Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Coaches Q and A: How Important is it for Juniors to Play Internationally?

In this month's topic, coach Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida explores the benefits of international play for juniors.

Q: How important is it to play international competition during the development years?

A: We think that international play should be part of successful junior developmental plan. By successful, we mean junior players who have elevated themselves from top sectional players to elite national junior players.

It has always been our thinking that before juniors start to exclusively play up or play only international events, they should be among the handful of dominate players in their age groups.

There is a lot to be gained by getting to play international junior tennis. In the past, the best players came from the States, now the baton has been passed and the best players in the world are predominately in Europe and South America. If American juniors want to know if they are behind or ahead of the world's juniors, then international competition will give them a good idea of where they stand and what they have left to work on in their games.

Playing on different surfaces such as red clay and grass can give juniors invaluable experience if and when they become good enough to entertain professional careers. The red clay of Europe and South America is far different from American clay and requires players to develop different shots and styles to be successful. We also think it is valuable for players who will eventually become professionals to have the experience of playing at some of the world's great tournament sites so that by the time they play at those sites as professionals they are less overwhelmed by the experience.

We think that the whole experience of traveling overseas, getting used to foreign languages, different cultures, different foods, different players and playing conditions are an important part of an elite player developmental plan.

Do you have a question for Andy Brandi or Harold Solomon? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches Q and A in the subject line.


getreal said...

In an ideal world agree that it makes sense to have top US juniors compare levels of play with the world’s best juniors but the reality is very different. For starters, travelling the world to play tournaments is expensive. A junior needs to travel with a coach, parent or adult, which is another expense, and the tournaments are usually in groups of three on other continents which means when the player is out all his expenses and the adults must be paid for out-of-pocket. Secondly, the real deal is most, or 99%, of these top U.S. juniors are college tennis bound so missing weeks and weeks of school (and I don’t consider a second rate on-line program an education) is doing these juniors a great disservice in terms of their life, I mean their real life after tennis. It's down right irresponsible. And if you look at the upcoming younger U.S. players in the pros, Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison, or even Donald Young, or for that matter Sam Querry, none went glob trotting to develop their games. Harrison traveled some internationally but qualified for the junior slams by doing well in a few high level tournaments. If a U.S. junior is really that good that junior can qualify for the junior slams by going deep in the draws of the G1s and G2s in the US in then see how he or she measures up against the top international players, but to chase points at great expense and at the expense of school is wrong and pointless. Oh, agree a different culture is a great experience but when these kids travel they usually see nothing more than the tennis court or the view from the airport.

been-there said...

I think it sounds great to do ITF's, but when you are a tennis parent, there are lots of downsides.

First, if your child goes to real high school, he can't miss that many days. These ITF's mostly seem to be during a regular school week. If he does junior national competition in the U.S., you certainly can't do both if you plan on the school not reporting that he is truant. They don't care that he is an "A" student, they want him in school.

Next, he misses out on high school tennis. Well, in some high schools, that is no big deal. But if he goes to a school that is a state contender, it is a big deal. It teaches him how to play on a team and build the camaraderie. It gives the tennis player instant credibility and instant friends in school. It makes them part of the school too. Some of my child's best memories of high school are not the Eddie Herr/OB or some national tournament, they are the team tennis events from the high school.

The one thing high school tennis does is make tennis fun. And let's face it, junior tennis is not usually very fun, except for doubles.

Lastly, the cost is just not acceptable. Okay, so I am going to fly my blue-chip player down to S.America for possibly one match? Oh wait, I have to go too, missing my week and a half of work for this one expensive tournament. Hold it, we don't have a doubles partner so let's just find one; hm.. hope he's good! As for his brothers and sisters: good luck kids, parents are gone tennis-traveling.

Now, I have a total of 4 weeks of vacation from work, and I just used up 1.5 weeks on 1 tournament. Is this going to work? Well, I'll send a coach with him. Gosh, I can afford that.

Great idea but it does not work well with a normal kid unless you are a millionaire.

bluechipper said...

The USTA spends millions of dollars on junior tennis! Just not on the kids....It mostly goes to the numerous coaches with astronomical salaries. The kids are lucky to get a small stipend IF they are one of the chosen. The USTA, in terms of junior development should be tagged (U)US, (S)Stagnating, (T)Tennis, (A)Advancement. It is deplorable with all of the USTA funding - that more players at advanced junior and young professionals are not being financially assisted and that these coaches are raking in the big bucks!

getreal said...

To Bluechipper

I have never been a fan of USTA player development but that is not the reason US tennis is floundering. Yes they could allocate more dollars to player development and yes they could have more coaches instead of a few high paying ones on their staff to help with player development across the country, but I don’t believe that would make such a big difference because of the nature of the sport. For starters, it is extremely difficult to break into the top 100 for men and nearly impossible to break into the top 50 and the cost to get there is enormous for any player and their families in terms of commitment, $$$ resources and lifestyle. The junior can have great results in the juniors internationally, make all the sacrifices from age 3 or 4 and it’s still a role of the dice for the pros. Bottom line, the sacrifices are enormous when weighed against the chances/reality of actually making it. Top juniors don’t have a normal life from the time they pick up a racket as it’s consumed by training and traveling, they home school and sacrifice their education and often future options, and more than anything, as Agassi detailed in his book, it is a terribly lonely sport. In the US for kids with athletic promise there are team options like basketball, football and baseball where the kids can develop skills in their normal high schools, be part of a team which is a lot more fun and normal socially, and if they are good enough they pop through without live having to get outside the mainstream. With tennis you are talking about 50 men in the world who make it and thousands who have been eaten up by the dream. All I am saying is that there are other sports where the sacrifices are not over the top and so why pursue tennis? That is the heart of the problem of the sport, not the USTA. And I not talking about the thousands and thousands of dollars juniors need to spend on training, coaching, traveling etc.

Eric Amend said...

Very well said getreal!! You are absolutley on point with that post!!!!
I couldn't agree with you more!

getreal said...

To Eric

thanx...what i said applies mostly to the men's game, consensus significantly easier to make go for it in the woman's, much less depth, etc., but stand by earlier comments that don't need to glob trot as a junior to develop game

Ex Usta Coach said...

get real

you wrote a very accurate post which makes this blog more enjoyable to read. You definitely think outside the box but have an opinion that raises a great point and gives a correct assessment of the state of usa tennis.

blue chipper

your statement, "the numerous coaches with astronomical salaries"

You must be talking about Patrick McEnroe (not a coach) and Jose Higueras (coach) who must make alot money or the executive people (not coaches) because I was a usta coach a couple years ago and I found that alot of the personal coaches of players who came to usta camps and alot of current college coaches have higher salaries (some alot higher) than the usta coaches. In fact, alot of my friends who are coaches at clubs made more money than I did. I think you would be surprised how much money they actually make. Even the other Grand Slam Federations, pay their coaches more. I'm not saying they are broke, but they do not make astronomical salaries as people think.

getreal said...

to ex usta coach

Thanks. The depth in men’s tennis today is unreal and I have seen too many talented juniors get chewed up by the sport because they were just not good enough to make the real leap. That does not mean these juniors are not talented, they are very good indeed, but when you are talking about a sport that the odds are so tough against a player breaking into the top 100 consistently, and nearly impossible to be in the top 50, not to mention the top ten, it’s just not a path I would pursue with my kid today. There is way too much sacrifice from a very early age vs. risk vs. reward. The equation adds up to don’t do it. That is why tennis is where it is in the US. because our kids have options. And what’s equally sad is when parents buy into the dream and sacrifice their kids’ education because that is rolling the dice with their kids’ future and anyone who has been to Vegas knows the House wins most of the time. To find that super talented kid in the hay stack of very talented players I think US tennis needs to look outside the box to figure out a less brutal path but I am clueless what it should be. But I do know it has to be a path where kids don’t have to sacrifice their education starting at age 14 or young, travel non-stop around the world and grow up in a tennis vacuum. Any suggestions?

Unknown said...

to getreal

Good points! Not that I am terribly experienced about the national scene, but I think what we need is to develop a larger pool of athletes by making tennis more accessible and popular to more kids. Build up the pool and let the truly hungry and talented ones bubble to the top. I suppose I am thinking of concentrating on the grass roots of tennis. In the community I live in, tennis is considered specialized or possibly elitist whereas baseball or football is very common and any given person on the street can talk about it. I want tennis to be spoken of just as freely. The more people that know about and participate in tennis, can mean that more parents will be getting their kids out there to play. The thing tennis has that many of the sports do not have is that it is a lifetime sport, it can be played with as little as two people, it does not take a great investment in equipment to play and it can be played anytime of day or night. I would like to see more usta participation with schools and community recreation departments. Maybe even national advertisement of some of the core or import growth and learning events.

Ex Usta coach said...


Yes I do have a suggestion. In my opinion junior development in the united states majorly decreased once the ITF changed their criteria of how to get into their Jr. Grand Slam tournaments.

1) This stopped ALOT of top juniors playing sectional and national tournaments (staying local and domestic) and they started traveling the world chasing itf points. Now all the Nationals (except kalamazoo) are alot weaker.

2) Because these juniors are chasing points, they are traveling more, which means, less time at home (less parental discipline) and kids are home schooling, which means, less social interaction and less time management skills.

3) Because these juniors are chasing points, they are traveling the world, which takes a huge toll on their bodies and they get burned out quicker.

4) Because these juniors are chasing points, they are focused on results rather than the deveopment of their games, which means, these players are not getting better and progressing

If you look at our Top 100 Men's players: Roddick, Isner, Querrey, Blake, Russell, Ram, and Dent all stayed home and trained. All these guys didn't traveling internationally alot in the 12s and 14s.

Let's get our players to play mainly sectional and national tournaments. It's ok to play some itf tournaments, but in the US and for those who have great results, they will earn enough points to play the jr grand slams.

getreal said...

To ex USTA coach

Agree with your suggestions and points. A few questions….
1. How did the ITF change their rules for getting into the jr. slams that pushed kids to travel internationally to chase points? Also, it seem that the ITF should use the USTA aging up rule, real birthday instead of the year they turn 18 because the men's game is so much more physical today that many juniors with a so called bad birthdays, especially those from August through Dec, do NOT benefit by being pushed into the pros when at 17 and could value from strong junior competition and that would also make the ITF level stronger. I do agree US tennis needs to refocus on developing players here with tournaments and the ITF needs to get on board as well and get off this agenda of promoting young kids travel around the world chasing a dream that is an illusion for 99% of them. As I said earlier, there needs to be a less brutal path to find the super talented kid in the haystack of very talented ones or else fewer and fewer people, except for the really crazy tennis parent who does not mind rolling the dice against the odds, would have their kid walk down that path.

Ex Usta coach said...

To my undertanding, the ITF used to give certain number of entries to each country or region: example, the United States has 4 main draw and 2 qualifying spots in the Junior French Open. So, the USTA would select a team to bring to those tournaments in the summer. In other words, these players didn't have to travel the world to gain points to play these touranments. They can still play sectionals and nationals.

The biggest thing is our players are not playing sectionally and nationally, especially in the 16s and 18s. If they did, that would raise the standard of play and more junior would develop into better players.

American players can still play only a couple of events: ITF-Easter Bowl, Tulsa, Kentucky, Carson and still earn enough points to play the junior grand slams. The better tennis players will win, and if the better players are good enough they will earn enough points.

Tyler said...

Another problem, the USTA does not support the tournament players at the grass roots level. The tournaments are loaded with alternates in levels two removed from rookie tournaments. Children don’t get to play. The Super Series in Florida now have alternates, a price increase every year, and less tennis, matches are now decided by the super tiebreak in the third. Call me crazy but players seem to get better by playing more tennis, not less tennis. Colleges play 8 game pro sets for doubles, and some colleges play the tiebreak for singles in the third. If one college wins the match, by reaching 4 the tennis stops, after all that travel??? If you think of how long matches took when everyone was using wood rackets, isn't it kind of strange that venues are shorter now with points that typically can be ended rather quickly with one graphite swing of polyester strings. Traveling across the state of Florida to play a single elimination super series, after being an alternate, or playing because you desperately need points to qualify for these now draw reduced sectionals (64 to 32) is kind of crazy when you can lose your match in a third set super tiebreak 11-9? Then you're checking out of your $80 a night hotel, unless your Saturday match ran past check out time, before your 3 hour ride back, for what? an international 20 year old player is taking your scholarship anyways.

In non tennis sports children get to play, have a lot more activity for less cost. The USTA has off set that with the embarrassing no cut campaign in high school which has belittled tennis for tournament players in the eyes of their high school peers. When the PA asks the tennis team to stand up, the whole auditorium stands up. Thus in today's environment the USTA player has to have super human motivation even if they’re not destined for the pros. The USTA players realize this, feel the pressure, and at the same time they’re generally not having as much fun as when they played soccer or basketball, organized or in High School PE. That is where the USTA is failing, they’ve allowed exclusion to take place, big dollars and academies rule the day with terribly bad coaching hidden at every turn. It’s because of this that the USTA loses out on a lot of great athletes who will never pick up a racket, or did pick up a racket and had a terrible experience at a tournament once and that was it. The USTA has all but eliminated the late bloomer. No child that has an interest in getting good in tennis wants to play a tournament and lose to someone 4 to 6 years younger than them. The pre teen, teenage psyche can’t take it, that’s how the USTA loses the great athlete who recently picked up a racket. Again name the last two players who were successful playing up? Pete Sampras (long time ago), Maria Sharapova (longevity now a question).

get real said...


could not agree with you more on the cost and the way the tier of tourneys are. you have kids who train in the us and then when the usta does not reconize them they take a parents nationality to help with the expenses and travel all over the world to gain a high itf ranking. that child might have some talent, but i have seen others with alot more talent but no funding. at the end of the day, there are alot of great athletes out there, but the families are struggling to make end meet. what i do not understand is why the usta blows off kids that are coming into their own at 16-18. it is never to late to fund them for travel ect. the ones the usta have now, (girls), they need to ditch and look for other talent. i have seen some 16 yr. old girls that are just beginning to mature physically and have the the game, to go to the next level but $$$$$$$$$$$$ is standing in the way.

facts said...

Hey get real. You make good points about the cost of tennis but you need to get your facts straight. You missed on the USTA coches salaries. Also, this thing about "ditching" USTA girls. American/USTA girls dominated the South American tour. What girls are you talking about that "develop late that have game". Tell us who you think they are. Point chasing is another one. You have to go where the competition is. All world class juniors do it. Take a look at how they test themselves.

getreal said...

to facts

FYI just want to mention that getreal uin t his thread did not make any comment about girls and $$$, it was "get real", for those who may have missed that nuance...

Tyler said...

I fournd 12 ITF junior tournaments in South American since January with four impressive results by juniors that are women, C Williams finals, G Min winner, C V Nguyn winner, B Capra winner. Clearly if you go to South American you get to play, which is different than the United States. The USTA has alternate list lines forming for sectionals, state closed, designated, some super series, nationals, national opens, which was kind of the point. You have to be able to play to get better and clearly the USTA has not kept up with demographics, especially in sections like Florida.