Coaching is Only Part of the Equation
From the book “Developing High Performance Tennis Players” Edgar Giffenig
It is important to understand that in player development, you, as a coach, are only one part of the equation. Several other aspects are just as important in the formation of players.
After working as a National Coach for the USA and Germany, I returned to Mexico to help their national player development program. Mexico has had some success in international tennis, with Rafael Osuna and Raul Ramirez, who were two of the top players in the world in their respective eras. After them, four or five players were ranked in the top 50 in the world, but that was more than two decades ago. Since then, Mexico has not had any top 100 player in singles. So, my job was to help devise a plan to develop a top 100 player in the near future.
Compared to the U.S. and Germany, where I had worked before, Mexico has extremely few resources devoted to sports in general, and tennis is no exception. Therefore, with a very limited budget, I had to devise a feasable plan, so I came up with the idea to start a self-sufficient National Training Center. It was basically a tennis academy where players would pay to train there, and sponsorship funds would be used to give scholarships and help pay for travelling expenses for our top players.
Mexico is a big country with a limited number of players. Most good players are isolated and have a hard time finding challenging competition where they live, so getting them together was a good way to help their development.
I was able to raise $100,000 US per year and ran the center for six years, until we ran out of money. We were able to support about 20 of our top juniors in the Training Center and started four or five schools in different parts of Mexico, where we were training about 400 players using a standarized system we developed. The players at the center would go to school in the mornings and practice for four hours in the afternoons. We were also able to form groups and travel around the world on the ITF circuit.
During those six years, three of our players reached a top 50 junior world ranking, and most of them ended up with a college scholarship in the U.S. There are still a few on the ATP circuit with one of them ranked in the 200’s in doubles. It was a good effort, and I consider the project a success. However, we were far from being able to form a top 100 singles player, even though the quality of training we were providing was similar to that found in many of the top academies and national training centers around the world.
Good coaching is very important to develop players but there is a lot more to it. Without a large base of players, competition, resources to travel internationally and total support from the families, among other things, developing a world class player is extremely difficult. Moreover, even with all these factors in place, it is never easy. Just look at a country like England. They have spent millions of pounds in the last 25 years in their player development program, building facilities, training coaches, recruiting the best coaches in the world for their program, financially supporting their best players, and up to this point have only achieved limited results.
It has been a massive undertaking, and I am sure they will have a few top players in the future, but so far, the process has been painfully slow. On the other hand countries like Serbia or Belgium, with a small population and limited resources have been immensely successful in the last decade.
This brings us to one aspect that cannot be overlooked: “The Natural Order,” a term I use to describe the fact that every person has different ability levels in any endeavor, and that in any group of people there is always going to be a natural-ability ranking for any activity.
The following hypothetical situation will help clarify this:
If you had unlimited resources and the capacity to recruit the 100 best prospects in the world to train them together at an academy, and you were also able to individualize each program to provide exactly what every player needed to reach his potential, after a few years you would have 100 great players, but also a number one and a number 100 in the group. Even in this small group, one player would be the best of the group and one would be the worst. That is just how it is. There is always going to be a natural order.
Coaching is only one part of the equation!