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Predicting Long-Term Tennis Success

October 10, 2005 12:13 PM

By Jim Brown, Ph.D., Author, Tennis: Steps-to-Success, and Sports Talent: How to Identify and Develop Outstanding Athletes

“Everybody wants to predict future athletic success based on present achievement or physical makeup,” says Robert Singer, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Florida. “But predicting success is much more difficult than most people think. There are too many variables, even if certain athletes have a combination of genes that favors long-range talent. A person’s genetic makeup can be expressed in many different ways, depending on environmental and situational opportunities. Variables such as motivation, coachability, and opportunity can’t be predicted.”

“If one wants to say that you are much more favored than I am to be a world-class champion due to genetic composition at birth, I can’t argue the point. You can determine that one eight-year-old tennis players is more advanced than another,” continues Singer. “But to project that talent ten years forward and say that the child will be a world-class player is impossible.”

Little or no research correlates gifted status as a child with gifted status as an adult. However, a study in Sweden tracked two groups of elite junior tennis players from the time they were in the 12-14 age group until they were in their 20s. Some because successful adult players; other did not. The successful group had three things in common:

  1. they seemed to enjoy playing tennis more than the less successful players,
  2. they were less pressured by their parents,
  3. they played other sports in addition to tennis

The message for parents and coaches of developing athletes is to enjoy the moment and help the children prepare for the future, but do not demand or expect equal success at each level during the children’s development. If it happens, consider it a bonus.

Does a child have to be a star at 8 to be a star at 18? No. Does a child have to be involved in competition at 8 to be outstanding at 18? No. Earlier is not better in terms of sport-specific training. Sooner or later, true sports talent shows up.

© 2005 HMS Publishing, Inc.
Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at




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