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LPGA: PROFESSIONAL ATHLET FORUM
December 7, 2005
DR. BETSY CLARK: Welcome back. Our panel this afternoon you've heard a lot about already. You've heard it from CEO of the WTA, Larry Scott. You've heard it from Carol. Little bits and pieces about the 10-year WTA study.
We wanted to take the opportunity for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour to really explain what they did with this 10-year study. We think it's a great model, and we do think it's one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind, if not the only one of its kind, that has been done so far.
So on the 10-year anniversary of the inception of its Professional Development Department, the WTA Tour launched what is believed to be the most comprehensive review ever undertaken in any sport regarding age-related developmental programs and age eligibility rules.
The Tour's Professional Development Advisory Panel headed by Dr. Carol Otis had analyzed various aspects of the programs annually since their inception in 1995. But this review was intended to be far more extensive scientifically studying data, trends, and program results over time.
Our panel this afternoon will share more about the findings of this landmark study and, more importantly, the implications for professional development initiatives and successful transitions.
Please welcome again Dr. Carol Otis, Chairperson of the Tour's Professional Development Advisory Panel, who will lead the discussion and presentation (applause).
DR. CAROL OTIS: Thank you so much, Dr. Clark, and for letting us be part of this wonderful forum and for all of your efforts to put it together.
What I'm going to be presenting about today about the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Professional Development Panel is really the work of so many people. The two people I want to credit the most are Ashley Keber, who is over here on your left -- your right, sorry.
ASHLEY KEBER: I'll wave.
DR. CAROL OTIS: Kind of scary when you have a right-left confusion. Ashley has been with the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour for nine years. She's the heart, soul, legs, eyes, ears of the professional development program. She works on the road with the players on a day-to-day, one-on-one basis, and she also works to implement the Age Eligibility Rule.
Kathleen Stroia is the Vice President for Professional Development on the WTA Tour. She's been with the Tour for more than 15 years, worked originally with the panel 10 years ago when we were first formed, and is currently a member of the panel as well as directing the day-to-day efforts of the Sports Sciences and Medicine Department and the Professional Development Panel, as well as the Professional Development Department. She has a huge job, and we're just so glad you could both be here today.
I'm going to review a little bit about the rule, if I could have the first slide, and how we got there. So I think that the very first thing to talk about is the history of age limits on the WTA Tour.
Ever since the beginning of the Open era in tennis in the mid '60s, there have been age eligibility rules. There were various forms and shapes of the rule, but there were elements of a rule for players before they could play professional tournaments.
In 1993 there was widespread concern in the tennis world that young players were getting burned out, were retiring prematurely, or were getting injured. Actually, the Players Association, through their president, came to the WTA Tour at that time and asked for a review to be done of the current age rule back in 1993.
At the time, the Tour commissioned a panel of independent experts to review the current rule and also to find out what was going on in the world of tennis. The format that we followed then was to go to the constituents on the Tour, which were both players, current and retired, and members of the tennis community - people like parents, agents, coaches and sponsors, as well as members of the media - and we kind of tested the waters to see what was going on. We found at that time that there was widespread concern about what was happening to young women when they entered the professional world. Part of that concern was about what they were facing as the stressors.
So I'll show you some of the results of what we learned when we first looked at the rule in 1993, and then what we did again when Commissioner Larry Scott commissioned a review of the first 10 years of the rule and the programs.
So right now, in 1996 until 2004, we have had a more stringent age rule in place. The principles of the rule are that it be merit-based, meaning that someone must be earning their way in. It should be dynamic. The rules should be evolving and changing as we learn more things or as the world of tennis is impacted. And it also should be phased in so that young players have a certain amount of professional play and then they can be phased in to more play.
The other principle about the rule is that it is reviewed by an outside panel of experts as well as the programs once a year.
We've had, from the first review in 1993, we had compelling testimony from players and from other members of the tennis community that young girls of ages 14 and 15 were not ready to participate in the adult world.
As part of the result of that review, we knew that there are differences in the developmental tasks that young children, as well as adolescents go through. We talked about that a little bit earlier. We know that girls and boys go through the development of adolescence at different rates and at different time periods.
So we knew that there was not going to be just one rule that worked for everyone. We wanted to take into account what some of the youngest players are facing in terms of cognitive and social skills, what they need to develop, and if they skip that developmental stage, what might be some of the risks to them.
Also, their physical characteristics. If they haven't gone through the growth spurt of puberty, they're at more risk for certain problems and may have other issues that would create injury or not allow them to compete in the adult world.
We know as they go from children to being adolescents, this is one of the greatest transitions in life. It's a transition that occurs across all parts of their body and their mind. An adolescent is someone who believes that they can win Wimbledon, but yet they may not have the social skills to design a path to get there. That's some of the greatest part about adolescence, is that dreaming, that risk-taking, believing that they can do what no one else has done.
On the other side, we know that cognitively they're not fully developed, and that emotionally and psychologically they have other developmental goals to hit.
In terms of physical development, we also know that the growth spurt that occurs at the time of puberty, as well as the dramatic changes in body composition that occur to women as well as men, can also impact their injury potential and their potential for success.
Taking into account some of the issues that a young girl goes through as she transitions through adolescence, enters the adult world, we wanted to keep in mind that all growth is not linear, that everybody goes through this phase at different steps in time; that part of the development is that each player has to understand what's normal for her as well as what's normal for the peer group. The other concerns that we have for these players is that they are well-adapted so that they are the whole person and not just a player.
So since development takes place over time and at different paces, when we looked at the rule and the programs, we designed them to be developmentally appropriate for players from the ages of 14 to 18.
So some of the things that we did in the review were to do a literature review. We commissioned an independent expert to look at all the literature that was out there, in sports science and medicine, about what are the risks to participation in elite sports for young women.
Essentially we found that there is no published research study, but there are some review articles and some generalities we could make about those risks.
One of them is the physiological risks. That includes overuse injuries and injuries to the growth plates. The growth and development risks are well-established, and these include individuals that never go through the correct developmental stages, that don't develop correct peer group associations, who are at risk for psychological problems or psychological injuries.
We also know that young women, if they are pressured to be unrealistically thin, may develop something called the "female athlete triad." That's a combination of conditions that include disordered eating, that then goes on to menstrual irregularity, and finally to low bone mass in young women that could show up as a stress fracture.
Finally, we do know that there's a lot of benefits to participation in sport, but those benefits need to be tempered with some of the psychological risks.
So given that was our literature background, we then decided the best way to approach this issue was to go directly to the people affected, people who are playing in the professional tennis world. We found out that when we reviewed the stressors, as I showed earlier, we have some different stressors perceived by the players back in 1994. Most of the people in that initial review said that they felt that the age rule needed to be modified, but they went on further to talk about what is happening to adolescents in the adult world, and these are the stressors that they listed.
For the players, you can see: Media, parents and family, loneliness, some of the other external factors such as pressure from agents, were their No. 1 stressors. People from the tennis community and the sports science community saw different stressors, but you can see in there, there's a lot of synchrony between what both sides of the tennis community saw were stressors.
What we determined is that an age rule alone, whether it's phased in, dynamic and developmentally appropriate, was not going to address all of the issues that adolescents face. The adolescents and the former and retired players told us that we needed to put more things in place. And in 1994, they gave us some suggestions. But what our panel did at that time was give feedback to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour about some of the most important programs to put in place. They are listed here.
These programs have been developed and evolved and implemented over the last 10 years by Ashley and Kathleen and their staff, and they will be able to answer more details about them.
But some of the highlights of the program include media training, which we know is very essential for the professional entertainment world. We also do a great deal of coaches' education because we know that the primary influencers of the players are their coaches. We have a formalized program in which they get registered with the WTA Tour, they have one-on-one orientation, they sign a coach's code of ethics which is enforced if it's not abided to, and then they are able to get annual seminars and interactions with some of the professionals on the Tour.
We also have a very dynamic player orientation program. It's done on a one-on-one basis. Primarily Ashley has developed this and implemented it with the young players as they come on the Tour. It includes a notebook, a very interactive CD ROM, as well as a quiz that they have to take and pass. They also get to meet everybody in the professional world of tennis one-on-one, so they get to know what that person's job is and how to interact with them.
We talked a little bit earlier about the mentor program. That's been one of our most successful programs. Over 50 pairs have been matched. Almost everybody in the program has really enjoyed being part of it.
The initial response to the mentor program is some individuals were concerned that the mentors who are retired players who have volunteered to be mentors would be taking over some of the coaching duties, and actually that was not what was intended nor has happened at all. Instead, the mentors have been a resource for the proteges or the young players to talk to about off-the-court issues - how did you handle something like your first loss or the first time you walked on center court. Some of our player matchups have continued to be friends even after they've ended their mentor-protege relationship.
There's also an extensive athlete assistance program that includes a variety of services including some preventive medicine and preventive psychological topics. There is a monthly newsletter that goes out, and you have three copies of that newsletter in the back of your handouts. It's called, "Physically Speaking," and it's mailed out to all the professional players and their team members and is posted on the site at tournaments and has been a great resource. Feel free to take a look at that, some of the "Physically Speaking" handouts. One of the topics that's in the back of your notebook reviews what we found in the 10-year review.
Some of the other programs that we've done are career education, which pairs an individual athlete's interest with what some programs might be for her on and off court, and there have been some efforts to get some distance learning started.
These programs are also well described in your handout with a two-page handout about the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour professional development programs.
What we also did in the 10-year review, as I'm going to show you some of the evidence-based scientific approach that we took, to looking at what the impact is of the rule as well as the programs I just mentioned.
The process that we followed was a charge set to us by Commissioner Larry Scott who wanted to have an independent panel of experts review what the Tour had done in the last 10 years. So he said to us, steering a committee up of members of the tennis community and help formulate the questions to be answered, and then he commissioned a panel. We met over one year. We had a series of charges to us from the CEO, one of which was to evaluate and identify the advances in sports science and medicine that have helped or impacted young players.
The second thing was to evaluate the findings for any research that we did to see how they affected the well-being and the career longevity of athletes.
We also wanted to look at opportunities to link with other sport governing bodies, particularly in tennis but also with people in the room today. So we welcome that opportunity as one of the outgrowths of the study.
And then finally we wanted to really educate the tennis and sports science community about what the issues are for adolescent athletes, and how we can all work together to help improve the world and ease that development transition.
So those were the charges that Commissioner Scott gave the panel, and what we did is we looked at a year-long study where we had independent statisticians help us design a questionnaire, and the questionnaire was sent out to over 1,000 people in the tennis community. This included junior tennis.
We got an extraordinary response rate from the professional tennis community and former players and current players. We had over 80% of people in the professional tennis community take this validated 16-item questionnaire. We had lower response rates from the ITF Juniors, so I'm not going to present that data today.
The panel also met as a group and we heard oral testimony from over 30 people in tennis including former players, parents, agents, coaches, and media representatives, and they talked to us directly about what the stressors, what the challenges are, what works, and what they would like to see in place.
So our primary emphasis was to go to the constituents, find out how they evaluated the programs and the rule, and what they also thought were the continuing stressors.
In addition to this, we had been doing annual evaluations of the rule and of the programs each year done by the independent panel, and also questionnaires were given each year to the players when they had their physicals.
We had the independent statisticians then look at career statistics, and most of this is also in your handout. The career statistics were looking at all professional players who were ranked in the top 225 from 1970 until the present time. We were able to take snapshots of a large number of players and look at their career longevity.
The literature review I presented a bit about, and then you can just go back one slide, the final element of the review was that the panel members also kind of applied their expertise and knowledge about what the tennis world is like.
So let's go on to some of the results here. When the members, the 628 people, 80% response rate, asked if there should be limits to participation on tournaments, over 85% said yes.
When asked individual comments, some of the comments they made about this is it allows growth and development and it also protects individuals from burnout and injuries.
Over 85% of the respondents, both players and members of the tennis community, said, yes, a phase-in approach to gradual play at the professional level was indicated.
75% had favored restrictions on play for players under the age of 18.
So that was very confirming evidence. The people who were affected by the rule, who lived under the rule, favored all of the principles of the rule.
We have several comments from players who talked about what the rule meant to them. I can tell you personally what players have told me. They said everybody wants to play, everybody wants to be out there, everybody wants to do what they've been training to do, but "the rule held me back a bit and it may have kept me from overplaying."
One of the No. 1 players in the world had this to say about the rule, because sometimes hindsight is a great advantage, but many times these adolescents and their team members don't have that hindsight.
The other question that we had was then to evaluate the programs, some of the programs that I listed to you there.
We wanted to find out what programs they felt effective and whether they were necessary, and over 91% of the tennis community and 90% of the players felt the programs were necessary and they gave them very, very high rankings on effectiveness, both from the players and from the tennis community.
The other thing we asked them about is what programs were the most valuable to them. Players had been evaluating the programs every year, but this is the first time we did it on a widespread assessment, and the programs were rated one-to-five. The most effective programs were the support services that they received on a day-to-day basis from the on site sports science and medicine department. This department not only treats their injuries on site, but starts prehabilitation in the off-season, helps them train for the season, and then follows them when they're off-road. It's a very, very comprehensive plan where they get care whether they're playing or not and having their needs addressed.
The second most valued program was a real surprise to me, but it was the annual physical exam. I think that that was so valuable. It's done on site at the tournaments because it's built in a little bit of a competition to see how well they're doing in terms of muscular strength and core stability. Anyway, that was our second highest rated.
The athlete assistance program in which there is the "Physically Speaking" topics as well as assistance for athletes, media training, the career development programs, and then the rookie hours were the top six programs that they valued as being effective.
We also asked the players and the tennis community again what their stressors are because we wanted to find out what has happened since the program has been put in place. We asked them about 25 different stressors, asked them to rate each one on a one to five scale. The results that we found is that the stressors have changed since the programs have been in place. They changed dramatically from external stressors such as the media and their parents and family, to ones that we'd expect to see more commonly in a sport such as injuries and travel.
This material is all in your handout as well.
The final thing we looked at was a very, very detailed statistical analysis of the careers of players. And the firm of statisticians that we worked with were social science statisticians, independent of the Tour. They took all of the data from players' careers from 1970, as I said, until 2004. So it was a total of 527 players. We looked at players who had started playing before age 18, and we found 412 players that had started before the age rule limits were put into place in 1994, and 115 after the age rule limits, as well as the player development programs.
They were able to find out that the median career length of players who played after the rule was in place was increased significantly. It was 24% longer. And depending upon the length of career we looked at, that could be anywhere from two to five years longer.
Now, some of that data had to be manipulated statistically because some of the careers are not completed yet, but looking at similar nine-year career lengths, we could see that the median career length had increased by at least 24%.
Also significant was the rate of players leaving the Tour at or before the age of 21. We had a significant number of players who were burning out or retiring prematurely before 1994. That was about 7% of all players who turned professional before age 18.
However, since the rule and the professional development programs, we have had only one player out of 115 retire at or before the age of 21, and that is statistically significant and I think a very dramatic outcome from putting programs as well as rules in place.
We also looked at the probability of careers lasting a certain length of time. Nobody goes into a career in anything expecting it to only last three to five years; they want it to last as long as possible. That's an advantage to the business, to the agents, to the sponsors as well as the athlete. We found that the chance of a WTA Tour player who turns professional before age 18 of having a 15-year career had increased by a chance of 73%.
We saw a dramatic change in career longevity and premature retirement and the ability now of players to have a longer career.
We modeled this effect whether it was just the age rule and professional development programs alone or whether other factors were also in play, and we've done the graphs that you can see here. Both of them are in the handout.
We found that about half of the effect was probably due to changing social and medical care conditions, and the other half was due to the Age Eligibility Rule and the professional development programs. So that's why you see two graphs in your handout, and they did take into account those both effects.
The last thing I wanted to show you is what has been the impact on the average age on the Tour since there's been restriction to the Age Eligibility Rule. We found some very interesting facts. Number one is that the average age a player is on the Tour is a little bit older, maybe by about a year. The age range back in 1993, Martina Navratilova was still playing in singles, so she was the 37-year-old (laughter). We didn't include any data from doubles in 2004, otherwise we would have had someone in her 40s. But the age ranges were comparable for both time periods, pre rule and post rule.
The number of players who made it in the top 225 is rare, even though everyone dreams they can be No. 1 at age 14 or 15, the reality is that doesn't happen. It's a developmental process.
We also found that the average age of individuals turning professional had not changed to be a higher age. In fact, since the age rule and the professional development programs, players are turning professional about a year younger, they're turning professional at 15.3 compared to 16.2 years. They're declaring to play on the pro tour and they appear to be lasting longer on the Tour.
This, again, echoes the statistics from career longevity and length of the career. Players are turning professional younger and the average age on the Tour is a year older. Those were very confirming statistics to see.
After this review, the seven panel members did sit down and make recommendations. I'd just like to review some of the recommendations that we made back to Commissioner Larry Scott, and that's on the next slide.
The recommendations that we made are that definitely we should continue the professional development programs; they should be strengthened and they should try to reach the youngest players on the Tour as early as possible.
We also felt there was great value in the phase-in approach in which the amount of play on the professional tour is gradually increased with each year, and that individuals earn their way into any additional tournaments.
We felt that we could evolve and help the Age Eligibility Rule and the professional development programs by having some increased play for age 16- and 17-year-old players, particularly when they fully participated in the programs.
We also looked at some of the worldwide scope of tennis in which a lot of play is occurring on the ITF and junior circuit, occurring around the world, and we strongly recommended that the dose of tennis for junior players be combined and that we looked at a combined rule between the ITF and the WTA Tour.
We thought it's very important to develop synergies and cooperation between all the tennis governing bodies and that we look at individual periodization for players so that they learn to play a certain amount of time and then take a break or look at a longer off-season.
So those were the major recommendations that we took ahead to the WTA Tour. I'm going to have a few comments. Ashley Keber is going to elaborate on a case study and some of the individual characteristics that we have of the adolescents playing on the Tour, and then all three of us would like to be available to have some question and answers.
So, Ashley, if you could help us a little bit with the case study and go over some of the material that you've been working with on a day-to-day basis.
ASHLEY KEBER: Thank you, Carol. If I can build on what she said, which is always outstanding, so I'm not sure exactly what to add except for I've been in the trenches for nine years, I'm the person who's on the other end of the line when the parents with the special child, the agent with the fantastic player, or the coach with the phenom calls.
That is a wonderful challenge because I get to work with the best people in the business, and that includes these individuals by my side, the other professional development personnel who's in the room, as well as these young champions.
But if I'm going to speak to you about who we're working with and what that case study involves, I just wanted to take a moment to show you who is that top constituency. As you can see, there are players from all over the world, so we have to take into account a variety of cultures and backgrounds, what is typical. Then also if you look at the age range, we are still in that same age range from 16 to 33. We have about 10% of our constituency that is the up-and-comers. They are sustaining their growth and they're competing at the high level. Almost 20% who are 28 and beyond, which we think is fantastic because those are the names that you know; those are the people like the Mary Pierces, the Lindsay Davenports, who are essential to the game, who are still excelling at a high level, and are so valuable from the business aspect, and as well as many people have touched on today, in mentoring that next group of athletes who are coming through and really being role models for people inside the sport and outside the sport.
As far as those who have participated in professional development, we have anyone who's 21 years of age or younger and currently in this group, they have participated fully in our program. That's good news. We're really hitting that new generation.
We have almost all of the Top 50 players who have participated fully in the programs. And, again, a far greater representation of the Top 150 who have participated fully.
If we go into one particular player who shall remain nameless, and I think that's important because one of the points I'd like to make is that any athlete who comes through as "special" or perhaps she's presented as not as special, have the same opportunities in our educational programs and within the merit-based portions of the rule to achieve these opportunities. So we did choose someone that I think you'll see as we go through and finish with her career achievements at such a young age, she's already accomplished a good bit.
If we start with her at age 14, I'm going to go through a couple different areas here because you'll see how they link in and what she did professional development-wise with where she was in her age, how much she could play, and what her ranking was.
This athlete started at age 14, which is our minimum age requirement on the WTA Tour. She was playing four events. You can see at age 17 she had progressed to 20 professional events on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, which is a full plus schedule at age 17. Again, we're talking about a titrated dose of tennis. We're talking about regulations. But because this athlete had earned it, she was playing more than a full schedule, so the opportunities do exist.
I also want to make the point that don't be fooled. Just because at age 14 it said she played four professional events, she did not just play four tournaments that year. She was competing in the junior tournaments, perhaps some exhibitions, perhaps representing her nation in play.
So just as many of us have amateur leagues, this is a great representation of winning at every level. We want these athletes to progress in a systematic way so that they do learn how to compete against their peers because anyone who's in the top of their field of coaching is going to say it's essential that someone understands how to win against someone they're supposed to win against. This is, again, someone who's taken that very graduated approach.
If you look at her age, from age 14, we were introduced to her, we worked with her a little bit, we kind of gave her the brief on, What are you going to be doing? We expect to see you out here on the Tour, and we're going to be working with you closely, so here's the heads-up on what we'll be doing.
As she got to age 15, we're seeing her a lot more often. She's playing in 10 professional events in her birth year. You can see that we started the programs and intensified them. She completed her orientation. She had to do her physical examination, which, according to Carol, she enjoyed immensely. And we also started working very closely with her team - her parents, her coaches, her agents.
You also notice that she had to provide to us proof that she is completing her minimum education requirements of her country. We find that to be a very important part of the development of these young women, is that while we in no way expect them to be normal individuals, they are outstanding and phenomenal, their academic and their education is so important that they have to at least ensure that they are meeting the educational requirements of their country in order to compete on our circuit.
If we look at her ranking in here, she, at age 14, in that year, she still debuted at a good rank there. By age 15 she had moved into that 153, and at age 16, when she was now playing 16 events, she had broken into the Top 20.
That is quite a jump, and if you then go over to the programs, you can see that's where we introduced that use of a mentor. Because while we're still working with her on her individual programs and taking her media training to another level because you can imagine, going from outside the Top 100 and then coming into the Top 20, and week in, week out you are competing in those semifinals and those finals, the amount of interviews, the amount of press conferences, the amount of pressure and expectations by your sponsors and endorsements is going to rise dramatically.
So we, in turn, raised the level of what we're doing with them and, again, introduced that all-important mentor who's been there, who's walked the walk, who knows what it feels like to walk out on Centre Court at Wimbledon and curtsy to the Queen, which can be more stressful to them than playing the No. 1 player in the world, as they've told us.
On to age 17, top two ranking. So if you look at her career achievements, she is a Grand Slam champion. She has many singles and doubles titles and almost $5 million in prize money to date.
We expect the continuation of many great things, and we're happy to report that as the Tour has progressed in our programs, and it has been a progression over the last 10 years of where the programs are - they did not start with all the ones that Carol recounted for you, we didn't start with all of those in 1995 when the programs began - we started with the rule and we started with the physical exam. So maybe that's why it's her favorite, it's the first one they ever had to do.
But by the time that we've gotten to this stage and someone like this athlete, we're going to be able to continue to work with her throughout her career and continue to reinforce the messages that were introduced to her from an early age on, and hopefully continue to make them relevant to her as she hits each additional stage of her career.
We've heard many of the other sports talk about when they have families, when they do travel with different people on the road, when they're traveling with a partner perhaps instead of a parent. Those are all different life moments and milestones, and can very much affect their performance, so we want to be with them every step of the way.
That's where it's imperative. Again, I credit the other professionals in the room. Your ability to build that rapport and build that trust with those athletes, so they know that they can come to you and that it's going to be confidential and that it's going to be respectful and that you have a genuine interest in helping them attain what they want to attain for no other reason than you believe in them and you believe in the sport. That's something huge and that's a credit to the people who are in this room.
If we can go to the next slide, this is just a pretty easy summary. What's worked for us is utilizing the research and the evidence and the science and having a rule. The rule is preventative. We know that no matter what, they want to play. They're teenagers. They don't know what they don't know, so they never think their bodies are going to break down. They never think they're going to have that injury. But that, combining it with the programs, has been the most effective, the way we've been able to do it.
We often think of our rule as one part of a multipronged approach. It's one part of the program. We don't think of the programs and the rule; the rule is a program out of ten.
So if we can go to the last slide, I want to take a moment to acknowledge. If you take a look at the names on the list, we feel very privileged and honored, and we feel like it's a star-studded cast of panel members who have agreed to work with us over the years. These are independent volunteers who give of their time and their expertise. I'm not always sure why, but I think it's because they're as passionate and want to see the best for these young women and the sport.
But you can see that they represent a variety of nations. So, again, we're hitting that cultural mark. They hit a variety of disciplines. They all have extensive experience in sports and medicine. We also include a legal advisor every step of the way to make sure that what we're doing is not coming from an Ivory Tower but works in the day-to-day business mold and can be utilized on a day-to-day experience.
I can tell you from my perspective, and this is a point that I'd like to make very clear, it's imperative to go to your constituents - our constituents are tournaments and players - and make sure that we're meeting their needs. They've lived the life. No one knows better than the athlete who's living the life or the parent who's with them, what they need and what is stressful. However, when you bring in the experts, remember, they don't know what they don't know. And so to dismiss or to not utilize this expert opinion when you're developing your program and progressing your program and devising what is necessary, it's really a miss.
I know for myself, when I have those difficult conversations, when I am presented with that, "Well, why can't I? I'm special, this is necessary," for me, there's nothing that's been more helpful than knowing that I have the backup who are professionals, who have multiple years of experience, and that it's sound, it's research-based, it's legally-based and it works. Thank goodness we have the 10-year review now because we're able to come back and say, "It is going to help you. You are going to be around this much longer. Maybe you can play two less tournaments this year, but you're going to be around for five more years to play." So that's the good news.
Again, if I can share something that's been very helpful for us, from a rules standpoint, is consistent implementation, treating athletes fairly. They live and die by rules when they're on the court or whatever their field of play is. If you can let them know that the opportunities exist for whoever is willing to take on those challenges and that it is treated fairly and there are no favorites, that everyone's your favorite as long as they meet the challenge, you earn a lot of credibility and a lot of the headaches -- you'll save yourself a lot of headaches along the way.
On that note, I would just like to thank everyone for coming and for giving us the opportunity to share what we do and what we are tremendously passionate about. Again, my colleagues who are in the room who have taught me so much in being able to work with them over the years and learn from what their programs are doing and what their sports are doing, because while we may have the research, I can tell you what other organizations are doing and their specific programs is mind-blowing and something we'd definitely like to take a page out of your book.
So thank you for that. I think we'll begin the questions (applause).
Q. Hi. Bonnie Thurston from the WNBA. I have a question about the mentoring program. I noticed in the case study that this particular player was matched up with a mentor at the age of 16. That's the first part of my question. Was that determined by when the mentoring program began or the age at which you felt she needed a mentor? And my second question is in the mentoring program, do you try to match the players up with retired players who share similar backgrounds, who might have come in with a certain skill set? Are you trying to set them up with athletes that maybe just are more interested in being part of the mentoring program?
KATHLEEN STROIA: The mentor program begins when a player -- all of our programs are developmentally introduced, and so we try to make them relative to the players at the different stages of their career. Because the program is merit-based, it's based on where they are in their ranking system.
So the elite phase of our program, we have -- our program is in three different phases - a rookie phase, an elite phase, and a premier phase. The mentor program is introduced at the elite phase. That's when the players reach the top 100 under the age of 18 in the program.
At that time they're introduced to the mentor program and they go through an introduction as a protege as well as what we talked about before, that the mentors also go through an orientation process. And then both the mentor and program, what we've developed over the years, is an assessment tool.
So a lot of their characteristics and combinations, we can identify that we're matching the player's goals with the right mentor. The athlete has the ability or the option to select who they want their mentor to be.
We've found most success with that. We didn't start out with that assessment tool, but we have introduced it since then, and the pairs seem to match better and they're able to meet the athlete's needs.
Q. For us, it comes back to performance on the court or in the field. Did your research reveal any statistics about those that have gone through the program and gotten life skills or educational benefits to also perform better on the court?
DR. CAROL OTIS: I don't think that was a particular question to correlate what they did in the program with their on-court performance, but what we did do is look at, say, the case study that Ashley presented. Could a player come through a program with age eligibility rules and still achieve a very high ranking? Yes.
We did look at what they felt were the most effective programs, what they benefitted the most from, but I don't think we correlated anything with where their ranking is now. Is that true?
ASHLEY KEBER: No, we didn't do that, but we have had the opportunity to -- just in the last five years we've had three players who attained the No. 1 ranking who have fully gone through the programs.
That may not sound like a lot, but I don't think we've had more than 15 or 16 players over the history of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour who have attained a No. 1 ranking. So that's a pretty high percentage, again, who have participated under the rule and been in the programs that have done it.
So we like to see that we've seen more movement in some of those top spots, you have more depth and more players able to take on those top pressures. So it could be anecdotal.
KATHLEEN STROIA: One other component to that is that what we do in the programs that we know is successful for the players and captures their interest is to make it relative to their game. So often, just in building life skills, we try to extrapolate, "This is what you're good at, and this is how it translates to life," and so we kind of reverse it. And sometimes like during the physicals, we actually look at their core stability. That's a very tangible example. We look at their core stability and we correlate that to their strength and power on the court and to their serve.
So we try to make everything relative to their game, so we try to pull that out into the programs as well and get their feedback. Feedback is constantly important. It is a review of everything that we do, as we talked about before.
Q. Yolanda Jackson, Women's Sports Foundation. I noticed in your slide there, in 1994, agents came up as being a stressor in both the players and the external elements. In 2004, they're nowhere on the list. I was just wondering what you did to affect that change (laughter). Is there an internal program for the agents as well?
DR. CAROL OTIS: Well, we did ask them if agents were a stressor in 2004, and they ranked the agents around 15 to 20. But I think a couple of things happened in the intermediate time. One was the players were educated one-on-one about how to choose an agent, how to choose a coach, how to tell if a person you're working with, a trainer, is qualified. So there's been individual education assisting players in making some of those choices.
I think another element of that is that we also have the agents, the coaches sign a code of conduct, and that's part of the agents being registered as one of the programs we implement. I didn't really mention it.
But we do have that contact with the agents, and I think Ashley and Kathleen could probably speak a little bit more about the agent issue.
ASHLEY KEBER: And I also want to say that remember one of the stressors was expectations, and those are not just internal expectations; those are external, which can include some of those individuals who are no longer named specifically - the parents, the agents, the coaches. I think they're definitely still a part of that mix.
And as Grant and I were talking about earlier today, if you can take the athletes through the process of understanding the questions that they're going to learn how to ask, and when they're 14 and 15 years old, they often don't think they're the ones that should be the main person in charge of their financial future, but to teach them those skills on the front end and to start asking questions of the people around them, has I think really started to create a bit of a cultural shift.
Q. Katie Curran from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. First of all, I just want to congratulate you on all of your work and sharing your information. I think it's a tremendous contribution. And I'm just curious in terms of developing programs, how do you engage other than the athletes, the coaches, the parents, to get this information and make it work?
KATHLEEN STROIA: I think one approach that we've used is, number one, is to expose them to the programs so they have -- they know that it's out there. So it becomes a resource for them. And to show them what value it can have when they're working with either their daughter or their player, if it's a coach, or a parent.
A key issue that we've had to deal with is working with the parents and identifying, really identifying role delineation, where we are not interested in being their parent or being a parent, and letting them know that, but that we are interested in sharing the knowledge that we have gained over the years in this type of environment that may assist them with guiding their daughter to a successful career.
So I think the key is to bring them into the mix, to provide them with the information, and hopefully enhance the tools that they can use as part of the process because they're a very important part of their daughter's development.
ASHLEY KEBER: If I can just tag on to that, too, when it comes to engaging the athletes, we do a lot of our training in a real environment. They're actually at a tournament. We work with them in real time. As much as we can encourage them to do things, and obviously we use mentors who are out of the game and who have the experience, there can be nothing more compelling than walking into the training room and saying, "I have to do my rookie hours," and being not quite sure of what it is, and then Venus Williams sitting on the training table going, "Oh, yeah, I did my rookie hours."
The young person stops, and they're like, "You did rookie hours?"
She's like, "Yeah, they were great. You'll learn a lot."
I mean, I wish I had 10 rookies in the room when she makes that statement because it's those players who are still competing who come back and say, "I wish I would have had this when I was coming through," and we've had a lot of players speak up very vocally about it, No. 1 athletes who are now in their twilight years of 29 to 33, reflecting on their careers. So that's in tandem to what you were saying.
DR. CAROL OTIS: The other thing we heard when we heard direct testimony from the players and their families and coaches was two things. Number one, the professional development staff is on the road, in the environment, is very visible and they're working from seven in the morning till midnight. So the players and the families can't avoid them. They really see these people on the road and they're part of their environment.
Then the other thing is those "Physically Speaking" newsletters, which one of the staff members Cathy Martin (phonetic spelling) does, at the back of your notebook, are visually attractive, are very appealing to look at, and they're put on the back of the bathroom stalls. That's the way the message has gotten across for the women. The men get it in a different format, but you can try that method as well.
Q. Have you had anybody, as great a program as this is, come along and challenge it, basically saying, "I'm an independent contractor. I'm different. I'm mature. I'm a woman. This is a great program, I just don't fit." Have they said, You're restricting my right to make a living"?
ASHLEY KEBER: It has happened, a legal challenge. Obviously, I think the individuals who start it were smart enough on the front end to know that that could be an issue which is, again, why we had a legal advisor the entire way.
It happened back in 1998. It was upheld in the Australian High Court, and the exact reasons that were given is because it was evidence-based, it was well-researched, it was fair, we're talking about minors, and they had many opportunities ahead of them.
There was also a study done by the "Sports Business Review," "Sports Journal Review," out of Tulane, and it was a case study that, again, in examining it even further, following this court case and then the progression of the rules and the programs, that their guess was that if it had to come to the court again that it would be upheld because of the reasons that I just mentioned.
And from the people who are looking to put programs in place, for us, we also have policies and procedures that if someone does want to challenge it or even just offer feedback and suggestions, because we do try and keep ourselves open to knowing what's in the environment, it has been a dynamic rule, but it's been very helpful for us to have a set standard so that, again, everyone is treated fairly and has the same forum and has the same way to go about approaching changes to the rules and the programs. We can identify it. If we're going to tap into individuals like a panel who have many other responsibilities, we need to do that in a respectful and systematic way.
DR. BETSY CLARK: I guess I still am running.
I'd like to thank Carol and Kathleen and Ashley for their presentation. I think it has given us all some really probe the insights into this research and may serve as a model for many of us as we continue our professional development initiatives.
So I want to thank you very much (applause).
At this time, I'm changing the last part of the program a little bit because we've run over a little bit into what was to be a break.
What I'd like to do is take the next few minutes before Commissioner Bivens comes up for some closing remarks to give everybody in the audience one last chance to ask us any questions or share any information. This was a forum about sharing, and I think all of you will agree that from the commissioner's panel to the expert panel to the case study panel this afternoon that we have had sharing. I hope you all walk away with at least - at least one take-away - that will help you with your programs or your athletes.
But just one last go-around for anybody in the room that has any questions. We've got some of the speakers still in the room. I know Larry Scott, Commissioner Bivens are still in the room. If you have any questions.
Q. Just one question. I'm just curious, this is wonderful that you've put this together. What are your next plans for next steps or follow up?
DR. BETSY CLARK: I'm going to let Commissioner Bivens -- this is her vision. I know I'm probably going to be part of it, but I'm going to let her lead the way on that one.
COMMISSIONER CAROYLN BIVENS: Before we officially close, I want to make sure - I hope I don't forget anybody - these kinds of things work because people who really care work at two, three, four o'clock in the morning to put together all those nice little brochures and handouts that we get, make sure things run smoothly during the day.
There are a couple people I want to make sure that we recognize. Laura Neal and Corrine from the LPGA I think are the two that are minus the most sleep from this week.
Behind the scenes we always have Judy Dickinson who is guiding anything having to do with our professional athletes, from the early stages to retirement. We call it cradle to grave, that frankly our veterans don't necessarily like (smiling).
Then, of course, last but not least, is Betsy Clark who's given us such a wonderful foundation from which to work.
I'd also like to say that while we're closing out today's session, I hope that we look at this as the beginning of a couple of things. Number one, I've seen a lot of us making notes furiously as these presentations and as the sharing is taking place. I know I leave with a lot of ideas for conversations to see what we might be able to adapt, and I hope that you all do as well.
So I'm sure we've exchanged business cards and contact information. So while we're closing out the official program today, this really should be the beginning of networking.
The second thing is, and, again, Betsy's idea but she's going to let me announce it, this is going to be the first annual. We decided based on as well as this went, we will work with the other sports leagues and we will make this an annual event. It will always be on a single topic.
So between now and next October/November, we'll get with all of you and decide what we think is the most pertinent to the broadest group.
In the meantime, I'd say thank you all very much for being part of the first annual, and have a wonderful holiday season (applause).
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