by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer
In 1967, I was giving coaches clinics in Buenos Aires,
Argentina. The theory, at that time, was to start children playing tennis
when they were ten, or eleven, years old. I still have film of the first
classes for five and six year old children I conducted to prove that little
kids could love, and benefit, from the game.
I also have film from a 1980 trip to Shanghai, China, where I also conducted
the first classes for five and six year old children. It was a real joy
watching the little kids go crazy for tennis. The Chinese also felt that it
would be best to expose tennis to children at age 10 or 11.
But, I may have done a disservice to some children whose growth and
development maturation schedules reach their pinnacle much later than most
others. Bill Tilden didn't win his first major championship until he was in
his late twenties. Californian, Bob Sherman, started playing tennis in his
late twenties and not long after that, he won the U.S. national 35 and over
championship. I've been told that tennis is played at such a high level
today that late starters in tennis have no chance to succeed on a national
level. I wonder about that.
I love to point out that Stan Smith couldn't even get better players to
practice with him when he was fifteen years old. As Stan puts it, "I use to
get my feelings hurt when players wouldn't even consider practicing with me
because I wasn't up to their playing level". But Stan got the last laugh as
he won the U.S. National Juniors at eighteen and followed that feat with
championship trophies at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
My interest stems from observations of super stars in several sports that
convinced me that champions are products of 50% genetic components and 50%
environmental forces. The fact that other countries on this planet have
discovered the great sport of tennis, and are encouraging their most
genetically talented athletes to try tennis, has resulted in shoving many
young talented American players to the sidelines. It doesn't mean the United
States lacks potential champions, it simply means that there are too many
sports in America waiting to drain the talent pool. For example, tennis is
the number two sport in the Netherlands. Though tennis is the world's
greatest sport, it ranks further down the line in the United States. That
means there are many other sports grabbing potential tennis champions to
their game. We know that recent "all out" efforts by all U.S. tennis
organizations have boosted the number of active tennis players. But a major
question to be answered is: "Are our efforts successful in getting a major
share of the genetically wired potential champions?"
I suspect there are many potential super tennis talents out there and I
would like to conduct an experiment to prove my theory. Right now, I have
been organizing a team of top U.S. scientists who can help me quantify human
athletic potential. As I am 76 years old, I'm not interested in a ten year
plan to prove the reliability and validity of my theory.
But I am interested in establishing a facility where such a theory of late
development can be quantified. At this point, I haven't found many
supporters. As a matter of fact, some think the theory is bizarre. I can't
get it out of my head that Michael Jordan had a difficult time making his
high school basketball team for lack of talent. I still have memories of
Satchel Paige pitching a major league baseball game when he was 50 years
The U.S. High Performance Program, now called the "Player Development
Program", can't afford to waste time with such a theory. The administrators,
Eliot Teltscher and Jean Nachand, are under great pressure to produce
American Champions. Yet, I see in the United States, a diminishing number of
genetically wired potential champions, while other countries have an
increase of talent.
No one wants to produce champions more than Eliot Teltscher and Jean
Nachand, but they can only work with people who are sent to them. They also
have to focus more attention on younger children in order to have sufficient
time to guide them to glory days.
Eliot and Jean need our help. If there is another Stan Smith out there, I
would like nothing better than to prove that, an older player who has the
right gene pool, can make it to the top with the right environmental
guidance. It doesn't hurt to dream. No potential tennis champion should ever
be left behind.
Vic Braden is a longtime sports science researcher, licensed psychologist and the founder of Vic Braden Sports Instruction and the Vic Braden Tennis College, which are held nationwide at premier resorts. He has produced sixteen instructional videos that incorporate his research and his coaching knowledge.
Vic has authored six books, contributed to publications such as Sports Illustrated, and continues to author editorials for several publications such as Tennis Week and Tennis Life. In addition, he has appeared on popular television shows including NBC?s Today Show, hosted his own television shows on PBS and ESPN, and provided televised tennis commentary for numerous professional events.
His lighthearted approach is endearing, and his motto of ?Laugh and Win? has helped shape the resoundingly positive attitudes of decades of students. In his books, videos, Tennis Colleges, and speeches, Vic strives to teach effectively and connect with students on a personal level, aiming to uncover the ?genius to perform? that he believes rests in every individual.
Working with famous sports researchers for several decades, Vic finds great joy in passing on new and valuable information. He strives to help students maximize their performance and enjoyment of this great sport in the shortest period of time. In our (thoroughly biased) opinion, Vic is ?simply the best!!!?