Tennis lessons: Career advice
Originally published on: 17/09/12 00:00
This June, when the tennis world watched wide-eyed as Lukas Rosol performed the seemingly impossible and beat Rafael Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon, the future stars of the game were gathered three miles away at an ITF forum at Roehampton University. Devoid of media scrutiny and the public attention that comes with being a professional tennis player, the young hopefuls sat listening intently to advice from experts in fields such as media, anti-doping, career management and social media as part of the Junior Tennis School.
The journey from junior tennis to Centre Court is a lengthy one and it’s a dream that only becomes reality for a select few. For every Roger Federer and Martina Hingis there are world junior champions like Nino Louarssabichvili and Kristian Pless that fail to live up to their early promise and the ITF believes it is in its remit to look after all juniors regardless of their standard.
“We do recognise that it is very challenging for kids that make an international junior tennis career their main goal,” says Luca Santilli, head of junior and senior tennis at the ITF. “They are very challenging years for all involved so we wanted to be able to contribute to this process and the best way we could think of was to use our competitions to interact with players on site.
“The first experience with the players was in 2003 here at the Roehampton forum but we had to learn so we talked to the juniors and then in 2008 we were able to launch the online school.”
Since it was initially launched the number of players, parents and coaches accessing the online school has increased substantially with 9,188 users from 184 countries availing of the help to-date. The ITF, which has invested more than $500,000 into the programme over the last four years, is actively seeking sponsorship for the well-received initiative.
The Junior Tennis School educates young players on the challenges of being a full-time player as well as helping those whose futures will ultimately follow a path away from the professional game. Available in seven different languages, with German, Romanian and Korean to be added in the near future, the online school consists of 17 modules made up of a variety of topics from ‘The Role of an Agent’ to ‘Injury Prevention’.
Pursuing an education away from tennis is highly recommended by the ITF but, as Santilli points out, there are always extreme cases where players make tennis their sole focus. “I think our experience is that lately more and more kids are ensuring their education, particularly through e-learning. For some of them the goal is to play tennis in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) in the US so they understand the importance of playing and getting an education. I think the national associations are very much aware of that and they do encourage the players and the parents to pursue their education.”
The days of 16-year-olds winning Grand Slams seem to be a thing of the past. With the increasing physical demands making it difficult for players to break through at such a young age it would appear more teenagers are staying in the junior game for longer in order to better prepare themselves for the transition.
“When we track the amount of time it takes for a junior player to break into professional tennis we can definitely see now it’s happening at a later age than a few years ago,” says Helen McFetridge, administrator of ITF junior and seniors tennis. “I think that’s generally the way that tennis seems to be moving.”
Roger Federer made an appearance at the forum via a pre-recorded video to explain to the students of the Junior Tennis School about the importance of building a relationship with the media, who he referred to as the ‘link’ between them and their fans. But a new topic that arose for the first time was the issue of grunting, with the ITF making the juniors aware of the WTA’s plans to ‘drive excessive grunting’ out of the game.
“I think it’s the reaction of the fans,” Santilli explains. “Obviously, if you care about the sport, you care about what the fans think so that was the starting point. Now it’s up to us to find the best way to start it, to look into it and see what we can do to improve the game by tackling this situation.”
The forums have seen the likes of Juan Martin Del Potro, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori in attendance in recent years and with plans in place to make the school mandatory the players of the future will be better prepared than ever to meet the demands of life on tour.
“We were looking after them before they became stars,” says Santilli. “When they see you at Grand Slams and walk in to say ‘Hi’ … that’s something that’s very rewarding.”