Junior Tennis Development…
and a National Program
In 1988, Tennis New Zealand, (then the NZLTA) formulated a comprehensive, long term management plan which, in the key area of junior tennis development, was aimed at establishing a uniform, single-philosophy, co-ordinated approach to coaching at all levels.
The desired outcome was to ensure, by 1993, a clear understanding of the uniform coaching methodology established for all coaching throughout New Zealand.
Once that (standardizing the way tennis was taught) was determined, the next step was to put in place a coaching education program that guaranteed nationwide uniformity. A regional coaching structure was implemented through established regions.
Appointments of regional coaches were subject to the approval of the national coaching director, thereby guaranteeing pure, undiluted coaching standards from the top to the bottom of the country.
Unfortunately, no matter how well intentioned the plan was, it also guaranteed a rapid downward spiral in New Zealand’s international tennis performance. It did so for a number of reasons.
First, the architect of the plan overlooked one crucial fact -- that all the great champions have had their own, unique styles. Apart from being the best in the world, the only thing, technique-wise, that Laver, Connors, Borg, McEnroe, Lendl, Becker, Agassi and Sampras had in common was that they had almost nothing in common.
Second, when you attempt to coach identical strokes to all the top tennis talent in a country, you deprive those players of the opportunity to learn to counteract a variety of styles. In the main, players are playing mirror-images of themselves -- never learning to deal with the unfamiliar.
Third, by embracing uniformity, you exclude the possibility of an exceptionally talented youngster developing his own style, based on his own unique physical attributes and tendencies, and in harmony with his own unique personality.
Or, put another way, you exclude the possibility of the future development of playing styles as unique as Borg’s or McEnroe’s were in their day. You do so because, by necessity, uniformity only looks backwards.
Fourth, coaching uniformity demands conformist coaches. In such a suffocating coaching envoronment, any coach with ability is confronted with the problem of ignoring his own knowledge and “coaching by rote,” -- or seeking employment overseas.
Fifth, and perhaps most significantly, by demanding that players rigidly adhere to a predetermined style of play, where an obsession with the “perfect” technique overrides any other considerations -- results included -- it’s no wonder that (in the words of a high ranking New Zealand Tennis official) “we’ve been losing some of our best players between the ages of 14 and 16.”
The theoretical underpinnings of a uniform, single coaching philosophy conceived in 1988 has led in practice, ten years later, to what one commentator called “an international tennis standing so low that it is almost subterranean.”
Set in motion ten years ago, the wheels of the strategic plan have long since fallen off, leaving nothing but wreckage on the track.
If tennis in New Zealand is ever to get back on the rails, perhaps those considering the future development of the game in this country could do worse than to heed the advice of Harry Hopman, the most successful Davis Cup coach in tennis history, who warned: “You should be wary of any coach who tells you there is only one way to make certain shots or only one way to play certain shots.
- Chris Lewis (18 July, 1998)
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Other Tennis Articles by Chris Lewis:
Are Tennis Champions Born? -- Or Made?
On Court Coaching: Should It Be Allowed?
Sorry Pete, But That's No Sacrifice
Wimbledon Center Court: What An Experience
Tennis Parents: "The Ugly Parent Syndrome"
Harry Hopman: A Tennis Legend
Vitas Gerulaitis: Rest In Peace
Tennis Marketing: Substance Versus Image
Other Articles by Chris Lewis:
A Tribute to Maria Montessori -- An Article on Child Education
Suzuki and Montessori Versus Today's Culture
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