Monday, May 23, 2011

Player Development Systems

I ended my last post with a comment that the changing tennis landscape has implications for the USTA's Player Development Program.  Any system that's purpose is to produce world-class tennis players is a system that takes time.  Ten years at a minimum.  The kids get into the system at a young age and by the age of 18-28 one or two or more of them dominate the international tennis scene.  That's the goal anyway.

So you're in charge of such a system, nationwide.  What do you do?  Well Patrick McEnroe is that person in the US and he has hired Jose Higueras as his head coach.  Together they map out the training of young tennis players.   Both men agree that young American players are hurt by not playing enough on clay.  With an eye toward the success of Spanish and French players, and of Federer and Djokovic, all of whom played predominantly on clay as kids, McEnroe and Higueras are making the top US juniors train more on clay. They have installed clay courts at their regional training centers and at the National Tennis Center in New York.  Training on clay has worked for the current generation of stars, so we'll have to train our next generation of players on clay if we want them to be stars.

That's the argument.

Notice any problem with that line of reasoning?  Ever heard of a general fighting the last war?

If the landscape does not change over the next ten or twenty years, then starting our young players off on clay is a good call.  But what if it does change?  What if the game speeds up again for some reason?  Increased skill or different technique or another type of string.  What if the courts or balls of ten or twenty years from now are much faster or much softer or much harder or something that doesn't suit players who grew up playing on clay?

Any long term plans are subject to this type of risk.  Ask any business person or government planner.  The best laid plans of mice and men...

The longer the plan, the longer the process, the greater risk that the plan will not work out as you hoped.

So what's a national tennis federation to do?  Ah, another post!

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