Photo: Susan MullanePlayers at the Roehampton Educational Forum
Before the world’s best juniors get to grace the courts of Wimbledon they have other business to attend to during their stay in London.
One of their prime responsibilities is to take part in an event that is designed to assist juniors to ease onto the main women’s and men’s tour when they’re ready to make that move. On Thursday night, the 12th ITF Roehampton Player Educational Forum was held in an effort to begin preparing these talented teens for the road ahead.
For most youngsters the belief is their involvement in tennis is all about hitting forehand and backhands, serves and return-of-serves. But beyond what goes on while on the court there is all this knowledge a player needs to learn to make them feel at home on the tour.
This year’s Educational Forum featured a number of prime presentations: how to travel the world safely; how and why a player should avoid using banned drug substances and how the Tennis Anti-Doping program operates; how and why you need to keep a distance from anything involving gambling on tennis and how the Tennis Integrity Unit works; why a player needs an agent and what the role of that agent should be in your career; the option available to playing college tennis in the USA and why it’s a move worth contemplating; and last but not least, a look at how a junior can best navigate their stay here at the Wimbledon Junior Championships. All this was highlighted by an introduction by Luca Santilli who heads the ITF’s junior department and, of course, a nice early dinner of pizza, salad, and fresh fruit cocktail.
The meeting opened up with Richard Stoakes, an All England Lawn Tennis Committee of Management member and Clare Wood, the Wimbledon Junior Championships Referee, welcoming the players to Wimbledon. Some of the information they imparted was that the draws for this year’s event had been put in the gift goody bag, that the tournament was providing a regular bus service from Roehampton University, where the juniors are being housed, to nearby Putney so they can go out to restaurants, movie theaters and for a shop. Also highlighted was that this year the AELTC is being far stricter about the all-white clothing rule, so players should make sure that their attire meets standards.
Then Wood told the players a bit about the history of the Wimbledon junior competition, letting them know how special it is that they are becoming a part of this tradition.
“When this competition started in 1947 we had 10 boy competitors and eight girl competitors,” Wood said. “Now we have around 200 competitors who came here from over 34 countries.”
A new and very essential discussion at this year’s symposium was given by Kathy Martin, the ITF’s Welfare Officer. She discussed ways to travel safely in the very big world. From protecting oneself, property, reputation and identity, Martin had great advice for the juniors - and, in fact, for anyone who travels abroad. Among Martin’s suggestions: telling players they need to always leave their travel itinerary at home and with their Federations, players should have travel insurance to guarantee medical care while abroad and to cover the cost of an unexpected need to return home at a time other than planned, the reason to have a copy of one’s passport in a place other than where you keep your passport, and how to keep yourself safe at hotels, when on public transport, etc.
“If it doesn’t feel right to you, it probably isn’t,” said Martin, as one of her parting thoughts to her audience.
The conversation pertaining to drugs which was capably handled by Stuart Miller, the ITF Manager of the The Anti-Doping Program, was broken up into two parts: an explanation of The Tennis Anti-Doping Program and a talk on Steriods, Stimulants and Suspicious Supplements.
At the outset, Miller acknowledged that “anti-doping might not be everyone’s favorite topic.” That said, it is a very important area in which juniors hoping for a life in the pros must be well-versed on how to keep themselves clean of banned substance. All players are given a wallet card with a list of banned substances to carry with them at all times. When a player sees a physician, a pharmacist, and even a coach or nutritionist, they need to make sure any medicine or nutritional supplements suggested don’t possess any of the banned substances. In the end the responsibility falls to the player to avoid those drugs not allowed. The discussion also offered the consequences — both to a players body and to their career — if they are found to have used an unauthorized product. Miller also explained the process a player must take to receive permission to take a banned substance if a doctor believes that medication is a necessary treatment for the health of a player.
Stewart Stanbra, the Director of College Scholarships USA, spoke about why seeking a college scholarship in the United States might be an offer too good for many juniors to refuse. Stanbra pointed out that college presents an opportunity to play constant competitive tennis, receive top notch coaching, and work towards a university degree. He also gave the juniors a glimpse into the different types of scholarships available with the financial picture involved with the different offerings.
In the area of gambling and betting, Jose De Freitas and Dee Bain of the Tennis Integrity Unit told the players that it is against tour rules for them to be involved in betting on matches as well as fixing matches. Of particular note, De Freitas told the players not to be surprised if they are approached at some point and time by a person offering them money if they cooperate by losing the first set — or even the match. This is a huge no-no and is considered illegal to be involved in on any level.
Players certainly listened carefully when Daniel Lowen, a sports attorney at Couchman LLP, offered a view of his job as a player agent. Lowen talked about many subjects with the first mention being that he’s the guy who helps a player make money. The agent not only puts together sponsorship deals for their athletes, they often take care of many of the day-to-day arrangements from travel to finances for their client. A good agent knows how to protect their client from bad deals as well as finding great deals. It’s the agents job to help present and promote their client in the best way to the world-at-large.
When all the pertinent information was relayed the 12th ITF Roehampton Player Educational Forum came to a close But as can be expected no one went away from the enlightening evening empty-handed. Players went back to their dorm rooms with a gift giveaway that included a t-shirt and towel.