The numbers game
Does Scotland have the luxury of having performance tennis programmes?
As things stand Scotland has one tennis coach dedicated fully to junior performance tennis, take a bow Toby Smith!
I feel a change coming….
In my opinion Scotland does not need talent ID programmes or specific performance programmes. Just so we’re clear I view specific performance programmes as ones that have an integrated approach with education and full sports science support and finally…….. at all age groups boys and girls!
There simply are not the numbers to justify that type of programme for the entire country.
So what to do? I believe we have to get back to big numbers thinking. We need large groups of kids and adults playing the game with each other in clubs. We need big numbers competing outside of their clubs. We need tournaments where big numbers can exist. We need big numbers playing team competition. We need a large number of pied piper type coaches that kids want to spend time with as well as their friends. Its all about number numbers numbers.
Only when we have these huge banks of numbers could we even think about having specific programmes for the best players. Even then these should be camps where large groups are brought together to train hard and have fun. There could be a social side attached to this as at the end of the day players favourite memories are often what has happened off the court.
What has the word ‘performance’ done to UK tennis?
First of all it created an elitist mentality with many parents and players. All of sudden people started comparing ‘programme size’ with each other. Tennis instantly became very expensive…… just to train! The real expense should come when players have to travel regularly to get the competition experience they need to grow. Most players don’t need that but they end up doing it just to get competition.
There seems to be a sense of entitlement with the best players. Funding streams were given out to players who, in the grand scheme of things, were reasonable club players. Parents and players were chasing rankings and ratings in the hope they would be chosen as one of the golden children to be on some national programme. This created a jealousy and bitterness that started with parents and was spoken of so much it seeped its way into the children.
This also lead to parents and players being ungrateful for the hard work and dedication the coaches were putting in. I specifically remember calling back a small squad of 10 year old players about 10 years ago and giving them both barrels as not one of them had thanked me or even said goodbye at the end of the session. I also vividly remember saying to a player I coached that my goal was for her to be happy and for us to be friends forever. I remember her looking at me 1. as if I was crazy and 2. with a sense of relief that I was not pressuring her to go down a road many others were pushing her. She was grateful for my hard work and we are still friends but she is the exception to the norm.
The numbers have never been lower. The cream is meant to rise to the top. Performance tennis has seeped its way downwards resulting in the numbers being lower at pretty much every age group.
Mini tennis disguises the numbers. It is easy to create data which shows huge numbers of regularly competing juniors. The last time I checked the maximum number of years you can be under 10 is 10. Tennis is a game for life and is one of the few sports in the world where people do genuinely still play the game up into their 90’s in some extreme cases. There needs to be more focus on adult and teenager tennis so we create opportunities for people to fall in love with the game for life.
I’ve gone on record a few times now in stating I believe the solutions to most of our challenges in tennis lie in people, facilities and competition. The more I think about it the more I believe it has to be a three pronged attack. One is not more important than the other. If we had more investment in these three areas we will see growth. If we only invest in one of the three then it will be a waste of time and money.
As with all of my blogs, this is not an attack on the NGB. This is a call out to the people in positions of influence, the coaches. Create programmes where large numbers come together. You will be able to charge less and make more. You will be happier in your workplace as you will have vibrant and fun environments where learning will take place without the players realising. You will be able to create fun competitions at your clubs for children and adults. You will be able to create social events where you will create memories for a lifetime. You will make friends for life and so will your players.
We are in a position to influence so we should grab it with both hands and make the changes we believe will make a difference. Believe me, reducing your numbers and calling yourself a performance coach will only make a difference to a tiny minority of players and in most cases they will not even be grateful for your help.
For any performance coaches reading this, please don’t be offended. You do a great job that is required in some areas of the UK as you have bigger numbers. You will read this and think but I have a good working relationship with my players and am still close to some of my pupils decades on. You work in an environment where there are many rewards. However you are the minority, you are the cream within a thimble compared to the sea of milk that is ‘normal’ tennis.
As with my last blog…… I dare you to try it out…… go for big numbers in your club…… and just so you know this means you have to be even more skilled as a coach so you will need to be on your A-game.
I refuse to accept we will cannot and will not make a difference in our lifetime. We will do it!
Thanks again for taking the time to read this. Have a great week.