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Saturday, June 9, 2007

A 'Soviet' Plan to Save U.S. Tennis

This Wall Street Journal story about the USTA's Evert Initiative has been out for a few weeks, and I read it, but was waiting to post on it until I could find the time to type out some excerpts. WSJ stories usually aren't available for free online, but last night I discovered that this one was, so here it is. I think the headline is more provocative than the actual account of Madison Brengle and Ashley Weinhold training in Boca Raton, but it does make clear that this is a departure from the past methods of development in the U.S.

It's interesting to contrast this with Serbia, which has been much discussed during the French Open with the success there of three of its young stars: Novak Djokovic, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic. There doesn't appear to be a Serbian Tennis Federation, but that hasn't mattered. For an fascinating look at what it meant to be an aspiring tennis pro in Serbia, see ESPN's Bonnie DeSimone's article for espn.com.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am not certain about other countries, but in the United States, tennis, or I should say, "tennis" to perhaps make it to the highest levels of the game, is a sport for the rich, or, the offspring of tennis playing parents. Whats left out, are motivated, talented kids who fit neither category. I applaud the USTA for attempting to change this, but choosing the lucky kids who get to train at Evert leaves many kids behind. Before some arrogant parents of young successful U.S juniors comes on here to give me a "rankings" lecture, I will say, "rankings" should not be the whole story in this. It should not be negated either, but there are kids out there who like the sport, have the motivation, and in many cases, have more of the God-given gifts to succeed in this sport. The only thing lacking is, direction. Direction takes money, tennis playing parents, or just plain luck. Again, I am sensing a counter view on this, because I have seen it before on this board. The counter will be: "go find a wall to hit against.." be self-motivated, and find adequate hitting partners"..well, these comments will come from the parents of the higher ranked kids..and these parents are either very wealthy, or former wanna be PRO's. Not sure if its possible, and it would take alot of USTA support and $, but, why not have these Evert type centers in each of the 50 states, or at the very least, in the tennis hotbeds of California, Texas, Nevada..perhaps the Midwest? The more kids exposed to good training, and good competition, the better chances of this country producing PRO players, dont you think?

Anonymous said...

The USTA has a California training center and they cant get kids to show up because the coaching is so bad. Taking tour players and asking them to develop the strokes and games of a player is simply not going to cut it. The brightest thing the organization could ever do is find the coaches who are in the trenches developing players and put some money behind them, rather than base their picks on rankings in the 12 year old divisions. But we coaches have been saying that for about 30 years with no result so I don't expect anyone in the administration will hear this pleas either.

Anonymous said...

This is the problem. Parents and kids are so worried about what coach is going to be there. It's free, first of all. Maybe that's why teaching pros don't like it!? Lost revenue! If they're former touring pros, they will be able to provide some advice that will help a player, in some way (but the player must want to learn). Also, I would have loved to been able to have all of the best players in the section (country) come to a site and play. I could play for pride (not ranking pts), play to improve and play because its fun. It's proven that the playground atmosphere develops athletes, competitors without coaches. It's a heck of a lot cheaper than flying and paying entry to a national open somewhere with many of the same benefits.

Anonymous said...

"Because the coaching is so bad." You have got to be out of your mind! The USTA has phenomenal coaches! Mike Sell is one of the best coaches in the world! Hands down....

Anonymous said...

Clearly someone hasn't been to Carson lately. You just can't "show up." The high performance coaches have schedules and specific age groups that they work with but the facility lacks organization....and Mike Sell hasn't been there in forever and mainly works and travels with Kuz. He and others are so far removed from being "bad" coaches...what are you talking about???

Anonymous said...

A couple of points:

(1) The USTA coaching staff is excellent and dedicated. The one thing they may not do enough is the ruthless Lansdorp-style repetitive drilling (feeding tons and tons of balls). But their role is more to supplement the development of a junior player, who already tends to have individual coaches and training routines.

(2) The problem with Carson is that it isn't very convenient for families who live in Los Angeles, let alone the West Coast, given the traffic congestion. It's isolated; there are no dorms for kids. I have also heard parents complain that they don't know how their children's schooling would work if they sent them to Carson for long-term training (Perhaps the USTA can hire an education coordinator or tutor.) Similar problems may also plague Key Biscayne -- I don't know. But the Evert's deal is supposed to address those issues.

(3) USTA camps are excellent experiences for the kids and their families, and help them get a better perspective on all the aspects of development.
The training centers serve us well in that regard.

(4) I do think it would be wise for the USTA to court some proven successes in junior development, like Lansdorp (whom they might be trying to court) or Higueras.

(5) There is definitely a problem with the USTA sticking with top junior players well past the time that they should drop them. The coaches develop relationships with the players, which hampers them from being objective and ruthless about whom to invest their time and resources on. Also, when a player makes a name for himself, there's a general expectation that the coach for that player's year should continue to nurse him along. I can name several players in each year who should be dropped, simply because of their poor attitudes -- attitudes that make it clear that they don't have what it takes to make it at the pro level.

IF the coaches were more ruthless, perhaps the juniors wouldn't take the USTA support or their status for granted and work to earn it, the way they do in other countries. This is a SYSTEMIC PROBLEM in USTA High Performance: they do not force (or at least, not enough) their junior players to compete to prove themselves worthy of their time. The coaches say they do, and they preach this to the kids. But when the chips are down, the same kids get invited back again and again, despite tanking tournament matches and acting like prima donnas.

It's difficult to turn away kids you love and want to succeed, but it has to be enforced from the top down at the USTA. The players may be ranked high in their age group, they might be talented, they might *say* they want it, but if their behavior shows complacency, self-satisfaction, then they don't *really* want it -- i.e. they don't want to be professionals. They want to impress their parents, or bask in the glow of junior success, or they're motivated by some other factor. if they don't want to work towards becoming a professional, it's simply not worth the USTA's time and money -- period. USTA High Performance should establish a system whereby the pretenders are weeded out. In such a competitive system, work ethic and character would improve. So might results.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Let me add to (5) that players may also simply not have the goods to make it at the professional level, because of physical limitations or lack of requisite talent. Here too it can be difficult to turn a player away after developing a relationship with him, but it has to be done.

Anonymous said...

Adding to (5), USTA should start with a larger group and weed out every year and they don't. The French start with 100 and weed every year as it IS necessary. The kids compete for the spots every year and by 16-18 they have 10-15 kids with pro potential. USTA kids don't compete after they are in. Many of them are afraid to lose their spots so they withdraw from tournaments especially sectionals if they have a tough draw. They think that it wouldn't look good if they can't win their own sectionals! How can the USTA be right if they only pick 4 in each year??? The process is too arrogant. Then they defend their choice well past the age that they should be dropped. On top of this, new contenders are not picked up. I can see why Telscher was fired. His going younger to fine talent was a disguise to prolong his stay. I maintain that in tennis, you don't now anyone's potential until they are 16 so stop wasting time in the 12s and 14s. Just encourage play by lowering entry fees in the lower age groups.