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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Michael Joyce Talks Coaching Philosophy, US Player Development and More; New USTA Spring Team Championships in Mobile

Californian Michael Joyce, a former ATP professional famous from his playing days due to a seminal essay about him by David Foster Wallace, (required reading for any one with an interest in tennis) and more recently, due to his coaching of Maria Sharapova, is now working with young American Jessica Pegula. Joyce, who won the Kalamazoo 18s in 1991, also has started a new venture called Ask Michael Joyce, a consulting service.  Joyce talked with Barry Buss in a two-part interview, with Joyce discussing his coaching philosophy, what has gone wrong with American tennis and why the USTA shouldn't shoulder the blame for it. He expresses impatience with the unceasing criticism of the USTA and its Player Development and believes a family would be unwise to decline an opportunity to send their child to its Boca Raton training facility.

Joyce debunks the idea that the USTA "steals" players, saying:

So they are trying to say "stay home with your coach because he's the only person who can possibly help you with your tennis? That its because of him you're this good? Its got nothing to do with how hard your(sic) working...or all those matches you gutted out..It's him...And that you should pass up an all expenses paid opportunity to train with the best players and coaches America has at a state of the art training facility either in Southern California..or South Florida...And you're not supposed to do this because why? It will break your relationship with your coach?" You can't Skype or Facetime or pick up the phone and talk to him still while taking advantage of this amazing training opportunity being offered you?

Joyce goes on to extoll the virtues, indeed the necessity, of such a move, which seems to be the opposite of what's suggested in this Daniel Coyle post about (now) Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin. The youngest Olympic slalom medalist ever, at 18, may not be that different from Joyce himself however, in understanding what it takes to compete at the highest level of any athletic competition, and like many a tennis family, her parents ended up living in two different parts of the country to provide Shiffrin with what they considered the best atmosphere for her development. See this Washington Post article on the Shiffrins for more details on their choices.

Joyce also has little use for those coaches who emphasize technique, although he does admit he himself had solid fundamentals instilled in him by legendary Southern California coach Robert Lansdorp.

Plus so much of learning is feel and visual...the technicians in our sport, sure they have a place...but you and I have talked about this before...I don't care what a kid does, as long as he can repeat it. Some things are easier to repeat than others...Its easy to get all caught up in a players grips and swings...When you see players getting erratic, way more often than not its balance, spacing, timing, preparation, conditioning, concentration, intensity, nerves, impatience or just poor shot selection that are the culprits..not their technique..

This two excerpts are a tiny sliver of the interviews (Part 1 and Part 2), so please read them in their entirety for the full range of his views on all the important developmental topics.  For a brief look at his discussion of USTA Player Development, see this tennis.com article.

As part of the new USTA Junior Competition schedule, the 18s Spring Nationals no longer exist, but the Copeland-Cox Tennis Center in Mobile, Alabama will host the first annual USTA Spring Team Championships, with registration beginning next Friday, March 7th.

After two days of practice and education, the competition will start and run for four days. There are 16 boys teams and 16s girls teams, each made up of two players from the 12s, the 14s, the 16s and the 18s, in a compass draw, with the top three teams receiving gold, silver and bronze balls.  Four eight-game pro set doubles matches and eight singles matches will be played to determine who wins the match.  More details on how the teams are set up can be found at the TennisLink site.

The competitors list is available via this google document.

I will be onsite for coverage of the tournament, and as I learn more about its structure, I'll post about it, but with little familiarity with junior team events, I'll definitely be out of my comfort zone on this one. I am looking forward to meeting more of the country's top junior development coaches and to observe on-court coaching at a junior event, as well as getting a little early taste of spring.


Dan - GA said...

Newspaper or advertisement - Your blog?
The Michael Joyce article seemed like an infomercial.

Colette Lewis said...

I thought his comments on player development were interesting, nothing more to it than that.

Dan - GA said...

Ok Colette... but check out this article.


"In America you see some good players who are use to a coach from a young age start doing well & then start working with USTA coaches because of money! That’s a big problem. The USTA has some great coaches, but again it’s tough to get to know the players and how to get the best results from them in a short period of time."....

Sorta of an 180 degree turn. As he is pushing -

"Costa del Tennis travel teams are a fantastic opportunity for any teenage or college tennis pre-season. "

I find that whenever someone is pro USTA PD, it is because they are directly benefiting from it.

A biased opinion needs some balance in a news blog is all I am saying. Your blog is my favorite tennis blog.

igor said...

Google is a b-tch. Too easy today to fact check someone and see their true angle.

Lin said...

I have spoken to parents of very high-level kids that have gone to PD, and they state emphatically, that the PD coaches will try to change technique and strategy.

Those that I know are strong personalities, and do not allow any "tinkering", so their kids do benefit from enhanced physical training and play with other top players.

I have watched very talented players that did get there as a result of their "home" coach, then go to PD, and have their game changed. Then they lose, and PD cuts them lose with a fractured psyche and game.

Every coach has ideas of what will work with players. The original coach has a proven history of bringing out the best in that player. Maybe PD could assist in the development by consulting with the original coach and making training and travel opportunities available, but to take ownership of a player and rework their game is not a winning strategy.... as proven by the lack of success.

Jim K. said...

The bottom line is results. USTA player development has tried 4 different regimes over 20 years without a single men's top player coming through it.

Its obviously a huge waste of money. The USTA should instead spend the $100 million it wasted on it for refs for tournaments so they would be fair and the ranking actually real.

Phil said...

I don't think the problem most people have with the USTA is that they believe USTA coaching has no benefit. Rather the complaints are with the results the USTA has produced and the perceived unfairness in how the USTA selects whom they develop. Of course, people are going to want to take advantage of coaching with the "best" coaches that can be found. But the few who are offered those opportunities are the ones who are least likely to be upset with the USTA.

Dan - GA said...

HI Phil,
"least likely to be upset"
A little examination of the statement you provided might make you question how well those players actually fared at PD.

The fact is that many juniors were not happy with their experiences at the USTA PD.
They were injured..............

Or they got worse and were kicked out.
( sorta of a mystery with all that high quality coaching that you could get worse, but that's what seems to happen)

"But the few who are offered those opportunities are the ones who are least likely to be upset with the USTA."

JimK offers a good, valid point. They have done nothing with the $ spent on high performance PD.
( results, results, results?)

So, why not spend it on the tournaments?
They are a disgrace of bad sportsmanship, cheating, cursing, parents coaching in Spanish ( oh wait that's the PD coaches), parents coaching in Russian and racquet throwing.

This is the driving reason that juniors leave tennis for team sports, it's the wild west at these tournaments.

Improving USTA said...

Several main issues with the USTA PD in Boca

1. Players cannot pick with coach they want. Most of the time, the wrong coach's personality or coaching style does not match the need of the junior. In the private sector, juniors/parents are able to find the appropriate coach.

2. Players are over-trained, no matter your body-type, age, training period. As a result, most of the junior players are injured.

3. There is no time to rest or social life which is important for balance in a juniors life.

4. There is zero consistency with their decisions with tournament schedule, rules, always coaching changes.

5. Too many foreign coaches.

6. NO ONE holding USTA PD accountable.