Culture Wars and American Exceptionalism
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Causes of Decline in U.S. Men’s Tennis

Blame it on Social Media?

For the eighth straight year no American male won the coveted U.S. Open, the grandest prize of them all in tennis. Andy Roddick won it in 2003. Pete Sampras in 2002 on his way to a record-setting 16th Grand Slam Title. What happened to the Agassi’s, Connors, and McEnroe’s? Why is the sport now dominated by non-Americans – Djokovic (Serbia), Federer (Switzerland), Nadal (Spain), and Murray (UK)? Two words – work ethic.

I have blogged before about the declining work ethic of young people in the U.S. and its negative effects on the U.S. economy. Young people rather spend their time on social networking sites than laboring on the court for hours on end honing their tennis skills. It takes a long time and hard work to become a champion in tennis. It takes little time to engage in social networking and surf the Internet. Then, there is skateboarding, surfboarding, body boarding and other forms of outside sports that are way too much fun and less time consuming. Most important, Americans are spoiled and expect things to be handed to them rather than earned through shedding blood, sweat and tears. We have an entitlement society and young people feel entitled to success and their fifteen minutes of fame without building the driving force through hard work and determination that justifies such accomplishments.

Seeded in the 20s, Americans Andy Roddick (No. 21) and John Isner (No. 28) made it no farther than the quarter-finals in the recently completed U.S. Open. Some point to the fall of the Iron Curtain and emergence of Eastern European players for the relative decline. While this is part of the cause and explainable by the fact that Eastern European players have something to prove being on the world sport stage for the first time. However, South Americans do better as well. It’s a work ethic problem for American teens who are outshined by their European and Asian counterparts in educational achievement.

On the women’s side, other than the Williams’ sisters, no American female comes close to being a threat to win a Grand Slam event. "Our best athletes aren't playing tennis," according to Max Eisenbud, the agent of former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova. “There are so many different opportunities. When you are an American kid, you can play sports, you can become a singer, and you can become an actor, or dancer, or go to school and become a doctor. If you are a great athlete, you can be in the WNBA, women's soccer." All of these require less dedication to their craft being an individual sport, and you can’t rely on teammates to bail you out.

As stated in a story published on Forbes.com in 2008, about "Thirty years ago, half of the world's top 100 tennis players hailed from the U.S." Two years ago, the combination of both men and women U.S. players accounted for only 7 percent of players in the top 100. The story went on to say that now tennis talent is more evenly spread around the globe. These days, everyone who's anyone in American tennis is trying to figure out whom or what is to blame for the lack of U.S. players in the world's top 100. Obviously, the American tennis establishment is willing to throw everything against the wall to see what might stick. Occasionally we even hear the implication that the "private sector" professional coaches have not kept pace with the latest development principles for our nation's high performance players. This, of course, is complete nonsense since even with minimal open-minded research one can see that a significant number of top-100 foreign players have been trained by American "private sector" pros. Today's American "private sector" professional coaches are more educated and better trained than most of the coaches in the world, especially those who make a living from developing competitive players.

Reversing course in men’s tennis won’t be easy or quick. A strong work ethic is a virtue that is developed over time through practice until it becomes ingrained as a habit.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 14, 2011

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