Saturday, January 7, 2017

Family, College Athletes, and Chile

While visiting our Chilean family we have been listening to and sharing the stories of our kids’ cousins and friends. The ones in college have had tough years with classes and projects taking all of their time. A couple of years ago some of these kids had practiced sports and extra curricular activities, but not anymore.

In Chile, while in college, everything else is on hold until after graduation, something very foreign to the US college system that allows student athletes to have a hybrid experience. We tell these friends that the Cal tennis team is coming to Chile to train and bond as they do every other year on a trip abroad. We explain to them that these students get preferential treatment when choosing classes and also when taking tests and turning in homework. Their professors respect their effort to represent their school in different competitions while trying to excel at their academic work.

When thinking of how special the US system is, I wonder what has happened to the US youth players who are only using tennis to get into their school of preference without possessing a love for the game and what is happening that makes our youth athletes think that home schooling followed by a professional career is the path to follow. 

Fingers are being pointed towards the USTA and its philosophy of pressing youth talents to the pro circuit rather than the college path. I don’t want to judge without much research, but if there is any truth to these claims I would implore the USTA to look at other successful sports and the path they follow. Let’s look at the way they draft players out of college to fill their rosters in pro football, baseball and basketball and how they try to encourage these scholar-athletes to have balanced lives. Let’s try to protect the local coaches by providing them with resources instead of taking their players to national training centers in other states. Let’s respect the way those coaches have achieved trust and engendered a work ethic from their players instead of pretending that the national training centers have the miracle recipe for success.

If we can achieve these couple of simple steps the result will be better local tournaments where the talented players stay and make everyone around them better. Local players will also make their high school teams better and eventually have the right mindset to join a college team where they will be able to experience the thrill of being an NCAA scholar-athlete and possible pro.    
L- Horacio Matta interviewed; R- CAL Men's Tennis winning ways in Chile!


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Let's Encourage our Student-Athletes

This morning I had a very refreshing experience while watching some local college players battling at the Battle of The Bay Classic in San Francisco.
While USTA junior programs and tournaments seem to be damaging young enthusiasts by encouraging one-dimensional athletes and heralding home-schooled players like CC Bellis, NCAA college tennis programs are dedicated to motivating their student-athletes to achieve a higher education and a top level of athleticism simultaneously. I enjoyed well behaved players competing to the best of their abilities without the dominance of parents and private coaches dictating play.
Every day I am more convinced that players with balanced lives blossom when they get to the college level. Let’s encourage our young tennis players to stay in school, to play other sports, and to have friends outside tennis. These are the kids who will develop into champions later on. Champions today don’t usually make it out of junior tennis because they are utterly sick of their sport. The ones who succeed are those who follow and ENJOY the process of life: learning, working hard, stretching for goals and building relationships to last a lifetime.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


As the Rio games approach, athletes from all over the world get ready for the trip of a lifetime. Much news comes from Brazil warning everyone about the disorganization and dangers surrounding these games. In 2008 I had the opportunity to coach at the Beijing games and before the games began the world scrutinized the Chinese for the low quality of the air and the many delays in the readiness of the venues.
The Chinese came through and the games were a huge success. I believe the same will happen in Brazil. In the Olympics, the athletes will forget the distractions and when the whistle blows the games will again provide the arena for some of the most memorable moments in sports.
The great thing about the Olympics is that when we watch our favorite athletes compete we become athletes ourselves and we feel the pain of the defeat and we cry with joy with the triumphs. When you watch an athlete with whom you identify you might find yourself singing along with them as they sing their national anthem and for that single moment you also feel like a champion. When I watched Fernando Gonzalez receive his third Olympic medal after losing to Nadal in the Beijing finals, I looked back at the two weeks we spent in China and I then understood that he was playing for an entire country. The Chilean flag was twice the size of his name on the scoreboard and when later on I asked him what he felt when standing on the podium he said that he was so proud to give the people of Chile something to smile about. I then understood what it meant to be an Olympian.   

Monday, June 27, 2016

Tennis Traditions

As Wimbledon gets ready to start I look back at the traditions that historically have dominated our sport. Traditions such as private clubs, exclusive clubs, and above them all - entitled members.
Tennis has changed a lot since its beginning. More people want to learn the game that they once watched on TV. They want to emulate the greatest players and the inspiration they left after lifting a silver trophy or signing an autograph.
Last time I was in Wimbledon it was clear to me that although we were the players and coaches we were constantly reminded that the All England Club belonged to its members, the patrons. There were Members Only signs everywhere. For the last two weeks I have been traveling in the U.S. coaching my son in futures pro tournaments. The first week I experienced that same old story of a private club where the tournament players were forbidden from practicing on unused courts because of "club policies". This week we are playing at a public park in Pittsburgh and although there are not many luxuries, we feel welcome. When we showed up this morning to get a practice court, a really friendly teenager told us to just go to an open court and share it if any other players came. The same smiley guy was later watering the courts and sweeping the lines that already looked perfect. When I offered to help him he said that he was happy working on the courts because he loved tennis.
At BTC we appreciate the history of tennis, but only the good parts. Good traditions such as respect for others, love for the game, honoring the game, but then we need to add the uncommon, modern twist which is accessibility to the public.
We want to be like the guy who swept the court because of his love for the game, not because a member asked him to do it.
Let's take care of this game that belongs to everybody, not just to the few lucky ones.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Bringing Back the Love for Tennis

I woke up this morning and turned the TV on to the Tennis Channel to watch the French Open. Richard Gasquet and Andy Murray were battling at 5-5 trying to take the precious first set. While Gasquet was preparing to serve straight behind him the camera was capturing the French Federation president bracing himself in the seat in total agony living every point to the fullest. The interesting thing is that his job doesn’t depend on the result of this match or the outcome of the tournament. When you watch this man’s behavior during the match you come to realize that his agony is part of his passion and this passion is being shared by the entire grandstand. The passionate agony is soon supplanted with joy when Gasquet finally wins the first set.

Passion can not be taught or faked. Passion is the result of many experiences over time that lead to truly loving what you do to the point of feeling something deep in your soul about it.

The French Federation has attained this national love for tennis not by hosting the French Open, but by empowering and encouraging every little, medium or big club in France to develop a love for the game. Every player matters, every club matters, hence tennis matters.

At BTC we are starting with our small club. We are trying to teach our youth and adults to learn to love the game so that at some point they will be passionate about it. In the US we own the big tournaments. We have the US Open, Indian Wells, Miami and countless mid size and smaller tournaments. We , however, have forgotten the small clubs and how to teach the love for the game. Join us at BTC as we work hard to bring back the love for Tennis.