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Entries in Parenting (48)


The Fate of the Child is in the Hands of his/her Parents

“Every child grows; everything depends on the teacher” - Shin'ichi Suzuki

We would like to start off this beautiful New Year's day with a discussion about early childhood education from the point of view of someone who has been indispensable in developing thousands of musicians worldwide. His name is Shin'ichi Suzuki and he is best known for developing the Suzuki Method or what he referred to as "Talent Education." Briefly, the Suzuki Method is based on the principle that all children possess ability and that this ability can be developed and enhanced through a nurturing environment. Although Mr. Suzuki was speaking from the point of view of a music teacher, we believe that a number of the concepts are equally applicable to sports. If you have time, there are a number of books that we encourage you to read including: Studying Suzuki Piano -- More Than Music: A Handbook for Teachers, Parents, and Students; Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education; and Ability Development from Age Zero.

1. Talent is not inborn. Inborn greatness or mediocrity does not exist. No person is born uninteresting. Mediocrity is trained. Every child grows in the same way as he is brought up. Early education (between birth and kindergarten) is very important in the child's development. This is the "seed" stage, where the plant needs to get the highest quality attention. TENNIS: How many times have made excuses for their children that they are simply not as talented as their peers?

2. Emphasis on talent (or lack thereof) is misguided. "Inborn talent" seems to be used too quickly, too easily, to often. People we regard as talented have been nurtured in that way to the age of five or six. Why is that all Japanese children speak Japanese? By all account, Japanese is  a difficult language to learn and master for a Westerner yet all Japanese children speak it. Why is that? Is it perhaps that they have been immersed in the language from an early age? TENNIS: Everyone has a talent that can be applied to tennis. Just like a child can learn to speak Japanese if he is immersed in the culture, so can the same child learn to play tennis and master the sport.

3. Ability breeds ability. Development doesn't just mean learning but also building the ability to learn. Concepts shouldn't be learned only in bits and pieces but must be developed comprehensively. If you rely on talent to bring out the best qualities of the child you are really admitting that you possess poor nurturing methods. Saying that "my child has no talent" is the same as saying "I did not educate my child properly". TENNIS: instruction should not just be focused on learning the basics but also on nurturing the child's ability to learn the game further. 

4. Immerse the child in beautiful works from birth. In terms of music, let him listen to records of famous and enjoyable pieces. The child will be physiologically conditioned to absorb the information. Have him learn the activity from teachers who are passionate about the subject and who are interested in developing beautiful human being through the subject. TENNIS: how many times is your young child watching tennis matches played by inspiring competitors? How many times do you take him out to a pro match or a college competition?

5. The goal is to build the child's personality and refine her abilities. Unless the seedlings are well cared for, beautiful flowers cannot be expected. Setting the child aside until it has reached elementary school age is like ignoring a plant for the first couple of seasons and expecting it to thrive and be fruitful thereafter. Failing to nurture the child's abilities from birth is like binding the child's right hand for 4 years and then expecting him to be right-handed. Success depends on a number of factors and the only thing that the parents' goal should be on developing wonderful human beings. Whether the child "becomes something or someone" depends on him. Let him make his own way. TENNIS: tennis a tool for learning about life. The goal is to develop the human being through the sport and all the lessons that it has to offer. 

6. Ability cannot be developed without training. The more complex the task, the more training is required. In addition, the circumstances surrounding the training should be happy and be without much fuss. In this way, the child is relaxed and the endeavor is enjoyable. The child begins to absorb the information more quickly and looks forward to additional practices. TENNIS: this goes is fairly self-explanatory. The higher the level of play, the more tools are required in order to orchestrate the components. 

7. The child does what the parents do. If the child sees the parents learning to play a musical instrument then the child will WANT to learnt o play as well. This is different that the parent telling the child to learn something without doing it himself. Children will do what they dislike if they are being told to do it but they will become resentful and the activity will not develop into an ability. It's like holding a seed in your hand and ordering it to "SPROUT!" Also, the home environment should be analyzed to determine whether it is conducive to the child's development. Is it hectic, is it stressful, is it anti-social, angry or hateful? The child will absorb the actions of the parents and project it through his own activities. TENNIS: have you noticed how a lot of the more successful players have tennis-playing parents? They don't have to be good players but it helps for them to be passionate about the sport themselves. If the parents don't care enough about tennis to play or learn it themselves, the child is, most likely going to follow suit. 

8. Aim for more challenging things. Don't allow the child to do something that's easy just because she feels good about herself by accomplishing it. Just like in mathematical exercises, the child should be pushed - little by little - to grasp more complex components. Challenging the child with develop her ability and alleviate restlessness allowing her to concentrate on more difficult tax completely on her own and for a longer period of time. The child will become absorbed by the activity and the learning process will become fun. An unlimited amount of ability can be developed when the parents and child have a good relationship and when they are having fun together. TENNIS: don't let the player's progress become stagnant by repeating the same workouts. Challenge the player with new concepts and show him the many dimensions of the game. 

9. With difficult cases, children can be tricked into learning. This doesn't necessarily mean that the child is stupid, but that he learns in a completely different way. For example, a child that may have problem with basis math, can be taught the concepts through board games, cards or dice games. In this regard, it is important for the teachers and parents to see the world through the eyes of the child and not look at it from their own perspective. TENNIS: pros shouldn't teach all players in the same way and expect the same results. Players have different ways of learning so it's important for coaches - if they are interested in developing as opposed to merely collecting a paycheck - go beyond the routine and experiment with new teaching methods.

10. Treat the child as an equal human being. The human being is simply in the stages of development but use logic and calm voice as opposed to subjective orders. A child who is browbeaten will grow up to be rebellious and disrespectful in their own way. Spend some time understanding the child and the world form his point of view. There are no two people exactly alike and just because the older child is one way, doesn't mean that the youngest child will respond in exactly the same way to development methods. Environmental factors and all kinds of learning situations play a role in the child's development. TENNIS: how many times have you told a player "hit like this because I told you so" (or something along those lines)? It's important for coaches to explain the rationale behind the training in a way that the player can understand. Otherwise, the players will feel like they are not important and will become resentful. 

11. Start early. Talent education begins at birth and it is an ongoing process thereafter. The earlier the process is started the easier the child will learn and the greater skill she will acquire. Unfortunately, parents often do not have a plan for what the child will do in her life and allow her to be battered by the storms for a few years until she finds out what she really likes. Many children will develop bad attitudes because the parents are no actively engaged in nurturing the child's good attitudes. Often times there is a rift between the parents with respect to how the child will be reared. TENNIS: although it's easier for a child to listen to music as a baby than to watch a tennis match, if the goal is for the child to become a tennis player then simple methods (e.g. hanging a tennis ball over a crib) can be incorporated in order to start developing the tennis-player brain. 

12. Truth, goodness, beauty and love. These are universal concepts that all human beings (and some animals) desire. The primary responsibility for educating the children in these concepts is at home. Social functions and other obligations should not trump the responsibility of child rearing. Don't expect others to do the work for you. Own up to this obligation and immerse yourself in the process. TENNIS: these are the qualities that all tennis players should strive to develop. Results are secondary. 

Chill Out, Bro

It is clear that intense competition can cause athletes to react both physically and mentally in a manner which negatively affects their performance abilities. Tennis players are not an exception to this rule. This is particularly true for the first tournament match (i.e. before the player has found his/her rhythm and concentration zone). In one study, results showed a cortisol response to competition, which was especially characterized by an anticipatory rise. Males had the same pattern of cortisol responses than females, even if the cortisol concentrations were significantly higher in females the day of the competition, Psychophysiological stress in tennis players during the first single match of a tournament, Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Jan (Filaire E., Alix D., Ferrand C., Verger M.)

Accordingly, the purpose of practice is to prepare the body and mind for the stresses of performance. Good coaches will provide their students with a lot of the skills necessary to thrive under pressure. However, there's one skill that is hardly ever practiced and that's how the player interacts with the parent immediately before the match. Another study found that tennis parents are usually stressed by 7 different factors: competition, coaches, finance, time, siblings, organization-related, and developmental, Understanding parental stressors: an investigation of British tennis-parents, J Sports Sci. 2009 Feb 15 (Harwood C., Knight C.) So where the player is stressed by 1 factor - competition - the parents seem to be stressed by 6 other factors. It doesn't take much to figure out that uncontrolled parental anxiety can be filtered down to the players thereby increasing their anxiety levels. Furthermore, where the parents may be stressed about the price of gas and overall cost of tournament, the player can be led to feel that the match is of utmost importance (thereby adding to the child's stress levels concerning competition). Add to this some ill-timed or ill-conceived post-match statements or questions, and it's easy to see how some players start to overemphasize the role of winning in the development (thereby repeating and increasing the stress cycle).

So what can the coach do to prepare the student for the pre-match car-ride (assuming, of course, that the coach is separate from the parent)? In this regard, the coaches' role is to train the parents. First of all, it is important for the player to play practice matches where the parent drops off the student to the courts. Sometimes, the parent will watch the practice match; other times, s/he will run errands. Practice match results aren't important, but the things that are learned through this process are very important. In this regard, dropping off the kid to a practice match serves as behavioral training for the parents as well - if this practice is, in fact, regarded as such. Parents can monitor their practice-match stress levels and conversation with their children and see how it matches up with a "real" match scenario. Second, some parents have found it easier to dissociate competition from the trip. For example, they can find "cool things to do" in the area of the tournament and, whenever, the conversation turns too serious towards the match, they can emphasize that they are so excited about having the opportunity to go to such-and-such mall or museum or visit whatever landmark. Again, the child is helped to remember that there are more things in life besides tennis. Tennis is simply one of the processes (the best one, in our opinion) for learning about life. Third, any conversation regarding the match should be kept to "practical" topics: what's the game plan? What do you know about this kid? How are you going to approach the first 3 games of the match? What happens if your first game plan fails; what's your back-up plan? How are you taking into account the conditions? Etc. In other words, winning/losing is implied so talking about "kicking his butt" or "go get 'em" is only of limited value. Furthermore, rather than telling the player what to do ("make sure that you..."), have him/her become devise the plan. In other words, make the association that you're more interested in the process than the result. Lastly, this talk should be saved for the last couple of minutes of the car-ride. Use the duration of a car-ride to a practice match as your rule of thumb. For example, if the practice-match ride is only 10 minutes, then it's probably best to not wear out the kid with tennis-related matters for 1hr 45mins prior to the match...this is draining and stressful and most children cannot bear the additional baggage.


Does Tennis Make People Crazy...


...or are crazy people attracted to tennis?" I recall my friend asking me this question. It was 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Palm Springs and we had been grinding for hours. We could literally fry eggs on a hot plate placed in the sun. During a routine water break we started discussing all the seemingly abnormal people that we met through tennis: one guy riding his bicycle down the street with singles-sticks in his backpack (because it drove him nuts to play tennis without singles sticks) - this, incidentally, was the same guy who decided, in a middle of a lesson that he was giving, that he was hungry and simply left his student on the court and never came back; another character attempting to stage fights between black widows and scorpions for his own (but nobody else's) amusement (OK, I was amused a little); another living in his van and driving around from open tournament to open tournament for the better part of a decade in the hopes of eventually "making it;" then there were the people who went through more tennis rackets than Marat Safin at the slightest on-court discomfort. All these personalities were highly accomplished players...and all of them were a bit...off.


I was reminded of the foregoing episode as I ran across an article entitled Standoffish Perhaps, but Successful As Well: Evidence That Avoidant Attachment Can Be Beneficial in Professional Tennis and Computer Science (J. Pers. 2011 Aug 3, Ein-Dor, T.; Reizer, A.; Shaver, PR; and Dotan, E.). Initially, we thought to ourselves: "so nice guys do finish last; jerks always get the girl. Sweet!" On a more serious note, however, people who are described as being "standoffish" or, in professional terms, attachment-avoidant share some of the following characteristics: dismissive state of mind with respect to attachment; avoid intimacy and close affective involvement; early caregivers were either unnurturing, dismissive or critical; emotionally distant, cool, controlled, ambitious and successful; tend to be sarcastic and/or passive aggressive; do not want to rely on anyone; fear dependency. Briefly, "dismissive avoidant individuals claim to be comfortable without close relationships and appear to be indifferent to how other people think of them," No man is an island: the need to belong and dismissing avoidant attachment style (Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull., 2006 May Carvallo, M.; Gabriel, S.). See also, Temperament, childhood environment and psychopathology as risk factors for avoidant and borderline personality disorders (Aust. NZ J Psychiatry, 2003 Dec; Joyce, PR; McKenzie JM; Luty SE; Mulder JD; Sulliva PF; Cloinnger, CR) where it was noted that "avoidant personality disorder can be conceptualized as arising from a combination of high harm avoidance (shy, anxious), childhood and adolescent anxiety disorders and parental neglect."

Initially, Ein-Dor et. al state that attachment-avoidance personality style (i.e., characteristics that outline how a person relates to other people) has been associated with "poorer adjustment in various social, emotional, and behavioral domains." However, when it comes to tennis individuals exhibiting these traits appear to be "better equipped than their less avoidant peers to succeed and be satisfied". As the researchers state, "these fields [tennis and computer science] may reward self-reliance, independence, and the ability to work without proximal social support from loved ones." As part of the research, 58 top professional singles players were followed for 16 months and those who scored highest in the avoidance attachment personality tended to have "a higher ranking, above and beyond the contributions of training and coping resources."

On surface level, and from a layperson's point of view, the findings appear to make sense: attachment-avoidant personalities often fail to recognize their own admirable qualities and, unless they shy away from the sport completely, work hard to perfect their game. We call these people "perfectionists" and, often times, admire and idolize them for their drive and work ethic. Furthermore, tennis, as a sport, is fairly anti-social. With an opponent, coach and training partner on the other side of the net, the opportunity for interpersonal contact is limited. At first blush, attachment-avoidants may be perfectly suited for this type of a sport: lots of individual workouts; no interaction with team-mates or even opponents; coaches and parents kept at a safe distance behind the fence (and windscreens); traveling by oneself; etc.

On the other hand, is there a possibility that otherwise "normal" people may develop this personality style by being immersed in the game (and the individual practices, workouts and matches that go along with it) - nature versus nurture? That is, can pushing someone to be too independent lead to not only undesirable psychological conditions but also have negative consequences in athletic competition? For example (and somewhat in contrast to the principal article), in Intrapersonal and interpersonal factors in athletic performance (Scand. J. Med Sci. Sports, Aug. 1995; Iso-Ahola, SE), the researcher hypothesizes that successful athletic performanceis a function of intrapersonal (intrinsic motivation) and interpersonal (social support) factors. The article concludes that "[m]aximization of psychological conditions for successful performance requires that coaches foster athletes' intrapersonal and interpersonal psychosocial resources by serving as facilitators of their autonomous self-regulation rather than as controllers of their goals and behaviors." That is, in order for an athlete to be successful (and capable of adequately handling athletic life and stresses) as complete suport network is necessary and the coach plays an integral role in making sure that an adequate balance is struck. 

Anecdotal evidence is also provided by an acquitance of CAtennis.com (who, for purposes of this article, has elected to remain anonymous) who has, in his capacity as 30+ year licensed sports psychologist, worked with a variety of world-class athletes including tennis players, golfers, football, basketball and baseball players. Our contact has confirmed that, from his professional experiences, the vast majority of his clients can be described by laypeople as being "anti-social." Several of these athletes find more solace in their sport than in their personal relationships (family, spouses, coaches and even caddies). That is, their respective sports make these athletes feel complete (passion for the sport transcends any feeling they have toward "loved ones"). Perhaps, the sport is the only constant in the lives of these athletes thereby serving as the "missing piece". Insert reference to The Red Violin (character sleeping with the violin in his bed) or Keith Richards (admitting to sleeping next to his guitar so that he could "breathe it in") here. In some extreme cases, the sport is their only escape from psychic pain which causes them to live in the past ("glory days") or in fantasy without being capable of progressing to the next stage in life. But, again, we are talking about very successful athletes here.

Nevertheless, none of this should be interpreted by parents or coaches as constituting a license to abuse (physically or mentally) or neglect the child in pursuit of glory; Pandora's box may contain unintended consequences and it's doubtful that the ultimate prize ("making it") is worth the lifetime of psychological and interpersonal issues. Becoming attachment-avoidant is not, and should not be construed as being, a guarantee of success.

However, both the study and the anecdote seem to suggest that a handful of traits go hand-in-hand with certain levels of success. For example, being "independent", "internally motivated", "driven", "competitive", a "winner", a "machine", etc., may be positive aspects in terms of athletic success. As oultined above, however, these are also indicia of something quite darker. Thus, in developing a player, care should be taken to ensure that the team (parent, player, coach) does not cross the threshold into an unwanted territory. With the foregoing in mind, is there a way to raise perfectly adjusted children who are capable of switching on the "#iss and vinegar" that is characteristic of the "lonely loners" while on court but turning it off in a social environment?

If so, what are the methods for doing this? Is this simply a situation of letting the player set up his own practices, workouts or tournaments (to train "independence")? Perhaps exposing the player to some adversity (i.e., parents not trying to fight all of the player's battles with cheaters or difficult personalities; coaches combining group-based workouts; etc.) while not sending the message that s/he is out there all by him/herself? Not induling the player when it comes to all the birthday presents or requests but taking her out to dinner and a mani-pedi "just because"? Is there more to it than that? Is there a way for someone to spend 10,000 focused hours on court honing their craft without becoming "hypnotized" by the tunnel vision to their long term detriment? What methods can parents and coaches use to ensure that children who take up the sport don't grow up to be unfeeling automatons on and off the court? What skills should we, as coaches and parents, develop and possess to ensure that the interpersonal factors are aligned with the intrapersonal aspects of the athlete? Is anybody teaching the teachers the requisite skills? Why aren't more people talking about these aspects of the game (tennis is more than just about forehands and backhands)? The foregoing are just some of the questions that the team should consider while embarking on the road to tennis success.


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.