Earlier this week, I received the following letter from a coach based in California. He stated in his intro to me that he was sending the letter to several people in hopes that it would help all of us formulate our thoughts on where USTA Player Development should go from here. The letter has already appeared on ZooTennis as well.
4 September 2014
An open letter from a private tennis coach regarding USTA Player Development
Yesterday, it was announced that Patrick McEnroe will leave his position as General Manager of USTA Player Development. While there has been much discussion over the past years about what role USTA player development should have in the tennis world in the US, I thought it timely to share my thoughts with regard to this matter.
I only address the issue of player development from my own perspective as a junior coach for the last 25 years. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some very talented juniors that I’ve been able to work with over the years. I’ve dealt with every age group from ten year old boys to 18 year old girls. Some good sectional USTA players, to top Junior ITF players and everything in between. Since I’ve always worked as a private coach, never in an academy setting, and usually with only one player at a time, I’ve always had to partner with other coaches, academies, and other organizations that could provide practice environments.
Perfection is an elusive goal and I’m not perfect, I’ve made my share of mistakes in my coaching as does every coach and every organization. But the USTA PD has been an organization that has never welcomed me and my players no matter which door I’ve knocked on. So at some point, I simply gave up. And I know a lot of coaches who have experienced exactly the same thing. So I didn’t feel as though I was the only one. It is interesting that, as a private coach from the US, with talented players, I have had better access to training with other countries PD federations than with our own. Over the past year, the young man I coach and I have been invited to train with the Canadian, Danish, French, Spanish and Columbian Tennis Federations, some of which we were able to take advantage of, some invitations just couldn’t be coordinated with our schedule. On the occassions when I asked the USTA for such access, we received emails saying,
“well, we are very full around that time, but we will work something out”,
“we are court constrained, there will be some time, but limited”,
then when the time came
And this to a player who is a top 20 US Player based on ITF ranking, a Blue Chip (top 25) based on tennis recruiting ranking, but a player who has not played significantly in the USTA juniors over the past year, but has been as high as top 15 in USTA National Rankings. What on earth happens to those up and coming kids who want to take the next step and do not have a high ranking?
What could I envision as a supportive PD environment? And it’s worth repeating that I’m only talking about developing the skills of relatively elite players—not what do we do to get more kids to play. I’ll leave that to people who know more than I about getting parents to see the benefits of tennis over other sports options they may have available to them.
My PD wish list is relatively straightforward.
- Support the coaches in the private sector, don’t compete with them.
- Create an open environment for players at various levels to come practice with each other.
- Provide more financial assistance for players at a certain level to travel to
tournaments around the world and play and practice with the best. This is now a global sport.
- Provide support for ancilary services such as physical training, nutrition education, sports psychology, etc.
- Provide a better junior tournament environment that encourages more players and encourages the best players to play. But be reasonable, unless they are from a section/region where there is appropriate competion, it’s not reasonable to expect a player that is pursuing ITF level competition to compete in a sectional tournament in order to obtain a ranking to play in National level events.
- A coordination service run by the USTA that tracks where players are at any given time and tries to put players of similar levels in touch with each other so that they might practice together.
- Provide help in a consulting fashion from specialized coaches. A great example is some court time with Jose Higueres (one of the best clay court coaches) before the clay season. (Todd Martin, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, etc. all sought out that kind of help from him.)
- Facilitate a mentoring environment among our junior players.
Just these basic services, were they available to all who meet some defined, established criteria would be very useful. One might see private coaches seeking out these services and as a result one might see private coaches broadening their views and making use of these various tools provided by our PD federation.
While I do NOT hold Patrick McEnroe responsible for all the shortcomings of USTA PD and while I don’t believe his departure will remedy or change everything, it is a good time to throw the various views of what our federation could do into the mix. Maybe we can come up with some new answers, or make use of some tried and true solutions, or maybe just examine things from the perspective of “the way it is now” and not try to apply old rules that worked in the past, but don’t really apply to our sport today.
I will throw this letter out to various people who might want to raise these types of possibilities as the dialogue develops as to who will take over player development for the USTA. Perhaps some of these ideas may become discussion points.
Palm Springs, CA