It has been a strange week for tennis. For the first time in my 33 years involved in tennis, it feels like a fundamental change has happened within the game. The ITF nations voted 71% in favour of the new Davis Cup reforms. The competition, as we know it, will no longer feel remotely the same. I believe this is a huge shame but there is something bigger which concerns me.
It feels like the major organisations, who are charged with looking after the sport, are not working with each other. They are all saying things like ‘for the greater good of tennis’ and ‘what’s best for tennis’ but surely what is best for professional tennis is everyone working together to alleviate the obvious challenges. Mainly the congestion in the calendar. Instead, what do they do, work independently from each other and add events at times of the year when most want to have an off season and after the first slam of the year.
From 2019 we will have our new Davis Cup played over one week in November with 18 teams taking part. From February 2020 the ATP will introduce their new ‘World Cup of Tennis’. Both suggesting they will offer festivals of tennis which will show off the very best tennis has to offer. You won’t show off the best tennis has to offer unless all the best players play these events. It remains to be seen whether the best players will prioritise a week long event at the end of another gruelling year. My guess is they are more likely to gravitate towards the ATP event as it offers rankings points and prize money.
My gut tells me we are approaching a pivotal point in professional tennis. Division is appearing and people are feeling they are having to choose sides. Sounds a bit like tennis is following the political world and we all know how poisonous that has become in recent years.
Anyway, this links nicely to a blog I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks now. I have been working away and then went on holiday for 2 weeks so it has been sitting in my mind for a while now. I have been itching to get it down in black and white so here goes.
I heard someone I respect greatly describe his discomfort at a colleague suggest it was his purpose in life to do the job he was performing. He believed it was too extreme and he felt his purpose could be attached to other areas of his life. I agreed as I cringe when I hear people talk about their work as a ‘calling’ or ‘their destiny’.
Instead, the word ‘contribution’ was used. This instantly struck a chord with me as I have said many times my work goals are as simple as doing great work with great people. It got me thinking about the word contribution and how it could be applied within the tennis world so, as normal, I start breaking it all down into categories.
I started with the idea of what a single person could contribute and, as you’ll see from the picture above, I broke it down into:
Time, effort, expertise, money, space (facilities), goods (tangible equipment)
Even when you start playing about with these six areas you can reflect on who contributes with the most effect in your life. You can also start to bisect who in your life contributes the least.
In tennis, I see many people who contribute a lot of time and effort with not much return. Why? Perhaps they need to be more strategic with their effort. Perhaps they could develop more expertise so their efforts pay bigger dividends.
In the tennis world, there is a lot of ‘box ticking’. This irks me as it takes up time, effort and money and offers very little contribution or return for investment. Time is precious. It can never be taken back. Effort is on a barometer. Many do just enough to draw their salary and some go above and beyond regardless of how much they get paid.
Reflect on your own situation and analyse who, around you, is contributing the best return of investment for their time, effort and expertise. If you feel there could be a better contribution then put a strategy in place to make people more accountable for their efforts. If you analyse this and realise someone is going above and beyond then please show them you value them whether that be monetary or by simply telling them you appreciate their input. Believe me, showing you value someone goes a long way in the tennis world.
When it comes to people who contribute space and goods, take stock on what they want in return. Motive is always an interesting area to dig into. Some say ‘nothing in life is free’. I am not a huge fan of this expression as I believe it to be overly cynical (and that is coming from a cynic). However when someone gives you tangible facilities and equipment there is, almost always, a hidden agenda.
You may receive money for a facility build but there may be a drain on the time from the funder. There may be a clause you have to give up a certain amount of time for the funder to access for their purposes. That is great if their objectives are in line with yours. However I have seen many situations where this causes issues with the membership or customers of the facility. There isn’t much point in having a great facility if your members cannot access it when they want to.
I then started to breakdown some areas where people regularly contribute:
Player(s), programmes, clubs, their local community, their county (district/region/state), their nation, and in competitions.
This is where it can get interesting. Let’s start with my old favourite, competition. I have strong opinions on how poor the UK competition framework is. I believe this is being looked at and I hope the new framework will offer a far better return of investment for the vast amount of time, effort, expertise, space and goods that it drains.
If we look at player development, we can start to analyse how much time, effort, expertise, money and facility time goes into developing a tiny percentage of players. It is slightly ironic that many people agree the prize money at the top of the game should be filtered down more fairly so more professionals can earn a living from being on tour. Now think about player development funding, what happens? Yep, you guessed it, a huge amount of money is spent on a tiny percentage of players. What happens? The players who are supported continue to develop as they are being offered more time, effort, expertise and opportunities. This makes it very difficult for the unsupported players to catch up and the cycle continues.
The issue I have with the above is the age of support is getting earlier and earlier. As from September, in the UK, we will have local player development centres where 5-10 year olds will be supported by offering subsidised training sessions. This means they will receive more time, effort, expertise, money and facilities. You may be asking ‘how can that be a bad thing?’. It isn’t bad but, in my opinion, they money would be better spent doing the same thing for older players!
I believe we have to cater for the later starters in tennis. It used to be a late starter was 13-14 but now a later starter is someone who starts at 9-10. The later someone gets into the ‘pathway’ the harder it is for them to get onto the ladder of support. We are writing 1000’s of children off at a ridiculously young age.
The issue, as I see it is, we are too focused on attempting to guess who may make it as a professional. This may sound strange for a coach to say but……. I do not care if a tennis player is going to be a professional or not. You know why? It will become very obvious if someone has the ability to become a professional tennis player. You know what? It doesn’t become obvious until they are much older.
So, in my opinion, we should support 10’s of 1000’s of children at all ages to stay in our amazing sport and bring huge groups of players through instead of putting all our money into a tiny group from a very young age.
We could be way smarter with our time, efforts, how we utilise our expertise, how we use our facilities and how we share our money out. We can never get time back and it must be productive if we are to reach towards our potential.
The goal is not to produce professional tennis players, the goal is to create a vibrant tennis culture where professionals will naturally emerge. The cream always rises to the top but we need to have so many players to help push each other up and up. We need to have a competition structure that offers regular local competition so we can save our money for other things. We need to have an abundance of facilities that offer enough time for every demographic within tennis to play.
The cogs of contribution are always turning. Pick your cogs, join them together and make a difference in your community. Join forces with the communities around you before you know it your county will flourish. If we all do that then we may just find we have a strong tennis nation.
Disclaimer – there is amazing work being done by many people around the UK. All I want is for that to become the norm 😉
Please let me know what you think about this blog and share it with people you think may be interested. As always, thank you for taking the time to read it.