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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tiley Vs. Stoltenberg Australian Player Development Battle Continues

Yesterday's post about player development mentioned the apparently differing philosphies between Tennis Australia's Craig Tiley and Jason Stoltenberg, a former tour player turned development coach. As Andrew D pointed out in a comment overnight, the two have rarely agreed on anything in the past three years since Tiley's been in Australia and these two articles certainly support that view.

From the sound of the headline--"Stolts takes a stand to stop development rot"--The Sydney Morning Herald is taking Stoltenberg's side, but the paper does present Tiley's response in the much less sensationally headlined: "Tennis Australia returns serve."

Tiley refrains from pointing out the success of the current Australian juniors, who won three of the four ITF International Junior competitions last year, because I'm sure he is as concerned about pro success as Stoltenberg, and knows that junior wins will not be the measure of his tenure in Australia. But I think that is a positive step for Australian tennis that Stoltenberg is overlooking. And Stoltenberg doesn't instill in me a lot of confidence when he says:

"Two very good girls - Johanna Konta and Lora(sic) Robson - may technically be playing for Australia, but they're being developed and funded by Britain," Stoltenberg said.

"That's how bad our system is. Two of our best girls have gone overseas. How many kids do we have to lose before something is done?"

To my knowledge Laura Robson has never played for Australia; when she won the Eddie Herr 12s in 2006, she was playing under the Union Jack and has been ever since. She was born in Australia, but to blame Tiley's system for her family's move to Great Britain seems a bit of a stretch. I know Konta's allegiance has fluctuated between Great Britain and Australia depending on the tournament, but I am not familiar with the story behind that.

I do believe that both Tiley and Stoltenberg want the same thing--a strong presence for Australian tennis at the game's top echelon. It's unfortunate that they aren't able to work together to help make that happen.


Brent said...

Young vs. Levine in the first round at Wimbledon should be interesting...

Bystander said...

The Aussie dilemma echos the USTA enigma. If chosen, join the bureaucracy and receive funding and wild cards. It's their way or the highway. Past national champions are not involved in the current systems. No Mac, no Connors, no Chang, no Courier, no Rafter, no Roach. Enriched mutual admiration closed systems that haven't produced any champions refuse to adopt private coaching and relinquish control. Shouldn't is be about the kids and their progress in development as a competitive pro? Somehow the end goals always seem to be mired in power and control.

AndrewD said...


In fairness to Stoltenberg, I have heard his point-of-view reiterated by dozens of people at the elite fringe of the Australian games (former juniors, current coaches, officials and players just below that elite level but still involved with the upper echelon). It's also a complaint that has dogged Australian tennis for the past 20 years, which gets to the heart of Stoltenberg's complaint - that the same people who have generated those complaints are the ones still running the game. In other words, Australian tennis is 'Dead-wood' minus the moustaches.

In a nutshell, what I've been getting is that Tiley was hired to 'shake up the system', which is what attracted former players to him but, instead, he's allowed himself to be absorbed into the old system and done little more than strengthen its hold on the futures of up-and-coming players.

Personally, I believe that the biggest problem Australian tennis has - shared, whether you know it or not, by American tennis- is a shocking over-emphasis on junior success. The mindset, which Stoltenberg was trying to articulate (not his strong suit and we shouldn't penalise him for it) is that federations like Tennis Australia focus on junior wins because it provides a tangible result, more immediate and easier to attain vindication of their system. Unfortunately, it does little for the strength of the game at senior level - which is what should matter. Remember, in the old days Davis Cup was the central focus for a tennis playing nation. As a result they were geared specifically to finding and developing players who could win that event. Obviously, juniors were important but they weren't glorified in the fashion they are today and their accomplishments were not seen as proof positive that a federation was successful. In Australia we've lost sight of that and I believe America has as well (the associations and federations - not talking about the private operators like a Bollettieri who do focus heavily on senior results as that is how they make their reputations, prime reason why he has achieved so much while the system has failed) whereas Russia, Spain and other countries haven't. They understand that junior tennis matters and junior development matters but only when it is geared towards creating professional success.

Bigfoot said...

The bottom line in all this is that up and coming juniors with the ability to make it on the pro tour will not have the same respect and willingness to listen to someone like Craig Tiley who has never played the game at the highest level (or even a decent level for that matter) as they will someone who has played the game at a high level and is willing to pass that knowledge on. If you haven't played the game at a high level you better be great with the positive B.S. and willing to listen to more than just your point of view i.e.(Nick B.) Tiley seems to have a problem in this area. This is where that classroom teaching just doesn't cut the mustard. Trying to hire coaches to all teach the game the way you think it needs to be taught is foolish. There are many different ways to get thru to a kid and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. I have yet to hear of a single player DEVELOPED by Tiley. I don't want to hear what a great job he did at Illinois. That is NOT player development. Those players are already 18 to 22 years old and already developed. They get better by having other good players to practice with each day not because Tiley developed them. He has ridden that myth further than I could have ever imagined. As I've said before don't mistake a good organizer for a player development coach and I don't want to hear from all the other people who took the same classes in Tyler,Tx. with him and Steve Smith but never played the game trying to justify yourselves. Stick with teaching Beginner and Intermediate classes that can be taught from a classroom and leave the player development at the higher levels to people who have been there and done that and know how to pass that knowledge on. The greatest thing to happen to the U.S.T.A. is his turning down that job.

oldschool said...

Ok Bigfoot, so are you saying you would not listen to Bollettieri, Lansdorp, or Hopman because they did not play the game at the highest level ? How about the Russian coaches who developed all that talent, how many of them played the game at the highest level ?

Bigfoot said...

Oldschool, Read my comment more carefully. Would you really put Tiley in the same class with those guys? Hopman and Landsdorp played plenty and are different from Bolletterri. As I said if you haven't played at a high level you better be good with the B.S. and making the player feel good about themselves. As for the Russian players i don't know the coaches backgrounds and i highly doubt that you would either but remember there are a lot of good Russian players and European players who play a ton of club tennis and don't necessarily play the tour much that are a very high level and its been that way for a long time so unless you know those coaches backgrounds you can't say they didn't play a high level.

Stephen said...

bigfoot -- Tiley coached Wayne Ferreira when he was a top-10 player and coached George Bastl when he beat Sampras at Wimbledon, so he does have experience coaching high-level pros.

And to say that only people who played a sport at the highest level can be great coaches is ignorant. Some people have the mind for a game, but just didn't have the athletic ability of a Federer or a Nadal.

Bystander said...

Bigfoot, this is tennis, not quantum physics. Coaching tennis is very accessible to the average joe. Look at all the tennis dads who pushed their daughters to top world ranknigs. Look at Fischer, the club tennis player and pediatrician and what he did for Sampras's game. Ok, you can get off your high horse now, jeez.

Adam said...

Apparently Bigfoot doesn't know what went happened day-in, day-out on the courts at Illinois, which means he doesn't have any idea what he's talking about. CT took Brian Wilson's game and changed about 90% of it. Early in CT's tenure, before word got out how he could DEVELOP players, he made kids that weren't receiving offers from top, or even mid-range schools into All-Americans. But I guess that must be something other than development. Wait, I know. It's magic.
Before people start bashing CT, maybe you should do some first-hand research and not rely on the haters out there. I was fortunate to see for myself the progress of these kids for numerous years down in Champaign. More importantly, I witnessed FIRST-HAND the commitment by both CT and his players. For those of you who say he, wait, what was it Bigfoot? Oh yes, "I have yet to hear of a single player DEVELOPED by Tiley. I don't want to hear what a great job he did at Illinois. That is NOT player development. Those players are already 18 to 22 years old and already developed. They get better by having other good players to practice with each day not because Tiley developed them. He has ridden that myth further than I could have ever imagined." Since you apparently are in-the-know, go ahead and grab one of his former players and ask, "What did Craig Tiley do to improve your game?" If you're expecting a reply of "Nothing", you're wrong. You'd better have an afternoon free because the answer will take a long time.

Adam who said...

Adam, You must have done your research in the classroom with Smith and Tiley. If he changed 90% of Brian Wilsons game that means he basically started over as a beginner in college. Good luck getting someone to believe that. You guys are all the same. You have never played a high level so you spend your time trying to justify yourselves. If they played for him of course they wouldn't say anything negative even if he was just a good recruiting bus driver. The are a dime a dozen in college tennis. Surround them with other good players to hit with each day and you have to improve. Do you really think Nick B. developed Agassi,Courier,Wheaton, Sampras and those guys or do you think they pushed each other each day at practice. Thats what a lot of it is at that level is providing them with good practice each day. NOBODY is foolish enough to think he developed those guys in college except the few cult like followers you guys have.