There is always so much talk about why the USA has so few players in the top 100 world tennis rankings. We are constantly criticizing our youth development programs, trying to figure out why the Americans aren’t as successful as perhaps the Spaniards. I don’t think the question is that hard to answer. Just ask any tennis player who has come up through the tennis circuit or anyone who has tried their hand at the Pro Circuit. It really is simple. It’s too darn hard to make a living at it. If you want to make some decent money to support a family, there are easier ways to do it.
Let’s think about it for a moment. I can go to college and work relatively hard for four years and get a college education in something like business or engineering. At the end of those four years I can enter the work force and start making around $40,000 per year salary. Not too bad. (Not to mention I’d be making around $100,00/yr within ten years) Or I can go to college for four years, work relatively hard on my education and work my butt off on the tennis court playing tennis for a D1 college. At the end of the four years I hope I have worked hard enough to earn my degree and a decent job or try my hand at the pro-circuit. Heading out on the pro circuit, I have no guaranteed income, only the guarantee that I am going to have to put out thousands of dollars in travelling expenses to travel to tournaments I hope I can get into. If I am lucky enough to get a win here or there I may make enough to cover my travelling expenses.
Are we starting to see the picture here. It isn’t that we don’t have good tennis players, it is that we have so many other great opportunities that tennis becomes a rather risky investment. We have heard or even made uttered the complaint ourselves that tennis scholarships are going to foreign students. The truth of the matter is a lot of American students won’t take the scholarship. I have spoken to several coaches and they will tell you that the American students are much harder to recruit. They are looking for the perfect fit between sport and education. The American students are looking at the education over the tennis in the majority of the cases and they are concerned about the commitment to the sport getting in the way of their studies. Tennis isn’t a sport like basketball or football where you can use college as the stage to highlight your athletic skills so you can be recruited to a professional sports team and sign a multimillion dollar contract. In tennis you are on your own.
If you went to the local 7-11 to buy your weekly lottery ticket and had the choice of a ticket that guaranteed a $40,000 pay out or a ticket with a 0.0009% chance of winning a million, which would you buy? The majority of us would take the guarantee. So you see it is because we from a country filled with opportunity that we fall behind in the number of tennis players in the top 100 world rankings. We have choices in schools providing outstanding educations, and we have choices in jobs to make unlimited income.
You may not agree with me but I think we need to stop complaining about the lack of representation in the ATP and start celebrating the fact that we have so many other opportunities. Just a thought.
(There is of course the whole argument about the cost of training to get to the elite level required to become successful. If they truly want more Americans in the top 100, someone needs to start paying for the training so it makes sense for someone to take the risk.)