Parents often ask tennis coaches: “Do you think my kid can become a tennis pro?” Coaches often answer along the lines of: “Every good tennis player has a chance…a player should train and play hard…if a kid wants to be a pro, he/she has to train like a pro…”
Does it mean that most coaches don’t really know if a certain kid has the ability to play at high level? Probably not, but even if they think so, most coaches never say to parents that their kid should just play guitar or choose another sport. Sometimes, maybe that’s the right thing to do.
I remember a situation when a pretty famous coach told a tennis parent that her 16 years old kid has zero chance to reach pro level. After the conversation, the disappointed parent terminated the contract with the coach and moved to another coach, who probably said something like “…every good player has a chance, let’s start practicing like a pro…”
So, look at what scientific researchers say about talent in sports and how to identify young talented tennis players. First, take a glance at the definition of talent. “Talent is the adequate aptitude or ability in one direction, above the normal average. Talent is natural endowment or ability of a superior quality”.
I entirely agree with that definition, and for me, the key words are “natural ability of a superior quality”. My point is that champions are born, and then they are made. You cannot develop a tennis champion from an average tennis player.
Here I write about the results of the research that was conducted by Piotr Unierzyski of Poland. He did his research projects with junior tennis players in Europe from 1994 to 2002. (Source: http://www.itftennis.com/shared/medialibrary/pdf/original/IO_18455_original.PDF)
During the research Piotr Unierzyski interviewed and/or tested over 1000 junior tennis players from more than 40 countries. Among them were Roger Federer, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Guillermo Coria, and many other well known top players. The average age of the players was about 12 or 13 years old when they were tested or interviewed and some of them are now ranked in the top 100 in the world.
Some interesting information about great players was found, for instance:
- They were 3-4 months younger than (within the same age group) than the mean age for the group.
- They were slimmer than the average 12-13 year-old tennis players.
- They were less powerful.
- They were usually faster and much more agile than the top 12-13 year-old players.
- Their average starting age of tennis was six years old. They began playing in tournaments at nine and started to play outside of their own countries occasionally at age 11.
- They played 45-50 singles matches per year plus 15 doubles matches, which was below
average for these ages.
- They practiced around 10 hours per week, which was below the average for the group,
and two to four hours less than the top 12-13 year-old players.
- They were doing two hours more fitness training per week than the average.
- The parents were usually very supportive—involved but not overly involved.
As you can see, the results of the research completely confirm the idea that natural talent for a specific sport is much more important than any of the other factors. Those who carefully read my blog remember that I always oppose the idea of 25+ hours of training a week for juniors under 15 years old. Look at the article How much should a junior tennis player train?
If a junior tennis player (under 15 years old) has talent, 15 hours of training a week is enough for developing a strong tennis player who is able to reach pro level. If a player is not naturally gifted for tennis, then why destroy their health with 25+ hour workouts a week.
What do you think about importance of talent for a tennis player and how to identify it?