In the 30-plus years since I first began coaching tennis, society has seen many changes in the way people communicate and interact. Technology has not, however, altered basic human nature, and in this example, the inevitability of self-serving, immediate gratification-seeking behavior of junior players, coaches and parents. Many aspects of the system of junior tennis seem to encourage short-sighted behavior. Tennis is a highly competitive and clearly defining individual sport. There is much to be gained by winning, and losing is, well, "for losers.” I don't blame the system, however. The world is a competitive place and the tennis world reflects this reality. Competitive adapting is the backbone of evolution, and while I'd like to say, this is my original idea, Charles Darwin beat me to it. Rather than knock the tournament world, perhaps what is needed is a re-evaluation of how this experience is interrupted. Specifically, parents and coaches should assume responsibility for the leadership of players in critical areas of conduct and values. Players are ultimately responsible for their behavior of course, but the experience of being young is to emphasize immediate gain. Parents and coaches can balance and temper inexperience. Several examples follow:
Shortcuts to tennis success rarely work. Focus on improvement and learning that draws upon your own experience as well as the wisdom of others with more experience always works. There are many sacrifices that players, parents and coaches need to make in order to perform their job best. Integrity is not one of those sacrifices.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.