HBO Real Sports Examines Decline of American Tennis [Video]
by Tom Gainey | August 17th, 2011, 1:09 pm
  • 13 Comments

Last night, on their venerable show “Real Sports”, pay cable service HBO examined the recent decline of American tennis. Reporter Jon Frankel investigated the issue interviewing the first brothers of American tennis, John and Patrick McEnroe, plus Spanish instructor and former player Emilio Sanchez.

What was striking was hearing that the McEnroe brothers have different ideas on how to resurrect American tennis back to the glory years of Connors, McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras and Courier.

Patrick McEnroe, who is in charge of player development at the USTA, said that American players needed to train harder, get smarter and learn how to hit the right shots to make it on the pro tour in this age.

Speaking from his own experience, brother John countered arguing juniors needed that same proper training but that had to complemented with time away from the court to learn life skills.

It was also interesting to hear Sanchez note that American juniors didn’t have the same intensity level that the European youngsters had when they visited his academy in Barcelona.

And what timing for this subject. It’s a big day for American junior tennis with two of the brightest hopes playing World No. 1s in Cincinnati. Christina McHale just stunned Caroline Wozniacki. 64, 75. Tonight, Ryan Harrison will meet Novak Djokovic.

QUOTES FROM MCENROE BROTHERS:

JOHN McENROE: I don’t think there’s any sport that I’m aware of where you don’t need a lot of hard work. But when you’re out there by yourself as often as you are and the amount of work it takes and the basics that have to be drilled into you not only from the physical part the stroke production, but the mental part of it, but you need to sort of give them things that would make them want to keep doing it.

I didn’t see the piece. But I don’t think Patrick and I are as far off as people make it out to be. I simply believe there should be different options provided for people. I’m going to provide that option here in New York. Patrick’s got a plan and the USTA and they’ve started to spread themselves out anyway. That was always the plan that was talked about to have some different centers where they could train, whether it’s California, Florida. Those are obvious. The less obvious would be New York or Chicago. But I think those options should be out there. I think that the fact that we’re all realizing maybe a little later than we’d like to, that we really need to be much more pro active in going after athletic kids as well as doing things to sort of make them as, and I meant, the sexy part, wanting to be out playing tennis more than some of the other sports is a big key for our success moving forward. But I think we can and I think we will be successful.

PATRICK McENROE: I agree. I did see the piece. I actually saw it this morning because I didn’t see it last night. But I felt that it was their message, and I forget your name, I’m sorry, who asked the question. But I thought that it was their message not ours that’s going it to take a superstar to create the buzz. Then how do you get the superstar without the buzz? I certainly don’t believe that. I don’t believe that John believes that.

I think we have plenty of kids that if we train them the right way and if they have the motivation and the cajones as John talks about, that we can get players to the top. At the same time, there is no doubt we need to do a better job across the board of what we’re doing. There is also no doubt to John’s point and what John’s focusing on a lot as well, is getting kids that traditionally don’t have the opportunity to play tennis, to play tennis. I think the whole 10 and under initiative that’s coming from the USTA, part of that is to try to get more kids that didn’t normally get the chance to play tennis. Get them interested in tennis and hopefully keep them in the game.


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13 Comments for HBO Real Sports Examines Decline of American Tennis [Video]

Ben Pronin Says:

I saw this last night. Interesting stuff. Patrick remarks how the players in America just aren’t taught to work as hard and that’s the coaches’ fault. I think the guy asked him if it’s a society thing and he said he doesn’t know. I totally agree it’s a society thing. I blame the parents.


Lynn Berenbaum Says:

It wasn’t surprising to hear the brothers disagreement. What is surprising is that they are both in agreement that not only is the system broken, but that their approaches to fixing it are so different. PatMac is working within the USTA, and JMac has opened his own academy on Randall Island.

One thing that was touched upon was that the current development training structure in the US financially excludes most kids from advancing in an academy setting, and JMac said that the “current system excludes 90% of kids financially”. I found his commentary on this a little interesting given that he owns/runs a private academy. So I took a look at the application for the JMTA this morning. They charge $170k for their 34 week “development program” for juniors. I’m sure there are probably needs-based scholarships, but $170k is more than annual tuition at, say, Harvard Law School. If I recall correctly, it’s also roughly 2xs the cost of Bolittieri’s.

I need to go back and watch the epi again to see exactly what he said (I was admittedly sleepy after the Federer/DelPo match), but this strikes me as disappointing hypocrisy.


RFFan Says:

$170,000???

Fed’s parents recently said they spent about $30,000 swiss francs a year on his training ages 14-17.

That’s money, but nothing like.


Skeezerweezer Says:

Thanks Tom for posting this. As Ben said, interesting stuff, and am glad this has come to the light in US Tennis. The question still stands, what is the USTA? Where do all the dues and fees go to, and when was the last time the USTA produced a top American player? No wonder the Mac’s are at odds with this subject…


Ben Pronin Says:

Skeeze, they said that the USTA has never actually produced a top player. Every great player who came out of the US was privately trained. I guess since this is what I grew up with it makes sense to me. You have your own coach and then the USTA provides you with tournaments. But the USTA is actually doing the coaching now (trying to, anyway).

I think it’s good that the McEnroe’s having opposing methods. Different kids out there will require different things and something is bound to pay off.

However, 170k? I’m not sure where you got that number but I checked the site, too, and I saw it was like 4000+ per day or something. I think I’m misreading something but either way it’s bloody expensive and definitely defeats the whole purpose. Tennis is an inherently expensive sport, like golf, they’re “rich white guy” sports (even though golf isn’t a sport). The most effective thing everyone could do is make it affordable.

I’ve encountered plenty of people in my life who were across the board phenomenal athletes. Soccer, football, baseball, you name it, they can be great. In order to get these guys into tennis you have to make buying a racquet, balls, and court time basically equal to getting a basketball and playing on a court. The USTA should launch an initiative of building more public courts and giving out free racquets and balls to kids who want to play.

Good racquets cost over $150, a can of cheap balls that go bad after an hour costs like $5. And then indoor courts are usually $40 per hour, in New York there can only be one official coach per public park and that costs money. It’s ridiculous.


Lynn Berenbaum Says:

I missed the ESPN ramp up call today with the Mac Bros, but got emailed the transcript. Thought you guys might be interested:

Q. John and Patrick, I enjoyed the piece that was on last night with HBO’s Real Sports. I’m not sure it really resolved anything to explain why Americans have had their biggest drought. I know you have philosophies about how to bring Americans back. But it seems to be a Catch-22 aspect that it will be popular when an American wins, but we can’t get an American to win until it gets popular in the U.S. I wondered if you came away from that piece feeling like it was even more up in the air? I know John you mentioned it wasn’t sexy enough for kids. Is it hard to get kids involved in it when you show them there is all this hard work to do?

JOHN McENROE: I don’t think there’s any sport that I’m aware of where you don’t need a lot of hard work. But when you’re out there by yourself as often as you are and the amount of work it takes and the basics that have to be drilled into you not only from the physical part the stroke production, but the mental part of it, but you need to sort of give them things that would make them want to keep doing it.

I didn’t see the piece. But I don’t think Patrick and I are as far off as people make it out to be. I simply believe there should be different options provided for people. I’m going to provide that option here in New York. Patrick’s got a plan and the USTA and they’ve started to spread themselves out anyway. That was always the plan that was talked about to have some different centers where they could train, whether it’s California, Florida. Those are obvious. The less obvious would be New York or Chicago. But I think those options should be out there. I think that the fact that we’re all realizing maybe a little later than we’d like to, that we really need to be much more pro active in going after athletic kids as well as doing things to sort of make them as, and I meant, the sexy part, wanting to be out playing tennis more than some of the other sports is a big key for our success moving forward. But I think we can and I think we will be successful.

PATRICK McENROE: I agree. I did see the piece. I actually saw it this morning because I didn’t see it last night. But I felt that it was their message, and I forget your name, I’m sorry, who asked the question. But I thought that it was their message not ours that’s going it to take a superstar to create the buzz. Then how do you get the superstar without the buzz? I certainly don’t believe that. I don’t believe that John believes that.

I think we have plenty of kids that if we train them the right way and if they have the motivation and the cajones as John talks about, that we can get players to the top. At the same time, there is no doubt we need to do a better job across the board of what we’re doing. There is also no doubt to John’s point and what John’s focusing on a lot as well, is getting kids that traditionally don’t have the opportunity to play tennis, to play tennis. I think the whole 10 and under initiative that’s coming from the USTA, part of that is to try to get more kids that didn’t normally get the chance to play tennis. Get them interested in tennis and hopefully keep them in the game.


Ben Pronin Says:

Neither of them says anything about finances. No matter how many “options” there are, they’re all too expensive.


Skeezerweezer Says:

I have to say that the Mac bros seem sincere in trying to come up with something. USTA has/had coaching monies and junior development programs in the past but IMO it’s been a money sham. Look at the results. Why only the rich get a chance to play tennis? Why through only expensive private acadamys? In America, golf is suppose to be the expensive sport. I don’t get how teaching, helping, developing kids in expensive compared to other sports. There is a ton of public courts in the US that are free. Junior rackets?Not 150, try 29.99. Balls? A coach can buy them in bulk cheap enough. You know how much a sleeve of golf balls cost in comparison?

I hope everyone who lves here in the US that loves the game can see this Real Sports segment. It’s all about educating where we been and why.

As much as the Williams family gets knocked, try looking at their story. They built there games on public courts, great coaching from there Dad and others, and very involved parents who taught them as well. Why not investigate a formula like that? Look at us now, we are going to Spain to figure out how to train our kids in the USA?


M Says:

“Look at us now, we are going to Spain to figure out how to train our kids in the USA?”

That’s what the Russians did — Marat Safin and Igor Andreev are both products of the Valencian academy.

And Milos Raonic went there to train.

You go where the experts are, you know?


Skeezerweezer Says:

M

Just saying we never had to go train overseas to compete on the world stage ( Sampras, Agassi, Connors, Mac , etc ). The question asked the Macs was what happened? And who paid attention? Nobody. We just waited around for it to happen. And to me USTA should be mostly accountable. They generate the money from tennis, and put US stamp on it. They produce the US Open, collect dues and fees from a gazzilon tennis members, for what purpose? What is more important than developing our future tennis players in the USA? Bigger stadium? More merchandising? More administrative suit posers?

Now, of course, it makes sense to go where the successful training is because we lost the ability in the USA to do it successfully , apparently.


margot Says:

Skeeze, Andy went to Spain too, says it all. Apart from him and some “promising” juniors, and who knows how they’ll turn out anyway, UK men’s tennis is in the doldrums. But in the UK football is the “glamour” sport that the majority of our young kids aspire to. Football stars are “celebrities” big time here and can earn fabulous money.
Football is also much easier to access than tennis. I do think Ben has a point here. Also, of course, far more room for kids to make it in football, there’s not just the Premier League, there’s masses of clubs and masses of levels.
Tennis is a much narrower field.


skeezerweezer Says:

^ True it is the same here. Tennis is not the top glamour sport here either.

The tennis youth of the past would take up one sport diligently in in the States ( Remember Novaks’ story? ), and everything else is secondary. Now, with the new “multi tasking ” world, parents seem to think the best thing for their kid is to push them in all sports. It is not uncommon to have one child enrolled in multi sports, multi teams at the same time.

If you watched the segment on Real Sports there was a guy who studied the intensity levels in the game of tennis with kids from America vs Spain. The overall intensity was very low compared to the kids in Spain training for tennis. The reason? Debatable. My take? They play too many sports at the same time here…so how can there focus and intensity be there?

Cross sports are great for Tennis ( i.e. Basketball, Soccer ) but only as a way TO train for tennis, not to be so overly involved in the other sports.

Bottom line, help your kid choose one sport they want to excel at, hopefully its tennis. An absolute must is the parent is supporting in every way, and pray some development program from somewhere takes you in if your child has skills. Otherwise? Move to Spain, Serbia, etc….me guesses.


Kids Says:

American kids have not advanced in Fitness levels. Tennis requires the ultimate fitness level not to mention the concentration. We are fatter as a country, kids play less outside,etc… than the parents did and so forth (kids of the past). Coaches gets what the parents bring to them. Unhealthy kids, low self drive (intensity). Parents want coaches to make magical solutions on the courts. Pay top dollar for “the fix” but doesn’t get fixed (like the parent sees it). Frustrated humans in every direction we look, all the way up to USTA. Smoother this with ego and it remains a continuous circle of talking about solutions…..

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