Monday, April 6, 2020

Keep That Racquet in Your Hand and Other Advice From Today's USTA Webinar; Tignor and Drucker on College Tennis and Community

After being shut out of the first one last Monday, I was able to attend USTA Player Development's Learning Series webinar this afternoon, and I found it informative and well organized. There were 331 people tuning in (I think last week's attendance was capped at 100) and they were able to hear from PD General Manager Martin Blackman, Jose Higueras, Paul Lubbers, Earlynn Lauer, Satoshi Ochi and Trish Kellogg. There isn't anything fancy about the format, with Senior Manager of Player ID and Development serving as the host and everyone appearing from home on their computers, but each of the presenters provided interesting content.

Higueras, who was the director of coaching for the USTA for many years but is now a consultant for them, provided the four non-negotiable pillars of his coaching philosophy: be on time; respect yourself,  your coach and your opponent; exhibit engagement; and give 100 percent effort. Higueras went on to address what players could do during this down time (Blackman reiterated the recent USTA statement that tennis should not played now) and he mentioned noticing how often top players he coached had a racquet in their hand when not on the court. In addition to advising players to keep their racquets in their hands during this downtime, Higueras suggested wall volley drills, service toss repetitions, footwork drills, visualization and watching videos, of yourself or of top players.

The USTA does have a YouTube channel, with last year's US Open match between Caty McNally and Serena Williams currently featured, but there are thousands of matches to choose from on YouTube if you are looking for inspiration for your visualizations.
After Higueras, mental performance coach Lauer (no relation to Larry) spoke about confidence, one of the Team USA seven core values. Ochi presented several exercises that can be done at home with little or no equipment and that address the areas where tennis players usually need strengthening. Sports nutritionist Trish Kellogg's presentation featured the all the usual fundamentals and, in the question and answer session at the end she referred to the three kinds of hunger, an interesting concept that I hadn't encountered before.

The entire webinar, as well as extra resources from podcasts and other USTA sources, can be found at the webinar page at usta.com. Next week's webinar on Youth Athlete Development will feature USTA head of men's tennis Kent Kinnear and USTA head of women's tennis Kathy Rinaldi. The link to register for that seminar is available at the webinar landing page.

When two tennis writers as talented as Joel Drucker and Steve Tignor get together (digitally) to discuss a topic, I'm always going to make time for it, and in today's Monday Rally at tennis.com, they talk about what it means to have a community in a sport as individual as tennis, with an emphasis on the dynamic of college tennis.  Drucker talks with USC senior Brandon Holt about the abrupt end to the season, and perhaps his collegiate career, and Tignor relates his experience as a member of the Swarthmore Division III team that reached consecutive NCAA finals in 1989 and 1990. In the midst of this pandemic, exploring what community means seems particularly relevant, with Drucker and Tignor providing some food for thought on the topic.


Mr. Fernandez said...

No offense, but Martin Blackman was a local park coach in Boca Raton, he did not coach top players. He was connected to Ms. Adams, so he got a very nice job. USTA High Performance has never produced anything of note, the best players are produced privately. And playing no tennis is silly if you have access to a car. I do coach a top player and we are driving 2 hours into the country where we found a rural court. No one else there. We also found a remote soccer field for fitness. We have not missed a single workout even though our area is a virus hot spot.

Alex Ho said...

By driving to a tennis court with player you are both exposing each other, so it makes very little sense to go two hours to a rural court. Obviously athletes can find places to do fitness, but by getting any sort of live coaching the coach and the player have exposure to the other and everyone they have been exposed to.

Martin Blackman was an elite junior, played on an all time great Stanford team, coached at American University, was director at JTC, was senior director of talent development for the USTA, had his own tennis academy, and now is GM of player development for the USTA. To call him a local park coach is ridiculous.

Many people on this site feel that USTA High Performance has not produced any players, I think you can say the same for many countries associations, the players come to the High Performance after they have been identified and are given some coaching and wild cards, but stay with what got them there. What many coaches and parents do not mention is how many parents and local coaches attempt to take players to a high level and the players do not make it to the tour. Very few players get to the highest level, so USTA High performance fails as do academies, private coaches, and parent coaches, and the players themselves.

Mr. Fernandez said...

Its always best to know what you are talking about before you comment. My student is also my daughter, so we live in the same house. We drive to a remote court that no one else ever uses. The door is always open, no benches. Nothing to touch. We used google Earth and have found 6-7 of these set ups within a 2 hour drive. Zero risk. Compare that to your last trip to the store. My daughter has already had a career much greater than any player ever produced by USTA. Because we find a way to power through without risk while the USTA just says give up.

We knew Martin Blackman for years. His accomplishments as a player are not relevant. He did not coach any top juniors as a coach. We literally trained at the same park where he coached, it was not an academy, but his own kids and some friends. His own 3 kids who played tennis have a record that is available to the public. We can all check for ourselves his success record. I could have found you 20 junior coaches with better track records of player development to head USTA high performance.

USTA High Performance has produced very little for the many millions that has been spent. Academies and public coaches and parents use the parent's private money, not money made from USTA dues. USTA High Performance has not produced anything that makes sense for them to remain as an entity. The record just when they were in Boca Raton was legendary. 16 players were full timers and lived there, fully funded for 3 years, not one got an ATP or WTA point and 5 got college scholarships. So all dues paying members of the USTA paid for some kids to get free college and all had parents who had plenty of money. That makes no sense. The failure rate of private coaches and academies and parents is irrelevant as they do not waste USTA dues money, they spend private money.

Max Ho said...

My point is that its not safe for players who don't have someone they are living with to be on court with them, they are exposing themselves and the coach. Most players do not have a parent who is a competent coach (especially as they get older and they often need a major stroke change), even though many believe they are. I find many parent coaches who feel that the playing ability does not matter for the coach, were never players themselves.

The head of USTA player is not actually on the court with players, but making macro decisions. Martin Blackman has stated he wants to work more closely with players and their private coaches. I like the fact that Blackman brought Jose Higueras back to Player Development, his credentials hard to question? It may or may not be the same skill set to be on the court working with players, then having someone who is more like the CEO, setting up a system to get players to the top 100.

USTA Dues are $100, so its not costing any of us that much, and I doubt very little of that
is funding Player Development.

I hope your daughter is a great player, but its a big statement to say that she has already had a better career than anyone ever produced by USTA? There are many solid pro's that give USTA some credit, I guess term "produced" is loaded but no association is going to pick players from level zero and develop them as parent or local coach would, they pick players who show promise and go from there.

PD Haters said...

USTA produced
Taylor Fritz- 6 years full time- still full time
Reilly Opelka- 6 years full time
Tommy Paul- 6 years full time
Mackie McDonald- 3 years
Frances Tiafoe- 3 years full time
Sam Querrey- trained at Carson for 10 plus years
Jennifer Brady- 5 years

Would you like me to continue......

Player Development said...

@Max Ho, you make some pretty good points. But please don't repeat the often repeated myth that Jose Higueras is a great junior development coach. If you ever want to get the real story on that subject just read some of Tim Mayotte's articles where he describes Higueras's coaching practices which don't amount to much more than repeating some worthless and inane mantras like "receive the ball!" The USTA keeps bringing him back and they act like he's making some sort of sacrifice to work for the USTA but they paid him an outrageous $470k per year for doing nothing about 10 years ago, so they're probably paying him much more than that now. This compensation is totally unjustified and a waste of precious funds that could instead be used to help our junior players and their families. It's a great gig for Higueras and most of the USTA Player Development coaches because the USTA obviously pays them far more than they can make in the private sector which is why it's so easy for the USTA to bring them back.

I've seen Higueras "coach" and have observed that it usually involves repeating some worthless cliches like "receive the ball" "be mentally tough," "fight" or "show character." What a bunch of crap.

And what credentials are you talking about? That he was a strong professional clay court player in the 70s and he once gave Jim Courrier a good tip in his French Open final against Agassi where he told him to stand further behind the baseline after he lost the first set? So, he can once in a while give some good advice to a pro in a clay court match in the 1980s. Being a match coach for a top 10 pro player in the 1980s is an entirely different skill than developing a junior player in today's game. He's in the wrong position, but the USTA will keep bringing him back because they can't stop drinking the cool aid and preserve the myth.

Jon King said...

USTA player development did not produce those players. We saw Reilly Opelka with various coaches training in Palm Beach Gardens for several years now. The past 1.5 years he trained there with Jay Berger, long after Berger left USTA. USTA did not produce Tiafoe either. Tiafoe grew up with various coaches in College Park, the USTA bought into there and has a relationship, but the coaches are all College Park guys.

Some people are confusing players using a facility with USTA player development finding them and developing them. None of those players were developed by the USTA high performance coaches, all were developed by private coaches and later used USTA facilities. The facilities in Orlando allow players to work on various surfaces, but that is a far cry from saying they developed them. If Orlando did not exist, the players would find plenty other facilities to work at, like they always have.

The bottom line is there is no way to justify all the money spent by USTA high performance the past 25 years.

I agfree with the comment on Higueras. Good networker, below average technical and tactical coach.

Boca Tennis Mom said...

Wow, that is taking some major liberties to credit the USTA for developing any of those players. Between our 2 sons and 1 daughter, we have spent a lot of time at Carson, Boca Raton, IMG, and Orlando over the past 11 years. All those players had assorted private coaches and trainers through the years. Giving USTA credit for those players is like saying the Boca Resort that hosted Serena and Co Co Gauff last summer developed them. Come on now, these players were certainly not developed by the USTA coaches.

Alex Ho said...

I do not understand the hang up with who produced the players? Switzerland did not develop Fed, Spain does not take credit for developing Rafa, Andy Murray went away from the UK system and went to Spain.... The USTA or any federation is not picking kids off the street who look like they have ability and starting them from scratch. JTCC and Carson are regional training center for the USTA so many of the players listed above have spent significant time there. I have never heard Martin Blackman take credit for any players, and he often has said he is trying to keep private coaches involved which is a positive change from the past.

Many times parent and private coaches can take a player to a certain level and then they need to hand them off to better coaching and to a facilities with more high quality players to train with.

I would love to here from people what they think player development should be doing with the money? Its very easy to criticize, but would love to here what the best solution is?

Jon King said...

Alex Ho, USTA should not be involved in picking players or training players. USTA should provide plenty of well organized and fair tournaments at the junior level. Spend the money to increase the supervision and lessen the cheating. So many kids quit playing tournaments because of the cheating. Less cheating, better organized tournaments, more kids stick with tennis, bigger pool of players, better possibility of a top player emerging.

The private market will produce the top players. Some combination of academies, private coaches, parent coaches, will find and develop the top players. Those that emerge and win can have their travel supported by the USTA. Also given wildcards. So many ways the USTA can serve a purpose.

But those of us who know the history of high performance know the waste. Starting in Key Biscayne with a handful of kids who had their expenses fully paid. To Boca with 8 boys and 8 girls and additional summer kids, again fully paid. Hiring Pat McEnroe at a high salary with zero results. Just millions wasted over many years.

It simply does not work to attempt to pick certain kids and develop them. As another poster said, its mass volume. Parents, academies, private coaches can train hundreds of thousands of kids over time. Of that massive group, top players emerge. Instead of a massive complex in Orlando, supporting existing facilities spread around the country would have done more good, reached more players, increased the pool of potential top players.

The USTA should not have its own coaches, or its own facilities, totally redundant. The USTA should simply organize tournaments, support local programs, wait for the private market to develop players, then support those players with wildcards and travel expenses. If the USTA wants to help underserved kids in poor areas get into tennis great, again, they can support local coaches and programs.

The tennis grant system should be greatly expanded. There are so many great local coaches. I see them all the time, in city parks, in country clubs, rich areas, poor areas. I go to a local park with 2 courts and see local coach after coach working with kids. They are working with everyone from little toddlers to juniors who are darn good and play in local tournaments. So make these tournaments more fair, better funded so the kids these coaches train do not quit tennis. Spend all the money paid to high performance the past 25 years, hundreds of millions.....spend it giving grants to all those local coaches. They will develop the kids, then support those kids who win with grants to an existing academy or another private coach who can take them to the next level. The US tennis infrastructure to develop players, the coaches, the courts, already existed. US tennis does not need its own coaches, does not need training centers, does not need Martin Blackman, did not need Pat McEnroe.

I harp on making tournaments fair because that is the gateway to developing the best players. Imagine if USTA tournaments had a ref on every court. Kids no longer cheat, shy but talented kids no longer get intimidated, players can go for their shots without having them called out. So kids develop with no pressure of fighting over calls, dealing with tennis bullies, etc. They simply come to a tournament and know it will be fair like all other kids sports. They can increase their skill level instead of worrying about calls. We now would know who the best talents are on a level playing field. I have lost count how many talented kids I have seen quit tennis because the tournaments reward the bullies and cheaters. I lost count of how many talented kids from other sports try tennis, go to one tournament, see there are no adults to supervise, and go back to their other sports. So we do not even have the best pool of potential great players among US juniors because we chase many of them out of the sport at a young age.

Boca Tennis Mom said...

I can relate to chasing kids out of the game. My 3 kids and I have have brought lots of excellent little athletes into tennis through the years. They played basketball, soccer, baseball and other sports. Just great athletes. But once they or their parents see the tournaments are keep your own score and make your own calls, they look at us like we have 2 heads! It is a concept athletes from other sports can not understand, imagine a high school basketball game where the kids enforced their own rules. I agree that fixing the system so cheating is rare would be the biggest step in attracting more kids to the game and letting them see how good they can be without worrying about arguing about calls. I would think some system of parent volunteers or seniors or college students who get credit for PE class could allow for many more monitors at USTA matches. There has to be a better way, I know most European kid's matches have more supervision on the courts.

ESS said...

Absolutely agree with you, Jon. USTA is a cumbersome organization and instead of helping players, actually, hinders their development with poorly made decisions, constant restructuring, and rule changing. I've been through a lot while my son played tennis. He is continuing his path with college tennis now.
Was it really worth it?? All the money we spent were ours. Nothing was given by USTA to help with horrendous expenses of travel, coaching etc. No one plays tennis in our family, I do not have 'connections' w/USTA, everything had to be learned from scratch. Don't ask me how many costly mistakes were made along the way.
Once he 'outgrew' the local level, we had to travel around 1.5 hours each way to just get some training and playing time with players of similar or higher playing ability. Yes, he had to persevere through cheating players too. Anyway, you can feel my frustration. With all the money USTA has, they have proven their inability/incompetence in developing players. Their system is clearly not working. Instead of cherry-picking the players based on 'results', they should dig deeper into the local pool talent and help the struggling parents with limited resources. These are the kids that would get less structured training which is essential at the beginning, less travel time to the tournaments, and ultimately, would take longer to reach results. Late bloomers. I have witnessed it time after time. These are the kids that are more likely not to reach the finish line and we are talking about some really talented kids. How many future promising great tennis players we have lost? What is the true need for USTA if only a small fraction is getting benefits?

Alex Ho said...

In the European system players call their own lines and replay point if there is a dispute, this can still be used to cheat by disputing call when you know know ball was called correctly, honestly they just don't cheat as much in Europe (I played in France for a summer, and that was another thing they made fun of Americans about). There is obviously more clay tournaments in Europe, but players know how to game it by disputing a different mark, or wiping the mark.

The main driver of cheating is parents and coaches, how can you be there at the tournament week after week and see your kid/player cheating and not pull him off court at an early age? They justify it by saying the other kids are cheating so you have to cheat to stay in the match, and pretty soon you cheat because you know that opponent will cheat and its viscous cycle... The reality is that if you focus your time and money on improving game and not on winning some local tournament by cheating you will be better off in the end.

Total agree cheating makes it terrible experience and it would be great if it ended or went down, but its not an easy fix. The USTA could take millions out of Player development and fund it to local level umpires, but who wants to do that job? There is a huge national level shortage of umpires/refs for all sports, it is a miserable job that no one wants to do. Why does no one want to be a umpire/ref, shocker its the parents who scream at them. I am not sure you are going to get a ton of high schoolers signing up to blow their weekend watching kids moon ball for 8 hours even if you pay them well.

Its impossible to have 1 umpire for every court for boys/girls 12 local tournament, and its very easy to cheat with roving refs (although it is an improvement). Most of the time you get an umpire for your match after an issue and they are disinterested (its not fun if you have every done it), but at least it improves blatant cheating in most cases.

Just remember that in team sports you need 1 to 3 ref/umpires for 20-30 kids and the games are timed and have hard schedules so much easier to set up, tennis is a nightmare for scheduling (another turnoff for the sport).

Unfortunately you cannot provide any evidence that if you cut out cheating you have better pro's, but it would be a better experience. Tennis and golf are very expensive and is mainly going to be sport for families who have resources, it would be great for the local sections to identify talented players who don't have the resources to train and travel, or even help out middle class families with stipends?

Good discussion

Jon King said...

ESS, I hear you. Our family knows so many kids who have been lost along the way. Kids we started out with years ago, but the expense for coaching, equipment, courts, travel, along with cheating, made them quit tennis. Or if they stayed with tennis, they did not reach their potential. And the ones who did go on to college tennis wonder if the scholarship even covers the money the spent.

The USTA's function should be to support tennis at the local level, organize tournaments and league play for all ages, seek out local coaches and programs and players that deserve money. Fairly distribute wildcards. There should be no USTA high performance, makes no financial sense.