As a long distance observer, it seems to me that Davis Cup success and Tennis Australia are at the cross roads. Perhaps they are even past that point and now heading in opposite directions. We recently played Kazakstan (who knew that even had tennis players?) in Darwin on grass and came very close to having our pants lowered. Now I am not saying the Darwin’s grass courts are not the epicentre of tennis in Australia nor am I inferring that we played there because nowhere else in the country would have given a damn, or even that Tennis Australia decided to play there because it gave us a distinct advantage, (surely not).
The dislike that our 23 ranked player Bernard Tomic publicly displayed for the organisation resulted in his removal from the team. Probably a good thing too as it gave him just enough time to become famous in Miami for paying too much for a hotel room that magically transforms into a jail cell. All of which must have made the gurus at Tennis Australia feel grand indeed.
I think there is a bigger play here though. We had great success in the Davis Cup in the era before the pros and then again in the early days of professionalism. Frankly we weren’t much good at any other team sport and certainly not any that involved balls. In those heady days we also had more than our fair share of players inside the top ten. Back then to help us along a little, backyards were often filled with tennis courts and every farm had one, and tennis courts were not littered across the four corners of the globe as they are now. (who would have thought it?)
So history aside, now we have a bunch of highly paid professionals, some of whom are clearly not capable of looking after themselves, that require more than just a ‘nice guy’ that looks great in undies, to give them assistance. Building a team in this era, as anyone that has done it recently will tell you, has its own unique set of challenges.
Add to that the money, the bloated egos and the lack of understanding of the scale of the exercise and it is no surprise to me that it is not coming together beautifully. Team building in Australia is different to (most of) the rest of the world. Particularly at the pointy end of sport, and particularly with the addition of Gen Y.
I cringe when I hear the older generation say that “this would never happen in Harry Hopman’s day” because while it is true, I really can’t imagine Mr Tomic and Mr Hopman having much to say to one another. I can only imagine what the reaction might be to the suggestion of a quick run up a few sand dunes. At least Darwin is well situated for that little beauty. No, Harry is not the answer.
Tennis Australia should ship in Ray McLean and his troops. If you have not had the opportunity to read his books, I recommend them to anyone in Australia involved in team-building. I have used the philosophy both with my work team and the sporting teams that I work with and the systems and processes work. Without giving too much away, Ray is like a modern-day version of Harry Hopman, in that he thinks differently to everyone else and has bought his own brand along with him. He has done for AFL what Harry did for tennis.
Ray developed his skills working with the Air Force developing teamwork in mission-critical scenarios. There is nothing quite like taking life and death training and then honing that experience for work in team sport. As many a team coach will tell you, winning isn’t life or death, it’s much more important than that. Good luck Tennis.