|Browse by Sport
|Find us on
UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 12, 2009
TIM CURRY: Thanks for joining us today for our conference call with Patrick McEnroe. Today is the one-year anniversary since Patrick started as general manager of the USTA's Player Development Program. Patrick is based out of the White Plains office but the Players Development Program has its headquarters at Boca Raton and a full-time training center at Carson, California. As part of Patrick's expanded outreach, we've also announced our first two Certified Regional Training Centers in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., at the end of last year. We will be naming more sites upcoming soon.
Currently the United States has more boys and girls in the top 100 of the ITF World Junior Rankings of any other country. The U.S. leads all nations with 13 boys in the top 100, while no other country has more than five. And there are 12 U.S. girls in the top 100, second only Russia's 14 and twice as many as any other nation. The United States is the reigning champion in the ITF's 14-and-under and 16-and-under junior team championships, and three of those four teams recently won the regional championships for this year to defend their titles in the fall.
That being said, we will open the call for questions for Patrick.
Q. Looking at all the numbers of the lack of American men in particular, and even women, in the top hundred, do you think these promising numbers of the junior players, is this going to turn that trend? Does it mean anything toward the future of the professional game?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, it means something. Obviously it doesn't mean everything. To be perfectly honest, I don't get too caught up in the junior rankings. Obviously we want our kids to do well. But our main goal is to try to prepare them as best we can to try to make it into the professional ranks, to have our kids maximize the game that they have.
It's a huge undertaking. I can't believe it's been a year. It's flown by so fast. But we've put together what we think is a very good team. We've got a strategy to try to include as many other coaches and academies and centers that are out there. That's part of what we call our Certified Regional Training Centers because we realize we can't do it alone, meaning just the USTA staff and the great coaches we have. We need to be cooperative with a lot of great coaches out there.
I guess the answer to your question is, it's good. We have a lot of juniors that we're excited about. But at the end of the day, it's trying to get them to the highest level, which is into the top hundred in the world.
So it certainly shows that there's potential there and that we have some excellent young players. But that step of getting from being a top junior towards being a top pro is probably the toughest part of the equation for young kids to make it.
We're excited about the way our program is coming together, the coaching philosophy that Jose Higueras is starting to implement and put in place. The kids that we've had a lot of connection with have been doing quite well. So I think that's a positive sign for us.
Q. Is it realistic to think that we can mimic player development systems that maybe you see in countries like France and Spain, or is that a goal at all for you?
PATRICK McENROE: No, we're not trying to mimic that. We're trying to do the best we can under the situations that we have. I mean, certainly we look at some of the things that they're doing in France or in Spain, in different countries, and try to understand what works for them.
But the reality is we're the USA. We're the biggest country out there from a geographic standpoint, or certainly one of the biggest. And so we have our own set of challenges to look at. So by no means do we think we're trying to copy what anyone else is doing. We're trying to do what we think works best for us.
Certainly the USTA made the decision a couple of years ago to open its own training center that we have now in Boca Raton. We have a full-time center, as well, in the Los Angeles area, where kids can come and train on a daily basis. So there's big steps as far as putting our money where our mouth is a little bit more.
At the same time we realize that a lot of great players have come through a lot of different ways in this country. A lot of it, whether it was a parent, whether it was a coach, whether it was an academy type of system, there's a lot of ways to skin the cat. So we're really trying to maximize all of those things. So it's a little bit of a potpourri, to be honest, as far as how do you put the whole thing together.
But we certainly realize that reaching out to as many people as we can, explaining to them what we're trying to do, the types of things we're trying to teach the kids, and hearing from those out there that have had success doing just that, developing top young kids from a young age. So we feel like we're in a unique situation, but we have a lot of resources and we have a lot of passionate people and we have a lot of talented kids.
Q. Patrick, I know there's a lot of reasons why tennis has struggled to attract the talent young. Is there anything you put your finger on that can kind of help with it being less cyclical? Seems like it comes in cycles, by happenstance.
PATRICK McENROE: That's a great question, and I'm not going to go into all the reasons because, quite honestly, in this job, they don't matter. I mean, we believe that we've been lacking somewhat in having a systematic approach to how we teach our kids overall and sort of what we call a coaching philosophy. Jose has been unbelievable in sort of implementing that within our own staff. As I said, we're trying to reach out to as many coaches out there and let them know the philosophy we have when it comes to movement, understanding how to play tennis, as opposed to how to hit the ball. So there are some fundamental things that we think if we can change and make an impact on, that that will help overall the development of our players.
Now, obviously, you know, I don't believe that you can necessarily create a champion. But I think you can create an environment where you're setting yourself up to find those champions a little bit easier.
It's pretty unusual that a champion comes sort of in a bubble, without competitive environments around them. So we're trying to maximize all of that. But we do feel that having the more structured approach to how we're coaching the kids that we're involved with is something that can help us create a lot more really good players. Then if you can do that, then we feel we have a better chance to find, you know, some of those great players that we found in the past in this country, based on the fact that, you know, they had great competition and they're great athletes.
Obviously, as we all know, the rest of the world has caught up, and tennis is as global as it's ever been. I don't need to go through the litany of factors. But I will say that we're not thinking about that, what we're trying to do with this program that we have here, because those aren't valid excuses basically.
Q. A year into it, tell me where you've made the most progress in the program and where do you feel it's most lacking at this point?
PATRICK McENROE: As I've been talking about, I think we have a more systematic approach within our own coaching staff on both coasts, and we're undertaking to explain that to as many elite-level coaches, academies, et cetera, that are out there. I'll give you an example. You know, Jose Higueras had an open camp about a month or so ago out in our facility in Carson, in California, and well over a hundred coaches showed up. These are all coaches that were, you know, essentially working with pretty high-level juniors. So that's kind of an example of the things we're undertaking to try to get as much -- we're not sitting here saying we have all the answers, by the way. We realize there's a lot of different ways to do this. The Nick Bollettieris and Robert Lansdorps, those are people I'm in pretty regular communication with, because the goal is the same for all of us, to help try to find the next great American player.
I think we're doing a good job of that. I feel good about where our coaching staff is as far as it being a team effort. I think that sort of the next part of the equation now is to bring that to as many of the excellent coaches that are around the country and get those lines of communication more and more open. We're planning on opening a couple more regional training centers within the next month or two.
PATRICK McENROE: Well, we'll let you know when they're announced. Let's say they're in highly centralized areas where there's a lot of kids, a lot of players coming from those areas. We've got one in the D.C. area, we've got one in Atlanta. We're looking at opening a couple more. Hopefully we'll have 10 to 15 of those. So that's the challenge moving forward. And the challenge also for us I think where we can do a better job is getting this kind of philosophy that we're teaching to the kids a little bit younger. That's where these regional training centers in many ways can be the key to our success in the long run because we're not encouraging kids to come live in Florida at our training center if they're 10, 11, 12 years old. We want them to come a little bit later. But we also want them to be properly schooled and drilled by the time they get there so that we're not sort of trying to retrain them when they're 14, 15.
I think that's, moving forward, a big undertaking for us in player development, to try to communicate and reach out and branch out to as many of these parts of the country and these good coaches as we can.
Q. Talking about the philosophy that you give to the kids, there seems to be kind of a fine line, you want them to embrace wanting to be the next Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, yet you want them to have the message that as long as you do your best, you've been successful. How do you broach that?
PATRICK McENROE: I think that's a lesson in life, isn't it? We're not going to sit here and say to a kid who's probably not going to be No. 1 in the world that, Hey, if you end up being 90, that's not successful. I mean, take it from someone who has been through it personally, my own family. People say, You'll never be as good as good as your brother. No kidding, he was No. 1 in the world. That doesn't mean it's not worth it to try to become a pro. We also have plenty of kids that train with us that could go on and have great college careers and become good college players.
The point is you raise the level of all the players. If you do that, the cream will rise to the top. So that's sort of the belief that we have. I think if you're looking for a needle in a haystack, you're doing it for the wrong reason, and then it's a little bit of a crapshoot.
We believe you can develop a core approach to how you coach kids and to work with them and to have fun and to maximize the talent they have. If you do that, there's a lot of kids in this country, and I know there's a lot more popular sports, but there's still a lot of darn good kids playing tennis from a young age. If we can obviously find them and identify them, and that's part of what, by the way, our Certified Regional Training Centers are going to help us do, which is identify young talent from the age of six on. So if we can do that, we can train 'em appropriately, give 'em the basics of how we feel is the right way to play tennis, understanding that a Pete Sampras comes along, they might take a slightly different route, but that's okay. Not everybody's going to be a hundred percent part of our program. We understand that. That's not really the goal of what we're trying to do. We're trying to help the kids as much as we can, whether they're a part of our program or not part of our program full-time. And we're also trying to help the coaches that are out there. We want them to help us. I mean, it really is a total team effort. And it's not something where we're sitting there saying, Oh, we need to find the next Venus or Serena, we need to find the next Andre Agassi. We're trying to find players that we think can become legitimate professionals. Over the course of doing that, we believe that in the long run, the more players you have there, the better chance you're going to have to find the next Pete Sampras.
Q. Through the years tennis has always competed with what I call the big three - basketball, baseball, football. Are you leaning on our players, Andy, James Blake, Pete, Andre, Venus and Serena, to sort of pitch in when possible to help your whole program?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I think those players obviously want to do that. Look, their number one priority, at least the ones playing, is to play. The better they do, in its own way, that's going to help our program.
I don't need to tell you that Andre Agassi in many ways took Andy Roddick under his wing when he was a young kid coming up, you know, just starting on the tour. Andy's done that with countless of our junior players, and continues to do that. He has them come down to his place in Texas and train with him. That's invaluable. Obviously, we would love to have Venus and Serena more tied into doing that. They've led by example for many years, and they continue to do that.
So the answer to your question is yes. But the other part of that answer, which I think is important, is that we've got coaches and players, a coaching staff, that is entirely dedicated and spends every waking hour trying to help our kids. The great players can help out, but the great players aren't the ones that are going to do the work day in and day out to help support these kids. Sometimes that's a parent. A lot of times that's a personal coach, where they grew up. I don't think Pete Sampras would say that John McEnroe was the reason he became a great tennis player. You understand what I'm saying? I think he would say that his coach Pete Fisher, Robert Lansdorp, John Austin, his parents, those were the people who influenced him.
So, yes, we certainly believe those players can help in some way, shape or form. But we're trying to rely more on our staff and our program and the people that are doing this day in and day out, because I think those are really the ones that have the biggest impact on a day-to-day basis in helping develop these top juniors.
Q. There's been a mantra for a long time among some of the top coaches in this country that the juniors don't play each other enough. I wonder in the last year what kinds of opportunities you've tried to promote to make that happen.
PATRICK McENROE: Well, I mean, that's a complex question, and it brings up a lot of different rankings system, our own ranking system, the ITF junior system. I'm not going to go into the details of what all that means.
But essentially we're, certainly with the centers we have in Florida and California, doing our utmost to bring the best kids together to practice against each other all the time, and reaching out to ones that are not part of our program full-time, having camps, having sort of open camps to these best players. So we're doing that on a regular basis, all the way from 10 years up. Out in California, which we don't house kids out there, but we have our own center and things going on on a daily basis, we've set up an after-school program from 4 to 7 where we invite all the best kids from the area to come and to train there once a week or five times a week, whatever suits their schedule.
So we're certainly trying to do that. At the same time another thing I'll tell you that we think is important with the kids that are 15 to 18, and some even a little bit younger on the girl's side, is getting them to play, start to sprinkle in a few more pro tournaments from a young age, from 15, 16 on. So we have a group of kids playing futures or the 10s and 25s, they call them on the women's side. We've sent a group of six kids, six boys, to Spain for about two months earlier this year, which was a tremendous trip for our players. We sent a couple of coaches with them. We've got a few of our top young girls over there now.
You know, I'm happy to say that I think there's a real good camaraderie also building between the young players. You see that particularly with the girls in the Fed Cup matches that we've had. We've had some great performances from so many of our young players. We've also had some of our other top young girls there as practice partners. So we think by doing it that way, that's as good a way as any as getting them to compete with each other. Obviously, we'd love them all to play tournament after tournament. But we also want to have time to work with them and work on their games. Sometimes I think players at a young age, maybe through their parents or coaches, are a little too concerned with their ranking, where they're at. We're trying to develop their games.
Q. I saw recently we had another young prospect, Sashia Vickery. She's moving over to a training camp in France. What did you make of that? Do you expect to see more of that now that the Europeans have such a big base? Is that something you support and would help with funding if that's what a family or child chose is best for them?
PATRICK McENROE: We take each case individually. I know Sashia. I actually met her a couple of years ago down in Florida. I think she's in a little bit of a unique situation in that I believe her dad lives over there, as well. So I think that was part of the equation there.
We've had Sashia at some of our camps down in Boca. I know she was at Bollettieri's for a while as well. Yes, we've given her some help and some funding. At the same time we certainly feel like, as I said earlier, there's a lot of different ways to skin the cat. If that's what she and her parents think is the best situation for her, we're not going to tell them otherwise. I mean, obviously that place where these training there as a pretty good reputation. There are a lot of different ways to do it.
I don't need to remind people on this call of all the people that have come from other countries that have trained here in the good ol' USA. If we have some of our players that go over there and they come back and they're better players, we're certainly happy with that and supportive of them.
Q. Tennis has traditionally been thought of as a more upper class sport. With the economy in the state that it is, do you think that will hurt it or do you think tennis will work harder at coming down and becoming more affordable to kids?
PATRICK McENROE: I think tennis is more affordable. That's a myth really, to be perfectly honest. I realize that people that go to the US Open are maybe slightly better off from a financial standpoint than others. But people that play tennis and certainly kids that play tennis and that make it to the highest level very rarely come from wealthy backgrounds. They certainly have some ability obviously to play some tennis and to get in some local programs. But the numbers, the participation numbers, for the USTA, for tennis I should say, are up considerably over the last couple of years. It's been blowing away the competition as far as people playing tennis.
So that's a little bit of a myth. I mean, that's obviously something that we in tennis always battle, that that's out there. But we're finding with the kids that we have mostly in our program, you know, they come from all different backgrounds. And that's a good part of tennis. I think that's something that people just have this sense of, Well, tennis is an upper class sport, because that's sort of the way it started. We all know it started as a country club sport. But that's changed a little bit.
I get this question all the time when it comes to Davis Cup. I've been the captain for nine years now. I get this comment from people all the time, they say, Wow, you know, how come none of the top players play? How come none of the top players play Davis Cup? I'm like, 'That was like 15 years ago. Where have you been?'
It's a little bit of a myth that that's an issue. It's just not. In fact, 70% of tennis is played in public parks. I don't know if you know that. When you cruise around New York, as I do, New York City, the public courts are always packed. So that's a stat that I think we should all remember. 70% of tennis is played in public parks.
Q. Could you tell us what kinds of activities are actually going on at the regional centers?
PATRICK McENROE: Well, let me tell you a little bit about what they are, first of all. What we've done is we're looking to partner in geographic hubs around the country, of programs, academies, whatever you would like to call it, that has a proven track record of having success in developing top young juniors. So we go through a process of visiting facilities in these areas, of meeting with the coaches and the coaching staff, understanding their philosophy.
Then what we've done is we've given them some grant money from the USTA. In return, they are one of our Certified Regional Training Centers. We also have them put on generally six camps a year where they'll invite the best kids from that part of the country. Again, going back to one of the previous questions, this is the way we're trying to get the kids together and not have to have them travel halfway around the country. We don't want them to have to travel and spend money to go across the country when they can go to one of these regional training centers.
Now, part of what we're doing with the staffs, they're their own existing programs. They're successful. They're doing their thing. We're supporting them with the grant money. But we're also in our deal with them expecting them to put on these camps a certain number of times a year, to have a QuickStart component to what they're doing when they have these camps so we can get some of the young kids out that normally wouldn't be tennis players, and that's part of our talent ID program, that we get a look at some of these young kids. The Certified Regional Training Center could then offer a scholarship, as some of them do, to some of these talented young kids.
What we're also doing with them is exchanging as much information as we can. So just by example, Jose Higueras and a couple members of our staff will be in Maryland this weekend at the regional training center there, the Junior Champion Center, which is outside D.C., and we'll be doing sort of a whole weekend camp where we'll be exchanging information. We'll be showing them the drills we're doing. They'll be showing us what they're doing. We'll all be working together with the kids at that particular facility.
That's really what we're trying to do with these Certified Regional Training Centers. These are all existing programs that are operating on their own. But we believe that by partnering with them, and we're also having the coaches from these programs, the main coaches, make a trip down to our training center in Boca, to visit with Jose and our coaches down there and see what we do down there.
It's really sort of an information train back and forth. What we're hoping in the long run is we'll all be in it together. If some of these coaches and centers feel the best thing for me is to develop these young kids from the time they're 8 until they're 13, then I can send them down to Boca, they'll be in good hands, you see? And they'll all be sort of being taught similar things, similar philosophy about how to play. So that's why we really feel strongly that these regional training centers in many ways can really be the key for us being successful in five, ten years.
Q. You've done a great job of giving us some of the on-the-field tactics behind the strategy. It seems like the overall strategy is be inclusive, share information with the coaches, focus on localization to reach as many kids as possible, then really kind of evangelize the preparation, you mentioned how to move. This really seems like a fundamental shift in opening if you join the USTA. It seems like the fact that Jose had that open camp and a hundred coaches came that it's being received very well by the coaches. Could you talk about that? It sounds like you're being very inclusive and touching more players. How has this influenced maybe financial support that players get for travel?
PATRICK McENROE: Could I hire you? You sound like you summed it up well. That's all very positive. That is what we're trying to do.
Let me get to your last point about financial help. I mean, essentially we look at it from a couple of different angles or let me say possibilities. There are those players that we obviously house full-time and are full-time part of our program. They're getting complete help from us. There are also those players that we feel are in good situations with their own coach, their own system, where we will help them if we feel like obviously they're one of our top prospects, but also we feel they will want to be inclusive in the same way we're inclusive. In other words, they'll want to understand the things we're doing, they'll want to come and visit us in Boca and show us what they're doing and what's working. In that case, we would offer help, as well.
Then there are obviously people, for lack of a better word, want nothing to do with us. So in that case we may offer some financial help that's based on their performance. We also offer multi-cultural grants to some of our players, as well.
But obviously the more openness that we can have, the more communication we can have, the more we'll be inclined to want to help. We want to be accountable, too. We don't want to just give money away and have no idea what the kids are doing with that money.
We do give out quite a bit of money in travel grants to young kids so they can travel and go to tournaments. We're pretty strict about how we keep track of that. We have them send in all the appropriate paperwork, et cetera.
So, yes, the answer to the first part of your comment is we feel being over-the-top inclusive and communicative is the way to go. If we're open about what we're doing and what we want to do, that doesn't mean we're always going to agree, that doesn't mean that people are going to agree with everything we do. You certainly can't please everybody. But we're genuine about this. I mean, myself and Jose, we're doing this because we're passionate about it and we feel like there's a chance for us to make a difference. That's the bottom line. We've got great people working on our staff, as I said. These people are very dedicated to helping kids. It pretty amazing to see. I'll tell you, it's pretty amazing to see some of these coaches we have and the lengths they go to to help the kids, because it's a full-service job. You've got to communicate with the kid. You've got to communicate with their parents. You've got to communicate with their coaches. That's a by-product of working for the USTA, because you've got to go above and beyond. We're perfectly happy to do it because we realize that the reason these people are coming to us, they're not coming to the USTA for help because of Patrick McEnroe or Jose Higueras. They're coming because the USTA has the resources to help.
Q. Can you talk about the clay. Jose has talked about that a lot. How are you trying to get more juniors playing on that surface as sort of a fundamental building block for their games?
PATRICK McENROE: You said it, a fundamental building block. Let me start out by saying one thing so that everybody can hear me loud and clear on this. We're not trying to develop clay court specialists, okay? We're trying to develop better players. And the facts are in, okay, everybody? The facts are in. If you develop players more on clay, in the last 10 to 15 years, they will become better all-court players, and even in cases better fast-court players. With the way the game has changed, with the technology of the racquet, the strings, the athleticism, the speed, et cetera, you have to learn how to build a point and play with spin and play with angle and take the ball early or take the ball behind the baseline. You've basically got to be able to do it all to become a top player, certainly in the men's game. That's starting to happen wore and more in the women's game, as well, with the increased athleticism in the women's game.
I want to sort of clear up for people. Some say, You're trying to teach our players to be clay-courters. No, we're not. I've actually had this conversation with Jose numerous times. I always remind him. I say, Jose, most of our great American players essentially are attacking players. We don't want to take away that as our mentality of players. So we want to keep that. But at the same time we want our kids to be able to learn how to build points better, how to use all the court better, and, yes, how to be fitter. If you play on clay from a younger age, you will automatically become fitter because you have to hit more balls and you have to create more opportunities rather than just going for broke all the time.
So that's obviously how we're trying to work with kids. We're not going to turn into a clay court nation anytime soon, but we certainly feel that it's a huge part of the developmental process for kids to become all-around players and to make it as a pro.
Q. The World TeamTennis season is coming up in July. USTA has the team of junior tennis for New York. Can you talk about how that idea came about, how you went about implementing it, talking to the Buzz, et cetera.
PATRICK McENROE: I'll tell you exactly what happened. Ilana Kloss, who runs World TeamTennis with Billie Jean King, came to me maybe four, five, six months ago. We met in her offices in New York. You know the USTA was right around that time doing a deal with World TeamTennis. The USTA is now tied in more directly and owns part of World TeamTennis. She said, We'd love to have player development be more of a part of World TeamTennis. I have a lot of history with it because I played it for many years, I loved it. I loved it so much that I became a part owner of a team in New York, which are now the New York SportTimes, which I have a minority ownership in now. So I'm not involved on a day-to-day basis.
Anyway, that being said, my feeling, as I said to Ilana, the only way I can really see this working for me and our program is if we basically had our own team. If we had a team, I could justify taking one of our coaches and having them spend three and a half weeks as a coach of a team, then working with the four players, the two boys and the two girls.
Ilana was able to go back to her league, to World TeamTennis, and say to them, Here is the proposal, the idea that Patrick has. Because I wasn't interested in having sort of one player on this team, one player on that team. Then I just felt it really doesn't do our program a whole lot of good. Obviously, it's fine to take a young pro and put him on a World TeamTennis team. I think that's a good experience for a kid, as well. As far as for our own program, that was the way I felt we really could work well.
So she went back to her teams and she was able to get one of the teams, which just happened to be in Upstate New York, interested in that as an idea, something they could do. I had no idea which team it was going to be or which part of the country it would be. To me it was just if you could get one team, get four players and a coach, that would be a great situation for our young kids.
I'm happy to say that Ilana was able to do that and we were able to get some of our very, very top kids, both boys and girls, to be part of the team. I think it will be a great experience for them. I think it will be also fun for the fans up there to see our best juniors playing on a team together.
Q. What is being done to identify tennis players, athletes from the inner city? When the staff changes were made, why was Rodney Harmon dismissed?
PATRICK McENROE: The first part of our question, we're doing these Certified Regional Training Centers, we're looking, as I said earlier, as part of our deal with them, we're asking them to reach out to the inner city kids with the QuickStart initiative. They've done this quite successfully at the Junior Champions Center in Maryland. So we actually took in some ways the impetus of what they were doing, because Martin Blackman was running the program there, he's now sort of working for us running the regional training centers. What they did is sent out flyers to all the inner city schools, and they got a whole host of kids to come out there and participate. They put them through all these drills, exercises, had them swing a racquet. They were able to offer a couple of those kids scholarships in the programs there.
So that's what we're going to try to do with these regional training centers. In fact, we're also doing the QuickStart format down in Boca, at our facility down there. Martin has started doing that a couple of times a week as well.
Rodney Harmon had a great many years at the USTA, did a fine job in a lot of different ways. It was time for us to go in a different direction with some of the things we were doing. But Rodney had a great run at the USTA for many years, was certainly very helpful to me initially when I came on the job.
Q. How important is it once a kid gets to maybe a certain age, like 13 or 14, showing promise, that they are having the advantage of coaches who actually were on the tour as opposed to the local, who can educate them in that knowledge as well as just the forehands and backhands?
PATRICK McENROE: I think it's important when you get to a closer age, when you get closer to the pros. But we're trying to make our coaches better coaches as well. We're trying to make them better teachers. I think that's a big part of what Jose is bringing to the table, as well. He's really implementing a philosophy that's going to permeate our whole coaching staff.
Like you said, we have a lot of players that played. That's certainly been people that had success at the pro level, but maybe didn't necessarily have a ton of coaching experience. We're trying to make our own coaches better. We're also trying to reach out to those coaches around the country that have tremendous experience coaching really young kids, and sort of get the best of all worlds. There's a little bit of a different skill set when it comes to getting kids ready to maybe go on the tour, and coaching a kid from the time they picked up a racquet at eight years old. So we're trying to cover all those bases within our own staff and also reach out to people that are out there.
But certainly I think when you get to the level where you're about to go on tour, in most cases it's helpful to have someone that's been there, that's gone through that. Not in all cases. Rafael Nadal has done pretty well. His uncle never played tennis at the highest level. But he obviously has other experiences with his other uncle, et cetera. There are certainly examples where it doesn't have to be that way. But for the most part the coaches that are on the road on the tour are generally people that have played the game at that level.
Q. How important is it to develop more young American talent to keep the professional game in the U.S., especially tournaments below the US Open or the ATP 1000 Series events?
PATRICK McENROE: I think it's extremely important. To cut right to the chase, I think that's why the USTA is spending more money on player development, hired me, allowed me to hire Jose Higueras. They realize it matters. Part of the USTA's mission is to develop and grow the game of tennis. Obviously the US Open has been hugely successful, particularly in the last few years, without necessarily an American always winning it or even in the final weekend. But certainly over time, I think from a business standpoint, it will help overall if you have American players in the mix in the majors. I don't think there's any doubt about that. Remember, all the money that's made by the USTA goes back into developing tennis at all levels, grassroots, community tennis, and player development.
It's very important. I think your point is a good one. Obviously, the US Open is an incredibly huge event year after year. But for the other tournaments that aren't a Grand Slam, that aren't in New York City, that aren't in a 24,000-seat stadium, it's important. You would know from being in Memphis, if you have the Americans doing well, it helps overall. It helps the tournament promoters, local media coverage, et cetera. We also want our kids to do well. It's a business thing but it's also a pride thing. We want to see our kids do well. So there's a lot of different angles to it, but I think it's certainly very, very important to overall the success of tennis as a sport for people that play it casually and people that attend professional events.
Q. I'm working from the assumption that at the highest levels, the physical sort of abilities are more on a level plane and the differentiator becomes the mental abilities of the player. How are you integrating mental skills training and sports psychology into your training curriculum? How do you scout for these mental skills in the young players you want to focus on?
PATRICK McENROE: That's funny you should ask that. Literally as we speak, my head of men's and women's coaching are actually visiting with Jim Loehr down in Florida at his place there for the last couple of days. We certainly realize that's a big part of developing kids. There's a lot of stresses on these kids. They're playing a ton of tennis. Some of them that are at our center down in Florida are away from home. We're aware we're taking on a bigger role and a bigger responsibility into not only developing these kids as player but first and foremost as people and as human beings. They're going to school down there. We've had plenty of issues with kids not doing their schoolwork on time. Those are all things that we have to be accountable for and make sure we're looking over.
So the mental game is a huge part of it. It's a big part of what we do in trying to educate our own coaching staff and having professionals that are sports psychologists that we hired to help with some of our kids that are having some issues. So those things have been going on. They'll continue to go on. We're trying to sort of clarify it within our own program exactly what it's going to look like, whether it's strength and conditioning people we've hired, the doctors that we send our kids to if they have some issues. We sent a bunch of kids out to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs earlier this year to get some feedback from them, do some testing there. We're taking on more of that ourself was as we move forward with our own team. So all those things are very important. There's no doubt that the mental side of it is absolutely a crucial part of the equation.
Q. Back to the clay court training for a second. With that switch in emphasis, is there an amount, a benchmark, that you want a player of a certain age to spend this much time on clay? And then subsequent to that you have some players in the pipeline who are 14 or so now already who weren't really brought up that way. How does that interfere? Is it a disadvantage for them now?
PATRICK McENROE: There's no equation there to say this is correct. I wouldn't know where to answer that, where to go with that.
I will tell you this. Certainly the younger you can get kids learning how to play on clay, learning how to slide, learning how to construct the point, the much easier it is, because it continues to develop those skills when you get to be 14, 15, 16. So we're certainly well aware that if you get a kid that's 16 and they've never really played on clay, it's hard to change. It's hard to change their mentality. We're going to try. And at the same time if their strength is being aggressive, take the ball on the rise, we're not saying you should play that way either. But you can play that way. Even Andre Agassi made subtle adjustments on a clay court, even as he got older on a hard court. He moved back a little bit. He moved in when he had the opportunity to. When you go up the line with a shot, all those things clay courts can teach you.
But I will say that we feel the younger the better. The younger you can get the kids playing on the clay, and as I said earlier, from a point-construction aspect of it, from a mentality aspect of it, of being able to stay in there and work the points. Jose has a great line. He says, We got a lot of kids that can hit the ball, but we need to teach them better how to play. What that means is, how does the height of the ball affect my opponent? If I take it early up the line, how does that affect it? If they push me back, do I try to hit an offensive shot or a defensive shot? Do I try to hit a neutral shot? Even playing on a slow hard court can do it. We got plenty of hard courts. We resurfaced our courts in California because they had gotten so fast. They had gotten so fast to the point you couldn't even play really defensive tennis on them. Quite honestly, there's no courts in the world that play that way on the tour, except of course when we play certain Davis Cup matches and I can control the speed of the court.
You can do it on a slow hard court, as well. But certainly from a movement standpoint, also from a standpoint of taking its toll on the body, the young kids are out there four, five, six hours a day. Playing on clay, it's a lot easier on the body.
Q. From a regional point of view, climate point of view, are you considering opening up some of these regional training centers in the northern states, where there are some talented players who are left behind a bit?
PATRICK McENROE: Absolutely we are. You may be hearing some news about that in the near future. Another thing I'm also working on doing is getting something going here at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, where the US Open is played. That hopefully will be more of a scaled-down version of what we do in Florida and what we do in California. So that's another goal of mine moving forward.
The answer to your question is yes, absolutely. There's a lot of players here in the Northeast area. There's a lot of players in the Midwest. I mean, I don't need to go through the names of players that have come out of those sections over the years, but there's a lot of 'em. There's a lot currently. In fact, I went just last week to see Kristie Ahn, one of our top young girls practice there at a facility in New Jersey. I've seen Gail Brodsky. Christina McHale, one of our top young girls who is training with us full-time in Boca, she's one of the girls now over in Spain.
Yes, there's a lot of top talent in these areas. We are certainly going to be reaching out to those areas.
TIM CURRY: With that we'll conclude our call with Patrick. We appreciate your time. This is an hour conference call, which is one of our longer ones, but obviously there's a lot of good things that's happening with our Player Development Program that we wanted to share with you. As Patrick said, there might be some further announcements coming shortly. We'll keep you posted when those are ready to go public. Thank you.
PATRICK McENROE: Thank you, Tim. Thanks, everybody.
End of FastScripts