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Entries in Junior Tennis (46)


The Secret to United States' Tennis Success...Not One You'd Expect


"What if we're going about this the wrong way?" Jack Fawcett must have surely asked his father, Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett, while in the process of getting lost (to their eventual demise) in the Mato Grosso as they were searching for the legendary City of Z in the Brazilian rainforest.

Well, as much talk as has taken place about the state of college tennis and junior development within the United States, we should stop for a moment - before getting lost even further in the forest of Quickstarts bushes, Lil' Mo trees, and Bowl landscapes - and ask ourselves "ARE WE GOING ABOUT THIS THE WRONG WAY?" What if the best way to address the issue is not to treat the temporary symptoms but to purge the causes from our system?! More specific, what if something that's supposed to keep us warm, safe and protected is actually bad for us?! Can you think of some instances where something that's supposed to be good for us causes all kinds of undesirable side-effects? Do you watch much TV? Ever hear the list of side-effect on some of the medicines that are peddled around the clock? Some are worse than the main disease...

With the foregoing in mind, we have engaged in some brief research regarding the effects of "safety nets" on performance. For example, it is often written (and spoken) that college serves as a safety net for athletes. See, for reference, here, here and here. Players train with the thought that college athletics is, somehow, a mid-range objective that is going to propel them into superstardom. Consequently, they don't work very hard in the beginning stages believing that they will do the right things - the grueling work - in college...in other words, candy now, peas and carrots later. Thus, does the existence of the perceived safety net pose a developmental problem for our athletes? Although no on-point discussion exists when it comes to tennis, here are some thoughts from similar fields:

Doug Roxburgh, Director of High Performance for Golf Canada states:

“I think one of the challenges that we have right now is the U.S. college system. Our international counterparts — England and Europe and Australia and New Zealand and the Asian countries — their players don’t go through the U.S. system. They train full-time. They play around the world. They get the experience and they’re much better prepared, in my mind, than our players who are coming out of the U.S. college system. That is a challenge. I think it’s just part of North American culture. You want your kids to get an education. Then, they have something to fall back on"


What?! You mean to tell me, Mr. Ruxburgh, that the US college golf system is not set up to launch players on the professional golf tour? Interesting! To summarize: players who come from places that do not have a collegiate golf system are better prepared. Their players don't rinky-dink around with junior rankings and other such trivialities. They are passionate about the sport and gain exposure to trial-by-fire a lot sooner making them mentally, physically and tactically tougher. Without a safety net, the players are separated into two camps a lot earlier in their development: (1) on the one side are the hit-and-giggle players who play for fun; and (2) on the other, you will find the eat, drink, breathe and dream the sport players (rabidly obsessed players). Can you guess the pool of players from which the top performers are likely to come?

Further studies supporting the theory that safety nets are bad for performance are few and far between. A recent NY Times article entitled “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” discusses, however, an interesting developmental experiment. The premise of the study was whether students who never, or very seldom, experienced setbacks, could achieve academic success. The study found that:

"the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP [charter school organization]; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class. Those skills weren’t enough on their own to earn students a B.A…. But for young people without the benefit of a lot of family resources, without the kind of safety net that their wealthier peers enjoyed, they seemed an indispensable part of making it to graduation day."


OK, so this is only somewhat related to what we are discussing here. However, upon brief consideration, you may find that the distinction is one in terms of timing not scope. For example, in the aforementioned study, the students who performed well had no immediate safety net and, therefore, ended up performing well in the future. In terms of tennis, our players have a future safety net ("oh, if it doesn't work out, I can always go to college and Ill work hard when I get there") and, as a result, they don't prepare well in the present - certainly not to the degree required to perform and dominate on the pro tour (as evidenced by the rankings that really matter). This is particularly obvious if we were to compare college tennis to social security payments and the rate of economic savings per family unit in the United States. Would you save more of your paycheck if you knew that no government check would be forthcomging upon retirment?! Would you work harder if you knew that "not making it" on the tour was a very real boogeyman?

On the other hand, let's see who dominates the sport of tennis: Spaniards, South Americans and Central/Eastern Europeans. Look at their collegiate athletic system:..................[crickets chirping]. Much like golfers in Mr. Roxburgh's example, they train from early age without a safety net. For them, there is no "spring-board" to the pros fallacy and they are not handcuffed by principles of amateurism. The ones who really care about the sport live the sport. Others, play for pleasure - which is fine too. But everyone is honest with their intentions and passion for the game.

Parhaps, rather than trying to fix the college tennis system (which is not designed to produce ATP/WTA top-10, top-50 or even top-100 players), we should think about disbanding/jettisoning it altogether. Sounds radical? It absolutely is! But given the state of US tennis, it is foreseeable that a radical approach is necessary in order to turn this ship around. Of course, it will not happen as there are way too many vested interests in keeping the system as it is (e.g., membership fees, tournament fees, lessons, marketing useless training systems or immoral services). But think about what would happen if, starting tomorrow, there would be no college tennis:

1. A lot of players would quit. Why? They are playing for a "wrong" reason. They don't really love tennis, they only like what tennis could do for them (a small carrot, that looks quite large, at the end of a very long stick). Did we mention that it costs $450,000 to develop a tennis player and scholarship is only worth about $100,000 (if you're good enough to actually get a full one)? Aren't you better off by saving some money and actually paying for school?! Even if a lot of players quit, the ones who stay on will be like musicians or artists who are obsessed about their craft. They will challenge each other at every step of their development and, due to their passion for the game, better players would emerge (every match would be a fight between tigers). 

Hey, there's a thought: do musicians obtain collegiate scholarships based on their results or rankings? No! They play - improve and develop - because they possess a true passion for their art regardless of potential payoffs down the road. Also, the lack of scholarships doesn't prevent them from going to college. The same mentality would certainly help our best junior players.

2. A lot of coaches would be put out of business. Good! The bad ones will certainly be out of a job; the good ones, just like good coaches in Europe and other parts of the world, will continue to be swamped with lessons as people will always try to improve their game. In a similar vein, a lot of organizations may fold or be forced to downsize. Is this so bad? What are they doing for the game of tennis right now?! Aren't they just supported by the artificial demand that they themselves have helped create by peddling misinformation like hot cakes?! At the very least, there would be a system where the grittiest kids would be developed by the best coaches. From a developmental point of view, that's not exactly a bad thing. 

3. There will be fewer tournaments. After all, with fewer players the demand for more competition will decrease. Maybe! France has thousands of tournaments for player at every level. In the summer, it's possible to sign up for and play an event a day. Tournaments are driven by passion; not a profit motive. There will always be supply if the demand is there. Right now, the demand is propped up by artificial means (e.g. requiring players to chase ranking points). Accordingly, the current demand for tennis itself is itself distorted. Perhaps a new system of club tennis or private leagues would emerge. 

4. Rankings will be meaningless. Awesome! You don't need a junior ranking to get on "the tour"; all you need to do is sign up. Imagine a system where players played tournaments because of the competitive benefits and not to chase points! You wouldn't have to struggle to finance a cross-country trip to a national open or a long-distance drive to some silly designated event. You could play the tournament you want, when you want for the developmental benefits. Isn't this what most good coaches are saying now anyway (i.e., focus on learning not on chasing points)?

5. Education level will increase. This is a bad thing? Isn't the purpose of college to get an education? Somewhere along the lines, someone, somewhere put it in players'/parents' minds that college is a step towards the pro tour. If only....someone...could rem--- got it..here. Presently, there are a ton of would-be student-athletes who sacrifice education in pursuit of a lofty dream. Many don't get the most out of school because they have to play this tournament for ranking, travel to that one because that's where the coaches are going to scope out potential recruits, or choose between a book-report and a practice. Same thing happens in college where you have to practice with the team and are generally relegated to classes that fit around the tennis schedule. Without college tennis as an objective, you could focus on your studies (before and during college) and make tennis fit your schedule (not the other way around).

6. Your tennis may actually improve. You could work on your game at your convenience and without the need to keep up with the Joneses. You could actually focus on development and learning as opposed to chasing points. Your parents might actually be saving money in this process. You wouldn't need to worry about amateurism rules. Therefore, you would actually have a tangible incentive to play. In college, you could set up the practices, workouts and tournaments around your needs and schedule. You could take a semester/quarter off and play French tennis tournaments, Bundesliga or Italian team events. You could play futures in South America or money events in Asia. In other words, you could do both tennis and school at your convenience. On this note, did you know that Tipsarevic, Ancic and Zvonareva have college degrees? Tennis didn't seem to interfere with their studies.

7. Players will not be able to pursue higher education. Who says?! First of all, if parents have the funds to spend on developing a player (again, avg. $450,000/player) they should certainly be in a position to have some money set aside for college. If they are "investing" $450,000 to obtain something of substantially lesser value, they need to be put under conservatorship. Of course, these actions certainly explains the state of economic affairs in the United States. Second, with better grades, a player will be more likely to get in a school of his/her choice. Lastly, what's wrong with working and paying for school the old-fashioned way?! A lot of student are doing it and just because you own a couple of rackets and some tennis posters doesn't make you special.

Rather than fixing a broken system, perhaps the best approach is to discard the system altogether. Like Hernan Cortes who burned his ships (all of them, per legend) to prevent his troops from turning back to the protection of the empire and ended up conquering the Aztec empire, maybe it's time for us to also "go all in"...to wean away from the nipple. 

If this approach doesn't work (and given the nature of disappearing programs, it's just a matter of time before it will happen on its own), here's another less-radical thought: approach the game as if the collegiate athletic system doesn't exist. After all, the top professional tennis players regard tennis with the same frame of mind: there is no college; only pros. Then, again, they have true passion for the game. Do you? Are you sure?! Ask yourself: if they disbanded college tennis tomorrow, would I still practice 4 hours a day? Would I still grind it in the gym or on the track? Would I still play this tournament or that? Would I still try to be the best that I could be? If the answer's yes, then at least your attitude is on the right track. For those of you who have stuck with me this far, this is really the point of this article... finding something that you're passionate about (hopefully, tennis) and then pursuing it with all your heart and resources as well as not being distracted by vista points along completely different routes.


Globalization of Collegiate Tennis in the 21st Century


Reference is hereby made to our previous article concerning college tennis. In social media, our revelations have generated considerable exchange with solid points being made on both sides of the coin. Briefly, where one group believes that artificial rules have to be implemented in order to allow more US players a chance to engage in college athletics, the other group believes in a "survival of the fittest" approach. Where does CAtennis.com stand on this issue? In this case, CAtennis.com prefers to remain relatively neutral. Nevertheless, with the full understanding of the detrimental effects of unlimited numbers of foreigners on our universities' rosters, here are some benefits of maintaining the status quo:

1. Fairness. It is undeniable that certain schools have inherent advantages when it comes to tennis recruiting. Take for example the "sunshine belt" states. A lot of players grow up and train in warmer climates. Several juniors board in academies from California to Florida and from the Mediterranean to Australia. These players are accustomed to certian playing conditions (warm, sunny, outdoors) and may have an innate disposition to remain in these locations during their college career. As a result, it is often the case that these schools get the proverbial "pick of the litter" when it comes to a graduating class. Limiting the number of foreigners per team across the board would entrench these schools in their top spots without giving anyone else a fair chance to compete. Keeping competition open, ensures some degree of fairness within the system and makes for a far more interesting and challenging season (particularly for institutions beloning to far-reaching conferences). Furthermore, it is important to note that some of our players will simply refuse to play for certain programs even if they were offered a playing spot and a scholarship (preferring instead to red-shirt at more "sexy" schools with better football teams or social environment). Should these "lesser" programs shut down simply because our players tend to smirk their noses when it comes to enrolling and playing there? Several D-1 coaches have indicated to us that the programs would be put on the chopping block in the event they failed to remain competitive. We've already lost 580 tennis programs since 1977. Losing more programs will continue the downward spiral of our sport. 

2. Competition. America is a country that thrives on competition. Save for a few instances where certain competitive aspects are deemed to be against pulblic policy (e.g. opening up cross-borders insurance providers to unregistered and unregulated organization), the general belief is that the market is efficient and competition results in the highest quality of products and services at the lowest possible prices. A similar concept applies to college tennis. In this regard, competition is wonderful because it provides "our" best players the opportunity to compete against "their" best players with the end result that the level of all players will improve. If you care about tennis, this is a good thing. If college tennis is to serve as a "spring board" to the tour at all, it seems that best possible scenario would be to inject college tennis with as many tour qualities and elements as possible including tough, well-rounded competition. In other words, if producing world-class talent is our primary goal, dumbing down the level seems to be a backwards way of addressing this concern. Unfortunately, this is also a point where a lot of parents are unable to put their personal feelings aside.

3. Education. The principal purpose of higher learning is to provide a solid education to those persons who are willing to assume the responsibility. Expanding one's universe doesn't just happen in the class-room but it can also happen on campus as well as on the tennis court. In college, you are exposed - some Americans for the first time in their lives - to different cultures, languages and thought processes.

In terms of tennis, you learn how certain players play and think based on their nationalities and backgrounds. For example (and excuse the blatant stereotypes), you learn that Scandinavians are generally mellow but fun-loving people, with solid baseline games who are capable of playing equally well on the slowest of slow court and the fastest indoor courts (having grown up on slow, wet clay as well as fast indoor courts). You will learn that, for the most part, central and eastern European players have solid games, big serves and outstanding work ethic. You will notice that southern Europeans play with a lot of flair and have a penchant for the dramatic. Then there are the fired-up dirt-ballers from the Iberian Peninsula and South America, the wild and gritty attacking players from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well as the steady and methodical players from Asia...and many more in between. The fact is that most countries have certain "schools of tennis" or principles of thought related to tennis that are influenced and developed from their own tennis heritage (juniors copying their home-grown idols), culture, climate (fast indoors v. slow outdoors) and resources. With tennis being a global sport, you will have to learn how to deal with these various personalities and game-styles. A player can do so in college or he can be exposed to this dimension for the first time "on tour" (on his/her own dime). From a developmental standpoint, the better advice is to be exposed to these idiosyncracies early in order to have a better understanding of their games when you're out on your own.

4. Friendship. Without a doubt, at some point in your life you have heard that tennis is "the sport of a lifetime". We're not here to "sell to you" the game of tennis. Hopefully, if you're reading this site it means that tennis plays a huge role in your life. Accordingly, you will have to understand that who you are and what you do today might not be your life 10-20 years down the road. Tennis is a great tool for meeting people and making friends throughout the world ("networking"). This is particularly true for someone who is good at the game. You never know who you might meet through tennis which of these people will change your life forever. As a tennis player, you may find yourself anywhere in the world and by simply name-dropping some of your contacts and whowing off your skills, you could be welcomed into the group. This can happen while you're pursuing a tennis career or a career completely unrelated to tennis. THIS is what college tennis is all about; connecting with people, making friends and sharing a commong experience with people who, at first impression, may seem so different but who turn out to have similar dreams, desires and motivations to us. 

In the end, it is not the foreigners who are ruining the college tennis opportunities and experience for US players; we (coaches, clubs, organizations, tournaments, academies, players and parents) are doing this all on our own. Colleges cannot be faulted when the #2 player from some far off _______-stan is a more solid player than our #23 junior (numbers used as an example). There is a great deal of pressure on colleges to compete and on coaches to win. Contrary to popular belief, collegiate athletics is not a charitable endeavor. A successful athletic program is likely to have a better endowment than one with less-than-stellar results. If a foreigner is better than a US player for a particular program, the former will be snapped up first. Simple as that. This is why most football players are Americans, as are most basketball players, or track athletes. We're simply better at those sports than the rest of the world (obviously, we have a competitive advantage when nobody else is playing the sport - e.g., football).

The key is to find a way to develop our top 150 graduating seniors to be better than the top players from foreign countries. In other words, the internationalization of collegiate tennis is a developmental problem, not a college issue. If our players are better, no coach in his right mind will look overseas for a weaker player. In this regard, the various facets of the industry have to work together in order promote the game, grow the game and develop top-notch players. Coaches, parents and players must understand what it takes and how much it costs and get on the correct track early. Given our resources and our position in the world, there is no excuse for failing to achieve our goals. 


McEnroe: Lost A Whole Generation of Players Who Should Have Gone To College


According to Patrick McEnroe: "We in the USTA maybe made a little mistake in pushing some of our junior prospects to go straight to the pros in the past. I think we lost a group who, if they had gone to college and had a chance to mature in every category, would still have had a chance to be a high-level professional....Only a small percentage of people playing college tennis will go pro, but if we can get a few into the top 100 we will be pleased... It can only increase our chances of producing a grand slam winner."

Also: "We're making more of an effort to encourage kids to go to college, or to stay in school once they get there. If you get someone as talented as Andy Roddick or Sam Querrey, it's pretty clear they're going to make a move to the pros, and rightly so. But over the last 15 years, I think we probably lost about a hundred potential top-100 players because they went pro too early. They were too young for a life on the road, they were lonely, and they got crushed by the competition. Next thing you know, they're completely out of the game. The reality is that college tennis is like Double-A ball, for the most part...You won't see many players who are going to wind up in the Top 10. But here in America, we could use more people in the top 30-50. We're really hurting in that department. In a lot of cases, I don't feel a player would lose any ground by playing in college. I'd be happy to see more of our young players take this road. It's a smart decision for tennis reasons, and also for life reasons."

There are, of course, two wrinkles with these assertions: (1) Which college should one attend for tennis given that, between 1971-2011, 580 tennis programs (not just D-1; not just men's tennis) were eliminated (see ITA-compile table, below); and (2) Who does the US college system benefit given the breakdown between US and foreign players (particularly in Division 1 - the most competitive league)?





1971 – 1980



1981 – 1991



1992 – 2002



2003 – 2010



Year Unknown






NOTE: Per the ITA (whom we thank for providing this information) - "From 1971 – 2011 (to date), 360 men’s programs and 220 women’s have been eliminated.   Men’s programs comprise 60% of the dropped programs which may lead many people to blame the unintended consequences of Title IX as the sole reason.  However, the statistics show that 40% of the dropped programs have been women’s teams.  Our research has found that other factors, including escalating costs, shrinking budgets, and reallocation of valuable real estate on which tennis courts sit, have contributed to the demise of collegiate programs." In other words, since Mr. McEnroe graduated from Stanford in 1988, over 200 programs have been lost...that's over ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED playing spots that no longer exist...per year. Imagine how many players could have kept playing after college had they had the opportunity to play college tennis to begin with? How many more up-and-coming juniors could they have positively influenced through their playing and experiences? Here's a break-down by region and division. Note the programs lost from tennis powerhouse sections such as Southern California, Eastern, Midwest, texas and Southern. 


USTA Section

Division I

M          W

Division II

M          W

Division III

M          W


M          W

Junior College

M          W



0            0

1            1

0            0

0              0

0              0



4            2

4            2

15          5

0              0

6              4



1            0

1            0

0            0

0              0

9              5


Hawaii Pacific

0            0

0            0

0            0

0              0

0              0



3            0

3            4

0            0

0              1

1              1



5            1

2            1

3            1

2              2

7              5


Middle States

3            0

7            3

4            6

1              0

10          10



15          2

6            3

12           4

5              4

12            8


Missouri Valley

7            1

7            4

2             1

15          15

7              6


New England

8            6

2            1

11           6

1              2

3              0



0            0

7            2

1            1

3              3

4              2


No. California

1            0

4            3

0            1

0              0

13            9


Pacific NW

2            0

3            3

0            1

1              1

0              0



10           1

15          7

0            0

10            9

26          13


So. California

3            0

  7           3

1            0

3              3

7            13



1            0

  1           0

0            0

0              0

2              2



6            0

  6           6

1            1

1              1

18          15










69        13

76         43

50        28

42          41

125         93


The tables below (teams ranked in top 75 at the end of the 2010 season) outline the breakdown of male US players in Division 1 rosters (2011-2012 season). Figures were compiled from the respective team websites as the ITA purports to not to track this type of data. We have requested this information from the ITA as it would be interesting to evaluate the fluctuations of percentages from year-to-year (particularly since 1988 going forward - since there's a possibility that Mr. McEnroe's outlook is shaped by that particular framework).

At first blush, things don't appear all that bleak for American players. After all, the majority of players are in fact American. However, the figures may be somewhat slanted in that if a foreign player comes to a US university, he does so with the intention of actually playing (i.e., these players are, for the most part, "starters"). They are not as enamored with merely attending (but not playing for) a particular school as a home-grown talent might be. Furthermore, a foreign starter is likely to command a larger scholarship percentage (unless they are financially "well off", they are probably not going to come from across the globe AND pay for college, are they). After adjusting the figures to account for these two factors, it is a distinct possibility that not only do the foreign players actually get the majority of the overall tennis experience afforded by the US college system (the % of matches played can be determined at the end of the season), but they also get the majority of the money allocated to the scholarships (closely guarded secret).

Wayne Bryan is a big advocate in putting a limit on foreign scholarships.  However, to be competitive in the NCAA Team rankings, coaches have to protect themselves by going foreign. After the top 20 Americans, it would be foolish to bypass on a world class foreigner to get a lower ranked American.  Coaches need to win to keep their jobs and tennis programs need to produce to justify the drain on the Athletic Department budgets. Until the rules change, college tennis will be heavily developing not only US players, but also our competition around the world (ie: Somdev Devvarman).

Patrick McEnroe is correct when he says we have lost a whole generation of players who should have went to college.  First of all, these players would have made college tennis more competitive, decreased the number of foreigners on high-end tennis programs, and increased the odds of more kids able to reach the top 100 through an old-fashioned maturation process.  

One of the new developments is the enlargement of the USTA Summer Collegiate Team.  Each player gets a $3,000 grant, a week of training with the USTA, and 2 USTA selected collegiate coaches at certain events.  When college players graduate, this is when they need the support the most.  Their parents who have supported them from 8-18 are mentally tired and financially tired. College programs can no longer provide coaching or support.  The kid is left alone to his own devices.  

According to Tim Russell of the USTA, the average age of men in the top 200 is 25 and women is 24. Tim shines light that the average player spends $143,000 to chase the dream per year.  Read the article here.  $3,000 grant is clearly not enough, but atleast college programs can fill the gap between 18-21 in offsetting costs and helping with the maturation process. 

In the near future, we will show the percentage of foreigners vs American born players for top 50 D1 teams over time.  



Junior Development: $475,776 Price Tag

For all the money consumed in junior player development, why aren’t there tennis financial advisors? Has anyone taken the time to calculate the present value of future cash flows needed to develop an average national caliber junior from beginning to end? With so much uncertainty involved, probably not.

The available information is anecdotal at best. CAtennis.com comes to the rescue with a rough financial analysis of the costs associated with nurturing and maximizing talent from start to finish. Of course every family and child are unique and particular circumstances may differ (for example, living in Southern California and having access to outdoor facilities year-around versus the Midwest; playing at public courts v. having to join a private club; etc.). Therefore, a few assumptions are necessary before conducting the research: 

  • 8 year old boy with average tennis skills on a national level (this means that that player is no bigger or smaller than the rest of the kids and average in athleticism and other physical characteristics).
  • Player comes from a upper middle-class family in the Los Angeles area (approximately $150,000 in combined income)
  • Child and parent share a long-term intention of attending a top D1 tennis school (in other words, this is not just one of the many activities that the player will be involved in; this is the main, if not one and only, extra-curricular activity)
  • Ultimate goal is to pursue a career in professional tennis 

With these initial assumptions out of the way, it is time for some number crunching on a detailed annual basis starting with 2012. The proposed figures are purely hypothetical and should be analyzed through the lens of the picture painted above. The guestimation begins and all numbers are based on 2011 prices. Furthermore, this is a family that is totally committed to tennis (i.e., everyone is operating under the assumption that the child will pursue a serious tennis career which will include high-level college tennis and, perhaps, a shot at “the tour”).

2012 - Age 8

  • Equipment - $400 (rackets, shoes, newest tennis clothes - gotta wear what Rafa/Roger wear, right?!)
  • Group Lessons - $2,880 = 12 x $240 per month (3hrs x week @ $20 per group) 
  • Private Lessons - $2,640 = 12 x $220 per month ($55 per private) 
  • Membership Fees - $2,400 = 12 x $200 per month (not including initial membership fee) 
  • Tournaments - $4800 = 12 x $400 (1 tournament per month, a majority of them within driving distance). Cost includes gas and food (maybe sports drinks and energy bars). But is also a rough estimate of paying a pro to go watch the child play (Lil' Mo?) as well as overnight lodging at some events. 

Total - $13,120

2013 - Age 9

Not much change happens between 8-10 years of age. The only difference will be accounting for inflation at a historical rate of approximately 3 percent.

Total - $13,513 = 1.03 x $13,120

2014 - Age 10

Total - $13,907 = 1.06 x $13,513

2015 - Age 11

The dynamics start to change on the part of the parent and child. Due to the initial investment made on the child, the parents and the player get more emotionally attached to the results. At this point, an “arm’s race” may begin to take place among the child’s immediate competitors. Therefore, they decide to “up the ante” a little bit and add more tennis, all in hopes of getting ahead of the competition (there’s always someone who’s better). The child is ranked in the top 300 on TR.net in the 6th grade and the he gets a taste of celebrity when he ventures out to a far-away national event. More and more discussions start to take place between players, parents and coaches with an emphasis on the national stage ("will he make it?" "does he have what it takes? Tell us, coach!"). The child wants to succeed at a higher level and the parents and still fully committed to supporting the child’s dream. After all, playing tennis is better than being a latch-key kid and the parents are so proud of the attention that the child is getting from other adults/parents. Can't let them down, can we?! The decision is certianly also influenced by the results of some of the kid's peers. 

  • Equipment - $800 (goot fill up that 6-pack bag with 6 brand new rackets. Chances are that he didn't like the rackets after all, so he has to switch twice in one year).
  • Group Lessons - $3,840 = 12 x $320 (4hrs x week @ $20 per group) 
  • Private Lesson - $5,280 = 12 x $440 (2 privates per week x $55) 
  • Membership Fees - $4,800 = 12 x $400 (adding another club for extra court time, coaches, and variety of players) 
  • Tournaments - $7,500 = 15 x $500 (some tournaments require farther stays and duration)

Total - $24,219 = 1.09 x $22,220

2016 - Age 12

The only difference between 11 and 12 is the increase in duration per tournament (i.e., player stays in the draw longer; therefore, more cost to the parent), which accounts for a greater cost per tournament at $700. All other expenses remain relatively similar and there is no system for cost recovery in the mateur divisions. 

Tournaments - $10,500 = 15 x $700

Total - $28,246 = 1.12 x $25,220

2017 - Age 14

The child lands an equipment preferred player program deal for being top 10 in his Section, but it doesn’t offset all the equipment costs because he is breaking more strings (more expensive strings) due to addtional on-court time and a stronger physique, running through more shoes, cracking more racquets (from throwing the racquet), new Tourna Grip for every match, and the Nike clothes to fit the part. To save money in the long-term, the parents purchase a $1,000 stringing machine to string racquets for the kid.

Group lessons are reduced to 3 times per week to allow for more outside match-play with adults and juniors. However, the group lesson prices go up because he is in a more advanced group with more personal attention (coach's hourly rate is split among 2-3 players rather than 4-5 or even 6). The parents decide to hire a trainer twice a week to increase the agility and quickness of the child. Why? Because everyone else is doing it! Also, the player may be too young to know what he needs to work on from a cross-training point of view. Additional costs may include match analysis and stroke analysis software (certainly not for every match and practice but, perhaps, once per year) as well as slo-motion videography. 

Private lessons are bumped up to 3 times per week (so that the player can focus on specifics), mixing in a new professional who coaches all the best juniors around in hopes of getting more time with the pro in the future. The drive is three times as far for the third private lesson and slightly more expensive for the specialized expertise (supply and demand). Membership fees are static because the child is asked to play elsewhere as a guest, one of the benefits of increasing the level of play. More people want to hit with a better player. Tournaments are increased to 18 per year (the designated/manadatory for sectional rankings; national/super-national events; doubles; etc.) and a third of the tournaments require a flight or a severe cross-country drive.

  • Equipment - $2,000 
  • Group Lessons - $3,600 = 12 x $300 (3 x per week @ $25 per group) 
  • Private Lessons - $8,160 = 12 x $680 (2 x per week @$55, 1 x per week @ $60) 
  • Membership Fees - $4,800 
  • Tournaments - $14,400 = 18 x $800 

 Total - $37,904 = 1.15 x $32,960 

2018 - Age 14

The child struggles somewhat in his first year 14’s and the parents decide that lack of training is the problem. Despite living in Los Angeles, they seek out new options to maximize his tennis. First, they explore the big academies like Everts, IMG Academies, Saddlebrook, Newks, and Weil. The price tag is hefty, but the word is they develop Grand Slam Champions.

At the same time, the parents check out smaller outfits such as Gorins, Moros, Harold Solomon/Andy Brandi- just to name a few. The parents decide on Weil because it is close-by and their son can get the best quality training within a 2-300 mile radius.

According to Weil Tennis Academy, here is the Customized Boarding and Training Program:

Full Academic Year (August - June) - Customized Boarding & Training Program 

  • $43,000 US (including all application and insurance fees) [2011 figures – costs may increase or decrease in by 2018; note, also, that several other year-around academies come with an annual price-tag that is considerably higher - up to $68,000 or more]
  • All the features of the Full time Standard Program plus 
  • 1 private tennis lesson and 1 semi-private tennis lesson per week 
  • 1 private fitness training time per week with a Certified Personal Trainer 
  • 1 month of private Mental Fitness Coaching 
  • 2 private Nutritional Consultations per semester 
  • One Year Individual Developmental Training Plan 
  • College Tennis Placement Program with Academy Director. 

A couple things to point out, the child is getting a mix of individual, semi-private and group coaching and attention; he is receiving a regimented training schedule with a group of competitive kids in addition to the mental coaching and nutritional advice. The environment is energized and the player is racking up on-court hours towards that 10,000 hour goal. The caveat is that the $43,000 will only buy training from August to June. In comparison, the parents spent $38,209 in the previous calendar year.

Other costs associated with the academy are not factored into the base price such as more private lessons (Private Tennis Lessons with Weil Academy Head Coach: $110.00 per hour), transportation, coaching fees at tournaments, and most importantly, school. The parents want the child to succeed in academics, so they purchase the University of Miami On-Line Education for approx. $11,000 per year.

The tournament costs will increase significantly because the private coach is going to travel to San Antonio Nationals, Clay Courts, Sectionals, Eddie Herr Qualifying, and Orange Bowl Qualifying. Not to mention, family members want to tag along to the fun locations exotic locations like Miami and stay at the Biltmore Hotel (for purposes of this article, we’ll assume that this is not the only vacation for the family unit thus, the costs, are tennis-related).

  • Equipment - $1,200
  • Weil Tennis Academy - $48,000 = $43,000 + 5,000 (figure accounts for privates, transportation, coaching at tournaments) 
  • Education - $10,750 
  • Summer Group Lessons - $900 = 3 months x $300 (3 x week @ $25 per group, must prepay for Summer Session) 
  • Summer Private Lessons $2,160 = 3 months x $720 (3 x week @$60, old coach is out of the picture) Membership Fees - $4,800 
  • Tournaments - $19,800 = 18 x $1,100 (very conservative number) 

Total - $103,379 = 1.18 x $87,610

2019 - Age 15

The Weil Academy did a great job in controlling all the things they can control, but the child was not ready to make this type of commitment so soon. He missed his childhood experience and became a bit deflated by the physical and emotional demands without the usual support group. Moving forward, the parents decide to bring the child home to LA and take time off, getting ready for the next big push: setting himself up for a top D1 collegiate scholarship.

  • Equipment - $1,400 (switched from Wilson NXT to Big Banger) 
  • Group Lessons - $3,000 = 10 months x $300 (3 x week @ $25 per group, no tennis for 2 months after academy) 
  • Private Lessons - $4,800 = 10 months x $480 (2 x week @ $60, reducing the amount of private lessons) 
  • Membership Fees - $4,800 
  • Tournaments - 21,600 = 18 x $1,200

Total - $43,076 = 1.21 x $35,600

2020 - Age 16

Less is more. The child starts to piece things together with the technique, point construction, mind, and overall body coordination. He cracks the top 150 in his first year 16’s and things look promising for his second year 16’s. The parents start boasting about the upside potential of the aggressive game-style the child has developed- it was only a matter of time. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, the parents decide it is time to make a run for the top 50 USTA.

Staying the course of the previous year with the solid support staff, the parents decide to add a full-time personal trainer.

  • Equipment - $1,400 
  • Group Lessons - $3,600 = 12 months x $300 (3 x week @ $25 per group) 
  • Private Lessons - $5,760 = 12 months x $480 (2 x week @ $60) 
  • Membership Fees - $4,800 
  • Off-Court Training - $7,200 = 12 months x $600 (3 x week @ $50) 
  • Tournaments - 21,600 = 18 x $1,200 

Total - $55,006 = 1.24 x $44,360

2021 - Age 17

What a year 2015 was, a breakthrough year. He cracked the top 50 in the nation and is starting to make some noise with a few wins in the top 30 coupled with a few disastrous losses outside the top 100. The parents feel he is so close and he only needs a few more ounces of consistency to get him to the next level.

After speaking with various sources which included parents, coaches, ex-players, and the USTA- the parents settle on integrating ITF Junior Events into his schedule. The reasoning behind the decision is for stiffer competition and to attain a top 200 ITF ranking to impress the collegiate coaches. The “real” reason is everyone else is doing it, seems like the logical thing to do.

With that being said, someone needs to travel with the player, preferably a coach. A few families around the country decide on a knowledgeable coach to take the children to 10 (10 weeks of private coaching) different ITF events throughout the year. A majority of the tournaments are located within the United States with a few dipping into Central and South America.

  • Equipment - $1,200 (costs are offset by a full racquet sponsorship with limited string) 
  • Group Lessons - $3,000 = 10 months x $300 (3 x week @ $25 per group, 2 months at ITF events) 
  • Private Lessons - $4,800 = 10 months x $480 (2 x week @ $60, 2 months at ITF events) 
  • ITF Coaching - $4,000 = 10 weeks x $400 per week (Coaching rate = $1,200 per week, 3 players traveling) 
  • Off-Court Training - $6,000 = 10 months x $600 (3 x week @ $50) 
  • Membership Fees - $4,800 
  • Tournaments - $32,000 = 20 x $1,600 (paying for coaches flight, parents at a few events) 

Total - $70,866 = 1.27 x $55,800

2022 - Age 18

The moment of truth arrives. The child cracked the top 75 as a first year 18’s and is ranked in the top 300 ITF. A great year nonetheless and sets him up for a run at cracking the top 20 USTA and top 150 ITF. Who knows, maybe the child can participate in a Junior Grand Slam Qualifying Draw.

Colleges are littering the mailbox with letters, especially with the game-style the child demonstrates. Professional tennis is a long-shot, but the parents want to keep the door open for a career after college.

Marching on, the parents decide to keep the same schedule and sign early with a top school. They feel they have found the optimum training formula for their child.

  • Equipment - $1,200 (costs are offset by a full racquet sponsorship with limited string) 
  • Group Lessons - $3,000 = 10 months x $300 (3 x week @ $25 per group, 2 months at ITF events) 
  • Private Lessons - $4,800 = 10 months x $480 (2 x week @ $60, 2 months at ITF events) 
  • ITF Coaching - $4,000 = 10 weeks x $400 per week (Coaching rate = $1,200 per week, 3 players traveling) 
  • Off-Court Training - $6,000 = 10 months x $600 (3 x week @ $50, 2 months at ITF events)
  • Membership Fees - $4,800 
  • Tournaments - $32,000 = 20 x $1,600 (paying for coaches flight, parents at a few events) 

Total - $72,540 = 1.30 x $55,800

End of Junior Career - AGE 19

The parents are satisfied with the journey with their child finishing in the top 20 USTA and top 150 ITF. The child settles at PRIVATE University on a 35 percent scholarship, with no guarantee of playing in the top 6 for his first year. Regardless, the child is going to earn a world-class education in return for competing for a top-tier program.

The Journey Is Not Complete

The road is just beginning for the child and his tennis journey to achieving his full-potential. Private University is an expensive university ($46,000) with little chance of pouring a full-scholarship his way in the future. During the summers, Coach Awesome recommends further training coupled with competing in a handful of ITF Futures events. After college tennis, the road to professionalism is tough. Everyone comes so far to only give up a few inches from the finish line. The last two hurdles in a 100 meter sprint are the toughest to conquer and require a significant amount of financial backing.

If we add up all the years, here is the total amount spent before setting foot on college campus:

= 13,120 + 13,513 + 13,907 + 24,219 + 28,246 + 37,904 + 103,379 + 43,076 + 55,006 + 70,866 + 72,540

= $475,776 is the GRAND TOTAL accounting for inflation from the age of 8-18.

What if families invested the money instead?

With an 8% annual market return over the same time period, the parents will have saved the following amount by today:

= 13,120(1.08^11) + 13,513(1.08^10) + 13,907(1.08^9) + 24,219(1.08^8) + 28,246(1.08^7) + 37,904(1.08^6) + 103,379(1.08^5) + 43,076(1.08^4) + 55,006(1.08^3) + 70,866(1.08^2) + 72,540(1.08)

= $681,745 is the opportunity cost.  



Do you think that the $681,740 figure is high? Here are some thoughts (unfortunately, there's a glaring lack of outside information available):

  • In talking about the state of college scholarships, David Benjamin, ITA Executive Director, says the following: “If parents invest $50,000 a year into their child's tennis career, some feel they're owed”. He goes on to say: "But it's not in the Constitution that if you spend a certain amount, you'll get a scholarship to the school of your choice. Intellectually, a family understands this, but emotionally it's difficult to accept. That's where you get the anger."
  • According to the USTA’s “Going to College or Turning Pro? Making an Informed Decision!” (October 2010) prepared by Timothy Russell, Ph.D., the annual developmental value received at college is around $48,000/year (see Appendix A). That is, if it costs that university $48,000/year to train you, it is foreseeable that a player may spend about the same amount per year before entering college.
  • "The expense of developing a world-class player from age 10 to 20 is astronomical — training, traveling, equipment," Martin Blackman (heads talent identification and development for the U.S.T.A.)
  • Roger Draper, head of the British Lawn Tennis Association has estimated that the cost of developing a world-class player (Wimbledon champion caliber) is £250,000 (approx. $420,000). This, of course, taking into account fewer tournaments and less travel (given the smaller distances) in UK than in USA. 

Here are some questions:

A. Do you think that the figures above are too high for the average family pushing for the top echelons of tennis? Are the figures just right? If you are a parent (particularly one who is NOT a tennis pro), please feel free to share your experience so far. Are there aspects that you have sacrificed in order to reduce the overall costs? Has your child obtained a college scholarship the value of which outweighs the monetary expenditure? What would you do different? What advice would you have for similarly situated families just starting out with the sport? 

B. Even if the figures are not entirely spot-on (given that every family is different and some of the costs may be shared among siblings thereby reducing the overall average), one cannot deny that a great deal of money is, in fact, expected to be "invested" in a child's development and that the money would actually pay real-world dividends if used somewhere else (e.g. income producing property). If so, is there a way to get the same results (if not better) for a fraction of the cost? For, let's say, $50,000 - $100,000?

C. What steps need to be taken by the family, coach, club, regional organization, USTA, tournament organizers, academies, colleges, etc. in order to reduce the cost of developing across the board? Is there a road-map (CAtennis.com uses that term a lot) that each segment can follow in order to get the most out of tennis with least financial sacrifice? Why isn't anybody talking about this? What do the people "in the know" have to hide? 


The Swedish Road Map to Success

It appears that the United States is not the only country struggling with its current tennis identity. Sweden, the paragon of tennis excellence in the '70s, '80s and '90s, also appears to be experiencing a development crisis. 

In an article published on Nov. 11, 2011 the director of the Swedish Tennis Federation. Mr. Johan Sjogren, shared some thoughts about the future of Swedish tennis in respone to a newspaper article entitled "Towards the Top 100". You are hereby encouraged to read Mr. Sjogren's article yourself. Below, is a brief summary of some important points:

1. Sweden requires a number of changes in a variety of areas in order for its top junior players to have a realistic chance at reaching the top 100.

2. A significant component is the amount and type of exercise that the athlete must endure. However, hard work without passion will not guarantee results. If the players expect tennis to always be FUN, they are in the wrong profession. The players must be internally driven/motivated to strive for success. 

3. Nevertheless, coaches play an important role in motivating the youngsters. They need to understand the workload and how it fits in the overall development scheme. 

4. In addition to hard work, some objective criteria should be established:

A. Ages 6-9: Play and Stay (Swedish version of Quickstart)

B. Ages 10-12: player should be able to master all kinds of diverse pace and movement

C. Ages 13-14: player begins to master tactical and strategic abilities

D. Ages 15-16: player should be able to compete in ITF competitions or other events corresponding to category 3-5. Girls should be able to debut on U.S. $ 10,000 level. 

E. Ages 17-18: players should compete in ITF competitions or other events corresponding to category 2, 1 and A as well as USD $10,000events. Girls should be able to play USD$25.000/50,000. 

F. Ages 19-20: players begin testing the ATP / WTA fields. 

5. Mr. Sjogren goes on to say that with only one exception (Johanna Larsson), since 1974 only Swedish players who have been ranked top-15 in ITF have cracked the top 100 in the pros: Thomas Enqvist, Thomas Johansson, Magnus Norman, Andreas Vinciguerra, Joachim Johansson, Robin Soderling, Sofia Arvidsson and Claudia Mitchell. 

6. To change tack, a joint effort (clubs + regions + associations) following a framework (consisting of proper environment as well as experienced and dedicated coaches) is required. In this regard, Sweden needs more players in the top 600, more players in the top 300 with an end result of getting more players in the top 100. Presently, Swedent's players are 2-3 years behind in development in that the country's 18 year old are at the level of world 16 year olds. 

7. Consequently, to achieve these goals, the following steps are necessary:

A. Clubs have to set up learning tracks to ensure that the players develop properly and have an adaptable game. 

B. Players must have access to individualized training systems including those based on new technologies.

C. Create better "sparring" conditions (at all levels)

D. The oganization needs to work closely with the players' schools to ensure that the player can follow the necessary program

E. Clubs need to ensure that the coaches actually show up to tournaments (apparently, this is a global issue). To paraphrase Mr. Sjogren, "can you imagine a scenrio where a football [soccer] coach did not show up to watch the team play on the weekend?!" 

F. Coaches need to do a better job of setting tournament schedules, development periods, rest time, etc.

In this regard, Mr. Sjogren makes the following revelation: the Swedish tennis federation is willing to offer these resources only if "we [Swedish Tennis Federation], clubs, regions and associations, pull together towards a common goal - Towards the top 100". The admission (one that is entirely reasonable) is that this goal is not, however, for everyone.  

Mr. Sjogren concludes by outlining the increase in the number of professional events as well as the establishment of the National Training Center. Nevertheless, two things stand out from Mr. Sjogren's postion: (1) for Sweden to once again dominate the sport, the entire system - private and public/federal - requires a a complete overhaul; and (2) Sweden's goal is not to simply to get one or two top players. The intent is to have more players in the top 600, more players in the top 300, and more players in the top 100. These players will, in turn, propel - like a tsunami - their Swedish colleagues into the higher ranks. 

Is this a good approach and should the US follow suit