What Makes a World Class Tennis Player?
by Javier Palenque
What makes a world class tennis player?
Often I wonder if I could afford XYZ coach or send our kids to ABC academy, that would be a sure way to make our kids quickly improve and get to the level above where they currently are. But, then another part of me (the numbers and rational one) makes me put more thought into this situation. How many new great tennis players have come out of the well known academies? Or, how many new players have the famous coaches recently produced? I don’t really know, but I don’t think many or we would read about them. This then made me question? What is the value of a high level coach? or the well known academies? Maybe I can hire Rick Macci? Or someone like him. But, then I ask? Who is their latest product of their teachings? I am unable to come up with an answer. What about the USTA player development with unlimited resources to develop players for 20 years going. Yes, years. Again, I am unable to come up with new names. I then decided to do a careful breakdown of what I think are the components of the puzzle. What makes a world class tennis player? How are these parts made up.? How come it seems like this an impossible task? How are they intertwined and how can parents and coaches make it work?
Many of you will agree others will disagree, but nonetheless here is my reasoning.
- Coaching 20%
- Money 30%
- Kids Talent 20%
- Kids circumstances 20%
- Kids will and focus 10%
Coaching + $$$ + Kid effort + Kids circumstances + will = greater probability of success
Let’s break these down a little more to make a better point with the stated premise.
- If you go to a famous academy (IMG etc.) you will be the beneficiary of the experience and first class facilities that money can afford, yet that alone produces no world class players, in the past many years no stars were the product of what is probably great coaching. This coaching, has not only to be around tennis, but also life, and physical ability. So, even if you have the best coaching, that is only 20% of the mix according to the premise. If coaching was a bigger percentage we would have many newer players in the top 100 yearly.
- Money of course, can provide you with opportunities that no one else has and can purchase for you the best coaching around. That is a great combination that only gives you 50% of the package. Unfortunately, money also takes away from the kids, “hunger and desire ”, which is one of those intangible ingredients that money cannot buy. Think Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Nole. These people are great examples of people with much more “desire” than their parents financial muscle. Travelling, hiring nutritionists, hotels, rides, tournament fees, it can quickly get to the thousands of dollars. These sums quickly make tennis out of reach for just about 9 out of 10 prospects.
- The innate kid talent is in my opinion just as important as the coach, nonetheless, if the kid is short in talent, he can make it up in hard work. McEnroe seemed to me like he hardly worked, Lend was like a never ending working machine much like the eastern Europeans (Navratilova).
Conclusion, attitude beats talent any day.
- Just as important are the kids’ circumstances that shape their young lives, Nole, Ivanovic in war torn Serbia. Li Na’s mother in huge debt, Nadal’s wealthy family, Williams sisters California experience. This exposure to good or bad, shape the much needed circumstantial situations that shape the character of the kids which is the fuel for the future.
- The last point, the will of the kid, is shaped by the circumstances of the parents and how they build the character around the kid. Rafael Nadal is the best example of a world class player on and off the court. I believe that this is the essential component that can tilt the probabilities one way or the other. By the same token, this is the part that is least thought of, and the most important for parents and coaches.
So, doing some easy math here are my conclusions.
- All the money in the world will not make you world class.
- The best coaches and academies will not make you world class.
- Talent alone is useless if you don’t have the others.
- 50% of the solution is found in the kids’ circumstance, will and talent.
As parents where do you focus? As all of us have some but not all of the above listed components and we focus mostly on the ones we can purchase. When we fail to focus in the ones we can shape that are under our control and the ones the kids have the most weight in and don’t know it.
Coaches, spend plenty of time teaching the best techniques, but alone fall 80% short of the goal. The super competent ones can at best give you only 20% of the mix up. So, even if you have an average neighborhood coach you can get your chances up. Think papa Williams, Tony Nadal, Jimmy Connors mom, Martina Hingis Mom, Steffi Graf’s dad.
My belief is that as parents and coaches we should work together trying to develop the 40% that is under our full control (20% coaching, 20% family circumstances), then we add to the mix the god given talent and now you are talking on having 50% of the mix or more. Top that with an awareness of the make up, that will lead to empowerment of the kids and some creative funding and you have a better shot at making the mix work for you and your kids.
So parents, don’t be oversold on the coaching, it is key, but in the overall scheme of things only a factor. Coaches, please guide the parents that you can only provide a portion of the mix, both, sit down and talk and plan and work in unison to work together and for the kid.
The most important part of the mix to me is the kid, who knowingly or unknowingly controls 50% of the mix. We as parents have a say in this as well. Are we working under a culture of excellence to empower the kids to make the right choices? So, as I always tells all my kids, when they are not totally committed or wasting time. If you cannot give 110% of you every time all the time, someone else will and you control the majority of the mix. Decide! What are you going to do? Or better said as the great American coach Steve Smith told my son: Remember good is the enemy of great and, are you willing to pay the price to be a champion? Because most kids say they are, but they are not, and that is something the parents and coach have a say in throughout the years in shaping the champ.