Tennis Academies Are Now Recruiting Pre-Teens
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The earlier an athlete receives legitimate training, the higher likelihood they have of becoming a professional and cashing in financially — I think we all understand that.
But when does early become too early? That’s a question I think a lot about.
For example, LeBron James was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated and labeled “The Chosen One” when he was just sixteen years old. Of course, he ended up becoming one of the greatest basketball players in history. But I think that makes it even more impressive — dealing with that kind of pressure is not easy, and many other young, great athletes have failed by trying to live up to the hype.
So, an article in the NY Times this week really stuck out to me. It was written by Matthew Futterman, and it talked about how tennis academies like IMG are now being forced to “invest” in athletes early, some even younger than ten years old.
You can read the entire article here, but I’ve summarized the key points below:
There has been an increase in the number of academies throughout Europe.
These academies often fight over the same players and it has become a bidding war, with many of the academies now offering scholarships above the typical $50,000 in annual payments that cover junior circuit coaching and travel.
As a result, IMG says they have been forced to move the goalposts and are now investing in pre-teen tennis players in hopes of potentially finding the next prodigies.
For example, IMG has sent out 48 invitations for its first Future Stars Invitational Tournament at the Tatoi Club, an exclusive country club near Athens, Greece. It’s a week-long tournament and “education retreat” for players that are 12 years old and younger, including their chaperones (parents and coach).
And the athletes will compete against each other on the court and listen to seminars hosted by executives from Nike, the ATP, and WTA — all while IMG attempts to identify the next great tennis stars worth potentially eight-figures.
Now, I think it’s important to clarify that this isn’t an entirely new concept. Take Maria Sharapova, for example. IMG signed her when she was just eleven years old, and if they gave her $50k every year until she was seventeen, that $300k investment might have helped her earn nearly $350 million in prize money, sponsorships, and endorsements throughout her career — that’s a win-win for both IMG & Sharapova.
But I think extrapolating this approach to an even younger generation of athletes could have severe repercussions. We have concrete data and testimonials that prove too much pressure at a young age can have the opposite impact, damaging an adolescent's mental health and ultimately putting them in a worse position.
So it’s fair to ask: when does young become too young? I don’t know if anyone has the correct answer. But at some point, I imagine the risk/reward scenario probably becomes unprofitable for companies like IMG, and they pull back, even if that means they end up missing out on a big-name player later on — they are a private, for-profit business and the underlying economics will always drive their process.
But I think this is something to watch. Professional sports are a massive business, and we know that as long as there is a financial incentive to do so, entrepreneurs will always try to build ancillary products and services based on the talent of individuals.
Still, that can end up having a significantly negative impact on children. And I think we would be wise to recognize and fix a potential problem before it’s too late.
I hope everyone has a great day. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.
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The Joe Pomp Show: New episode with NHL great Chris Pronger is live!
Chris and I discuss the pressure he faced as a top draft pick, the financial lessons he learned along the way, how he thinks about venture investments today, his advice for a younger generation of professional athletes, and more. Enjoy!