It is possible to map improvement over time, and the important feature is the gradient of improvement. The value of any academy is not in the big names of players or coaches on their books, nor in the splendour of their facilities, but in the contribution the academy has actually made to each player's improvement. We can prove graphically that we have achieved exceptional improvement with almost every player who has trained with us for 3 years or more.
Coaches in Britain generally work to a very narrow brief. Development coaches never get much of a chance to do any performance work at the top end, because their best players quickly get moved on to a "High Performance Centre" or to a national squad. Conversely, most performance coaches (in particular those in charge of national squads) have very little experience of actually laying down sound early foundations in a player.
It is like having one chef who only knows what ingredients are required for a recipe, but doesn't know how to cook it, and another chef who does understand the general cooking process but has little knowledge of sourcing the best ingredients. This might well produce a tasty meal but it is very unlikely to be gourmet. Likewise in tennis we do not believe that this kind of model, where different coaches only know different parts of the journey, can produce the gourmet equivalent of a tennis player.
Our Director of Tennis is one of the very few coaches in Britain who has taken a player from beginner level all the way through to a senior world ranking - and he is probably the only one to do so independently, on a very modest budget and in the space of 5 years. He has travelled the entire journey from development to high performance (both as a coach and as a player), and our coaching is based on his methods and experiences that have been refined over time.
He is personally responsible for the planning and progress of every single one of our players and spends on-court time with each player on a weekly basis. In order to provide this level of individual attention, our focus is not on having large numbers of players on our books but on a limited number with the right attributes, the right attitude, the potential to go all the way, and the willingness to follow our methods.
We plan for long term success rather than just hope for it. This means that the risk of player burnout is a real consideration for us and we are mindful of the need to get the balance of quantity and quality absolutely right. We must equip our players to compete against the products of increasingly extreme training methods while ensuring that we do not put so much mileage on their young minds and bodies that by the time they are 16 they suffer from burnout. We do not fill their every spare minute with tennis and we do not drag them around the country in pursuit of ratings or rankings, while ensuring that they are improving fast nevertheless.
We do not tolerate the bad behaviour and blatant cheating that seems to be so prevalent these days in junior tennis. We expect our players to behave with courtesy, respect and sportsmanship at all times. Most importantly, we insulate our players from the pressures that cause such behaviour in the first place, and we equip them to handle effectively situations where they are on the receiving end of such behaviour from opponents.
We ask parents to leave all the worrying to us, relax, focus on being good parents and creating the best home environment for their child. Home should be a tennis-free zone. In time, tennis could become a high pressure environment for their child and parents should be there to nurse, support, comfort - and distract where necessary. Parents should NOT be getting caught up in the high pressure themselves! If a parent is unable to take their child to the cinema or simply have a laugh and a joke with them because they have argued about tennis, then there is a problem. Many parents do not realise that, in the long term, there is a very real risk to the parent-child relationship itself if they become too obsessed by their child's tennis.
We do not encourage parents who like to sit around watching every training session and every practice match intently. We do not encourage parents to analyse and dissect their child's performances, obsess about ratings and rankings or to try to help out with the coaching. We certainly do not condone bullying of their child as a method for getting results. Competitive tennis is a long journey and a real test of nerve for parents. For the child it must be fun and enjoyable while being tough and challenging. It can be easy to panic and make wrong decisions in haste, so just leave it all to us. We know what we are doing and we are very good at what we do. Parents can certainly rely on us to enforce the discipline and hard work that will be required of their child.