Tennis Is One of the Most Physically Demanding Sport

Picture of Ray Brown

Ray Brown

Male students often arrive at our place in horrible poor physical shape. I have inquired about this and they reveal that they are discouraged from participating in any physically demanding activity for fear that it will be too much for them.

Tennis at our place is very hard and physically demanding. I have kids come, as old as 16, and interview and never return for fear of how hard the program is. This is the exact opposite of my generation who never recoiled from a difficult task.

Some South African immigrants recently presented to me a startling conjecture. The reason that American males are growing up so pampered and irresponsible is that the father in the family has failed to do his job of teaching the males how to step-up to a challenge.

They went so far as to say that the mother now has too much say in the upbringing and as a result the boys are prevented doing what boys of my generation did: constantly engage in vigorous physical activity.

Of note is that those students in our program who also play football or basketball report how much easier training for those sports is compared to tennis. When we get a transfer from football, for example, it takes at least a month to get the student into adequate physical shape to do our drills because they have never been physically challenged.

These facts now raise a new and controversial question about why tennis participation is lagging. It is not that that other sports are “stealing’ the talent; it is because other sports are easier.

A curious fact about group sports is the factor of “group think”. Players can actually agree among themselves to slack off and take it easy during training, thus resulting in an inferior player.

Tennis, at least at our place, does not allow for such group think. It is quite the opposite: everyone must constantly step up the pace and meet difficult challenges.

So I leave this question for your readers: is the fall off in American tennis a result of other sports stealing the talent; or, is it a result of pampered kids just not being able to step up to a challenge because they have never been required to do so, or even discouraged from dong so?

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Tennis Is One of the Most Physically Demanding Sport — 5 Comments

  1. I’m thinking those South African immigrants were perhaps spouting their bizarre sexist bullshit out of jealousy of the USA’s talent for winning gold medals.

    Some much simpler dynamics are to blame for the poverty of American tennis. It’s expensive, it’s only on TV eight weeks a year, and the other sports are superficially cooler: They’re traditionally very masculine and have a built-in way of making friends. More participation means a diffusion of talent, both in players’ conditioning and the effort invested by the coaches. Of course tennis coaches are insanely demanding. If they don’t like tennis that much, they would like a different sport. Same with the kids.

    I would really like to know how you figure that it’s the glorious toughness of the previous generation that makes kids struggle at tennis, but when they slack off in football, it’s their fault and not the fault of the old fart coaching them with a twisted view of masculinity who values posturing above personal growth. Hmmm, maybe there is something to this bad-father theory.

  2. After McEnroe and Connors there was a huge debate about American Tennis and where the next male players were coming from. Then along came Courier, Agassi and Samprs. Hey presto a golden age emerged. Great players come from anywhere and the fact that Switzerland have Federer and Wawrinka then no one close is a good indicator of the fact that you never know where the great players will come from. There are some seriously good young American tennis players coming through so again I would hesitate to say that American Tennis is in a long-term slump.

    Tennis is possibly and more likely probably the most demanding sport both mentally and physically on a human being. However I am one of these South Africans from a previous generation and I can tell you firsthand that the amount of work that young players are putting in is way more demanding and brutal than anything we knew about or did do in our time. I think there is some validity in the point that youngsters watching top players and what they go through over five sets could scare some off the is certainly not a sport that anyone wanting to succeed will not think seriously whether they are prepared to put themselves through the brutality that is needed to become a top player in this day and age. However I think we do other sports a disservice in suggesting that the highest levels in every sport dont demand a certain mentality that very few people possess.

    I agree with the previous comment that the biggest barrier to entry is the expense during the transition from junior to senior tennis and becoming a pro that can financially support him or herself. The amount of rent and experience that a young player has to acquire means that unless they are a phenom it will take them probably 6 to 8 years from the age of 18 to make the higher levels of the game. Many will quit in the first three or four years of this transition because of the financial support needed to get through the futures and be successful at challenger level.

    It is essential for coaches to be honest about the process that doing well at tennis entails. There is a slow buildup of belief, confidence, desire and knowledge that the player gains as a result of this process and this is not automatic. The coach has to exude a calm confidence in the process to both the parents and the player focusing on the attitude and increasing ability to work which becomes the hallmark of any successful coach or player. So many people say they want to become professionals but in reality as the work load increases and the mental strain of dealing with losses and bouncing back for more, still eager and enthusiastic to improve, most find their breaking point and quit the tour.

  3. I think there are many factors that explain the dormant stage in American tennis. It’s foolish to point at one. USA is a bigger country (population, economy etc) so expectation is a bit much. America is expected to have a grand slam contender at all times (actually they do; unless if women don’t count or is it the racial make-up). Serena has been all along.
    Tennis is not in the spotlight to the General population (only the previledged gave the tennis channel). Regular channels CBS, ABC, NBC only show a few events throughout the year. Kids grow up inspired by basketball, football, baseball players who are on tv constantly. Tennis has taken a back seat. This is part of the issue not only issue. Tennis can be cyclical: there was a time Sweden, Australia, Germany dominated top ranks (grand slam winners, world ranking) but now no one from those countries. Spain is a newcomer really. The cycle will turn this way at some point. Patience, patience

  4. What sexist garbage. Sounds like you agree with the SA kids.

    The top athletes will play basketball or baseball or football.

    I love tennis but places like Spain and France don’t have so many sports competing for the best talent.

  5. As the mother of a tennis player I find this post humorous. My son has given hours to fitness each week and I am often the prompt. He’s a talented player who puts in 150%. The issue is not desire, laziness, mothers or fathers……it’s expense! My son would play tennis 6 hours a day if he could. But he can’t. Because it costs too much.

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