Late last year, on the recommendation of Allen St. John, I read James Surowiecki’s fascinating book The Wisdom of Crowds, and thought it might have some application for player talent identification and development at the USTA. During a rainy day at the Orange Bowl, Paul Roetert agreed to meet with me at his Key Biscayne office. I explained my version of the books insights and he said he would read it, and also referred me to the Sports Science arm of High Performance.
My perhaps naïve suggestion was that parents of junior players could be used as a resource in helping bring overlooked, yet promising players to the forefront. I know the sheer numbers of parents watching tennis at junior tournaments far exceeds that of USTA coaches and employees, and many of these parents have vast amounts of experience in and knowledge of the sport. Those that don’t could still bring useful perspectives about other areas that matter---financial background, attitude, ethics. One of the book’s most powerful arguments is that an expert is not able to observe and absorb enough to make better decisions than a crowd with its multiple perspectives, diversity and knowledge. A simple example is the percentage of times polling the audience is superior to phoning a friend in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
I thought perhaps a simple questionnaire asking the parents of nationally ranked players whom they thought could benefit from the support of the USTA (not just financial, but with camp invitations, etc.) might provide useful data. If not, I didn’t see much of a downside—asking your customers what they think isn’t exactly a revolutionary concept.
At the first round Davis Cup tie in La Jolla, I learned that Sports Science was decidedly less enthusiastic about the book and my idea, although I did appreciate that they took the time to read the book and debate some of its ideas with me.
It is interesting that reading The Wisdom of Crowds inspired me to formulate a concrete proposal, while Blink, another fascinating book, and in many ways the antithesis of Crowds, did not.
In a future post I’ll review the bestseller I just finished, one that was suggested to me by several people in USTA High Performance, Moneyball, by Michael Lewis.