To evolve as Tennis player ‘performance’ must be based on ‘skills’ and this is the ‘real-road’ that lasts. Being the best players in a small, weak field of players, is a ‘deceiving-road’. Hunger for prominence, will deceive young players in every sport. It is doing so in our Tennis today. The numbers of parents and [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Wither Sri Lanka Tennis — on a ‘real’ or ‘deceiving’ road?


To evolve as Tennis player ‘performance’ must be based on ‘skills’ and this is the ‘real-road’ that lasts. Being the best players in a small, weak field of players, is a ‘deceiving-road’. Hunger for prominence, will deceive young players in every sport. It is doing so in our Tennis today. The numbers of parents and players who are on the ‘deceiving-road’ has given Tennis a bad reputation in our island.Parents are left with big bills they paid and wasted hours. This is not a winning situation for our national Tennis.

In the local set up, the biggest drop-out from Tennis happens around 14 years of age. Few factors contribute to this. Our junior system of competition is an ‘elimination-process’ and not an ‘encouraging-process’. It is major factor of drop out. A recent tournament announced of having 600 entries. The bulk of it was under 14. Only a small number will be encouraged by this. Most will be discouraged.

The other factor is facilities to play individual ‘games’ for practice are not sought by players. Most of them rely on ‘mushrooming’ academies and cry ‘foul’ two years later. If they take the time to study the systems of some of the most successful nations and if smart enough, our players and parents will know the right road to take. It is unfortunate I have to state this.

Also, today there are better organised and interesting activities available elsewhere as alternative to Tennis. Cost of Tennis and academic demands also contribute to the dropout rate.

Loss of a time tested club system

This loss of club system is the root cause of our present low Tennis standard and its popularity, both still sliding down. The national system and the National Association were completely dependent on the strong ‘club-system’ which we had for over 75 years. It was broken down and now it is doing the vanishing act in the country.

In the past every club was a congregation of multi tiered structure of good players. Young players could use the system to climb up by improving their game. It was a natural and easy ladder process. It is the association that gave the first blow to this time tested process. We have the potential to be a better Tennis nation. No one should doubt this. In this context some facts of development will have to be understood.

The three basic strokes of Tennis to play a match can be got quickly but the other aspects which are sophisticated can be got only through the process of ‘game-play’. If a player develops a ‘good-game’ in less than ten years, he or she is not only talented but also ‘very smart’. This is a very rare occurrence in any part of the world. This being so, the design to develop must be changed to suit the present environment and constraints, to a method that will keep a player for over 10 years in the game.

Change to ‘Multi Division format’

Any player who entered Tennis in the last thirty years will only know the path to be a player is through a ‘class room’ process of academic approach. From the results it is clear that the process has proved to be very bad for us after 30 years. Very few developed countries have succeeded with this system, others have failed miserably; ours is one of them.

Even the USA which started mega academies is abandoning the system. Why? The ladder based progression of development of game-making cannot be integrated into academies. Reason – Academies lack facilities and also game based approach is not profitable. Due to this, ‘game-making’ and its mechanics are not emphatically addressed in academies. Players remain immature.

Only the tournament structure can recue this free fall. It has to invent a system to replace the advantage we lost through the loss of the ‘club-system’. It is not possible to get the club system back to its full vigour again or better said it will be a long and difficult achievement. The same could be achieved by replacing ‘Age-group-competition’ with ‘Multi Divisions-base-competition’ system. This method is not completely unknown to us either but as ‘a structure of development’ this has never been used in Sri Lanka. This ‘integrates’ players like in the clubs and that has been the age old secret of development.

‘Thrills of Skills’

‘Open and Junior Open’ events should be played in three divisions in every tournament. This has the best opportunities to integrate players. Age group competitions are for schools and they target ‘participation’ as their goal. The national system should step out of it. In fact few decades ago, tournaments had only the under 18 events. National systems must target to enhance the ‘Tennis-Standard’ in the country. This alone will bring the glamour and excitement Tennis had in this country for 100 years. Nothing promotes sports as the ‘thrill of skills’.

Doubles must be bought back as the first level of open competition for broad-base skill development. Doubles’ gives confidence to play from all positions of the court. Today, local Tennis has become a ‘well behind the base line’ affair. Not at all attractive to watch as the players only rely on opponents errors and not entertain tactical play. All these can be made to happen if the first steps are taken to change the format of competitions in local tournaments.

Today, our players are not in any of the major rankings of the world. With the tail-end of the 2014 European Tennis season, local calendar has two of our major events; The Colombo Championships and the Sri Lanka Nationals. These two events reflect the status and the standard of our Tennis. In its best years, these two events attracted players from at least five neighboring countries.Foreigners won these titles many times but never easily. The local challenge went up to the finals in men’s and often our women dominated the championships. The spectatorship these events attracted in the past, made Tennis tournaments major social events in Colombo. This attraction has waned and today few even know that these events exist. The local scene is crying for ‘new thinking’ and ‘change’ to suit the times and the world Tennis scene!

-George Paldano, former international player; Accredited Coach of Germany, ITF and USPTR; National, Davis Cup and Federation Cup Coach–

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