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The Lawn Tennis Association of England is the National Governing Body of sport for tennis, a sport, which for centuries was exclusive to the upper class sportsman and has, only recently become a more masses-friendly sport like football. Throughout the nineties and the early 2000's, the LTA underwent major policy and structural changes, and has been under quite a bit of criticism from the media and public alike. A country which hosts the most famous Tennis Championship (Wimbledon) in the world, Britain has produced a remarkably low number of tennis players who have achieved top rankings on the stage of world tennis, and worst still, very few Grand Slams and ATP wins over the last decade or so.
A major reason for this has been the structural changes which took place in the LTA, allowing for young, highly skilled professionals to become associated with the organization, individuals who, in the long run aimed for British tennis to become more accessible to the masses. The LTA introduced its Blueprint for British Tennis in the year 2006 under the directorship of Roger Draper, a plan which documented the direction in which they board wanted to take the British Tennis in the future, and the means that the LTA would take in order to achieve the goals that it had set for itself in the long run.
This essay discusses the Blueprint for British Tennis, its major components, highlights and discrepancies, and in general, presents a critical analysis of the plan that has been presented by the LTA as its modus operandi in the years to come.
LTA: The Organization
With a current following of about 26.9 million supporters, tennis is the second most popular sport after football (as per the number of people following its progress). Tennis, a game which originated in the United Kingdom in the eighteenth century, is a sport in which the British, ironically, have been lagging far behind than their contemporaries. The LTA is the main governing body of the sport of tennis and makes all management related decisions related to it. Apart from this, the LTA is also responsible for the long term policy making for the betterment of the game and is actively involved in the selection, training and development of future generation of the British tennis players. Following is a summary of the organization's work, its structure and its major allies.
Vision: The vision of the LTA is "Winning".
Since the February of year 2005, the LTA has been operating according to the new structure that was decided upon in the LTA council in 2004 (LTA Governance, 2010), according to which Roger Draper is the association's CEO. This restructuring was mainly aimed at improving the decision making qualities of the management and resulted in the formation of the TLT( Tennis Leadership Team), which is now mainly responsible for proposing all operational, structural and management related changes for the association.
The TLT is the main body responsible for the current Blueprint for British Tennis and is headed by the CEO, Roger Draper, who has been the main force behind the plan. Following is a figure which represents the places where the strategic and operational decision-making for the association is carried out.
According to the association's Corporate Governance report (2010), the strategic concerns are approved by the Council, on the basis of the proposals submitted by the Main Board, which are in turn prepared as a result of collaboration between the Main Board and TLT members. Simialrly, the operating plan is also decide upon by the Main Board after proposals submitted by the TLT.
3. Main Supporters of British Tennis:
In 2009, it was announced that the LTA's main partner in all its future endeavors would be the AEGON corpoation, which had signed a 5 year deal with the association that would last from 2009 through year 2013. According to a joint press release by the LTA and AEGON, the organization will be directly involved in all major aspects of the sport including the naming rights to the international grasscourt events including the AEGON Championships, the AEGON international and the AEGON Classic tournament. Apart from this, the organization will also be the main supporters of the association's parks and school programmes and the junior elite athletes (Press release, 2008).
Other major supporter of British tennis are BNP Paribas, which is the official sponsor of the British Tennis, Highland Springs, which is also another official supporter as well as the official water supplier for all British Tenniss tournaments, while Thomsan Reuters is the official information and statistics partner of LTA. ( LTA website/ Supporters)
Babolat VS is another allie of the Lawn Tennis Asssociation and provides the association with tennis equipment, while Lucozade is the official nutrition supplier for the British tennis. Similarly, Nike, a widely popular sports brand is anoter major British Tennis supporter and supplies the association with clothing equipment. (LTA website/ Supporters)
According to the LTA financial report accounting for the year 2009, following are the major sources of incomes which help the organization in carrying out its duties:
Sport England funding: £3.0million (3.0m in 2008)
Championship surplus: £29.2million (£27.7m in 2008)
Investment income and Interest: £1.4million (£3.3m in 2008)
Commercial and events: £14.6million (£6.8m in 2008)
Donations: £3.8million (£4.0m in 2008)
Other income: £4.4million (4.0m in 2008)
In the above shown figures, other income includes the funds generated by tournament entrance fees, membership subscriptions and course fees etc.
Donation Club (AELTC) governing the distribution of
The Blueprint for British Tennis:
The major aim of this plan has been to set the future direction for the sport of tennis in the United Kingdom. It presents an outline for the future plans for the LTA and was created after consultation with a wide range of stakeholders of the british tennis.
According to the Blueprint for British Tennis document, the new vision for the British tennis is "to win". This winning includes Grand Slams, ATP, WTA, Davis as well as Federation cup victories and according to the document, the LTA proposes to do so with setting up the following three drivers:
Developing and incubating talent
Providing world class technical support, cutting edge scientific support and advice to the players
Establishment of a highly competitve framework that stimulates youngsters for performance driven play with emphasise on winning
The plan has a straightforward tone and presents information in a clear cut and concise manner. Following are the key issues raised in the plan and the manner in which the LTA plans to deal with them over the next few years:
Lack of support infrastrucure for young players due to which they cannot go on to compete successfully as adults: This has been a consistent problem for British tennis. For this, LTA proposes setting up a nationwide network of talent scouts who identify talent at an early age, decentralising LTA national training, increase transparency in funding players, and setting up a network of world class coaches who work with players from a young age at the club level.
A need to restructure the Coaching system: LTA proposes setting up better communication system within the coaching network, improving the career structure of Britian's coaches to provide them greater incentive and ensuring the right coach is working at the right position.
Improving the Club infrastructure: LTA proposes ways of forming better relationships with clubs, allowing clubs to become LTA members without fees if they promote greater number of junior players, invest in infrastructure at club level, a tiered structure of player support will be introduced at club level which would include; International high performance clubs, High performace clubs and County accredited clubs.
A lack of easy-to-access competitions: To counteract this issue, LTA proposes to support the national club league and promote inter-clup tournaments and increase competition at school level with emphasis on juniors.
A 20 year history of ignoring grass root tennis: One of the single most problematic issues of the GB tennis in the last 2 decades, the LTA proposes to counteract it by providing cohsive support for tennis at school and park level, encouraging tennis charities, improving access to the game and working with the central and local governments to generate more funds for community tennis.
A lack of provision of support to players, coaches ,clubs and parents: The LTA proposes to ail this problem by establishing a centre for applied research and development which would help in providing mental, technical and nutritional support to players. The plan also promises a fitness regime and program for players.
The LTA's blueprint also proposes following as the measure of success in the furtue for British tennis:
The number of players in the top 100
Number of 12-18 year olds on track fo the top 100
Number of regularly competing juniors.
LTA's Plans for the future: Their scope for Success
One journalist, before the formation for the 2006 Blueprint, went on to describe the state of British tennis in the following words:
"British tennis is crap. It's a sporting Chernobyl. It's a smug, sterile, mono-cultural, quasi-fascist, casually racist, elitist, snob-ridden, blazer-buggered, apartheid crippled disaster area. It makes golf look like the Notting Hill carnival" (Wells, 2003).
Despite these words, and the still apparent lack of British players winning global tennis competitions, the future for British tennis has inadvertently begun to look rosy. Over the course of the years, LTA has been involved in a number of plans which have been design to help the future of the British tennis by incubating talent and helping young players become more performance oriented, but it has only been recently that some serious progress in this regard has been observed. Some of the reason for this can be seen from a statement of Roger Draper's in an interview where he states, "We want to be winners; we want to win Wimbledon and grand slams and we want players in the top one hundred," says the 38-year-old. "But the other side of my role is to make it one of the biggest participative sports in the country. I want to make tennis the number two sport after football" (SurreyLife, 2008).
Inspite of this statement, in today's socio-political atmosphere, and due to the global economic crisis which is in all manners also affecting Britian, the plans that LTA has for British tennis seem somewhat far-fetched to the common man. Tony Hawks, the founder of the British charity, Tennis for free, talks to BBC sports about how getting people, especially young ones, to play tennis in parks is the most important issue for British tennis. However the same article, which questions the ability of the LTA to focus its attention on the grass root level tennis, cites figures which state that despite the blueprints promises, only 5 % of 11 to 19 year olds play tennis on a weekly basis, a startling figure down from 12% in 1998. (BBC Sports, 2008).
A community tennis review conducted in the year 2007, included detailed feedback appraisal from all sources directly related to the local tennis stakeholders, and was directed a reviewing the perception that the pubic and stakeholders had about the LTA's role in promoting and aiding tennis players at the grass root level. This review resulted in key findings which showed that there was a widespread misconception among people that the LTA spent most of its resources in developing professional and elite players, and that there was no easy-to access competitions for players at these grass-root level. Another issue raised by people was the lack of LTA's involvement at the school level and its inability to retain young players to keep on playing tennis on a competitive level ( LTA Community tennis review, 2007). As an answer to this critique, the following steps have been proposed by the LTA as first steps in a sustainable development plans. These steps were:
Set up the Tennis Foundation and agree on its working remit.
Agree the organisation structure and recruit the right people to take responsibility for community tennis.
Start work on talent ID, coach education and development and the establishment of a competitive framework.
Optimise existing fundraising activities and inward investment opportunities to develop new, more effective approaches.
Similar questions have been raised again recently about the blueprint's results on the grass root level by experts who say that the LTA's CEO has spent the last four years in his office trying to allot funding predominantly to the elite sect of the tennis playing society by hiring coaches such as Paul Anacone and Brad Gilbert to coach the nation's high profile talent (guardian.co.uk, 2010), and has ignored the grass root level policies that LTA promised in its blue-print. Draper, however, defends his choices by saying that LTA has been investing in refurbishing places like the Albert Park in Haringey, which was a rundown park with litter-strewn tennis courts, a place which after a 300,000 pounds investment by the LTA, has become almost a ray of hope for the low-income individuals who cannot afford taking up a racket without the LTA's support. Draper has stated in an interview with a Guardian journalist that this process of making tennis accessible to every middle class and under privileged individual would have to be a slow and steady process and that the "public's perception of tennis as a middle class sport had to change" (guardian.co.uk, 2010).
On the other hand, despite the fact that the public concern remains for LTA's apparent success in bringing about dramatic changes in the grass-root tennis playing atmosphere, the increasing level of performance of the British tennis players in the international scene has been quite remarkable. Although concern has been raised over Britain's loss in the Davis cup against Lithuania, statistical figures tell a different story. According to LTA's annual report for 2009, the number of British players in the current world top 100 is 9, an increase from 4 players in 2008 and only 3 players in 2007. Britian's top player, Andy Murray has also been performing consistently well, having gotten to the semi-finals of this year's Wimbledon (Annual report LTA, 2009), and achieving the all time high ranking for a British player of World Number 2 (Annual report LTA, 2009). A part from this, at the professional level, the statistics for women players has also improved with Anne Keothavong breaking into the world Top 50, allowing for 3 British women to be in the world top 100 in nearly 2 decades (Annual report LTA, 2009). And although the issue for supporting youths in playing tennis on a mass level remains a major concern, young players such as Heather Watson have shown great improvement by winning the Junior US open in 2009 as well as Laura Robson securing success by becoming World Number 1 junior player in the world. The Number of 13-21 year old on the track for the world top 100 has also increased to 46 players from 31 players in 2007, and added to this, despite criticism at LTA's ability to bring tennis to the masses, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of juniors regularly competing in tournaments on the national and local level, a figure which has reached 30,001 players from 10,773 players in the year 2007.
The above discussion presents a significant angle on one of the major issues raised against the LTA's implementation of the Blueprint plans and presents interpretation on the association's performance through an analysis of the British players in the international circuit. Following are some recommendations that this research has deemed important for the LTA to consider and incorporate into its next Blueprint, points which will have a greater all round impact on the state of the British tennis in the long run.
Conclusion & Recommendations:
1. Help Tennis become less elite and more for the massess:
A ccording to Lake (2010), "The popularity of lawn tennis at its conception in the 1870s was primarily due to the prospects it afforded members of the upper and upper-middle classes for status enhancement", and somehow, over the centuries, this image seemed to have remained in the mind of the public. The LTA will have to take steps to improve the "playability" of tennis, provide equipment at low/negligible cost to youngsters who deserve and need it, and provide access to tennis courts at increased localities to engage the masses with the sport.
2. Take up policies that avoid giving preference to elite/ high performance athletes:
The media has criticized the LTA for "mollycoddling" (Lake, 2010) attitude it has towards its top performers, which results in major funds being allocated for their training, travel luxuries, coaching and general pampering, which according to some has resulted in spoilt players with little focus on winning, a fact which often results in the top ranked Britons giving mediocre performances at international events.
3. Straighten out relationship with affiliated clubs:
After the uptake of the Blueprint plan, there have been a lot of strained feelings between the affiliated clubs and LTA. According to Wancke (2006), the clubs and their management has been pushed into hiring coaches and making decisions after the 2006 blueprint, decisions that have been rushed and which the club management's may not have approved of. Due to this, coaches have been hired which are being treated like "second class citizens", a fact which is degenerative to LTA's cause. Therefore, the association will have to make it a priority to make sure that there is greater level of understanding between the clubs and the decision makers on the issue of policies, the next time around that the Blueprint is planned.
4. Understanding the Stake-holder expectations:
Traditionally, the LTA has been an organization which has worked on the principle of social seclusion, and it has been only in this last decade that the idea to make tennis marketable to the masses has taken its root in the mind of the decision-makers at LTA. Due to this, even though there is a greater acceptance at LTA of the fact that things need to change at the grass root level, there is little understanding of the requirements and expectations of the various stakeholders in this regard. The community tennis review of 2006 has been an excellent step forward in this regard, and should be a practice which should be continued to gather ideas about the expectations of the public for advancement of tennis at the most basic level.
5. Give more attention to providing talented youth an easy access to competitions:
There has also been criticism leveled at the LTA for not taking steps to reduce competition entry fees and the fact that club memberships still cost a large amount of money that some parents just cannot afford for their children, no matter how talented they are. A daily telegraph journalist has highlighted this issue in an article which cited how a disgruntled parent has voiced concern over the amount of money it takes for his 12 year old son to get a club membership to play tennis. She points out, "It seems the only children to
stand a chance are those who can afford a public school or have their own court'(Mott, 2000, July 17). Although the LTA has reiterated time and time again that support will be provided to youngsters, the process for applying for the association's support is a tedious one and there is a need for simplifying the procedure as well as a great need to provide parents and teachers with access to information regarding th eprocedures.
6. Help create a vibrant and competitive club culture:
The British tennis club culture has been cited as strict, colorless and class oriented (BBC Online, 2001; Brasher, 1986; Chalmer, 2004). Although the trends are changing, but they are changing at a very slow pace, therefore, LTA will have to give special attention to helping affiliated clubs create a relaxed, welcoming and friendly atmosphere that helps youngsters to love and appreciate the game all the while creating an atmosphere where they feel constantly pushed to make their game better.
7. Improve relationship with the media:
It would be accurate to say that the media only rarely has anything nice to say about the LTA and its various policies. Evidence from British newspapers suggests that the media has cast the LTA usually in a unfavorable light and the major cause for this has been the association's poor results and obviously the great expectations that the media has from the association. An example of this is an excerpt from an article published in the Guardian:
"We British live in a false hope when it comes to our sporting chancesâ€¦ We have not had a British Wimbledon men's champion since Fred Perry in 1936â€¦ It's just not good enough and it leaves me wondering where the millions of pounds that are taken in the Wimbledon fortnight are spent as it seems that little of it is finding its way to the grass roots".(Ward, 2003).
For the future, LTA would be better helped if they also considered media and journalists as possible sources for suggestions which would thus aid in the formation of better relationship between them.