This is something I have been thinking for a while, and more recently, saying out loud. The more I think about it the more I believe it to be true and not just for tennis but in society also.
Let’s list all of the areas of tennis where there is a hierarchy:
There is most likely more, let me know what you’d add to the list. This is enough to be getting on with for the time being.
Here is my biggest issue with hierarchy….
Without a healthy perspective it literally makes people feel they are either better or worse than the people below or above them in the hierarchy. Let’s go through the list.
Rankings – this is the most tangible of the list as it is written in black and white right in front of your face. Now before I go on, I must say I like rankings and I wouldn’t get rid of them at all. I was recently asked at a coaches conference what I would change about rankings. My answer came as a bit of a surprise to the coach….
“I would simply make them run from left to right along the page instead of top to bottom”
The coach’s initial reaction was that I was taking the piss but then he realised what I meant. People talk about climbing the rankings as if you actually move up. You don’t move up, you move forward. You progress along the rankings and not up them. If I see one more bloody powerpoint slide of a mountain as an analogy for getting better as a tennis player I think I’m going to scream! Unless you are actually involved in something that has a slope, a hill or a mountain, you do not climb. You move FORWARDS!!
The issue with seeing it as a climb is that it is all rosey when you are moving up but when you start to FALL down the rankings then you actually feel like you are getting worse. You don’t get worse, other people move forward at different speeds and therefore feel like they overtake you but they haven’t even done that. You see, rankings are not real. They are just a number on a page that signifies how you have performed during a certain period of time. They do not define you as a person. They are not something to attach your self-worth to. It is just a number.
Ratings – now they are even worse because they are not remotely a measure of how good you are. They are a measure of how many matches you’ve played. They are the most poisonous and detrimental thing that has happened to competitive tennis in the last 20 years. People seem to have forgotten the reason why they were introduced. It was to grade draws so as to reduce the chances of getting thumped in the early rounds of events. Back when I started to compete there were tableau draws. Meaning there were so many entries you had several draws that fed into each other. That meant if you were a bigger with a low rating you were more likely to get some even matches and not feel like you were being smacked off the court. I must say, that still happened every now and again and I can’t remember anyone coming off the court either upset at winning 6-0 6-0 or completely dejected at losing 0-6 0-6. The very first event I entered I lost 6-0 6-0 in the first round. I knew for a fact that the opponent had played since he was 7 and I had just played my first event as a 13 year old. Two years later I beat him 6-2 6-1 in the first round of the same event. I was not put off by the loss, I understood I needed to get better and most importantly I knew I could as I had just started.
What happens now is scandalous. 16 player draws with 64 people entering and only the top rated players getting in. Think about that for a second. If that was a business how highly would their customer satisfaction surveys be scoring? The cycle just gets worse. Players can’t get into draws because their rating is not good enough and they can’t get their rating up because they can’t get into tournaments. That is a poisonous system and I cannot believe nothing is being done about it. If I had my way I would scrap the competition structure and start again. Tweaks are not enough anymore. A reboot is what is needed.
The emergence of UTR has brought some light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to ratings. These are calculated on an algorithm. Don’t ask me how but what I do know is that the basis for the algorithm is healthy. If you haven’t heard of UTR visit https://myutr.com
The real issue with rankings and ratings is when people attach their self-worth or self-esteem to a number. This is a crazy and very unhealthy way to think as your win:loss will always fluctuate therefore your self-worth will also. The other poisonous aspect of this mindset is you may be tempted to believe you are a better person than someone simply because you are better at hitting a small yellow ball over a net and inside a rectangle. How crazy is that!!
Let’s keep moving down the list….
Coaching – I do not mind saying I used to suffer from this. I am pretty well qualified and reasonably experienced in tennis coaching and around 10 years ago and beyond I got sucked into believing the level I coached at was genuinely more important than the level below. I am ashamed to admit it but it is true. I also would have looked down my nose at coaches who were not as qualified or working at a lower level. I may have even subconsciously treated players with less respect if they were not able to hit that yellow ball better than some of my other players. I am exaggerating for effect, I don’t think I overly exhibited this but I bet there were times when I did without realising.
10 years on a lot of things have happened, most noticeably I have become a father of two amazing children. This, above everything else, has helped me gain a much healthier perspective on life and consequently tennis. There is zero chance I will allow my children to think or behave they are any better a person because they are good at something. There is never a positive outcome to this way of thinking.
Now I genuinely believe every stage of coaching is equally as important. I will champion coaches of every step on the journey. Yes, step, it is not a ladder you climb in coaching. Each level is not a level up, it is a level forwards. The coaches working at the grass roots do not get nearly enough credit in the world of coaching yet every world class winner was started out by someone who cared at the start of their journey.
Clubs – Of course clubs are full of people and there are certain clubs that they think they are better than others because they have more courts or a bigger clubhouse. This metaphorical ladder appears again and you hear people talk about other clubs like they are above or below them. That is also not real. A club is a club and is there purely to service their members and the local community. Nothing more nothing less.
Committees – you may have seen my recent YouTube videos titled ‘Death by committee’. If you haven’t here is the link to the latest one and you will see the link to the first one pop up at the start pf part 2 https://youtu.be/XvH9tNEoDY4
I am hearing more and more horror stories about new committee members making tennis coaches lives hell. Now there is no smoke without fire so I am sure the coaches are not entirely innocent but it feels like the power has gone to the heads of some volunteers. Again it comes back to this idea of there being a hierarchy within the club, chairperson, secretary, committee members then coach. People seem to feel they are the boss of the coach when they should be working in partnership with the coach to create as many win/wins as possible for each other and more importantly the members who have paid to be at the club.
I know there are lots of amazing examples of club committees and coaches working together brilliantly for their members so it is my goal to compile all the best examples and praise them from the rooftops. One such example that springs to mind is http://www.tennisrutherglen.com
I had the pleasure of attending the opening of their new clubhouse last year and it was clear to me there was a massive team effort to provide their members and the local community with the very best of facilities and services. This should be the norm and if it was then British tennis would be in a much healthier state as clubs are the lifeblood of our game in the UK.
There are still way too many examples of club committees protecting what they feel is theres. They don’t want the clubs to be bursting at the seams as it may mean they lose the access to play at their regular times. They don’t want to see juniors hanging out in the clubhouse and in most cases they don’t want to play with the juniors. Committees are there to serve the club and not their own self interests. This needs to change otherwise our precious game will continue to be in decline as there are way more other options than there were just a few years ago.
So, in summary, I believe that believing there is some form of hierarchy, levels, ladders, mountains or stairs to climb will ultimately cause way more problems than it will solve. My advice is to view everything and everyone on a flat surface and if you are going to attach your self worth to something let it be how you are with others. If you are walking forwards bring as many people as you can with you. Don’t take joy in overtaking anyone. Want the best for them and together you will help each other get better.
Phew, there was smoke coming off my keyboard there 🙂
If you feel this article touches a nerve please share it as I really want to grow momentum in this area.
Together…… we will do it!!