Junior tennis is about players under 18, after this we progress to the Men’s/Women’s Circuit. The primary objective of a good coach and parent is to make sure that the child ‘PLAYS UP’, i.e. ensure that when the player is under 12, she is competing in the Under-14 group, and when 16, she is playing the Under-18 group. This is a proven and tested method to improve rankings and performance. Unfortunately in India, many think the opposite. They want immediate results, so they start cheating on their age. You can get a birth year changed in India quite easily so players who are 14 are made to play Under 12 and so on. This carries on till sometimes, you have 21 year olds playing Under 18. This is a very dangerous move but regretfully, more and more people are doing this.
These parents do not realise that after 18, the big league starts and it doesn’t matter. Men’s or Women’s tennis doesn’t care about your age. However, chasing trophies or certificates seems to be more important for some. One can get admission into a decent college while doing this too. These are short-term benefits and do not count in the long run.
Ideally, one’s child should be ‘playing up’ till 18 years of age. Thereafter, several options appear. In case your ward is doing exceptionally well, he can apply for a US college admission with a full scholarship. There are specialised agencies doing this work who tell you where and how to apply. The US has a very organised and well-respected Inter College/ Varsity contest called the NCAA. This is as good as pro tennis. John Isner and Somdev Devvarman are two names that come to mind immediately. There are many, many more. This route ensures that your child gets an education and there is no break in her studies. At the end of college, she along with her parents and coaches can take a call on whether to turn pro or not.
Turning pro is not a joke. It means that the player has to be very good, must have the fitness levels required and the mental strength to travel 10 months of the year. At a modest estimate this costs Rs 1.25 crore a year. So please ensure that you have the funds before even thinking about this route. It is only when you break the top 100 of the ATP that you start making money. Till then you will be spending on travel, food, coaches, equipment, etc. But on the other hand, your child will have an education to fall back on.
The other route is what the Williams sisters and others did. They kept playing up to 10 hours a day and gave the game 120% effort. They started the tournament circuit from scratch and proved to the world that they can do it. This is a highly risky method and I would not advise it, unless you are super talented.
Remember, for every Maria Sharapova, there are probably a 1000 girls as talented who are now waitresses at McDonald’s. As a top 10 player said,‘ This is the world’s hardest working job and the world’s best job.’
(Shekhar Menon has been teaching tennis for the last 30 plus years, mainly in the NCR. He is qualified by the AITA/ITF and the PTR to teach worldwide. Many Davis Cup and Fed Cup players have been coached by him.)