In last week’s episode I talked about why USTA president, Jon Vegosen, is wrong about the reasons for the decline of US tennis. Today I share my opinion on how to improve the state of US Tennis. Since this a very complex issue I focus on 3 main points: coaches, players and the national association (USTA).

So one of the main questions is:

Who is responsible for the current state of US tennis?

Well, there is no straight forward, easy answer but there are 3 entities that play an important role:

  • Coaches – because they are responsible for developing the players with regards to:
    • Stroke production
    • Physical fitness
    • Mental toughness
  • Players – because ultimately it depends on the athletes desire for success

Coaches can only help a player on his/her journey for success but the coach cannot make it happen for the player – it’s basically similar to a doctor who’s helping with the delivery of a baby: the doctor cannot push out the baby for you but he can assist you in the delivery of the baby

  • National association, the USTA – because it needs to supply a framework (e.g. tournaments) and the financial resources for players to be able to pursue a career in tennis.

COACHES

Coaches play an important role because they are responsible for teaching the players the tools to be successful therefore it would make sense to have the best coaches available just like Harvard provides their students with some of the best professors.

So who is a good coach?

My definition of a great coach is someone who can continuously improve/develop the player’s abilities WITHOUT injuring the athlete because the best player is the one that is healthy and longevity is important for a successful career (What’s the point of having the fastest serve if you can’t walk onto the court?)

Ok, so what areas of expertise are important in order to continuously develop players without injuring them?

  1. Stroke production
  2. Anatomy
  3. Exercise physiology
  4. Kinesiologie
  5. Sports nutrition
  6. Sports psychology

How many coaches, especially tennis coaches, are familiar with this stuff and how many have a proof of competency? If we take the Harvard example, professors need to show proof of competency in order to teach at Harvard in the form of college degrees (e.g. master’s or PhD). Now, is every guy with a Master’s degree or PhD a genius and someone without is an idiot? Certainly not! But a proof of competency is desirable for the best coaches.

In order to have success it is also important that the respective coaches:

  • tennis coach
  • strength & conditioning coach
  • athletic trainers
  • sports Psychologists
  • sports Nutritionists

work well together. Often times this is not the case because of various factors but egos play a big role. In reality, many coaches are doing their own thing instead of working together synergistically.

(c) IAAPH

(c) IAAPH

Players

From the player’s perspective it is really important that they have the desire to be successful, which is not really influenced by where they are from. So, it doesn’t mean you have to be poor nor is it a necessity that you are from Eastern Europe in order to have success. One prime example that proves the opposite is Roger Federer who is from Switzerland, which is a wealthy country, his parents are pharmacists, so not necessarily poor, and he is doing pretty well one would assume. So, you don’t need to be poor or from Eastern Europe or South America to have success. But it is a matter of character of the player.

So, they have to work hard, they have to deal with disappointments, they have to keep going and they need to have the willingness to work hard to improve their deficiencies. When you look at the top guys like Nadal and Djokovic, they work extremely hard. They also work on the things they are not doing well, for example: when you look at Nadal’s serve you notice that his serve was a liability when he started out, it was not a threat at all but he kept working on it, changed the grip and changed the motion. So they tweaked it here and there and now it is not so much of a liability anymore. That is really important, the willingness to improve the things you are not doing well; that has to do with character. They practice until they got it, sometimes five hours and that is the mental discipline that the players need to have in order to make it; not everybody has it.

Also, players are different. Like Nadal is different from Djokovic and Djokovic is different from Federer and so it is important to connect with a player and to really try to get them to perform at their best. Everybody is different and has their own strengths and weaknesses but ultimately it is the athlete’s desire for success that really determines about success and failure because, as I mentioned before, coaches can only help the player get there but the athlete has to make it happen and so a lot of character and discipline is required to actually achieve it.

The USTA

Ok, the final point I want to talk about is the national association, the USTA, and what they can do or do a little bit better to help the players in the US.

One thing that comes to mind is the number of tournaments that are available in America. The USA is a very large country and you have to travel long distances to go to tournaments, to go from A to B. For example, in January you have 4 future tournament in Florida and after that there is not much happening. Then you have to wait to play 4 more futures in Texas. But, when you compare who actually is playing the tournaments in Florida and Texas then you will find out that the number of players is very small, which has to do with the expenses involved for travel and hospitality.

There are countries in Europe, for example in Turkey, where you can play 12 futures in a row, which means you can play for 3 months, every week and they are all close together, which helps you saving money for travelling.

My suggestion: why not have 20 tournaments in Florida, or 20 tournaments in California, so that travelling is not so much of an issue. Athletes must be able to compete on a regular basis in order to get better, in order to gain points and in order to develop.

The USTA must provide much more tournaments so that the athletes can do this without having to spend so much money. That’s for example one reason why the athletes in Europe have such an advantage. In Europe, by car within 8 hours you are anywhere. So can drive from Spain to Croatia so it is much easier for players in Europe to play all the time. It is not so expensive since you can travel by car or with the Turkey example you take a flight over there and stay for 3 months. It’s a 5 star hotel, it is nice, cheap, so people go and play, which really is a big advantage.

I think the USTA has the chance to do the same thing in America. Thee are great places in the US to play tennis such as California or Florida, where you can play year around. So there are these options available for improvements.

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The other thing is the financial resources the USTA has to provide for players. It is very expensive to travel. So, as I just mentioned, by offering more tournaments the cost can go down but it is also important to give the players contracts so that they have some security but also have some funds available.

They also should have some input on what tournaments they want to play or other things they want to do because it is helpful in developing self-confidence. When they can set some goals themselves and then go out and achieve them it is helpful to them so everybody involved wins.

Therefore, providing the financial backing for a certain amount of players so they can pursue a career in tennis is very important. We are talking about $100,000 per year per player for 4-5 years so they have a good chance of becoming successful.

This are just a couple of things from the USTA’s perspective that I think could be done better and it would benefit a whole range of people. Also, if there are objective criteria then there is no favouritism and people will feel that it is fair. Therefore I feel this a re valuable aspects that the USTA should take into consideration and maybe they will.

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Content crafter at Tennis Conditioning. You can find me on the ITF/WTA/ATP tour coaching tennis players or online writing about tennis, strength & conditioning, exercise science or health-related issues. Champions find a way, losers find excuses!

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