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Hasten Slowly – Advice for a Healthy Tennis Career

In lounge rooms all around the world this time of year, I can guarantee there are families with budding tennis players watching the Australian Open in Melbourne.  Some will record, watch and dissect every match; some might tape just their favourite players, whilst others might look at certain players to model their games on.

You can also be confident that thousands of kids (and parents too!) have verbalised their desire to ‘be like Serena’ or maybe ‘play like Daria’. If they haven’t verbalised it I can guarantee they have thought about it. It’s the reason that kids on courts across the world have been fist pumping and ‘C’mon-ing’ and dressing like their idols for years.

And it’s not hard to see the attraction- adoring fans, wealth, endorsements and world travel all await those good enough and lucky enough to become an elite professional tennis player.

So, inspired and motivated by what they have seen on the TV, some families set about trying to ‘make it’.   Like most things in life, if we want something, we are anxious for it to happen and to happen now! This presents 4 key dangers for unsuspecting budding players and their families desperately trying to support the goals of their offspring:

  1.   Short Term Focus

Too often, families see which players locally are winning or improving, and before they know it, they have switched coaches, racquets, and in some cases, moved house to gain a perceived edge. In many instances, for many years, I watched on as dozens of families pulled their son or daughter from school altogether in the pursuit of a professional career. Unfortunately, the reality is that any edge that is attained is short lived, because by the time you move into each new year, a new bar is set and often those players who were the ‘players to watch’ have burnt out or have simply been left behind physically or mentally.

  1.   Failure to See the Big Picture

I call this the ‘bubble effect’. Again, it is so easy to get caught up in rankings, rep team selections, high school selections; all short-term, local, ever present issues faced by players as they improve. Sadly, an observation that I have made from 30 years in the sport of tennis is that invariably, the perception is that the better you get the more serious you need to be. Often the results is that lines are blurred between friends off court and enemies on court; something that is very confusing and detrimental to long time enjoyment and success. It is also important in these situations to remind yourself that it is ok to play tennis for fun, and let that be your motivating factor. Roger Federer recently said, “Some people, some media, unfortunately, don’t understand that it’s okay just to play tennis and enjoy it……maybe you have to go back and think, Why have I started playing tennis?”

  1.   Eggs in one basket mentality

I am of the firm view that a person’s education is vital. All too often, for far too many however, this is the first thing to be discarded when pursuing professional tennis dreams. I will argue that even those that discarded education and successfully ‘made it’ as a professional tennis player would have made it had they kept their education.  College tennis in the USA allows the professional dream to stay alive whilst building an invaluable post tennis resume through studies. Add to this the obvious benefits to a person’s character and demeanour and it’s a no brainer- but that’s for another blog.

  1.   Poor Advice

It is critical to seek advice from those that have no personal gain at stake. Seeking advice from somebody you trust who knows you and your personality, without wanting anything in return is my advice. It can often help if this person is not involved in the sport so that they have a very unbiased view. A rule of thumb is that if somebody suggests that being educated before turning professional hinders development, run the other way!

So, for those families with youngsters enjoying the awesome tennis on display at the Australian Open, dream big, plan but hasten slowly. You may also want to see these statistics which tells us all in black and white that there is no rush!

Consider this:

  • There are over 30 current or former US College players contesting the 2017 Australian Open
  • The average age of a Men’s player in the ATP Top 100 is 27 years, 4 months
  • The average age of a Woman’s player in the ATP Top 100 is 25 years, 6 months

Then consider this: 

  • Imagine returning from the USA aged 21 with a universally recognised degree behind you, having saved money over 4 years
  • According to the statistics above, you now have 4 more years to spend trying to become a professional with the potential to earn a living from the game

The alternative to US College, statistically and realistically, is NOT what you see at the Australian Open. The players at the Australian Open have endured a long, hard, expensive and risky slog; and for some the slog continues. This slog can pay off and for those select few I admire their journey. But more and more families are asking themselves these questions:

“If the stats tell us that on average it takes at least 8 years after high school to have a chance of making it then why not spend 4 of those 8 years in a supportive, educational and high quality sporting environment?”

“If I can arrive at the same point regardless, isn’t it better to save money and get educated over that period of time whilst developing my game?”

Now that is a discussion that needs to happen in more lounge rooms!

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