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Friday, December 28, 2007

The Price of Prodigy

The January/February 2008 issue of TENNIS Magazine contains this feature by senior editor Tom Perrotta about six-year-old Jan Silva and other single-digit-age players. He visits Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in France, describes Silva's daily regimen and the decision his parents made to move there for Jan's tennis. Perrotta also talks with Nick Bollettieri about predicting future success (not possible at that age, especially for boys) and with Tracy Austin about how things have changed since she was an adolescent phenom (no support staff and no website back then).

When the first widely read Silva story was published some months back in USA Today, I didn't link to it, because I am uncomfortable contributing to what can only be called hype. Tiger Woods survived the burden of precocious talent that was demonstrated on national TV, Michelle Wie has been less successful at negotiating the dangerous rapids of fame before accomplishment. There is no question that an abundance of talent has its perils, and developing the mental skills to accompany the physical ones is best done over time and out of the spotlight.

Publisher Chris Evert weighed in on the subject on her page in the magazine, and drawing on her own experience, she questions the wisdom of the prodigy approach.

"When parents stop their lives and pin the family's future on a 5-year-old becoming the breadwinner, it puts tremendous demands on the child. And when you publicize it with personal websites and videos on YouTube, you're only compounding the pressure."


Anonymous said...

This has book deal or movie all over it. All involved in Jr. tennis remember the unbeatable kids in the 10-12-14's....they are usually gone by the 16-18's. And, just wait until they discover video games......

Anonymous said...

No one is interested in a book or movie deal until the kid is Andre, Roger, Pete-- as you say " talk to me when the win in the ATP"

I have been saying for years what Evert, Nick are saying now. No one and I mean no one knows what kid is going to come out of the pack - until they do.

There is no such thing as a can't miss player aside from a Tiger by the age of 18 or 19 and he still had some tough days as a teenager.

All this hype is a killer to the player and the younger the player - the more years he or she has to deal with it.

Why are we in such a rush to judgement to find the next super star. It will come soon enough - or it won't.

Anonymous said...

I agree with man in the moon. Its usually the ones that didn't play much in the 10's and 12's that do well in the
18's. As we all know - its a different game and the ones that learn how to win instead of how NOT to lose are the ones that succeed.
Very surprised that Chris Evert and Bollitierri gave in to giving this attention.