Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Is High School Tennis the Answer to Player Development in the US? Todd Martin Academy Opens; ITF Grade 2 Underway in Canada

I spoke with Mallory Burdette about her decision to turn pro this afternoon, and the article will be available tomorrow around noon at the Tennis Recruiting Network. Burdette discusses her decision-making process, her coaching and her tournament schedule and also answers the $65,000 question: could she collect her US Open prize money, despite signing in as an amateur?

The New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden Sunday published a piece calling for the USTA to turn to schools to tap tennis talent, arguing the cost of the current system, with its private coaching and academies, is what has kept the sport from becoming a real option for athletically inclined youngsters.  Most high schools have tennis teams, and most elite juniors do not play on them, at least not throughout their four years in high school. But that's not really the age where the sport needs to be introduced; it's more likely to be seen as a viable alternative to soccer and little league in the elementary and middle schools, which don't traditionally have the  facilities or personnel to devote to sports.

The problem with this solution to expense of tennis is the decentralized nature of schools in this country. For every USTA section, there are hundreds and hundreds of school districts, with local boards and state oversight. How does the USTA make that work?  Especially with all the differences in climate in the country, which makes tennis an indoor sport in a many areas, adding substantially to its cost.

I don't disagree with the premise that high school tennis could be more of a developmental option than it is, and I applaud any state high school athletic organization that makes it possible for players to compete in both sectional and high school events. But I just don't see a concrete and viable plan to "introduce tennis in schools as early as first grade; make tennis part of the school curriculum" in Rhoden's column. Wishing for it doesn't make it so.

Back in May, I interviewed Todd Martin about his new academy in Ponte Vedra Florida for the Tennis Recruiting Network and I spoke with him about it briefly again last month when he was in Kalamazoo.  The Todd Martin Tennis Academy is now open at the Sawgrass Country Club and this article from the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville gives details on the coaches and structure there.

This week's ITF Grade 2 junior tournament in Canada has drawn a large number of Americans, with Christina Makarova the top seed in the girls draw. The tournament has already reached the quarterfinal stage, with four US girls, in addition to Makarova in the final eight. They are Madison Bourguignon(8),  Peggy Porter(5), Alexandra Morozova and qualifier Kaitlyn McCarthy, who beat No. 4 seed Domenica Gonzalez of Ecuador in the first round.  There are no boys from the US left, although three who play USTA events, Tommy Mylnikov, Jordi Arconada and Toshiki Matsuya, are in the final eight.


Raul said...

Although I agree with Colette about Rhoden's article, I also think something drastic must be done to allow those with less means access to the sport. I started playing tennis in the 8th grade and fell in love with the sport. I played on the high school team three years and two years in junior college. I never took formal lessons and learned the game from books and magazines eventually reaching a 5.5 level. Fortunately I am able to introduce my two young boys to the game without paying for lessons. A good friend of mine who played on the tour estimates that the coaching I provide my boys would conservatively cost over $30,000 per year at a private club. Is it any wonder then that in the NorCal section most top juniors come from hyper affluent communities such as Silicon Valley? As long as the USTA relies on the limited talent pool of the 1% I think there will not be American professional grand slam champs for a while.

Anonymous said...

Junior programs at local levels filled with terrible coaches. USTA needs to have standards of what must be taught at each level. These include grips, forehand and backhand techniques. This has to begin at the QuickStart levels. Majority of coaches at local levels are unqualified. Until these principles and fundamentals are established, standardized, and required by the USTA, nothing is going to improve. Clubs and pros are ripping off families and wasting our children's talent and time. I cringe when I watch group lessons at most local clubs.USTA has gotten people's attention and has increased the participation. Without requing the correct fundamentals which should be the same whether you're in Boca Raton, Milwaukee, Seattle. At IMG, every coach teaches the same forehand. Why can't we expect same standards everywhere else. Most local clubs charge almost as much but the teaching is marginal.

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