USTA director of player development Martin Blackman going through some ball drills with junior players at the Ocean View courts. (Picture by Kenmore Bynoe.)
Martin Blackman wants the juniors to stay in school. Barbados may have produced Darian King, but Blackman still believes the best way for the country to develop young tennis players is through the collegiate circuit.
The former ATP pro and current United States Tennis Association general manager of player development made the case during one of Sydney Lopez’s coaching clinics at the Ocean View courts.
“We have to continue to create that pathway for our players to get into the college circuit because that’s where most of them will develop and play high level competition,” explained the former Davis Cup legend.
“I know everyone wants to follow Darian and his is a great success story, but he is exceptional. Most players won’t be able to follow that path by just turning pro and being able to make it through Futures and Challengers like how he did.
“Maybe there will be another one or two, but our best bet is to get these kids into colleges so they continue playing tennis at a high level and then you see where it goes from there,” he added.
Blackman made the comments during a recent stopover in Barbados, where the Central Bank’s Grand Salle was just named after his father, Sir Courtney Blackman.
The younger Blackman did spend some time coaching King years ago, but most of Barbados’ recent Davis Cup players have passed through the collegiate ranks.
And Barbados continues to send junior players stateside, with no less than eight gifted youngsters all currently plying their trade at American colleges.
But many of the local competitions are still undersubscribed in the junior categories, leading the Barbados Tennis Association to create a new outreach programme.
“I am very impressed by the level of juniors by Sydney and in general and the level of organisation in the programme, so my advice would be to make sure that we get these kids into great programmes with great coaches at the ages from eight to 12 so they can learn the right fundamentals, footwork and habits,” said Blackman.
“After that, they need to be playing a lot of regional and international matches from 13 onwards, because there is no real substitute for high level competition for young players, and they can’t get that here at home playing local tournaments.” (JM)