So we face a new upheaval in the LTA and I can’t help but wonder how many times I will see this in my lifetime in tennis as I think this is already number 5 or 6. We have another new performance director coming in and what I want to know is will he take an extreme approach like so many before him or will he try to steady the ship with compromise and teamwork? I think it is about time for the latter as yo-yoing between the land of the entitled and the land of the abandoned is getting tiring.
The first regime I remember was everyone feeling entitled to extraordinary amounts of money. I remember kids not much better than me at 12 getting their flights, coaching and all expenses paid for. I may be sounding a tad bitter as I recount this but truly I’m not. I look back at it now and you couldn’t have paid me enough to be in their position. With all that money came extraordinary pressure, constant scrutiny, relentless testing and the HUGE expectation to win at such a young age. I was able to enjoy my tennis, concentrate on improvement and smack the ball as hard as I wanted to without fear of dramatic reactions courtside. Yes you need to deal with pressure if you want to be good but I wasn’t handed excessive pressure, I earned every last drop of mine so I was proud of it not scared of it. Learning to deal with pressure at 15 or 16 makes sense, but at 10?
I am not going to go through the ups and downs of the entire past 12 years, but that is one end of the scale and currently we are at the other. Fewer tournaments, fewer performance centres and no funding (unless you are in the top 1%). Surely this can only make the game even more elitist and difficult? I need to just clarify that the pressure for the top ones is still there to an extraordinary level, even though the funding is not (unless you are in the top 1%). That makes even less sense to me… now they are getting all of this pressure but not really for any reason other than the culture that is British Tennis.
Why can’t we compromise and find a balance of these two utterly ridiculous extremes? If you don’t want to fund the players, fund the centres and clubs. If the coaching isn’t good enough at these centres and clubs, fund coach education. If you want players to compete abroad then fund them sensibly with goals and bonuses. If you don’t want to fund their travel, put the money in to more tournaments in this country so they don’t have to travel. I just get so frustrated that with every regime it is all of this or none of this. It is either excessive funding that is not earned, lots more tournaments all the while pumping millions in to performance centres which aren’t delivering performance standards OR no money, less tournaments and closing lots of performance centres because they aren’t delivering performance standards.
I have had years in my career when I have received no where near the help that I thought was reasonable for my standard (I am not just talking about money), and I have had years where the amount of money I received was so ridiculous I struggled to spend it all. The LTA is not responsible for whether I was good or not, I am. I took ownership of my tennis when I was a kid and the LTA allowed me to do that. Unfortunately this wasn’t deliberate but more of a happy accident as they only gave me room to do this because they thought I was no good and had no chance. It worked out well for me but all the kids they thought were good… what happened? We have the best facilities in the world, some of the best coaches, a Wimbledon champion… we have so much knowledge and information at our disposal and so much passion for the game.
Now I come back to my original question – What is a federation’s role?
Is their role to take control of British Tennis or to create a platform for the British to play tennis?