Why isn’t the U.S.A. producing new tennis champions?

A few months ago, when practicing at the Cheviot Hills tennis courts, I noticed two highly-skilled players on the adjacent court.  Impressed with their athletic finesse, I decided to approach them; I needed to know who these eye-catching players were.  As I got closer, I was surprised to find that one of the players was a bearded Andy Roddick.  When I looked over at his partner, I realized that he was none other than Amir Weintraub, Israel’s ATP second-ranked player.  As I struck up a conversation with the two, I grew curious about their opinions regarding a new training device called the 8-Board.   When I asked about their thoughts, Andy was the first to reply admitting “I’ve never heard of it.” Amir mentioned that he knew of it but never used it.  As we talked, Andy offered a thoughtful question that validated all of my doubts on the subject: “What happened to practicing five hours a day?”

Ain’t that the truth!  If you ask any outstanding player to what they attribute their skill, Pete Sampas, Andre Agassi, and Serena Williams would all offer the same, simple, answer:  A lot of practice.  Unfortunately, I’m finding that younger generations are not as disciplined as the greats.

It’s not easy being a tennis coach nowadays.  Not only has tennis lost its prestige to team sports, but the ongoing trend of political correctness greatly hinders the development of future U.S. tennis champions.  In a culture that prioritizes fun over hard work, allows goals to be overrun by a lack of commitment, and considers discipline abuse, excellence is soon replaced with mediocrity.

In addition to a culture that doesn’t value hard work, potential athletes are plagued by distraction.  Electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, MP3 players rob our young generation’s focus.  Once again, having fun is prioritized instead of hard work.  Who wants to practice when you can text friends, play video games, watch movies anywhere, or check Facebook?  I had firsthand experience a couple of years ago when I was assigned to coach a high school all-girls tennis team.  Although the team was funded by a government grant, that did not seem to be sufficient motivation for them.  Of a team of twelve girls, ten were on their phones.  Not only were they disrespectful to me and the few students who were willing to participate; they were guilty of wasting government funds.  To add insult to injury, the girls were receiving academic credit for “participating” in the school’s team.

That was not my only incident dealing with students who lacked discipline.  I experienced a similar situation when working with another school.  Because the school did not have tennis courts of their own, a team of fourteen students were bused to a local club where I was waiting for them.  I waited for over half an hour, my worry growing by the minute.  I grew especially worried because there were fires raging throughout LA at the time, so I finally decided to call the school.  When I called, I learned that the kids were dropped off on time.  Just then, I decided to search for the missing team.  I checked the gym, the snack bar, and restrooms, and no luck.  I finally decided to check a nearby restaurant and voila! Sitting at a large table, I saw a group of kids appearing to have the time of their lives, eating junk food, drinking soda, and texting.  Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending: the school took disciplinary actions, and shortly after, I resigned.

Sadly, these are not isolated incidents.  I’ve heard similar stories from other coaches and educators. Quite frankly, I don’t blame it on the kids. I hold the whole educational system responsible for failing to provide adequate supervision, motivational incentives, and the lack of emphases on responsibility, dedication, and commitment.

A recent study shows that a million new players have been added to the playing force, which will greatly benefit manufacturers and sporting goods stores alike. However, that doesn’t mean that the U.S. is about to produce a new generation of champions.

If we want to produce players at world class level, the sport is in need of a major overhaul.  We must return to the good old days of blood, sweat, and tears and to do that, tougher and better quality coaching is necessary.  Enough with political correctness!  We need more hours of practice and no excuses!

Our beloved sport is dying before our very eyes.  If we don’t take action now, reminiscing over Sampras, Agassi, Connors, and McEnroe will be our only salvation.