Commitment and Consistency, The reason behind America Struggling to develop great tennis players

I want to warn you that this month’s article is not about fitness (and may actually anger you), but it is very important nonetheless.  I wanted to share some experiences and thoughts from my personal athletic career (something I rarely do) as well as my own two cents on why America is struggling to develop great tennis players at the junior level, which in turn causes college coaches to recruit outside of the U.S.

 

For those of you that do not know, I actually grew up as a swimmer.  I swam during college at South Carolina and competed in the Southeastern Conference.  I had the opportunity to practice with Olympians and National Champions on my own team, and during conference dual meets, we competed against the likes of Ryan Lochte, Eric Shanteau, Kara Lynn Joyce and a host of others on a weekly basis.  Take a moment to Google those three; look at their world rankings and compare that to tennis.  It would be the equivalent of competing against Roger Federer or Nadal on a weekly basis – at the college level!

 

Over six years ago, I made the switch to solely focusing on training tennis players.  Yet, I have become increasingly concerned with the question of why the US is failing at developing World Champions consistently.  This problem seems so obvious to me but not to the rest of the tennis industry.  By the way, the last American man to win a Grand Slam was Andy Roddick in 2001.  The last American female to win a Grand Slam (aside from the Williams sisters) was Jennifer Capriati in 2002.

 

I have heard the excuse that tennis is now a world-wide sport, but this is not a legitimate excuse.  Look at swimming:  The U.S. has led the Olympic medal count in swimming over the past 50 years.  The U.S. has won 520 total swimming medals (220 are Gold).  The next closest country is Australia with 171 total medals.

 

Here’s another popular excuse: “All the good athletes are playing sports like football, basketball and baseball.”  This, again, is nothing but a cop-out.  U.S. Swimming is so deep with athletes (and we swept the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals so often) that we are only allowed to send two swimmers per individual event; the rest of the world gets to send three.  Just imagine: you are the third-fastest swimmer in the U.S. (which means you are probably third or fourth in the world), yet you cannot represent your country at the Olympics.

 

When comparing the success of U.S. Swimming (that gets virtually no media coverage aside from the Olympics) to the lack of success in U.S. Tennis, I have come up with two main conclusions:

 

1.) Commitment

Swimmers, from top to bottom, are flat-out more committed than American tennis players.  How many tennis players, honestly, would wake up at least three mornings a week and go to a 5 am practice for two hours and then go to another 2.5 – 3 hour practice every evening?  What about another 3-4 hour practice on Saturday morning?  Most swimmers that are Sectional-level and above practice at least 24 hours per week.  Most tennis players could not be bothered to play more than six hours per week.  I cannot tell you how many times juniors complain of having an 8 am match during tournament days – even at the Sectional level.

 

American tennis juniors also have a lack of commitment with their program.  (I will go into more detail on the power of a consistent message and training in a student’s program below.)  Oftentimes, when a tennis junior encounters a struggle that is a natural part of development in sport, they jump ship and head to another program.  In contrast, swimmers stay on their club team for years, through good times and bad.

 

2.) Consistency

One of the most clear-cut reasons that the U.S. is not developing great tennis players is the fact that it is extremely uncommon for a tennis player to be in one program for their entire development.  Typically, a tennis player will hit in multiple programs each week with different coaches who have different methodologies.  In my experience thus far, I would wager to say the vast majority of tennis players go to a minimum of six different programs during their junior careers.  In swimming, however, it is very uncommon for a swimmer to transfer to another club team.  The only way that this might happen is if a family is forced to move to a different part of the country or state.

 

The two swimmers listed below were both developed through my club team from the very beginning, and I had the opportunity to train with them daily for multiple years (both of these girls were Top 50 in the World in their respective events by the end of their careers):

Liz –

  • In high school, Liz was the #1 recruit (both male and female) in the country, 2x Missouri Swimmer of the Year, 2005 ESPY Athlete of the Year, and a 16x HS All-American
  • In college, Liz swam at Stanford University and was a 12x All-American and PAC 12 Individual Champion (among many other awards)

Jessi –

  • At the end of her high school career, Jessi was a Top 10 recruit nationally, placed 3rd in the 50 Free at the US Open and was a 3x HS All-American
  • Jessi was a member of the 2005 National Championship team at Georgia, team captain her senior year, an 11x All-American, a National Champion on a relay, and an American Record holder

I could list many more accomplished swimmers that came out of this same club team, but I am doing my best to keep this article brief.

 

One thing that I did not mention about the two girls above is that they are world-class swimmers in completely different events.  Not only did they swim for the same club team for 10+ years, they developed in different ways.  Liz could not be touched in the breaststroke or IM, while Jessi could burn everyone in freestyle events 200 yards or less.  Did Jessi get to train against the two girls that beat her in the U.S. Open on a daily basis?  No.  Did Liz have any girls during practice that could consistently help her raise her level in her events?  No.

 

How is this possible?  How did Liz and Jessi develop into world-class swimmers without getting to train daily alongside other swimmers who were faster than them?

Take another look at the honors listed above for the two girls.  Both are world-class swimmers and both got full scholarships to their respective colleges.  But did they get a scholarship during their high school years to continue swimming for the club team that they were developed through?  Absolutely not.

 

If they were tennis players, what would have happened when they achieved such enormous success during high school?  They would have been offered full scholarships to different academies and programs around the country that want to use them as marketing material to bring in lower-level players to fill slots.  These academies and programs did not develop them and likely would not further their game.  The academy or program giving them a scholarship would simply hope to keep the girls close to their current level so that, down the road, they could say that they developed the girls.

 

This is one of the biggest issues that tennis faces today. Everyone wants to go hit with the best people without doing any research regarding who truly developed those top players.

The simple fact is that most tennis players across the U.S. do not find a program that is effectively developing players and stick with it for years.  They tend to do little to no research, take the professionals at their word, and jump from program to program – following the “best” players and hoping that something will rub off.  This short-term thinking has not produced great American talent in some time.  And, if a change is not made, it will continue to be a struggle for the U.S. to develop top talent consistently.

So, how did Liz and Jessi continue to raise their level on a daily basis and eventually become world-class despite having no other world-class people training alongside?  The answer is simple: they had a great coaching staff who knew what they were doing (and had a proven track record of success); they had the support of their teammates; and, they focused on competing against themselves and getting better little by little each practice…..and they stuck with this program for their entire junior development.  They truly had commitment and consistency with their development.

 

This article is not meant to be depressing.  Rather, this is a HUGE opportunity for tennis players in the U.S. to change their future and the future of U.S. tennis.  But, they have to be willing to be the exception to the norm and do things differently.  It is a scary thing to truly go after your goals and hold nothing back.  After all, what happens if you give it everything you have and it is still not good enough?  A tennis player that finds the correct program (one that is actually developing players), believes in it and sticks to that program for years, and is willing to put in the hours and focus on improving every day, will play high-level college tennis.  No question about it.

 

The only question is: how many American tennis players are willing to be different?  How many are truly willing to sacrifice over the course of many years and put themselves through the long hours and the many ups and downs that are required to succeed at the highest levels?

 

From my personal experience, the sacrifice is well worth it. And I would do it all again without a moment’s hesitation.

By: Michael Farrington

Director of Fitness| Manager of Operations

Grand Slam Level Director of Fitness and Injury Prevention

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Perception vs. Reality, An Article by Ryan Segelke, CEO & CO-Founder, HAT

A Message from the Owners

I had an interaction recently that I want to share with you all – one that I think is relevant to any student who is part of a tennis team or adult who is part of a business team. At the local coffee shop, there is a regular who I come across nearly every time that I walk through the doors. She seems to be consistently in a bad mood and anti-social; every time I try to get her to smile by going out of my way to hold the door for her, she actually seems slightly more annoyed (I like a challenge – so I engage in a game called “can I make this person smile?”). One morning my “perceived” notion about her got even worse when she scolded the barista for not getting her coffee right.

Being engaged in this challenge/game of trying to get this grumpy woman to smile, I decided one day that I was just going to start talking with her in order to get to know her better. We were both standing in line, and I sparked a conversation. To my surprise, she engaged with me! I asked her, “How has your week been?” She replied, “Terrible”. Instead of stopping there and simply re-confirming my “perceived” opinion about her, I asked, “Why?” Over the next 10 minutes, I learned that she is a recent divorcee going through financial troubles and that she works at a hospice where she has to deal with terminally ill patients on a daily basis. At the end of the conversation, she thanked me for listening and we parted ways with a brief hug. Wait – what? I also found out that she is a tennis enthusiast and is interested in helping students in need to enjoy this great game! That’s not at all what I expected to happen when we started our conversation. I was expecting her to not respond to me at all or cuss me out for bothering her.

So what lessons did I learn here? It’s three-fold. I think it’s extremely easy and takes very little effort to look, point at, and judge others rather than take the time to really understand them on a deeper level (what’s really going on here?). When you do take the time to get to know someone on a deeper level, you will find out that the person is not anything similar to who you “perceived” them to be.

Secondly, when we are judging others, we are missing opportunities to improve ourselves and we are wasting our energy on things that we cannot control. Was it bettering me to judge this woman who I knew nothing about every time that I entered the local coffee shop? Couldn’t that energy have been better spent elsewhere to enhance my life or someone else’s who I care about? The answer is: absolutely! It is my experience that those individuals who are more concerned about why everyone else is not living up to their standards are actually the ones who are not happy and not achieving what they want. Those that are achieving great things don’t have time to waste on aimless rhetoric; they are too busy pursuing their own goals.

Lastly, life is all about relationships. Taking time to truly get to know people will no doubt get you closer to what you want in life. I realize that there are specific personalities (lone wolf types) who will fight this notion. For them, no one does things as good as they do, and they actually find working with others to be a nuisance. However, it is my experience that this specific personality type is ALWAYS underachieving because they ALWAYS end up being the bottle neck or reason for lack of growth within a group. It takes trust, a team, and strong relationships to make things move in a powerful and successful direction.

So, this week when you come across that person who rubs you the wrong way, engage them in a conversation. I bet you find out that they are not at all what you “perceived” them to be! And make sure to let me know how it goes.

By: Ryan Segelke
Grand Slam Level Coach, CEO and
CO-Founder of High Altitude Tennis Academy

“I believe that HAT is on the right track to becoming one of the best tennis academies”,This week #StaffSpotlight, Kat Hutchinson

This week addition to our weekly #StaffSpotlight- Kat Hutchinson, Lead Tennis Professional, HAT,Denver, Colorado.

HAT's Lead Tennis Professional- Kat Hutchinson
HAT’s Lead Tennis Professional- Kat Hutchinson

Kat Biography

Kat, a Michigan native, was a full scholarship student-athlete at Lake Superior State University. During her time at LSSU, Kat was a 2 year team captain and MVP and achieved the most career singles in in school history (96). Kat began as an intern the Summer of 2014 and has powerfully graduated through the ranks where she is now a HAT certified tennis professional.

Experience Summary

NCAA Full Scholarship Student-Athlete

PTR Certified

HAT Method Certified

Bachelor of Science in Exercise Health Science

Minor in Coaching

Associates in Health and Fitness Specialist

Kat’s view on HAT

I believe that HAT is on the right track to becoming one of the best tennis academies found across the nation and with the help of the HAT Fund I think we can really help a lot of kids out there who aren’t receiving the type of help and aid that they should be getting. With that help we can give them a different look at the world around them. We’re not just talking about coaching tennis but also mentoring and giving kids life skills that you don’t get by just being an athlete on the court. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t pick up my first tennis racket until I was 15 but I had three coaches who saw potential and drive in me. They were always around to hit with me, teach me, or help me in any way that I needed at the drop of a hat, no matter what time it was, and that’s why I’ve become the person that I am today and why I like being here, at HAT and the HAT Fund. I feel like I can give back and make a difference by being a great coach and mentor for the kids out there in need just like my coaches were for me.