Join Date: Jun 2010
NY Times Article on American Tennis
Not sure if this was worth the read........
But, posted it for those bored on a Monday,
and to let everyone know we might have to wait "15 to 20 years to see what the new U.S.T.A. initiatives produce".
August 25, 2012
Developing Top Talent or Hindering Process?
By HUNTER ATKINS
The 16th-ranked junior player in the world was rallying at the Sportime tennis center on Randalls Island on a recent afternoon when the owner of the place swaggered onto the court for a peek at one of his pet projects, Noah Rubin.
Wearing black sweat pants, black shoes, a long chain necklace, a Mets hat and a Rangers T-shirt, the owner looked more like someone standing in line for a beer at Madison Square Garden than a savant shaping the minds of pros dressed in tennis whites.
But that owner is John McEnroe, revered as one of the sport’s greats, with a style all his own. Even now, as an ambassador to the game and playmaker in developing talent, McEnroe is unconventional in the way he bucks the system and is devoted to working within that system.
“My brother, he won’t admit it, but I’m sure there has been some influence by me,” McEnroe said of his younger brother Patrick, who heads player development for the United States Tennis Association, which often conflicts with coaches and private centers like Sportime. “I personally think we have a good opportunity to know what buttons to push here better or as well as they do.”
The U.S.T.A.’s mission has long been to promote and develop tennis nationwide. In 2008, Patrick McEnroe took over and made player development a priority for the U.S.T.A.
If the U.S.T.A. can expand the base of young players, the thinking goes, it will eventually churn out better talent. To make technique easier to master for children 10 and under, the U.S.T.A. in January mandated smaller equipment and court sizes. And in an effort to make competing more affordable, starting in 2014 fewer national tournaments will be conducted and they will have smaller fields to emphasize regional junior competitions.
But some critics argue that the U.S.T.A.’s objectives to grow the game and to develop top talent are mutually exclusive. Its methods are hotly debated. Some coaches and parents contend the modified equipment will inhibit development, not enhance it. The U.S.T.A. even found itself exchanging open letters with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, who complained that the new junior competition format squeezed out midlevel talent.
“Each mandate they put out is worse than the last,” said Wayne Bryan, a coach and the father of the doubles stars Mike and Bob Bryan. “To be successful in American junior tennis, you have to know how to negotiate and navigate the U.S.T.A minefield.”
As the U.S.T.A. continues to invest in establishing a national coaching approach, independent coaches like John McEnroe and Wayne Bryan resist, maintaining that a federation cannot produce a champion. Rafael Nadal’s uncle forced him to play left-handed, and Andre Agassi’s father put him in front of a high-velocity ball machine. Novak Djokovic grew up in Serbia near a tennis court and the Williams sisters grew up in Compton, Calif., without nearby courts. The making of a tennis great is often unconventional and unpredictable.
“Tennis is as unique a game as any, that you need to be able to know the person you’re dealing with to bring out the best in them,” John McEnroe said. “That doesn’t mean you can go by a set of rules in a book.”
Questions swirl about the way the nonprofit U.S.T.A. spends money. Its budget comes almost entirely from the $200 million in revenue from the United States Open, which begins Monday. The U.S.T.A. spends 15 percent of its money on player development and 70 percent on community tennis development, said Gordon Smith, its chief operating officer.
“Let’s be honest,” John McEnroe said. “You think that the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are spent on the top 100 in the world for their coaching is necessary? Does Mardy Fish need to have his coach paid for if the guy is making millions of dollars? As opposed to giving us a grant to go find some great athletes in Harlem?”
Patrick McEnroe said the U.S.T.A. was “in an unwinnable position” in the court of public opinion.
As concerned as the McEnroes are with winning, it is hard to say for whose affection the U.S.T.A. is competing. Because of recent youth initiatives, junior events will bring in about 100,000 participants this year compared with an estimated 10,000 in 2008, said Kurt Kamperman, the U.S.T.A’s head of community tennis. But when another Grand Slam tournament unfolds without an American champion, wary eyes turn toward the U.S.T.A.
“It’s a very convenient argument,” Patrick McEnroe said. “It’s like, until we take a player from the cradle to holding up the U.S. Open trophy, I guess we can’t help create players.”
He suggested that it would probably take 15 to 20 years to see what the new U.S.T.A. initiatives produce.
The U.S.TA. is teaching American children the basic techniques that top players now employ.
“We have fallen behind coaching-wise quite a bit with part of the rest of the world,” said Jose Higueras, the U.S.T.A.’s director of coaching.
Higueras added that Americans tend to master powerful strokes but lack superior movement, saying, “It’s like if you have a good basketball shooter, but you never get open.”
Tim Mayotte, who used to run player development at the U.S.T.A. National Tennis Center in Queens, said the association created problems in all areas because of its rigidity. Mayotte quit after 18 months because of the U.S.T.A.’s approach to children of various ages lacked “attention to detail.”
“You need options, not restrictions,” Mayotte said.
Despite all the mandates, convictions and dogma, tennis training centers seem to offer more options.
At Sportime, the instructor Jason Wass ran a group of 6- and 7-year-olds through drills, using a range of equipment and court sizes. Although the U.S.T.A. has strict rules for 10-and-under tennis, Wass said he used them as recommendations. He is not employed by the U.S.T.A., but he said many pros look to integrate a variety of training techniques.
“It’s just more tools for us to use,” Wass said.
Nick Pham, a 7-year old wearing a white headband, said Nadal was his favorite player, and it showed. On the 60-foot court, Nick played long rallies with a low-compression orange ball and covered ground with pinball-like direction changes that resembled the way professionals move
Were Nick to play with an adult-regulation yellow ball, it would often bounce above his head, resulting in “moon ball,” as it is called, in which the youngsters return looping overhead shots until the ball inevitably bounces out of reach or goes sailing beyond the baseline.
Wass asked Nick if he had fun, and Nick replied, “I wanted to play longer.”
An hour later, McEnroe emerged to watch Rubin.
A 16-year-old from Rockville Centre, N.Y., Rubin is a product of both McEnroe brothers in a way. With the help of John and Sportime instructors, Rubin received personalized training. With wild-card invitations from the U.S.TA., which has trained him part time, Rubin could compete in European tournaments and has earned enough points to play in the junior tournament at the United States Open.
His father and coach, Eric, said supporting a junior tennis player costs about $100,000 a year more than supporting the average teenager.
“And the better you are, the more expensive it is,” said Eric Rubin, who spent four months looking for work after losing his job at Citibank last year. But Sportime and the U.S.T.A. made sure his son did not miss a beat with training and competitions.
Today, tennis is dominated by players 25 or older. No. 43 Bernard Tomic of Australia is the only teenager ranked in the A.T.P.s top 100.
But American players like Rubin, or perhaps some who are just starting to work on their slice backhands, might one day make their mark as professionals. That would please everyone involved in their development.
Last edited by tennis5 : 08-27-2012 at 02:16 PM.