For those of you who weren’t aware, my wife and I spent the last 2 years in Munich, Germany. It was a refreshing experience - especially considering that Munich is regarded as one of the nicest cities in Europe. But besides that, I’m eager to share some details about the tennis system in Germany, especially considering I was able to experience it firsthand
My aim is to give you an inside look at what competitive tennis in Germany is all about (based on my perspective) - from the club structure, to the elaborate ranking system and more. Overall, my experiences were quite positive - and I feel that the tennis world in North America can learn a few things from the German system.
Before we get into the details of this post, I’d like to briefly mention what the next few months at Mattspoint will bring. My family and I are now back in Montreal and this is where Mattspoint will continue to grow.
Here’s what’s in store for the remainder of 2018:
More ‘fresh’ content - there’s a good amount of new tennis related research popping up on topics like deceleration training, skill acquisition, recovery modalities, GPS monitoring and more. I’ll be sharing insights on these topics along with others as 2018 continues.
High-Performance Specialization (HPS) - I’m happy to announce that later this fall, I’ll be launching a follow-up resource to High-Performance Preparation (HPP). HPS will cover the 2nd part of an off-season/pre-season cycle for tennis, the specific prep phase. Some highlights of HPS include strength & power progressions, optimizing body composition for elite tennis, change-of-direction drills and many other research backed topics. Also, because the specific prep phase typically includes a large proportion of training time spent on the tennis court, we’ll look at how to best integrate off-court training with on-court training.
Mattspoint Montreal (MTL) - less than 3 weeks back and I’m lucky to already be coaching a number of elite players. My aim is to create a training environment that focuses on continual, daily improvement and the pursuit of mastery. On top of that, being a former player who went through injuries, overtraining and burnout, a high priority for our environment is to get AND keep, players healthy. Currently, spots are limited but I am actively working to have more availability in the spring of 2019. Here are a couple videos of us in action:
Now on to this week’s post...
5 Things We Can Learn from German Tennis
1) The Club Structure Urges Lifelong Practice & Competition
While I can’t compare the German club structure to that of other countries in Europe (I’ve also heard good things about the French and Spanish leagues), from what I’ve experienced in North America, the German system is truly unique. Whether you’re a 12 year old junior, a touring professional or a retired senior, there’s a team for you.
Many have heard of the German ‘Bundesliga’ - this is the top league in all sports, including tennis - and is generally reserved for current & former professional players. But there are many other leagues - Bundesliga 2, Regionalligen, Oberligen, Landesligen etc. And from my understanding, there are a total of 11 (please correct me if I’m wrong).
Many of these leagues have a variety of age categories, male & female teams etc. But the beauty is, depending on the league, if you earn the top spot at the end of a 2 month season, you move up to a higher league for next season. From my view, this is reason players of all ages were to train, more or less, all year round...so they can bring their A game come spring time and help their team fight for first place (and to try to avoid coming in last position and moving down a league).
A few other key points you should be aware of. First, the higher your level, the greater your chances of being picked up by a good team (in one of the top 4-5 leagues) and the club paying you to play. Many of the players I coached were paid to compete for a club, providing further incentive to play well (although from what I heard, the pay has dropped significantly over the years).
Second, the league matches are tied into the ranking system (more about the ranking system below) - meaning that every match you play will count towards your national ranking. And, if you beat a player who is ranked higher than you, you will receive more points then if you beat a lower ranked competitor.
Doubles are also a HUGE part of club matches. In my opinion, from a development standpoint, this is really great as young juniors will regularly play doubles from an early age - unlike in North America where most events are singles only and many players don’t get a chance to play (and learn to play) doubles until high school or college.
And lastly, there’s a fast growing indoor league which many don’t know about. It’s not as developed as the outdoor leagues in the spring, but it’s still a way to stay sharp during the winter months...which actually aren’t that bad...compared to Canada that is ;).
2) Tournaments, Tournaments, Tournaments
I’ve never seen anything like this before....literally a high caliber tournament every weekend within a 1.5 hour drive (and most within the city limits of Munich themselves). If you’re a coach of junior or entry level pro players, Munich is a great choice for a spring/summer competitive trip. You could play 3 tournaments within the span of a 7 day stretch - all within a 30 minute drive (although I don’t recommend this approach...it is an option).
For older juniors, players competing in the club system or those on the Future tour (soon to be transition tour), there are multiple prize money events every single weekend. During the club season, many of these events occur during the week - this allows players to play prize money events in between club matches.
Further to that, there are U21 prize money events, a rare type of tournament that I haven’t seen elsewhere. I had players playing a club match on the weekend, a U21 prize money event beginning the following Monday and then a regular prize money event beginning Friday. That’s an extreme example but it’s highly possible. In any case, there’s no better way to develop your game then through competition - and it seems like the German system has that figured out.
And one more thing, if you’re looking to play Transition Tour events (formerly Futures events), from Munich, you’re quite close to Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic - all of which have multiple events throughout the year. Within a 3-4 hour drive, you have access to a Futures event almost every week during the outdoor season.
3) One Ranking System for Everyone
The German ranking system - is both elaborate and complex - but systematic (like almost everything else in the country). The rating system is based on what’s called an LK (Leistungsklasse or ‘performance class’) structure and players are classified from LK-1 (best level you can achieve) to LK-23 (you’re a beginner). The beauty is, it doesn’t matter what age you are, everyone has an LK rating - which makes competition even more exciting as every tournament you play, the players LK rating is next to their name on the draw sheets. And doesn’t matter what age, you can play/practice with anyone (I personally grew up playing older members at my local club…but it’s something many juniors don’t do as often these days).
What I didn’t mention in the tournament section is that each event has a different class (in terms of level/importance). The higher the class of the event, the more points are awarded. But on top of that, if you beat someone with a higher LK rating, you’re also awarded more points. The system is very fair - if you play more AND play well, you’ll move up in the rankings. But just playing lots of events won’t get you to the top - you will have to beat higher level players - which means you’ll have to continue playing higher level events.
Another bonus, all ITF/ATP/WTA events are linked to the German system - if you have a DTB license - i.e. German membership. This means that any matches you win on those tours will award you points towards your German ranking. And if you’re playing in Germany, you really do want your ranking to improve because the level is quite high - you might even draw a former top 100 pro in the first round of a prize money event (so seedings matter)!
Just to give you an example of how good the level in Germany is - on the men’s side, most players in the top 100 have ATP points. I believe I saw players around the high 80s ranked around 1100 ATP.
Lastly, there are also LK rating matches - in other words, specific events where a player might play 2-3 matches in one day or weekend in order to determine if their LK rating is still valid or if they should move up or down in the system (this is what many adult players do as they may not have the ability to play as many tournaments but still have a good level and don’t want their LK rating to deteriorate).
4) Tennis was Meant to be Played on Red Clay
From my perspective, tennis was meant to be played on red clay. There’s just something about the dirt that signifies ‘battle’. I grew up playing on har-tru (green clay courts typical in North America), but in my opinion, there’s nothing quite like the clay you see across Europe.
I’ve seen the tour stats for rally lengths but have you ever played or watched a competitive Futures event played on outdoor clay in Europe? Most of the clay is slow, the balls bounce a mile high and the rallies are anything but short. That’s what the stats don’t tell you - and that’s the road that most players have to take if they want to crack the challenger and main tours. Do you still have an advantage when you make a big first serve? Of course! But it’s not the same as what you get on hard courts (or even green clay, which is typically faster than red). You need to learn to construct points, you need to be able to move well and you need to be able to do both under fatigue and deep into a 3rd set. I had players battling guys & gals around the 300 ranking spots on both tours - there wasn’t much that separated them, other then one player having the experience to do the necessary things in the heat of the moment - which often simply meant outlasting them.
5) “Sweep the Courts”
The last thing I wanted to comment on was the outdoor tennis clubs themselves - especially the courts. It’s hard to find an outdoor club where the courts aren’t well maintained...and outdoor tennis clubs in Germany are like hockey arenas in Canada, they’re all over the place!
I think part of the reason the courts are so well maintained is the culture that tennis breeds. Every member feels responsible to contribute to the welfare of the club/courts...and this is done from a very early age. Here’s one clear example - what do you do when you’re finished playing? You sweep and water your own court! That’s definitely not the case in North America (at least not the clay court clubs I’ve been to). Even in the winter, when we’re playing on indoor carpet (often on a special type of surface called Granulat), players sweep the courts after using them. Not only does this maintain the courts, it gives the next players a better surface to play on.
Where are the Tennis Academies?
One thing that differed in Munich (I can’t really speak for other cities in Germany) was that there weren’t any real tennis academies. Sure there were tennis schools (called Tennisschule) but for juniors, this was more of an after school type program, not a typical academy you’d see in North America. So where do the better players/juniors train? Either you’re at the TennisBase (part of the DTB - German Tennis Federation), training with a private coach OR training in smaller groups of 2-4 players. There was a time when Niki Pilic had a tennis academy in Munich (even Novak Djokovic trained there) but that ended many years ago. I’d say that this is one area where perhaps tennis in Munich has room for growth.
I did however, have a chance to visit Schuttler-Waske Tennis University - located just outside Frankfurt. This was the type of academy you’d see in places like Florida. Many players - from juniors to professionals - all in one central location.
To talk about that experience would require a post in itself but I will share this - something that I have and will continue to adopt in my own training - is having only 2 players practicing per court at any given time. I found that this allowed the coach to really give players proper attention - and affords more practice time on a full court, rather than relying solely on cross court drills. Their organizational approach to this is quite simple - the entire academy is part of a Facebook group (something I actually did a few years back when coaching in a large academy setting…and something I strongly recommend). When the practice schedule is ready, they post it in advance - usually the night before - so that everyone has access to it. This is especially effective as players are coming in and out often because of variable tournament schedules.
Lastly, according to the DTB (German Tennis Federation), there are 1.8 million tennis members registered in the system. Compare that to 700 000 in the US (according to the USTA). The population of Germany is ~80 million versus ~325 million in the US. Perhaps there are more people playing tennis in the US that aren’t members of the USTA, but that means they’re not capable of playing sanctioned events. Based on these numbers, the Germans seem to be doing something right.
While there’s no perfect system, there are definitely things we can learn from other parts of the world. I was lucky enough to experience one of the best places for tennis first hand for over 2 years - and am grateful for it. I aim to keep my Munich ties and organize a yearly competitive trip for juniors/entry level tour players. You should consider it too...it’s well worth it.
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