With Wimbledon well under way the nation has now pinned it’s hopes on the single remaining challenger for the title, Andy Murray. All other British contenders, bar one, were out in the first round. This was followed by the predictable barrage from the media aimed at all and sundry who they perceived to be at fault for this poor showing. The BBC interviewed a raft of former players asking for their thoughts on the problem with British tennis. They duly gave their expert opinion that there weren’t enough tennis courts, players weren’t hungry enough or that they came from too wealthy backgrounds (not done Britain’s rowers too much harm). My opinion is that these players should give their expert opinion on their expertise…hitting tennis balls. Very few people, it would seem, have any knowledge on long term athlete development (LTAD), how it works and the time it takes to implement.
The difficulty with tennis is that once you get to a certain age, there is very little time to do anything besides play tennis. Competitions must be played to achieve rankings points, if you don’t win many games you have to play more to gain the points which often means a relentless stream of competitions. There are very few periods where a player can focus on specific conditioning gains, between tennis, traveling and recovery. The majority of players out in the early stages this time round are already caught in that cycle, Andy Murray being the exception as he has a S&C coach that travels with him. What is now being achieved is the identification of talent based on key physical performance indicators, not just how well they can hit a ball. The kids then are coached by quality S&C coaches who know the value of the development of fundamental movement skills that are essential to success in the sport.
The time factor is an issue, the best time to develop these movement patterns are at a young age, and not 16-17 years olds which is what the press identifies as the future talent. 8, 10, 12 years old is the time at which movements are developed quickest and for the long term. Assuming that the 3 year figure of increased funding for the LTA being banded around by the press is true, give a minimum 1 year to allow for design of the LTAD program which means that the program has been running for 2 years now. The players who were 12 at the time of starting are now 14, they’re the ones who will determine the success of the LTA’s new structure not the crop of 29 year olds who haven’t gotten past the first round in 8 attempts. Unfortunately the short termist attitude of the press will not accept this and calls are being made for funding cuts and reviews. Reviews are conducted retrospectively, not at the beginning of a project. I wonder if a long term journalist development plan could be introduced to allow for less lazy and more insightful and accurate writing by the sporting press…..