I wish you speed in perfecting it and pray the right someone will listen as it sounds like “we” all are.

  29. Hey Chris – - – My most heartfelt thanks for your wonderful article – - – great insights and excellent writing.

    I have blasted it off to all the coaches on my e mail list and so many have written back positive responses.

    We played the New Zealand circuit way back in the day and I remember that you did a lot more winning than me . . . congrats on your playing and coaching career.

    Keep up your great work for the players and for the great game.

    Hope our paths cross soon so I can thank you in person.

    Best,

    Wayne Bryan

    • Wayne, in light of the rational passion (or is it passionate rationality?) that you have brought — and continue to bring — to this discussion, the
      least I can do is offer a little moral support. To anyone who reads anything you’ve had to say on this subject, it couldn’t be more clear that you are driven by a fervent desire to see the US once again rule the tennis world. It is that drive, combined with your enormously persuasive means of communicating it, that has served as motivational fuel for hundreds of private coaches (and thousands of tennis fans) who feel the same way.

      I, too, sincerely believe that with a more inclusive and supportive approach (and even without it), there is ample player and coaching talent out there for the USA to once again be the dominant force on the international tennis scene. In fact, with the giant contribution you have made to the game here, you and your sons have proved that.

      Like you, I hope our paths do cross soon.

  30. Chris Lewis’ evaluation is excellent.

    The solution is for the USTA to ‘shift’ it’s enormous resources to helping create the environment for competition, and away from it’s Player Development as currently exists.

    PROMOTE is in the mission statement, not coach. The US Golf Association doesn’t coach young golfers, they promote events which develop their competitive skills.

    I have three suggestions for the USTA:

    1. Remove the ‘mandate’ and create the opportunity for the best in a community to play under their coaches direction. Nobody thinks ROG is bad…it is just bad to force a talented young girl/boy to play ROG when they are ready to move up.

    2. INSPIRE the USA’s best, using the US Open, by having sectional ballboy/girl teams go to NY, as a team, to work the US Open. I think the 16 division makes sense….have the Pacific Northwest Team, the Texas Team, the Florida Team….ON THE COURT, watching first hand what it takes to play the game at the top level. This would be a reward for ranking and sportsmanship/character….and be a GREAT incentive to get to go to NY. Also, it is a PERFECT TV opportunity for the USTA to promote the awareness of the best kids in the country.

    3. The USTA should get behind the promotion/staging of American Invitationals…..seven pros, seven amateurs and two qualifying spots….pros like Jan Michael Gambill, Vince Spadea, Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison….and the top amateurs in the region….juniors and college….to play HEAD TO HEAD in a ROUND ROBIN FORMAT….over a five day, 16 player format that can be run in venues of 15OO very nicely. POLINATE the experience with our best young players. These events will give our young players the direct feedback they need to hear/know what they need to work on. I ran such a format and it works for the players, promoters and the fans. I will be happy to elaborate.

    I hope the USTA Board, with the tennis players on it….Tommy Ho, Pat Galbraith, Katrina Adams, Brian Vahaly….the promoter on it….Ray Benton….the Executive Director, Gordon Smith, who ALMOST won the NCAA doubles with Manny Diaz and is a fine player, as is Don Tisdel….will DO THE RIGHT THING…redirect the millions now budgeted for overhead….to PROMOTION…and creating healthy player competitive environments….

    Respectfully,

    Brian Sidney Parrott
    PNW

    • Brian, yes, in the interests of tennis in the USA, it would be far better if the USTA got out of hands-on player development, and, instead, used those funds for promotion and an inclusive means of supporting the best performing players. Thank you very much for your support.

  31. The situation is just as it is in Australia. Currently working with 3 top 20 australian ranked, and 3 top 10 state ranked players, I am constantly having them bombarded with letters offering training schemes with tennis Australia. Yet I cannot name one top australian player who has gone through the system. I coach my players to be flamboyant, their own personalities on the court. It drives people nuts to play somebody who plays their natural game. It gets them results. And I believe, having studied health sciences at uni with particular studies in human biomechanics, that you play better tennis (or any activity) by doing what is natural to you physically, rather than becoming a robot clone of federer.

    I also believe a positive coach player relationship is super important. You need to be like best friends. This doesn’t happen when the system scoops you up.

    As for the tournament system, something like that must happen here in Australia too..

    Sorry I have no comment in the USA system.

  32. Wow! Talk about hitting the nail on the head. I am full time tennis coach in Scotland the home of Andy Murray and the way you describe the USTA system is like you are talking about he LTA in Scotland. I am fed up sending my best juniors in my club to a so called better coaching programme run by the LTA, the talent ID in Britain is killing thousands of young talented players because they have a one size fits all approach. You can’t pick the best player in each age group and model every player to play like that player. Tennis is a game of Tactics as well as technique, I have lost count of the number of matches I have lost to technically inferior players, because they understand tactics. Well done for writing this article!

    • Hi Gordon. Thank you for your interesting post. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article.

      Compared to his actual development, how do you think Andy would have progressed in the Scottish LTA program had he been exposed to it as a promising 11 year old?

  33. How about funding tennis academies, the more higher ranked players the academy produces, the more the academy gets funded. The best coaches and training will become exposed

  34. Chris, great article. It seems you are preaching to the choir a little here. The question is how to make the executive director of the USTA and the President of the USTA recognize the folly of their ways. The short term president of the USTA wants to leave an “imprint”. If we could convince him/her that the whole approach was totally at odds with the attitude that has produced success in the American economy and society, maybe something could happen in our lifetimes. Your piece makes that case very eloquently. But the USTA is a big bureaucracy supposedly led by boards of volunteers. I wonder who really has the power.

    Has anyone made a really good study of countries like France, Germany, Belgium which seem to be producing many more champions despite the apparent lesser numbers available to them? And has anyone really studied Croatia or Serbia? Those countries must have less total resources and population than a medium sized state like Indiana!

    My impression is that players are produced by individuals who take a great interest is supporting and developing a specific player. I think there must be sponsors who step forward to support promising players in places like Serbia because most players come from modest means; but I think their communities come together to help them succeed. And someone was always watching over them. I do not know of any players who have come out of our USTA Player Development program. I don’t mean paying for coaches of 16, 17 and 18 year-olds. World class players have to be developed when they are 12-15 and then helped to mature into complete players by the time they are 21. So far the only thing we know about players who go into the national program at that age is that they will not be successful professional players. I’m not as sure about the girls, but I don’t know of any boys who have made it out of USTA Development and gone on to successful professional careers.

    My understanding is that one of the reasons so many players come out of Buenos Aires and Barcelona is that the best players are drawn to those cities and they drive one another upward. In So Cal there are hundreds of good players and I can’t get my students to line up 2 good practice matches a week, much less 8 good sets minimum. The USTA or the SCTA here in SoCal could be tremendously helpful in putting together kids to practice and play practice matches or even ladder matches. The SCTA is ideally suited to make something like that happen. I support the cumulative points system because it reduces the “ducking” that seemed to go on. Players shouldn’t play as many tournaments as most of them do in pursuit of “the points”, but they should play more quality practice matches or even challenge matches that get them the competitive exposure they all need to grow. In SoCal, the whole family often spends the entire weekend going to a tournament and really might only get to play one quality match. 5 to 6 hours driving time in an individual weekend is not unusual. Then there is the time waiting around after a 6-0, 6-0 match to play the second match of the day. That is time that could be much better spent.

    In any case, thank you for your efforts here. But we have to find a way to reach the “powers that be”

  35. Don, you stated: “My impression is that players are produced by individuals who take a great interest in supporting and developing a specific player.”

    Imagine if those individuals and their successful coaching relationships were encouraged and supported by the national body instead of being sabotaged. Would that help or hurt the USA’s chances of producing future champions?

    • Absolutely. I had a player who competed with your daughter and went into the USTA program at Carson. I made the mistake of backing away because I didn’t want her confused by hearing different stories from two coaches. She was just 10. By some accounts, she has done very well. But 5 years later, she has had no less than 6 primary coaches that I know of and she can’t even get a serve in the box. They essentially took away all the fundamentals I had instilled in her.
      In those far corners of the world that produce these great players from relatively bleak circumstances, I believe that the focused guidance of “someone” who really cares about that individual player has a lot to do with why they persevere and come through to succeed. Most of those people are not as knowledgeable as the national coaches employed by the USTA (although I have little belief that USTA coaches understand how to develop a player; coaching in competition may be another story, but development is a very different skill). Certainly, those coaches around the world are no better than the coaches we have here in the USA (no not all of them, but with tens of thousands of tennis teachers, there are more than a few hundred that are really quite good and yet we produce very few top 100 players, much less top 50). As you point out, it would be a very different story if the USTA would focus on offering opportunities for competition and supporting the coaches who are demonstrating success at producing players. It is inconceivable to me that no one at the USTA could figure out that they should just write a check to Robert Lansdorp for $200,000 and say “Go teach anyone you want to teach. We’ll underwrite you.” Instead they bicker about how they could control him and fit him into their program and that resource is lost. Not completely, but probably to the players who could most benefit from his help.

      It is a long arduous process to shepherd a player through the entire developmental process and an understanding of where that player came from and how they developed helps to get them over the inevitable humps in the road; a national coach who rarely seems to stay in one place more than a year will drift in and out of a player’s life and cannot bring that same focus to the development of an individual player. The USTA, however, could be instrumental in supporting the coaches who could and would love to do just that.

      But that will require a complete paradigm shift in the approach the USTA takes to development. I love your idea of supporting players year to year based on hitting certain checkpoints in terms of competition. The USTA could be a terrific resource if it actually worked to support the efforts of coaches and players who are showing promise. Remember, we are only talking about that 10-15% of USTA revenues. The bulk of the USTA efforts goes to growing the game and grassroots programs that get people started. But there is part of the program that needs to have Americans be represented at the US Open and in the world rankings. Otherwise, the game will shrink and ratings will drop and revenues will fall. This is not altruistic venture for the USTA. It needs to keep Americans relevant in the game.

      Sorry. This whole thing just gets me very worked up. I hate missed opportunities. And this is such a huge one. I’ve had personal interaction with so many of the responders on this blog and I hear an awful lot of agreement among so many knowledgeable people, but it seems almost like watching Republicans and Democrats fighting stupidly and not getting anything done. The respondents on this blog are one side of the aisle and the people in charge at the USTA are on the other side. You have to find a way to get to people with real power and make them see the error of their ways and the wisdom of what you are proposing (or something of at least similar lines). The former players on that Player Development Committee are too aligned with the coaches of Player Development. What you need is to get the ear of the USTA president. You convince him and you have a chance. Short of that, we are just blowing smoke here…

      • Don, before I say anything else, I want to let you know that what you had to say is anything but “blowing smoke”. It gets right to the heart of all that is wrong with player development in the USA. Don’t underestimate the impact of your words. I can virtually guarantee that they will be read by influential decision makers upon whom your comments will make an indelible impression.

        I loved your post.

  36. I regret that the biggest issue looming in the horizon has not yet been confronted here. It could get from bad to worse.
    The USTA is very likely on track to monopolize tennis development at every level by taking over the certification of coaches from the USPTA and PTR, and to eventually control the coaching membership, tennis jobs, and coaching education, much like in the UK and Australia.
    Read between the lines on the actions and press releases of the USPTA Board of Directors (where the view is that they don’t have enough resources to run the USPTA without an alliance with the USTA), it’s President and it’s new CEO, both strong allies from the USTA, and their now allies PTR and their own CEO. The USTA certainly has the wherewithal to take over or absorb or control both organizations and to employ with high remuneration all “team” members.
    Read the press releases about the “collaboration” between PTR and USPTA, between themselves and the USTA, the USPTA recently changing the designation of coaches as Recreational Coach, Professional and Elite Professional, easer to align with the PTR’s and eventually unified by the USTA, the designation of Kirk Anderson as USTA National Director of Coach Education and Development, and more.
    These developments align with this takeover theory. Imagine when they also tie “official program facilities”, clubs, associations, municipalities, programs, competition, and the like to this master plan of control.
    This on paper is a fantastic plan, a dreamlike situation of some master dictator and/or conspiracy group, except that we know that it does not work in practice to produce the caliber of players needed to excel in tennis as a country, a subject well discussed and detailed in this blog and that I don’t need to repeat.
    And if I am wrong regarding this Master Plan, at least we are aware that this could happen.
    It’s a free country (so far). Keep it so.

    • Oscar, unfortunately your prophecy is as certain as it is chilling. The only uncertainty is whether the two currently independent coaching certification entities — the USPTA and the PTR — will submissively collapse into the welcoming arms of a paternalistic national body, or whether the national body, in its inevitable attempt to monopolize coaching methodology, will form an umbrella organization to come in over the top of the USPTA and the PTR.

      In an earlier reply to you I said that we wouldn’t disagree on much. Having read your follow up posts, boy was I right. However, there is one thing that we do disagree on. You state that the monopolization of coach certification by the USTA “on paper is a fantastic plan”. I fully understand that in the wider context you know as well as I do that this plan is an idealistic notion that would, in reality, be catastrophic.

      Where we differ is that I believe that anything so obviously disastrous in practice is, by definition, just as disastrous in theory.

      • Chris, you are absolutely right. And we are still in agreement. I said it in jest, as in the authoritarian dreams of some dictator (or of a suppressive group) who thinks he should control everything. I feel nothing is better than freedom of expression, freedom of creation, freedom for the individual. And freedom for coaches and players as well. We still share the same reality! Best regards and wishes, Oscar

        • Oscar, thanks for clarifying. There’s no such thing as a good theory that doesn’t work in practice. That’s exactly what makes it a bad theory.

  37. Chris, Thank you for your article. I hope you have started a movement in the USTA–your article has support outside the USTA. I remember coaching your son at the 12 zonals and whenever I went out to coach him, he would say “Oh yeah, my dad tells me that too!”, so I decided you must be a smart coach. The first job of the PD department is to create the competitive environment for junior development. The Spanish made a commitment to pro circuits (as opposed to ITF junior tournaments) to develop junior male players which, along with Oscar’s coaching, helped create the Spanish Armada. The USTA could have year-round pro circuits at every level, which would tie in with your incentive system, so juniors could work through the futures and challenger levels and be rewarded for their success. If players decide to go to college, that is a personal decision. They can still play pro tournaments. I would like the NCAA allow players to try pro tennis full time after juniors and return to college tennis when appropriate for them. Success in USTA national junior competition may not have relevance to success in pro competition, which is why American juniors need to compete in pro tournaments. I’m amazed by the level of private coaches (I’m only familiar with Southern California, but I’m sure the same is true in Florida, Texas and all over the US)eg Robert Lansdorp, Chris Lewis, Peter Smith, Oscar Wegner, Angel Lopez, Ed Collins, Brian Teacher, etc (I apologize for my omission of many other great coaches). These private coaches (with their experience and knowledge)–given the time, commitment, money and other resources–are all capable of developing pro players. How could the USTA, shuttling coaches in and out of PD with no commitment to players, possibly compete with these private coaches on the training side of developing players, provided these coaches were allowed to work in longterm junior development? One area that the SCTA is trying to work on, which the USTA could work on also, is to bring the top players and their coaches together, so the players can train and compete together, and their coaches can work together and learn from each other. I remember when many American players (Elliot Teltscher, Kathy Rinaldi, Lindsey Davenport, Pete Sampras, the whole Austin family, etc) came from the junior program at the Jack Kramer Club, organized by Vic Braden and later directed by Robert Lansdorp. As a USTA national coach, Elliot Testscher created similar weekly Southern California Competition Centers (where the top juniors got together to play matches with coaching), with much success until Elliot was promoted to USTA Director of Coaching. Then Elliot faced the same problem that Craig Tiley in TA or Jose Higueras in the USTA face now, a coach cannot transfer private coaching skills into a corporate environment. Harry Hopman was the only one who successfully organized a national system, because Harry had individual control and responsibility of the Australian Davis Cup team, and Harry didn’t interfere with (rather supported) private coaches during junior development. When Harry lost control and TA went to the committee system, like the USTA, Harry left to direct his own academy in Port Washington. But that was a unique situation. Everywhere in the world players are developed by private coaches, and many coaches stay with players through their careers. The responsibility of the national federation,USTA, is to create and supervise the competitive system and support the private coaches and players during their development. I think your incentive system of support is right on the mark.

    • Hi Eric. Thank you for your post, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My whole thrust is to advocate the greatest range of choices and developmental opportunities for as many players and coaches as possible. All the while ensuring that successful coaching relationships and partnerships are supported and respected by the national body.

      Like you, I believe that the local and national bodies have an important and significant role to play; however, nationalizing player development is not one of them.

    • Chris, Really thought provoking article, I am sure the NCAA would get their feathers a little ruffled with the idea of players getting reimbursed for expenses incurred. In regard to player development. If Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison and Dennis Kudla break,thru like the young American women seem to be doing ,then it may become a moot point. No matter what the era it takes the rare singleminded individual who is willing to sacrifice a normal childhood, develop a unique style or weapon, have the mental capacity to handle the big moments and then be willing to deal with all the naysayers as they grind their way to the top. I had a unique vantage point of seeing you go from a country of 2.5 million people in the middle of nowhere to a Wimbledon final. Solving the problems in New Zealand Tennis with such limited resources is perhaps even a tougher problem. I have been bemused by the situation in the last couple of years where at least three of the countries best played have left NZ and been taken under the wing of Australia or England. I do not blame the players, they are just trying to give themselves the best chance to make it. However in this day and age with Tennis being such big business and NZ Tennis having very limited resources it boggles the mind that a legal agreement is not drawn up between NZ Tennis and any player getting any funding in the form of coaching, travel expenses etc, stating that if the player jumps ship to another country all funding must be repaid. This would then allow these resources to be redistributed to help find the next Chris Lewis!,,

  38. Chris, I agree with your premise that the USTA should not be actually coaching these talented juniors, but, the USTA should be controlling the direction and methods of coaching in the country.

    More oversight is needed in coaching – there needs to be a strict enforcement of coach registration to ensure that coaches are up to date with their tennis knowledge.
    America can’t afford to have a potential champion ruined by an unqualified person coaching them.
    Some may cite Richard Williams or Mike Agassi as successful unqualfied coaches, but really, who have they coached to a top level other than their own children?

    The USTA should invest its considerable resources and make use of the world’s best biomechanists and technical experts to devise the optimal technique for each stroke (and footwork.)
    This information would then need to be made available to all coaches (not just the USTA ones), thereby creating a level playing field in terms of tennis knowledge.

    Imagine the improved results if all the coaches (instead of just a select few) are on the same page using “best practice” methods.

    • Hi Harry, Just one quick comment. I have about as much sympathy for the suggestion that the USTA should nationalize coaching methodology as I do for the suggestion that the US Government should nationalize the shoe industry. The results would be equally disastrous.

      As for there being an “optimal technique for each stroke”, I agree with the legendary Australian coach, Harry Hopman, who said that the best advice he could give any player was to “run a mile” from any coach who suggested such a thing.

      In regard to mandating an egalitarian approach to tennis knowledge and then imagining the results, well, I’d prefer not to.

      However, having said the above, I detect a hint of humor in your post. If I am right, I do thank you for brightening up my evening.

      • Hi Chris, presumably we would all wear one size fits all shoes to boot if that industry was nationalized by Government.

        Below is just one of the terms and conditions coaches must sign to be a member of Tennis Australia’s coaching body. I don’t think your ideas align too well with (b) so good luck if the USTA ever take control of coach certification.

        3. As a Coach Member I must: (a) act in a professional and lawful manner at all times; (b) promote and support Tennis Australia’s programs and activities (c) not do, or have previously done, anything that may, in Tennis Australia’s reasonable opinion, bring Tennis Australia or the sport of tennis into disrepute; and (d) only use Tennis Australia’s branding and coaching materials in relation to Tennis Australia endorsed activities and not for any other purpose,

        • “Preusambly we would all wear one size fits all shoes to boot if that industry was nationalized by Government.”

          And I bet that, even then, the left foot shoe and the right foot shoe wouldn’t match up.

  39. Chris,

    Thanks for putting this essay with your views about the state of American tennis out to the tennis public. It’s a topic all of us involved in the tennis community are passionate about and the debate over how to improve US standing in the tennis world has been quite vigorous. Many of the people who have commented on your essay here have offered up similar essays about how to restructure US tennis development, with specific grievances lobbied against the centralized and subsidized work of USTA Player Development

    I read your essay a couple times and feel the best method to respond to you is from the beginning, one point at a time. You state.. “Many believe that the appalling 15+ year decline in US tennis since the days of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang is occurring because the sport no longer attracts the nation’s most talented athletes…”

    Before I address the major point of your statement, for the record, at no time in history has tennis ever attracted the nation’s most talented athletes. No slight on tennis players, but the exploits of the athletes of the NBA, NFL, etc speak for themselves. Re the appalling 15+ year decline in US Tennis since the days of Sampras, Agassi, Courier Chang…Tough crowd here..Decline certainly…But Appalling? Words have meanings and I feel the use of “appalling” is out of line and in the counter argument I plan to make here, it’s the use of such terms that is the problem here, not the decline in American tennis results …

    The “appalling” era of American Tennis you reference post Sampras, Agassi etc contains Roddick, Blake, Fish Isner, Querry, Ginepri, Dent, and The Bryan Brothers. Roddick, former number 1 in the world (for more weeks than Boris Becker) Blake, ranked as high as 4 in the world with wins over all the best and an exemplary professional, Fish, top ten in the world and class act, Isner, former top ten in the world and looking like he is heading right back there again now, Querry, top 20 player, Ginepri, top 15 player and US Open semifinalist before injuries reeled him in, Dent, another 20 in the world American before surgeries took him down, and the Bryan Brothers, just the worlds greatest doubles team of all time.

    This “appalling” generation won the Davis Cup in 2007, many other countries wish they could make that claim. This generation has three sure fire Hall of Famers in Roddick and the Bryans. This post Sampras Generation has stayed off the Evening news and out of the newspaper, living high profile lives of class and dignity and all being first class ambassadors of our sport. To say nothing of the fact that several of them have foundations and charities designated to helping out underprivileged children in their post tennis careers.

    As an analyst of the sport, I just don’t know what more you all want. If the only barometer for success is winning grand slam events, if the failure to do so gets a player, generation, or national program deemed appalling, then by your standards, at this point last year, you would have had to assess Andy Murray’s career as “appalling” for he had yet to win his first major. I have a hard time believing you would go there.

    The last great American tennis generation you refer to were the best of the Open era for American tennis. Every American tennis generation comes up short in comparison. Compounding the post Sampras era players is the Roddick era came of age in our modern times of the Big 4. Of the past 39 majors played since Roddick’s US Open win in 2003, 37 have been won by 4 players, (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, none of who are Americans. There is no shame in not being able to break through their stranglehold atop the mens game, a lot of brilliant players, countries, federations, academies, private super coaches, systems of coaching, are coming up way empty if your standard of what constitutes success at the pro level is only winning majors.

    Why I make these points is because yourself and many others are arguing about restructuring the entire USTA Player development ideology because they have not brought home the major championships we Americans have become quite used to. That’s a rather radical change you and the others propose, it’s premise founded on this “appalling” fall off in American results which I hope I spelled out here above is really not all that appalling at all. What really needs to change here is the attitudes of the American tennis establishment about what constitutes success in these changing tennis times.

    Barry Buss

    • Barry, thanks for your comments.

      Yes, there have been instances of US player successes in the last 15 years. However, these successes have become increasingly infrequent exceptions.

      You made reference to words having specific meanings. Let’s take a look at the word “appalling” and examine its referents in reality when applied to American tennis’ decline.

      Here is the representation of American tennis players in the top 100 at 5 year intervals dating back to the establishment of a rankings system:

      1975 – 27
      1980 – 41
      1985 – 37
      1990 – 25
      1995 – 13
      2000 – 8
      2005 – 8
      2010 – 5

      (August 2013, Number in top 20 – Zero)

      In 1985, any suggestion that the US would have zero representation in the world’s top 20 within 30 years would have been unthinkable. Upon further reflection, the use of “appalling” in referring to this inexorable downward spiral may have been too lenient. Perhaps “calamitous” is more appropriate.

      In regard to judging the success of American tennis by such things as prominent players donating their time and effort to worthy causes: this has about as much relevance as holding up as virtuous a recreational league of tennis-playing nuns to counterbalance the efforts of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang winning Grand Slams.

      As for the wildly successful Bryan Brothers, you might want to ask Wayne Bryan, who is on record as stating (in his inimitable way) that “having observed [USTA Player Development] up close and personal for the past 23 years, I say USTA PD has been and continues to be the biggest impediment to the growth of tennis in this country and also the creation of champions.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the USTA from someone who fully understands what it takes to develop truly great players.

      To mention another point you make, I agree with you that at in “no time in history has tennis ever attracted the nation’s most talented athletes”. I did not suggest this, merely pointed to other folk having (mistakenly) concluded differently. An interesting point in regard to this is that the US’s Olympic medal count has stayed fairly constant since the 70′s. Discounting both 1980 where the US did not compete, and 1984, where its major rivals did not compete, the range from 1972 to 2012 is 93-110 medals. This suggests that the US has kept apace with sport’s globalization in general, just not tennis in particular.

      Finally, Barry, I would like to clarify your mistaken understanding that I would like to see the “restructuring [of] the entire USTA Player development ideology”. In fact, I absolutely would not. I would like to see it eradicated. I say this because it is becoming increasingly evident that the extent to which the USTA has progressively involved itself in junior development is the exact extent to which American tennis has declined.

  40. Hi Chris,first of all hope your well.Great article,and you hit the nail on the head!
    I remember when all this started happening back in New Zealand,and then we had so many good kids,who were as the coaches all told to train and play mostly the same way,that killed the tennis i say for 20 years.
    I am in Switzerland and teach here,they are doing even more every year the same things,which stop coaches working with each other and making kids learn a certain way ,train with coaches maybe they dont like,or they are left out.
    I myself have 2 young children under 6 years old,and i let them learn the game completely different,not a lot of musts,but individually developing in there own way.

    In my day back home as a chid learning the game,i had a coach Mose harvey,he had 8 kids under 10 years,he taught us all different as we were all different,we all became New Zealand Champions.
    I grew up with David on the court ,and many other kids who deveped there own styles.Then came the National Squads,well for me that was the beginning of the end.
    The coaches were told how to coach all the same,there natural flare and instinct,as so with the players were taken away.
    Wish you good luck Chris.
    Your exactly the sort of person i would enjoy working with every day.

    Your way would help tennis worldwide.

    Regards Ron

    • Ronnie, I really appreciate your taking the time to read the article and to comment on it. I’m also pleased to hear that you have two young children to whom you are teaching the game. I’m sure you’ll do a great job and have a stack of fun doing it. All the very, very best to you and yours.

      • Your welcome.
        Yes, teaching my kids is great.
        My little boy never stops running and wants to play every day tennis.
        They both love it.
        Keep up the good work.

  41. Just found out that Larry Ellison is setting up a junior development program with Paul Annacone at his Malibu Racket Club. Perhaps this kind of announcement might remind the USTA they aren’t the only game in town.

    • With Paul’s phenomenal track record and vast experience as a coach, (not to mention Larry Ellison’s track record), it is programs such as these and the results they will most certainly achieve that should be supported to the hilt. They offer more opportunities and create more extensive, healthy competition, the end result of which will be an inevitable rise in the general standard of play in Southern California.

      Just imagine the incentive and motivation for competing academies in Malibu’s geographical area to now outperform this potential rival. This is great news for tennis.

  42. I would just like to comment on this as a player who has grown up playing the USTA circuit since I was about 8. I’m 16 now still playing it and I can say that if I was forced as a 10 year old to use different balls and rackets then the kids I looked up too I would never have keep playing all these years. I am not easy to be coached and it takes someone very special to get through to me. I would have never been able to reach the high level of tennis I play today if I was taught by someone who doesn’t use his own mind and knowledge.

    Chris I strongly agree with everything you have stated in this article but in my opinion the USTA is more worried about looking good then developing players correcting and admitting they messed up.

    Having the player/coach relationship is one of the most important things to me as a player. Having a national organization in which I would be 1 of 100 players they have. is not what makes a champion.

    The biggest names in tennis history are known for being different or being able to do something no one else can do. Our system is slowly taking these uniqueness aspect of the game away and in my opinion it is one of the main reasons we have no top players from the US anymore.

    • Hi Stephanie. At 16, for you to fully understand the theme of my article and then contribute such a thoughtful and interesting response gives me even more hope for the USA’s tennis future. You are an independent thinker who is both competent and confident. Just the sorts of attributes that great tennis players require. Thank you so much for posting.

  43. Hi Chris. Got the tip to check out your comments. As always well thought out and deserving of the good debate it has stimulated.
    I think there is very little to add to the meat of your comments just for everyone to tinker with the details.
    One hat fits all trickle down programs, magic bullet programs have failed for the simple reason: we are all different whether coaches or players and your ideas champion our individuality and freedom of choice which is currently frowned on.
    I would add as many contributors have that their is a clear and clever socialization centralization of the sport world wide as the comments indicate. The game has fallen to a foreign tennis ideology that celebrates people who have little or no experience in the game and punishes those who do. Faceless pen pushes and paper shufflers. We all need to stand up against this tide.
    The central issue or relationship is the coach player relationship Passion and personality and relationship will by its nature beat a rigid program or process.

    Keep up the great work.

  44. Wonderful posts. But if any of you think the USTA Player Development will go away in the near future, good luck. Their system has actually a better chance to grow in scope, power and reach than the Russian Mafia because it is “legal”.
    The better you are as a coach, the more the USTA PD needs your most talented prospects to justify their means. It’s an easy steal. Instead of parents having to pay for coaching, facilities, or for travel expenses, everything will be provided for. Pity it won’t include you as a coach. They have their own, more “talented”, and their own coaching system, more “standard”. Plus wild cards for entry in the most meaningful competition.
    And an easy exit if the player does not come up with the goods in a reasonable amount of time. Gone! Dismissed! Easy replacement, lots of dough, lots of bait to entice someone else who may be “the one”.

    Look at what Charles Bricker (noted Florida’s Sun Sentinel journalist) wrote last year:

    “I can’t tell you what the USTA development program spent in 2011 until it files its Form 990 income tax report, but it’s expected to be about the same as for 2010 — a grand total of $15.7 million.
    Let me repeat that figure — $15.7 million.
    Where has $15.7 million gone?
    * $809,000 to Patrick McEnroe, effectively the general manager, plus $238,000 in other compensation.
    * $387,000 to prime coach Jose Higueras, plus $83,000 in other compensation.
    * $273,000 to talent assessment expert Martin Blackman, plus $91,000 in other compensation.
    * There are nine employes in the development program earning at least $152,000 annually, and that was 2010. The total salaries of those top coaches, plus a slew of lesser coaches and support staff came to $7.7 million. That’s for one year.”

    Well, I just did the math, that leaves a few million for the mafia, sorry, for the legal system, to steal, so sorry, another typo, to entice the parent and “your” kid.

  45. A parent of a kid that I coach led me to this article. I’m an ex-journeyman pro who played professionally back when the lower level tournaments were referred to as “Satellite Circuits.”

    My initial coaching days were spent in St. Louis (mentored by a brilliant man- Rick Flach- Ken’s older brother) and I now coach juniors in New York. I’ve read pretty much everything written on the USTA over the years and have of course been directly engaged with them over the years as well.

    Articles like the one above (as well as many of the comments) are a much needed breathe of fresh air in an otherwise much stale abyss. One could not have designed a more destructive system of developing tennis players if one set out to do so intentionally than what we have witnessed with the USTA holding the reins of “developing players” over the last 20 years.

    I think such an article like the one above has not only pointed out so clearly some of the major issues we face in the tennis community but it is also tapping into an increasing disenchantment with the USTA.

    Over the next few days I plan to add some additional comments specific to some of the points raised in this piece. To unpack all the idiosyncracies and bureaucratic incompetence of the USTA would take a lifetime. A few stories go a long way to exposing this massive fraud being forced upon us. For this piece hat;s off to Chris and to all those who comment.

    This Leviathan must be brought down if we are to see tennis flourish in this country again- at all levels.

    For those who have not already read it, Wayne Brian’s, “Open Letter to the USTA”, is mandatory reading as well as a more recent piece he wrote.

    Tim Mayotte’s recounts his brief stint with the USTA and this too is a glimpse into the rabbit hole- read that as well.

    More later- a great piece that everyone should pass along.

    As a final note Chris- let me say that people do get it- they are just having a hard time imagining how to reinvent the infrastructure for tennis organizations.

  46. For the comments section maybe add an “edit” function so that those who don’t go over their numerous typo’s (points finger at self) can fix them- so much for majoring in English. LOL.

  47. Hey Chris, Nice doubling down. Appalling was a poor word choice, cataclysmic is..well, an appalling word choice. If I read you correctly, you seem to have found a direct causal relationship between the advent of US Player Development and this cataclysmic decline in American tennis results, and after giving the situation great thought and 2700 words of analysis, you have concluded that the only possible solution to the US tennis problem is to eradicate the whole concept of the USTA being involved in US Player Development.

    That’s cute. Awesome really. The only way to possibly save the future of US tennis is to eradicate US Player development programs run by the USTA.. Just blow the whole thing up right here and now. Boca Raton, Carson…It brings one back to Vietnam days, when a major Black I believe infamously said “We have to destroy the village in order to save it”

    Listen, you were a great former player, likely an excellent coach, probably a pretty good guy just like all your supporters here on this thread, but organizational restructuring of a well entrenched multi million dollar enterprise likely isn’t your long suit. I could drive small convoys of trucks through many of the points you make in your essay Chris, from ROG, to bureaucracies, to your use of the USOC as a benchmark that US athletics has not declined world wide (The USOC is a bureaucracy Chris, a huge one, very well run and one that delivers the goods, but a bureaucracy any way you slice it)…But I have things to do. The facts in these debates are I’m not going to change your mind or any of your followers minds, you are all very invested in them. But there are quite a few people who read these debates who are not as well versed on the issues here as yourself and I, so I speak to them here.

    Your argument in deeming the Roddick era as cataclysmic can only mean that your barometer of success is based strictly on winning majors. If you look at the organizations the big 4 have become nowadays and the traveling teams they have assembled to have any chance of winning a major…Coaches, friends and family, hitting partners, physios, trainers, etc etc, hell, Nadal has a Coaching “B” team when Uncle Tony is not available….The only hope the young American players have of competing on an even playing field with these stars is to have at least the same teams available to them. Wthout USTA Player Development, just how are the Ryan Harrison’s and Jack Sock’s going to afford the same support or have any chance of breaking through against such formidable obstacles? It’s not going to happen Chris. The argument that should be put forth from you and your supporters is not how do we get rid of Player Development, but how do we improve it.

    You want to go back to an old model of tennis training that just doesn’t exist anymore. The days of a teenage Pete Sampras changing his backhand on a back court at the Kramer Club under the watchful eye of a quirky doctor and then winning the Open a mere three years later, those days are done man. Teenagers aren’t even getting in to the US Open, let alone winning it. It’s an adults game now and the physicality to compete week in week out takes years and super specific training to acquire. I just don’t see how an unsubsidized private sector can compete with a fully subsidized USTA run Player Development Center. And the proof is in the pudding Chris.

    If USTA Player Development were so bad, why are all the top players still signing on. Where are the complaints from players and families that the USTA PD destroyed their sons game? Where is any evidence showing that a can’t miss kid entered the USTA PD and they ruined him? Where are they man? If its as bad as you say it is, there should be a mutiny going on amongst the people and players involved, and that’s just not happening. There’s a whole lot of complaining from people like yourself and Mr Bryan and the like, but at some point I have to ask you….All these email and columns railing against PD..How is that working out for you? Where you getting with all this? You all have been at this for two years now. That’s a lot of wasted time and energy if you add it up cause short of a lot of back slapping from your preached to converted, you’re not making your point. Not even close, and you all need to get over your little concept that you somehow speak for the entire tennis community for I need to inform you, you do not. Not even close.

    I come back once again to my original point in my first letter. It’s you people like yourselves who are the problem. You all are becoming toxic. It’s time to become part of the solution, not part of the problem. If the best you have is to get rid of PD all together, well, I wish you a whole lotta luck with all that.

    • Barry,

      Your second paragraph has a false analogy in it. Comparing what Chris says to your Vietnam example is a pretty poor exercise in logic. You’ve manufactured this comparison using hyperbole which does not lend credence to your case. A logician would fail you in your attempt to disprove what Chris says using such a fallacy. Next time if your attempting to disprove someone’s point actually direct your focus to the points made- you lost any credibility you may have had right from the start. In short- bring the convoy you allude to or your just blowing hot air.

      Your third paragraph is nothing more than a twisted manipulation with a passive/aggressive technique used in order to give an aura of credibility to your stance- a stance which is invisible as you “don’t seem to have the time” to actually argue Chris’ facts but do seem to have the time to attack him. The way you begin this attack is classic by saying, “Chris I’m sure you’re a nice a guy and all but…”, which is age old debate technique used by those who have no real data and who wish to dance around some difficult truths. Your next comparison is also flimsy in that the USOC being a big bureaucracy has little to no impact on the majority of Olympic athletes who go on to excel. Most of those athletes train independently with a variety of coaches who have a variety of affiliations and like athletes. If you think the majority of US Olympians are training in Colorado Springs year round you are clueless. The top athletes will use the USOC when it suits them- the Olympics are but a small part of what those athletes do in their careers. Just as Chris using the Olympics was a poor comparison so is your use of it to cut at his main points.

      The proof is in the pudding as you say and ultimately the USTA has little to nothing to show for it’s immense investment and vast amount of control over tennis in the US. It’s not just the player development of top juniors the USTA is dysfunctional in every capacity possible in it’s half-baked attempts to bring tennis to people of all stripes and talents.

      In the end let’s understand that the primary function of the USTA is to rake in lots of cash using all sorts of means and mechanisms. It’s biggest weapon in it’s arsenal is it’s massive PR machine that portrays the USTA some do-gooder bureaucracy that has everyone’s best interest at heart. This is total crap- the USTA is primarily focused on perpetuating itself and will attempt to roll over anything in it’s path.

      In my next two posts I am going to show through two different stories how completely mercenary and detrimental to tennis the USTA is. These two tales are not exceptions- they are the norm.

      One narrative will concern the manner with which junior team tennis is currently done through the USTA and how it has been done in the past and how it can be done at present and in the future.

      The second narrative will concern USTA junior tournaments which are at this point beyond the pale scandalous. Anyone who defends the way these are run is either not involved, likes incompetence and mediocrity or is so betrothed to the USTA that they are blinded.

      A final observation: Where I live the USTA is seen only as a necessary evil and the numerous functionaries connected to the USTA are just seen as clumsy bureaucrats that have to be navigated. The general consensus is that the folks who are hitched to the USTA are the bottom of the barrel and need that attachment to give themselves credibility.

      Of course some of them are nice guys too (wink-wink; nod-nod).

  48. Some of the comments in this blog are becoming a personal attack on some well meaning persons. It is obvious that the Player Development system needs reform. The results demonstrate it. We should focus on its weaknesses and offer solutions. My contention is that there is too much concentration of power (and money wasted) at the top. And the power grab is in the works towards integrating the USPTA and PTR as USTA subsidiaries, ending their independence.

    My solution is the democratization of the system. Rather than isolating a promising player from his developing years’ coach, as is customarily done by the USTA, include into the mix every coach who has a top junior. A coach like Chris Lewis, for example, has developed Gage Brymer who is a top American junior and has been practicing with Roger Federer last week. Chris, who has developed more outstanding junior players, should be involved as an advisor to Player Development. Some leading coaches who developed top players in the past, like Robert Lansdorp, would probably bring some contributions, if so inclined. So would Nick Bollettieri, Rick Macci, and many others. Some other top juniors are developed by a parent/coach, who should be included too. Let’s say the USTA selected 100 outstanding junior girls and boys in the USA and 100 coaches. Let’s say between travel and lodging the USTA spends 30,000 dollars per year per kid and/or coach for week long periods at established centers, financing also their participation in national tournaments for the period the player is still in the competition.

    It would only amount to about 6 million dollars, only 40% or less than the total amount spent in Player Development.

    Imagine the player and coach development so generated.

    How to afford it?

    I think Patrick may be happy to donate 75% of his salary (just the USTA’s, not his TV and other income) to such an enterprise. It may even lower his tax bracket and instead of giving his money to the government he could create a real legacy and tremendous goodwill.

    Some of the top USTA coaches may follow Patrick’s example, and some others would need to go back to their private enterprises or jobs, freeing some more funds.

    The USTA could contribute another 5 million as well. The total between today’s Player Development expenses and this proposal’s cost is less than 10 percent of the USTA’s revenue.

    Rather than close the door to the coaching methodologies that created the outstanding juniors in the first place, those could then be discussed in the forums thus created, hopefully everyone sharing knowledge to create a real powerhouse.

    Could anyone then beat America in the quest of creating top ten and Grand Slam winners? I doubt it. The human resources of the USA, combined with the financial resources of the USTA are infinitely larger than those of most of the world.

    The USPTA and PTR could be made aware of these developments in the educational and technical arena, participating, but hopefully staying independent and affordable for every coach.

  49. I am not sure that Patrick McEnroe read this blog and all these opinions from high regarded coaches and players. I asked USTA officials two times to give their feedback on Chris Lewis’ article but I did not receive any official answer.

    • Valery stated “I asked USTA officials two times to give their feedback on Chris Lewis’ article but I did not receive any official answer.”

      Does that mean you received an “unofficial” answer?

      • I got some anonymous responses. But I cannot publish them, because I don’t know who wrote them. To be clear, I did not receive responses from USTA officials on the article and the discussion.

  50. Oscar,

    The personal attacks are done in an attempt to kill the messenger and distract from the message. Any institution that is under such criticism will attack those critics. What you’ll find with the majority of those who are on the attack is that they are mostly connected to the USTA or have a vested interest in perpetuating this system- no matter how dysfunctional it may be.

    I did get a chuckle with your suggestion that P McEnroe donate much of his USTA salary- a great suggestion at that- as he has on other occasions defended his salary in a most arrogant and caustic manner. PMac is not a very giving character and in his role as Grand Poobah of the USTA shows utter disdain for any outside voices. It’s hard to fathom how he was able to gain the reins of the USTA in the first place.

    This conversation that we are having here is only a reflection of the numerous other similar conversations that are occurring nationwide. Be prepared for things to get worse as the USTA is in fact attempting to consolidate- the nature of the beast as it seeks monopoly- and it is also in the process of restructuring it’s national junior tournaments in a way that will negatively impact many players.

    I don’t want to be a pollyanna but I see these things as an opportunity for other folks (coaches,parents,players) who are well-organized and dedicated to explore other options outside the USTA as more people become disenchanted with this most un-democratic system.

  51. From Chris Lewis…”Finally, Barry, I would like to clarify your mistaken understanding that I would like to see the “restructuring [of] the entire USTA Player development ideology”. In fact, I absolutely would not. I would like to see it eradicated. I say this because it is becoming increasingly evident that the extent to which the USTA has progressively involved itself in junior development is the exact extent to which American tennis has declined.”

    From Valery…”I am not sure that Patrick McEnroe read this blog and all these opinions from high regarded coaches and players. I asked USTA officials two times to give their feedback on Chris Lewis’ article but I did not receive any official answer.”

    Frankly, Chris is getting the response he deserves from the USTA..nothing. Lot of hard working career tennis professionals working their tails off trying to make the system better for the next generations of American kids. Chris would like them all fired, because the USTA PD has not developed enough results quickly enough..for him, to meet his yearning irrational need that somehow Americans should be best at everything..just because they used to be??? It begs credulity honestly.

    And the only thing here topping the clueless is the classless. How does publishing someone’s salary have any positive effect in developing American tennis youth? Seriously, what business is it of any of you what they, the USTA, do with their hard earned money? For a bunch of anti-government, anti-centralized planning, give it all back to individuals and ingenuity, you sure are quick trying to tell other people what to do with their money..Money you had nothing to do with them earning and have no say in how it gets distributed, yet somehow has become an issue of contention for so many of you and something you use in your arguments against PD..again, begs credulity.

  52. Interesting article! Does the writer not know that the player development department regional training program is placing more emphasis and funding into local training centers? I agree with some of his points, there is not one system that will develop more players, but different ones that work for different player. The US still has way way more ATP and WTA ranked players than any other nation, however due to globalization and due to a “soft” culture, these are factors that have a stronger influence in an increasing physically demanding sport than how much money is being invested. GB is the same way with its soft playing culture. Funding has to be placed into the local centers (non USTA centers) producing the talent to help them build and grow their programs, I do believe there is an idea to this behind the RTC’s. I do agree that more resources can be spent into a tougher more competitive competition structure.

    • In top 100 on men’s side USA has 6 players. Spain has 14, France 13, Germany 7, Argentina 7 and Russia 5 tennis players.

  53. Basic Basic. A player bounced around in between coaches is very likely subject to different data, perhaps false or inappropriate, and instruction that brings about thinking and complications. The young promising player, prior to this new experience with an “expert coach”, had settled already on a clean slate and little or no thinking, a new modus operandi and immersed now in the higher harmonics of feel and instinct. Tennis at the advanced level is very delicate. A change that does not fit the mold of the particular player can certainly lessen a top prospect’s ability.
    Cookie-cutters, in this wonderful sport, only work the first day or so in a player’s life, and only if the teachings are natural, simple and easy to apply. You are appealing to the person’s feel and instinct even at this stage. Which takes us to the fact that a beginner is as delicate as a pro, and falls data kills them all.

  54. Here is the problem in a nutshell and I’m living it.
    1. Tennis is not sponsored in Middle Schools and the rules e.g. in GA
    2. Tennis court time costs $$$, and many coaches want to homeschool top players.
    3. Our infrastructure is not there to support fair programs and talent
    4. Many pros are too busy with ALTA, and every other country club program to dedicate to good kids with talent.
    5. Those that kids who do rise to the top are bullied by other kids who say “tennis is not a sport”
    6. IMG – Need I say more it’s costs $$ and has too much influence
    7. Level the playing field make private clubs allow more time for outside pros to help launch the program. They don’t care about kids nor do most want to travel to see kids who are in tournaments, even though they say they will…need I say more?

  55. 8. Ball compression changes. Now that was fun. My son was top 150 in the state, and had to retrain for two years. After five years lets hope he doesn’t give up hope on the sport he loves.

    Please write me Patrick or John M. I have more suggestions.

    Parent of a rising tennis star.

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