Belgium and the youngest tennisgeneration.
As a new member on this MB I may be able to contribute some useful information to those that are interested in following Belgian young tennisplayers. On another thread I read about what the future may or may not bring, tenniswise, for young Belgians. And maybe I will start out with some points that are not so well known about tenniseducation for kids that have the desire to become "pro's" one day.
How does a child start to play tennis? Some have a parent or brother or sister that are playing and at a young age they get a racket and "play tennis" at age 3 or so. Very soon a good trainer can see whether the kid is a natural talent. (It is not necessary to be a "natural" to "get far" in tennis...but it helps. Sabine Appelmans was "not a natural", but an extremely hard worker, and got to the top 20 on "willpower" and through hard work. Kim wàs a natural talent...as well as a hard worker with willpower. So, she had "an edge")
I will give an example of what a "natural talent" can be. Have you ever watched a 3 year old boy ànd a 3 year old girl throw a ball? It is "natural" for a girl to throw the ball "underhand" (like when playing petanque), a boy will most often throw a ball "upperhand", like a spear. It looks like girls with tennistalent are very often throwing balls like boys, ànd are often good soccerplayers (this is a matter of observation).
A problem is to "scout" these young talents, find them as soon as possible. It happens very often that a child with talent starts to play tennis at say 4 or 5 and becomes "good" and "visible" on tournaments at age 8 or 9. By visible I mean for instance winning the Masters (in Wommelgem in September) earlier than expected (like a 6 or 7 year old winning from 8 year olds) or be on top of the Campina-list as an 8 year old amongst 10 year olds. I didn't check, but I am almost sure that Aude Vermoezen and Niels Desein accomplished this too. It is mainly during tournaments that talented kids are "discovered" by VTV or AFT. And in some cases they are well followed from then on. Some are invited to go to Wilrijk and Mons. This procedure takes in account every possible aspect of the future player. And it is always necessary that the parents are "supporting" the possible future tenniscareer of their kid.
At an age of 9 it is still very hard to determine which boy or girl can or will "make it" (and by that I mean having a career in tennis, at least top-100). In Belgium we are lucky to have a few capable tennisspecialists that can do these selections. Belgium has also an advantage of having several 'circuits' of tennistournaments (Campina, Delta LLoyd, "StarCircuit"...) which allow young players to enter early in the tenniscompetition. It's quite different in for instance the Netherlands, where parents have to drive all over for even a simple tournament, with very strict rules.
Lots of countries "envy" us. They put a lot of money in their programs, but don't get the results we do. Personally I believe that there is a good chance that in the next 10 years to come, several juniors from today will become "pro's". Now, how many will get into the top 10, that's something else. Predictions there are very risky. We shouldn't forget that kids at age 10-12 still have to go through puberty, can have major injuries, need to continue "growing in performance", should be able to combine studying with competitive tennis... Very few can do all that. Being in a tennisschool facilitates this, but by no means is a garantee. A number that is often given is that about 10% of the kids entering an intensive program
(Barcelona, Wilrijk, Mons...) will become professional players, play the tenniscircuit, and get in the top-100.
As an example, as you may know 23 kids are now in Wilrijk, of which 7 in 5th and 6th grade and 5 in first year secondary school.
If out of these 12 ONE would become a good top 100 player, the VTV-program can be called "a success". If TWO would make it, this would be "extra-ordinary". But you can count on it that ALL hope to be "the one"! And that is the way it should be, because once that "hope" is gone, they can't stay there. The motivation that is required is such that future possibilities must remain present. Or staying in the program becomes virtually impossible.
Yes, it is VERY demanding...but some information on other threads "is not quite correct". Do you really believe that an eleven year old trains 6 hours a day? If that would be the case, the kid would be "burnt" by age 13 or 14. You always need room for 'more intensive training'. And 6 hours a day would mean at least 36 hours of training a week! Which is a bit "inhuman", certainly for children. If you "halve" that, you are much closer to the reality. Especially for the youngest children, physical work-out is more important than pure tennistraining. Until 12, technical tennisaspects and physical exercices are way more important than "performances".
Parents and trainers that focus on "results" before the age of 12 are making huge mistakes...Their kids may be "number 1" for a while, but not anymore when they get to play internationally. It's true that it is necessary to prepare the future at age 9-12. But only long-term planning can have that result. The investments done today should result in a few good players at
age 15-16. Niels (Desein) is a good example I think. Others may follow. But it can't be "garanteed", only the chances can get optimized to get to that stage.
OK.Maybe we can start some sort of dialogue on this subject here.