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Who wants to work for British tennis?

Jonathan Overend | 16:16 UK time, Friday, 17 April 2009

What is going on at The Lawn Tennis Association?

The under-fire governing body of British tennis has lost another key member of its leadership team with Carl Maes, head of women's tennis, deciding to return to his native Belgium for personal reasons.

It follows the removal of head of men's tennis, Paul Hutchins, and a string of other unexplained departures from the well-funded organisation.

Two months ago, Gary Stewart left as head of coach support, again for personal reasons.

His predecessor, Bill Mountford, lasted just over a year in the job before suddenly deciding to return home to America.

"Personal reasons" were again cited when Kevan Taylor - the former Stockport County chief executive - left his position as finance director last month.

So why don't these people want to work for British tennis anymore?

Were they unhappy in their jobs? Did they not believe in the direction of the LTA or the leadership? Did they jump or were they pushed?

"Personal reasons" appears to be the British tennis equivalent of the equally murky "mutual consent" in football.

Laura Robson

Meanwhile, one of the valued LTA strength and conditioning coaches will be on her way next month because she wants to return to Australia where, co-incidentally, head of sports science Ann Quinn bizarrely remains.

She hasn't been at her desk in Roehampton since the end of last year because she can't get a visa to return to Britain. Will she ever return?

And, the most important question of all, how is the LTA meant to sort out the deep-rooted problems facing British tennis if it can't keep its own house in order?

In 2006, they employed a leading headhunting agency to find "a world class leadership team". This costly "worldwide search" produced a group which has since been decimated by departures.

The LTA points out that people constantly come and go from all companies and organisations, but the vital difference is that British tennis is trying to build something from nothing and stability of leadership - consistency of direction - is surely essential.

Maes, who did a successful job improving the rankings of the leading British women, will see his old job effectively disappear. Steven Martens, another Belgian, continues to expand his empire as "player director" and will assume control of all professional performance tennis, assisted by head coaches Paul Annacone and Nigel Sears.

Martens insists he is confident that "under the guidance of Nigel Sears and the team, women's tennis will go from strength to strength".

Meanwhile, out in the shires and the regions, hundreds of long-serving, committed coaches and support staff knuckle down and try to make a difference for British tennis.

These coaches won't be resigning in two years time because they want to go to Belgium or Australia. The majority will still be feeding tennis balls to junior hopefuls long after the wealthier head-office crowd have departed in a haze of personal reasons.

Which brings us to the most interesting correspondence I've received in a long time, from a couple of small tennis clubs with some talented juniors.

These clubs wanted to play a couple of 10-year olds in the 12-and-under division of the National Junior Club League - kids who are decent players and, according to their coaches, ready for the step up in class.

But the response from head office? The players are too young.

According to LTA guidelines, 10-year-olds are meant to be playing mini-tennis with softer green balls so therefore can't play 12-and-under matches, where regular yellow balls are used.

The LTA has what it calls a competition framework and the advice for 10-year olds (sensible advice in many cases) is to stick to the softer, lower bouncing balls. But every child is different and, if the coaches believed the time was right for these particular kids, common sense surely should have prevailed.

Head office may wish to discover at which age Andy Murray moved from soft balls to regular yellow tennis balls.

If they are interested - if there is anyone left to be interested - the answer is seven.


  • Comment number 1.

    My daughter is the County Champion in her age group - mini red. The LTA won't let her play Orange tournaments despite her coach's belief that competing in Red tournaments is a waste of her time and the LTA County ID day she attended being run on Orange Courts. There are a lot of children in this situation since the LTA introduced the new competition framework. It is just going to lead to frustration and children leaving the sport.

  • Comment number 2.

    How about something else just as laughable.

    Andy Murray getting no coverage in the Six O'Clock News Hour on the day after winning in Miami, while BBC News carries out analysis on a pizza!

  • Comment number 3.

    Maybe the L.T.A need to look to the countries that are getting it right and use their model/s. Spain, Russia, France, Argentina - these are places the L.T.A need to look to. The L.T.A needs to start from scratch - surely it couldn't make things worse?

    Did Murray even go through the L.T.A system?

  • Comment number 4.

    As we all know, Andy Murray trained in Spain with the RPT. When will the LTA wake up and realise we need to change the coaching structure in this country?
    I coach two children who are being held back by the 'competition framework' because they have to play 'Red balls' when they are capable of hitting 'orange balls if not 'green balls'.
    If these kids were in Spain they would be using yellow balls!
    If things aren't addressed at grassroots, we will never produce a home grown champion.

  • Comment number 5.

    At 9 I was winning under12 competitions back in the early nineties. I can't believe the LTA have determined this to be too young, that's ridiculous!!! They seem to be falling victim to the 'its not all about winning' army, who think competition is a bad thing. These people need to wake up and realise that everything in life is a competition.

  • Comment number 6.

    I teach over 150 kids each week and think the mini tennis system is brilliant for learning how to play tennis at the lower levels, but the competition system has some serious flaws. Yes, we've got loads more kids competing at the younger age groups now, but if a player is beating all the other players their age at their club, then surely playing up is far better for their tennis is nearly all cases!

    In addition, why on earth do we go by year born, as opposed to school years for age groups???? (it makes teaching higher level kids in schools impossible for mini tennis and stops players being able to compete with friends!)

  • Comment number 7.

    I believe that the observation that the LTA needs to trust coaches to use their own discretion and judgement for when a player is 'ready' is spot on.
    I am in favour of the mini tennis system; it is used in a considerable number of countries, probably most notably France. However, it seems somewhat bizarre to make the structure so rigid. Children develop physically at varying rates, so therefore a well developed, athletic, technically sound 8 year old could feasibly excel with green ball; an 11 year old, who is short, slight of build and new to the game probably shouldn't be playing with yellow balls. Unfortunately, the current guidelines- some might say restrictions- do not allow such flexibility.
    Also odd are the age groupings. A child who starts at the age of 4 can expect to be in the mini red setup for 5 years, mini orange for 1 and mini green for 1 year, after which they will progress to yellow balls. This is disproportianate and potentially demotivating to child who has already mastered mini red before the year that they become 9. Surely more sensible would be to have a crossover, which isn't supported by the ratings system in place, whereby the top players in one colour could also play in the next category and the weaker players in a colour could play in the category below.
    The current system has increased the number of children playing and competing, and is integral for the retention of players. It is unhelpful and somewhat misleading to highlight players such as Andy Murray as pupils who switched to yellow ball at a young age. It is worth noting that Justine Henin, playing in a country that pioneered mini tennis, used mini green balls until the year in which she turned 13. Compare her to the incredibly powerful and athletic, but technically flawed, Williams sisters, who used yellow balls from an early age and you can see an example where the mini tennis system and philosophy is clearly superior. However, it is equally as important to recognise that her coach used his judgement in this case: exactly what is needed for this approach to work.
    So, in conclusion, the LTA needs to loosen the reins and allow coaches to coach with freedom and confidence in their own judgement. By all means have criteria and guidelines, but trust the coach to know the child who he has coached for the past 3 years. Only then can we convert talented juniors into world class players.

  • Comment number 8.

    Good article once again Jonathan,

    And once again I am so pleased I moved away from the UK where I worked 10 years as a tennis coach,and came to Spain.
    The idea that "all" children need to learn tennis with these soft balls is ridiculous.Children have an amazing capacity for learning, so why not try them with the real ball from day one.
    I coach children out here and start with the regular ball, and if the technique is taught correctly I have no problem in getting a 5 year old to hit a ball over a slightly lower net.But if that 5 year old was having problems, then I might use a softer ball.
    Where the softer balls come into their own is in the rallying side of the game, they make it a bit easier.
    But once again the LTA shows its inability to be flexible with our juniors -why not let a 10 year old play in a 12 year old competition, if the coach feels that the child will benefit?

  • Comment number 9.

    IF I was running the LTA my first question would be, when was the last time the UK had a tennis champ?
    When are so many kids from Spain making it to the very top and winning so often?

    Why are even top football teams hiring Spanish coaches in the UK and around the world?

    Folks, football gets it yet tennis has been dormant for such a long time to the point that you must be mad or blind not to see it.

    Fire all those UK losers who never amounted to anything in the tennis world and start bringing great talent, like Sergi Brugueras, Emilio Sanchez, Higueras, and any of those, too many to mention, ex top Spaniards to get those YELLOW BALLS moving across the net right away. They will know how to mentor, nurture and make a future English champ.
    Also make tennis more accessible to children of all social status. Let them have fun, let them play and learn the proper way under the guidance of knowledgeable Spanish coaches who know their game and understand what it takes to make a winner instead of settling comfortably for the 4th, 3rd or second best.

  • Comment number 10.

    The real problem is the jump between junior and ATP tour level. That basically means Futures and Challenger events.
    In the recent past we have had our fair share of top level juniors.
    Murray made the jump, but significantly NOT through the "LTA system".
    Here money is thrown at 6 or 8 top players to travel the world looking for suitable hard court Challenger (and Futures) events.
    So far this year we have had 1 Challenger in UK - and even that was in Jersey - still expensive and awkward for the majority of our top players.
    But we did have the male (Evans) and female (O'Brien) champions, as well as the men's doubles runners up (Fleming/Skupski - beaten only by the runners-up in the subsequent ATP event).
    We need to follow the Spanish, French and Italian models.
    The Italians for example, have around 2 Challengers per month (and the same number of Futures) from February thru' June. The Spanish, French and Germans have slightly less - but more of their players are already on the main ATP tour.
    I have no doubt many more Italians will join them in the next 4 or 5 years.
    It's not much of an exaggeration to say that their players make the top 250 en masse basically by playing each other. I noted in one Italian Challenger in Bari in February 26 of the 32 in the main Gents Singles draw were Italians!
    That's an extreme example; but it highlights what their Association does for their players.
    - Surely it's a far more efficient use of LTA money to run a Challenger event, with at least 10 or 12 British players involved (qualifiers, wildcards or main draw), than it is to send one or two on a trip half way round the world which ends up in a fruitless 1st round defeat?
    Meanwhile, the rest of our top 20 players sit on their thumbs, trying to avoid clay court embarrassment.
    Typically, running a UK Challenger would provide 50 or 60 'player-hours' of quality competitive play experience, instead of the 4 or 5 provided in early defeats in Thailand or South Africa.
    Start now with 12 or 15 on a local Challenger circuit - In 5 years or so we could have 25 or 30, in the to 250, and eventually 10 or more in the top 100.
    I predict that Italy will have 10 to 15 top 100 players in 2 years time, supplanting many of the French and Spanish players, whose associations now run slightly fewer "feeder" (Challenger) events than the Italians.

  • Comment number 11.

    elche2002 I dont quite agree whith your opinion on this matter. I do to a degree agree that there needs to be a diffrent approach to coaching, but i dont think employing spanish coaches is going to is the way forward. The better solution to what you are saying is to send talented british coaches to other countries and let them learn the way to take a diffrent approach when coaching, to get more of a insite to other methods from sucssesful countries.

    My partner and her father are both full time tennis coaches and run very sucsessful tennis programmes at numorous tennis clubs. Both agree that there needs to be changes in the way young players are given there chance. When your a professional coach, one (of many) of the job roles is to spot and nurture talent, you can't nurture talent if the child is being held back because of there age. Its a real shame because there is some real potential within both there respective clubs.

  • Comment number 12.

    I love tennis and am constantly depressed by our pathetic performance on the world stage (apart from Murray). I think the problems with British tennis go deep into the national psyche.

    1) As a nation we are not that interested in the sport itself. We are much more interested in watching British players. I used to be relieved when poor Henman got knocked out of Wimbledon because at least we got to see a variety of other (better) players on Match of the Day.

    2) Because we have Wimbledon and a tennis heritage, we can't quite grasp the fact that we are quite poor at the game. Until we shake off our "we know best" officialdom, we may as well pack it in.

    3) Totally agree with emzquem82 about the 'winning isn't everything' problem. You won't find that belief in any of the successful tennis nations.

    4) Also agree with richienew - why on earth can't the LTA (or better still a replacement organisation) just go and study how the successful tennis nations do it? I am half Spanish and when I was a junior hardly any women played in Spain at all and no Spaniard could cope with the grass. Look how they've come on. And France have obviously got it sussed too.

    5) We have a terrible attitude to juniors. When I was (quite a handy) one, we were thrown off the court by lumpen elderlies on the basis of seniority not ability. This "respect your elders" attitude is also a British problem.

    6) On holiday in South Africa recently, I was thrilled to see a whole row of school courts occupied by good juniors playing on a Saturday morning - when do you ever see that in Britain?

    Frankly I don't blame these people for giving up on the LTA and going back home - it must be the most soul-destroying job in the world.

  • Comment number 13.

    having had two daughters play tennis at county and national junior levels for several years i could spend the whole evening listing the litany of failure by the LTA over the years. And we enter the summer season, no doubt the media will turn their focus to the perennial problems with British Tennis, and its lack of success relative to other countries.
    Undoubtedly the governing body has not served the game well in my experience,choosing to concentrate on central initiatives designed to aid those players who they perceive to be likely to succeed, having along the way ignored and failed to develop hundreds of equally talented youngsters whose only crime was that they were born in areas of the country where access to facilities and top quality coaching is seriously under-provided.

    If however i had to put my finger on one key aspect which continues to fail miserably, it is that of coaching standards and the absence of any national assessment of standards being made available to beginner and developing standards.

    In what other game do you have a system of coaching in which the only investment from the coach in their players is the next £30 per hour cheque? scouting and talent identification is largely absent in significant areas of the country, and as a result, many promising players either fail to develop as they should and are left behind,or give up altogether through disillusionment - and I could name at least twenty in my own limited experience who with the right attention and care, could have become competent national seniors - twenty players whose presence in the game might have provided a greater level of competition throughout the game.

    British tennis will never thrive as it should unless and until there is a national system of LTA retained coaches who are not only responsible for taking on already developed youngsters, but also accountable for the number of players they 'deliver' to the higher development programmes, and if they fail to do so, will lose accreditation to coach.

    Tennis coaching in Britain is by and large a joke, and a licence for barely competent players who complete a basic coaching qualification to be let loose on unsuspecting parents and youngsters and take their money under false pretences. I know of one such example in my home town,not even a good club player who should not be allowed within a mile of a court to coach, but who is actually employed by a local club to develop 8-10 year olds.

    This goes to the heart of the matter, and until the LTA accepts that the future of this wonderful game lies not in a sparkling ivory tower in Roehampton, but with the proper teaching of the game in a properly structured and accountable, british tennis will continue to produce the occasional champion-like Murray(and let's not forget that his mother was a coach),but never a production line of champions.

    The history of the LTA is a catalogue of unaccountable managers, poor decision making and failed initiatives. Who remembers Patrice Hagelauer being employed to tell us all that clay courts were the future of the game, and being hailed as a saviour? Where is he now?

    One broken promise after another, has brought us here, and until I see a chief executive who has a strategic plan which is more than just a glossy superficial mission statement, we can all continue to wallow in the inglorious failure of the unaccountable governing body and as a result our hard-working, enthusiastic and badly-prepared players.

  • Comment number 14.

    Well said kelhan,

    I know from experience that there are a lot of really good coaches out there in the Uk doing there best in adverse conditions with no indoor facilities during the winter and no help from anyone money wise apart for the hours that they put in, and thanks to these people amny young Brit juniors are still playing the game, but then there are another breed of coaches who as you say "should not be allowed any where near a court".

    Out here I het to train many Uk youngsters who quite honestly "know nothing" about the game they are learning - no fault of their own-just very little info passed on.

    Maybe the new roof at Wimbledon is the answer!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 15.

    "Tennis coaching in Britain is by and large a joke, and a licence for barely competent players who complete a basic coaching qualification to be let loose on unsuspecting parents and youngsters and take their money under false pretences. I know of one such example in my home town,not even a good club player who should not be allowed within a mile of a court to coach, but who is actually employed by a local club to develop 8-10 year olds."

    Certainly I think there are some very good coaches, however I have also heard of cases where the coach is not that competent. I've also heard that the LTA run training courses for coaches, teach them techniques etc., which some coaches allegedly ignore.

    I also believe that getting match practice at some levels can be hard to find - making it very difficult to progress.

  • Comment number 16.

    There are too few people in the system with little or no personal investment in the success or otherwise of those players under their charge.
    if a player fails to develop or attain a successful level of play, neither the LTA nor the individual coach will suffer, and the coach will move on to their next income source.
    Too little accountability for results from senior management to coaches, Until a fully integrated coaching structure oriented to the delivery of a minimum level of player development with very clear minimum annual targets is instigated, British tennis will go nowhere.
    I do not imply that coaches are all incompetent, and of course there are many good competent coaches doing their best for their players,but the organisation of the LTA is deeply flawed and the problems are systemic and must be addressed.
    we have heard from too many supposed top executives -Roger Draper included, that their 'plans' will take 5-10 years to execute.It seems to me that this is just an excuse behind which to disguise their inability to deliver concrete results.
    Undertake a programme of identifying the best professional coaches in the country, pay them a salary, place them right across Britain, create coaching schools under their control,employ development teams to encourage increased participation on a daily basis rather than the periodic and failed initiatives which hit the scene and disappear without trace.
    Use these centres to train new coaches, monitor outcomes, reward success and equally deal with failure in an appropriate manner.
    As sportsfan80 says, match practice can be difficult for those not considered elite, but this also is largely due to the haphazard structure of junior competition, which for many is inaccessible and elitist, and the obvious apathy from the LTA in wanting to make root and branch changes to its organisation of tournament and matchplay opportunities at junior levels.
    Sadly of course nothing will change, and we will all be writing blogs on the subject for many years to come.
    Managers with a clear vision, the capacity to deliver,a willingness to accept the consequences for failure as in any private sector organisation, an integrated national coaching system, 50 new centres as a minimum,an overhaul of matchplay opportunities and the LTA can all be funded comfortably from the proceeds of Wimbledon.So what about it?

  • Comment number 17.

    Things the LTA is doing wrong? Honestly, where could we even begin? However, it is factually inaccurate to say that they make all 10 year olds play mini tennis with a green ball. They actually make a lot of 9 year olds play 12 and under sompetition, saying that they are "too old" to play at 10 and under. It all depends when in the year you are born. Let's add this to the litany of failure. A child born in January is (at least) ten times as likely to succeed as one born in December. The LTA has no problem with this - thinks it's quite reasonable.

  • Comment number 18.

    There have been some great points raised by contributors to this blog that are all relevant - incompetence of the LTA, lack of competition for the junior/senior gap, bad coaches at club level and 'stupid' rules for mini/junior competitions.
    I have some experience of all of these - my son was ranked nationally a few years ago and has junior and senior county colours... and he is now Head Coach at a tennis club. The fundemental problem in this country is the club structure we rely on, often run by people that are only interested in their 'social tennis' and see juniors as a neccessary inconvenience. At many clubs the juniors have to be off court by 6pm and can only play for an hour or two at weekends (if at all). Some even limit the number of new junior members so as to avoid being 'overrun' with them.
    The LTA doen't help by introducing new initiatives on an almost weekly basis. The LTA Clubmark is a good idea but the amount of work necessary to achieve it is unreasonable given that most clubs are run by volunteers. What about the coach, you ask? Well, he doesn't get paid for off court work unless he gets a retainer. A retainer for the Head Coach is great if you can get it but most clubs can't afford it.
    So, this side of the club relies usually on one or two individuals & we're back to the 'old f*rts' syndrome such much talked about in British sport.
    So what's the answer? Frankly, there's no silver bullet. All my son can do is chip away at the issues he faces & do the best he possibly can for the adults and juniors he coaches, recognising that, at his level at least, tennis is supposed to be FUN!

  • Comment number 19.

    Kelhan wrote
    "if a player fails to develop or attain a successful level of play, neither the LTA nor the individual coach will suffer, and the coach will move on to their next income source.
    Too little accountability for results from senior management to coaches, Until a fully integrated coaching structure oriented to the delivery of a minimum level of player development with very clear minimum annual targets is instigated, British tennis will go nowhere."
    Good point, problem is that most coaches in this country are self-employed and answer only to the club they work for. Good coaches maintain their LTA License through the Coach Licensing Scheme and part of this is maintaining knowledge by attending a number of courses in a three year period. At the end of the day, the system in this country is still 'club centric', and always will be!

  • Comment number 20.

    When I was younger I lived in a rural town, no real coaching set up, no indoor courts, an hour away from the nearest indoor facility (and county HQ) and no real interest from the LTA. I won a number of county tournaments as a junior, and by junior I mean U13s and below. I was in the junior conty squad but there were players within that squad, who came from the city that the tennis centre was in, who were no where near as good as some of the juniors at my local club. No amtter how much I told the coaches or anyone who would listen that they should go to my club and have a look at what the juniors had to offer. Did they do this? No! (I suppose I was only 12). My point is, why is there not a scouting network in place? At least visit rural clubs once a year to see what talent we may be missing out on? Football clubs have a scouting network and it should be much easier for the LTA to snap up talent than it is for clubs as who are they competing with exactly (and by this i mean within the UK)? You never know, the player of the future may go unfound in a small village club and end up playing local tennis and may not be in a city near a tennis centre where it is very clique... imagine the unlikelihood of that, someone from the sticks being capable at sport!

    One other criticism about tennis is, as I suppose it is in all walks of life, it is who you know not what talent you have got which helps you to get on in many cases!

  • Comment number 21.

    I am an ex-international junior squash player and currently coach squash at my local tennis & squash club and I have noticed two things that have rung true from other blogs.

    Firstly, the club tennis coach has an excellent junior coaching structure, yet there are still regular complaints about the court time he uses from adult members; I have seen them demand that he moves from 3 to 2 courts so that the numbers per court go from 4-6 to 7-8, which gives less time to each player. This happens even if he has booked the courts out weeks in advance, the adults still expect their court time!!

    I have also seen a 15 year old county squad player be told she could not play for the ladies teams because she 'had to wait her turn'!!!

    Most tennis players in this country play for themselves, think Wimbledon is the only tennis event in the World and don't really care if a Brit doesn't win the event.

    On the converse, squash continually produces world class players in both men and women, has a good junior pathway structure, yet fails to get this recognition.

    For example, the mini squash system has events to play in but the only have a maximum age not a minimum age; progression is based on abiity not age so good young players can play in any age group. The only resrictions on player development are the number of matches per day and time between matches in order to protect players from over playing.

    The LTA need to ralise that in order to allow the cream to rise they need to play outside their immediate age group (as they will in adult tennis), but ensure that they are not being burned out too early by over playing, perhaps making a maximum number of events per year.

    As far as clubs go, there are too many small clubs, and the LTA should develop its own performance structure down from regional and county into district centres where clubs with good facilities and coaches should be encouraged to become a centre for juniors to attend 'district' sessions, before moving up to county performance.

  • Comment number 22.

    I was trying to think of another sport played by individuals rather than teams, not normally played at school, where there is a powerful central organisation with a club structure. Golf perhaps? We seem to do alright at that. There, as in tennis clubs, most of the club members play for fun and juniors are encouraged to use the facilities with an enthusiasm remarkable only for its scarcity. Its also a bit like tennis in that it has overtones of poshness and uncoolness. So why is British golf so much more successful in regularly producing international quality players? Probably some one will know how the coaching regimes compare, I confess I don't.

  • Comment number 23.

    There is so much wrong with the junior tennis set up in Britain, these comments highlight many of them, but the LTA will not listen to the people involved on a day to day, week by week basis - the club coaches and the parents. They didn't need to spend a fortune on "experts", they just needed to get down and dirty at grass roots level. You can find good coaches a) if you're lucky (we were) b) if you are prepared to drive - a LOT (we were) and c) if you have lots of time and money (sadly, we don't). I tried to change things from the inside by becoming my club's junior tennis organiser, but after 5 years of frustration I gave up stressing over it and moved my family to Spain, where our son is developing very nicely without the help of the LTA, who don't want to know him because his ranking isn't high enough (due to not being dragged round every competition available)despite the staff at the Sanchez-Casal Academy believing he has a lot of potential. Here, the tennis is cheaper (just, given the current poor exchange rate), school fees are a lot cheaper and the cost of living is cheaper. People are generally happier and there is no "snobbery". There is a tennis club around almost every corner that will allow anyone to play. Competition is plentiful and relatively stress free - nobody cares about ratings or rankings, just the match on the day and the emphasis is on development not winning. I am happy with our move, but sad that it was necessary.

  • Comment number 24.

    The problem with the LTA is that you have people working for it on bigger wages than the whole country get's for funding!!! It's not just the structure, kid's are not pushed hard enough and if you have a child that is talented you have to travel miles for tournaments and most parents are busy with work commitments.Too many health and safety regulations in england for my liking.

  • Comment number 25.

    Personally, and of course this is just my own opinion, the issue is double sided, on the one hand there's a bad structure to coaching and on the other hand the attitude towards the sport overall is just not as "hungry" as with other countries, most notably eastern european countries.

    the LTA treat is more of a business than a sport service to society while there seems to be very little done in the way of culturing the kind of hunger and motivation in all the best tennis playing kids to want to go through all the hardships proactively and get to the top. i realise this comment might tick some people off because obviously there are many people out there who do have the hunger and are just bogged down by the puzzling glass ceilings of the LTA coaching structure, and to them i say well done hang in there. but my comment is more of a general comment.

    i see too many kids encouraged to take up tennis as a healthy kids thing to do, i mean it's a good sport, but the problem is, to them, that's all it is: just your weekly sport. naturally in very young kids that's all it will be. but for the very best youngsters, the age at which the coach says "let's do some private coaching maybe even up to 5 days a week" should be younger, and in my opinion as young as the coach sees is fit. if you want to be a champion you have to devote almost 100% to it starting from a VERY young age. if you have a kid who plays tennis perhaps twice a week at his local all through his primary school years progressing normally through the colours and then in secondary school, when naturally he's become quite good, and he's already 14, he gets opportunities for more professional coaching, that's usually too late.

    there needs to be more professional coaching for kids, the very best kids who show the greatest potential. i mean with football, you have local clubs and then you have footballing academies who scout local clubs and schools. tennis should have MORE academies.

  • Comment number 26.

    This is a pretty futile discussion. As long as the sport remains out of financial reach to working class youngsters then it makes no difference how British Tennis is structured.
    If I want to play at my local tennis centre the cost is £20 an hour, the kids I see up there are kitted out with the best kit because their parents can afford to push them towards Tennis.
    Until Tennis is opened up to a wider demographic then you can forget producing any British champions after Andy Murray any time soon.
    I don't have all the answers but I know for sure that those in their cosy Roehampton offices don't either.

  • Comment number 27.

    I feel moved today to speak up regarding the total and utter mess British Tennis is in right now!! I am a qualified LTA coach and I recently (April 2009) attended an LTA club meeting arranged by our county organiser and the feeling of total disatisfaction within the LTA was all too clear. The lack of professionalism, support to clubs and grass roots tennis was voiced loud and clear. As pointed out in the meeting the LTA have there own idea how British Tennis should be managed and the clubs and coaches at the grass roots level know what goes on and what needs to be done to produce quality tennis players. How many British top 20 tennis players have the LTA produced? this does not include Tim Henman or Andy Murray as they achieved success independently. Lets get together and do something quick, leave the LTA to run Wimbledon, which is really all they are interested in and form another group to run tennis from the grass roots up!!!

  • Comment number 28.

    My daughter was (is) a top national junior player who has just been outcast by the LTA. Why... you may ask is such a talented young player now lurking in the shadows of the UK tennis beast? Answer - about a year ago she had to cancel a friendly match with the son of a high ranking LTA official. Her ankle was hurting at the time and she wanted to rest it. This LTA employed individual (much higher placed within the organisation than a coach), has it would appear, wanted revenge on a child (and he is an adult)...from that moment onwards. We have no other explanation for what happened next other than this one minor event. Despite playing a record number of tournaments and winning major championships, and beating leading players- she has not been invited to play for the County, been shunned from Regional training camps, had sponsorship withdrawn and is no longer welcome at invitational only matches. My child was a top National player for her age group and some petty event from long ago has put a nail in her coffin. Not only this, but those parents and other players who sided with her (she is popular and well liked), have had to pay a price as well. My daughter is not unusual. She is one of many who are outcast from the LTA because of whatever unrelated personal issue or a face that didn't fit.
    I was sucked in by the LTA system and I supported it like an idiot. I complied to everything they demanded of us like sheep getting into the slaughter house truck. I now feel so angry that this has come back to bite me,but mostly I feel for my little girl. She has worked so hard She was a winner. She is a kid and she can't understand why being a champion wasn't good enough. The LTA have the players they like and those they don't. It seems that this is the level of their professional judgement. Oh and don't talk about the National matrix scoring system, as some parents have told me they have seen scores being marked up or down accordingly. Or balls being sent faster to the players they want to fail. As a test- it can be botched.

    However there is another organisation ready to threaten the LTA. They are called the RPT, and what the LTA casts aside...maybe they will pick up. Shame on you LTA. You are grown Men (and Woman) acting like a cross between an adolescent playground bully ...and the Mafia.

    As for my child....Viva Espania! See you at Wimbledon in a few years. My motto now is "don't get mean get even"! We are out of this darn stupid system for good now, & probably this country. She prefers clay anyway! Check out the RPT via this link-

  • Comment number 29.

    well the BBC could help tennis in the country by showing more tennis tournaments year round .

    There are normally 3-4 top quality tournaments on every week but the only coverage will be a few matches on eurosport and maybe sky sports will cover it if it s a super series week.

    Why dont the BBC show dedicated coverage of these tournaments on the spare channels they have , this would be a great service to the young tennis players as they can learn from watching the top players each week on different surfaces .

  • Comment number 30.

    Come on Johnathon ... get the ball rolling and get a debate regularly up on uk television on these issues. Perhpas Sky Sports would help if the BBC cannot. Get the LTA spokespeople to appear regularly also the RTB people and get the tennis loving people of the UK in the audience. Like a special Tennis Question time.

    The old ways have failed and are failing dismally and we all know change is needed. So please use your media infuence to make a real difference.

    Chris J

  • Comment number 31.

    also just showing the super slow mos of the top players from wimbeldon on a loop would give the young players amazing models to copy.

    Seeing Nadals technique in super slow mo is absolutely amazing and would be a great learning experience for young players .

  • Comment number 32.

    My 8 year old played at a "non LTA sanctioned" tournament recently. She has only ever played on a 3/4 sized court and never hit a yellow ball before. We thought she was too young (after all that is what the LTA tells us and we parents believe them). So we thought that she wouldn't be able to cope, but for the hell of it decided to let her have a go. We didn't think she would win anything, so just told her to have fun. After a very dodgy start and coming to terms with a high bouncing ball - she quickly got into the big deal with the full court and bouncy fast balls. Not only did she cope, she played the adult game better than mini Orange. She is now through to the finals in London and if she wins that through to the European finals in Italy at the end of the year. She is just 8! However we were warned that no British child has ever made it through to the European semi;s before because our kids dont have enough practice with the adult game.

    Was my daughter unusual or some rare talent? No totally not. There were kids there from 7 to 9 all hitting with yellow balls and doing amazingly well. Come on LTA - judge a child by ability and not the year of birth. I saw a 7 year old there who was outstanding...and according to the LTA she shouldnt be hitting a yellow ball for 4 more years yet - and yet she is doing that right now under their nose.

  • Comment number 33.

    Dear Jonathan,

    This is by far the best thread I've seen in the tennis section - it contains so much sound sense. So now... we need you to arrange for a response from Roger Draper. There's too much well-reasoned opinion here for him to ignore (a truly on-the-ball association would already have taken note). It might be helpful if you were in a position to challenge or filter some of the suit-speak from any such response though - perhaps he would grant you an interview? Hmmm, I wonder...

  • Comment number 34.

    Hi Jonathan
    If I could sum up my comments (if you ever got that Draper interview) I would say -

    1) Junior tennis players - judge by ability and not by year of birth. I know an 8 year old boy who is 5ft tall and I know a 18 year old boy who is 4ft 10. Children were not born the same. The Comprehensive system tried to create "lots of averages". Great for those struggling who needed to be pulled up, but not so great for the gifted kids who were dragged down. Talent should be allowed to breathe. Im not saying to get rid of the mini tennis framework- just apply common sense to the structure.

    2) Let the individual coaches at grass root level have more of a say in the development of their players, as they know them the best.TPM's do not always know players as well as they can't always get to watch every player in action.

    3) Talent ID days - can one day determine how good a player is? What if a kid had flu on that day? Shouldn't performance in competitions be a better indicator for both skill and commitment. I know of too many matrix kids who dont play matches and get £1000 sponsorship a year. I know of many other kids who compete all the time and don't get a penny. Someone somwhere is "havin a larf"...

    4) Kill the politics. Too many decisions are made on "whose face fits".....

  • Comment number 35.

    It's possible that the mini tennis system will be revamped slightly come September. After a huge campaign the LTA have, they say, finally accepted that it can only be fair if it is based on age. If that happens it would be the biggest change imaginable for British tennis: children actually being able to win through ability, not because of relative age advantage. Kids with "unlucky birthdays" could compete on a level playing field for the first time. Unfortunatly this, if it even happens, will only apply to the youngest age groups.
    Let's hope they go further and abolish the ridiculous rules which prevent most talented children from playing above their allocated age group.
    To help achieve this, or to put forward any of the other points people have made, you should always contact the LTA direct. To contact any person there the formula is For all the dissing of the organisation, there are some people there who are open to comunication and hearing views from outside. Better to tell them direct, anyway, rather than hope they read a blog.

  • Comment number 36.

    Going back to the LTA being badly run...
    I've been trying to join a tennis club in Sheffield recently but haven't got a huge amount of money to allocate to something i will only be doing for 2 hours per week.
    Cheapest i found was £90 for a summer membership at a club with 4 courts that are all allocated on weeknights to team practices. That's the cheapest, and that's no guarantee i'll get a court when i want. When a single adult membership costs that much how can we ever encourage enough people from enough backgrounds to take up, or continue playing the sport? And if we continue like that we won't ever have the pool of interest or talent to sustain more than one good international player at a time.
    Why doesn't the 'well funded' LTA start subsidising membership to grass roots clubs so more people can get involved, which in reality is the ONLY real way to improve the general standard.

  • Comment number 37.

    1) system of juniors calling their own lines encourages cheating to improve ratings and rankings to ensure admission to grade 1,2 or 3 tournaments
    2) cheats and poor line callers should be warned then three strikes and they're out
    3) the parents of these cheats and bad line callers should be warned then three strikes and they're out
    4) the lta needs to achnowledge a wider group of talented juniors
    5) there should be more tournaments in the uk to facilitate the step ups in tournaments
    6) need to forget about the Belgian model
    7) tournament fees, matchplay fees, equipment costs, travel, etc needs to be heavily subsidised by the lta
    8) rules need to be set and adhered to regarding gamesmanship with a system of three strikes and you're out

    could go on and on but I won't...

  • Comment number 38.

    Couldn't agree more on the points raised on line calling in particular and most of other points in general.

  • Comment number 39.

    One last mention on the LTA's mini tennis system.

    An ex England Junior pupil of mine who is presently coaching at an academy in London told me.."We use yellow balls from day one for coaching when working with young children.But we use the green balls for rally situations as it gives them that bit more time owing to the ball being slightly slower.
    But red and orange - no!

  • Comment number 40.

    With my experiences of the LTA, the problem seems to stem from the attitude within the LTA. Whilst the tradition of Wimbledon and Lawn Tennis within the UK is something to be celebrated as a Brit, the LTA and its way of thinking still lies within amateurism.

    Elite sport has moved on, not just in the UK, but around the world. The LTA simply appears to want to keep the right face around and keep everyone happy. The professional tennis circuit is now demanding as ever and with the current crop of talented youngsters coming through, the LTA and the people inside the organisation must take a long hard long at themselves and ask themselves whether they are REALLY committed to improving Britains' tennis stars of the future or are simply interested in keeping the organisation 'within the family'.

  • Comment number 41.

    The problem for me is the tennis clubs in the UK. If you are keen or talented to want to play tennis, it is very difficult to pursue your interest. I was a keen tennis player as a youth, but there was nowhere for me to play other than neglected parks and schools.
    I tried joining three clubs and the access was limited and expensive. I did a few group coaching sessions, which were a dozen or so kids and hitting the ball eight times in an hour.
    I saw very few children in UK tennis clubs. The attitude in many clubs is that children are not a wecomed presence.

    I can contrast this to the USA-where I now live. Joining a tennis club was easy and cheap. The facilities at my club in Las Vegas are great enough to host a Pro Men's tournament. There is coaching, easily available and affordable. They encourage kids-my 4 year old is welcomed and they have fun introductory tennis classes. The whole attitude is fun and accessible, whilst the UK clubs are stuffy and exclusive.

    I feel the LTA needs to mandate clubs to have compulsory youth membership program and that 25% of a clubs membership should be under 16. If a club chooses not to follow LTA youth tennis then that club should lose its right to tickets for LTA events and Wimbledon.
    Too many memberships, clubs and committees are run solely for the privilages of Wimbledon tickets.

  • Comment number 42.

    Shame that the system does encourage cheating to win by some juniors. These kids who cheat end up with a reputation for cheating and should be banned as it can be quite destructive for the recipients of it.

    Fortunately, there are tennis academies dotted around the country like Letchworth, Halton, FC uk at Chiswick, Will to Win at Bisham Abbey, Gosling, etc. Admittedly, it costs a bomb in fees but their systems are giving todays youth a pretty good chance. The LTA could seriously help by subsidising the fees at these academies. In turn, these academies could widen their talent search and not be limited by ones ability to pay and play. There would probably be more Premier League competitions pitting the top kids in the top clubs or academies against each other.

    The other option is the establishment of performance squads who train together and push each other. These only work with dedicated coaches, clubs and players but LTA funding would unlock so much potential and provide so much opportunity.

    The LTA need to look closely at these academies and help with their financing.

    BTW - can't force clubs to have X% of juniors. It's not the juniors who make up the majority of the subs to cover costs. The compromise is to have set time slots for them?

  • Comment number 43.

    I think some of the criticism in this blog towards the mini tennis system is completely unjustified. Mini tennis, is there to get more juniors and seniors alike to learn and play more tennis in the UK and all countries, with the ITF introducing it in so many countries you would never expect any tennis to played, which I think is brilliant and no different to the way all sports are being adapted these days for younger players to enjoy sport everywhere (and prevent obesity!) However, with more people playing around the world, that does make it harder and harder for any country to get players to the very top.

    I think it's impossible to judge our current system until you see what comes out at the end (isn't it said that it takes at least 10yrs and 10,000hrs to become a professional tennis player!). 10yrs ago, there was no mini tennis competition and very very little competition for any players under 10yrs. Tomorrow I'm running a mini tennis competition with 30 players in a village club, with only 3 courts, now that was certainly impossible before mini tennis existed!

    Yes, the LTA ratings and tournament system needs some changes and I certainly agree that talented players should be able to play up age groups allot more than currently, as from experience teaching regional level players, you can't get a decent match unless you're prepared to trek across the country every week. It will however be impossible to make everyone happy, as letting players play in whatever they like will often prevent good level players playing in there own age group, with everyone thinking that they have to "play up" to be the best.

    We do still have along way to go to reach other big 'tennis nations' (and we're not the only ones for that matter - look at Australia, lol!), but it's not impossible and I think getting rid of the LTA is not going to help the situation.

  • Comment number 44.

    Good point by tigermilkboy at 3:53pm on 14 May 2009, - that the current LTA decision makers want to keep it in the family and juniors are seen as a nuisance.
    Maybe privilages like Wimbledon tickets should be withdrawn from clubs if certain junior concessions are not met. This is a good example of a positive step that would give the LTA an opportunity to prove to their critics that they are willing to make sacrifices and upset the cart for the good of the game in this country.

  • Comment number 45.

    Fascinating and very strange
    In any business where a series of key,senior personnel had all left citing the same reasons you'd be asking who is the running the show?

  • Comment number 46.

    I went to Eastbourne to buy a ticket for the pre Wimbledon Tennis, I have purchased in previous years and got my ticket. This year I was told that I cound not get my ticket but I would have to pay £1.50 to get it posted to me, I asked why? I was told it was the instructions of the LTA. When I purchase tickets for the Theater or other sporting events I get the ticket in my hand, the LTA remind me of Mr Speaker in the House of Commons, that is incompetent and out of touch.

  • Comment number 47.

    My 7 years old son is a very competent tennis player for his age. We just moved to the UK and I am trying to learn the UK tennis system for progressing & preparing him to compete at the national level once he is 9 years old. Would appreciate advice and shared experience.

  • Comment number 48.

    I've been teaching and promoting Tennis for 3 decades. I've seen and heard it all. It's the weather, It's the facilities, It's too expensive, British Coaches aren't good enough, Not enough people play Tennis, Tennis is not easily available, Schools don't do Tennis, Tennis is a summer sport and on and on! The facts are Tennis is just a sport it needs to be promoted well and made available to all. It needs to be taught well and players of all standards young and old need to be encouraged to play and compete. Simple, isn't it. Tennis however will never be that simple in the uk whilst Clubs are left to run the game. The lack of knowledge, the lack of interest, the selfish attitudes of the membership, the lack of real management make it impossible for the game to prosper and grow in the uk. The commercial Clubs are no better their 'test' for success is a bigger profit margin. Please don't get me wrong selfish small town Tennis is ok for those who enjoy it. Profit margins are ok for commercial businesses but please don't pretend that anyone really cares for the grow and development of the game. 30 years as an enthusiastic and qualified full time Tennis Coach tells me that soon summer will be here and the fortnight that is the British Tennis season will come and go. The papers will be full of "Why can't British Tennis produce players" and "What do they do with all that Wimbledon profit" etc and then we fade to black until next summer.


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