Sinner effect – The tennis example from which Italian sailing should take a cue

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sinner effect sailing and tennis

Sailor, instructor and journalist Lamberto Cesari, a careful scholar of the “grassroots” and its dynamics (do you remember his article on the recipe for multiplying sailors, racing and cruising?) in this article examines the work done by FITP (Italian Tennis and Padel Federation) that has led to having a generation of athletes at the top of the world. Is the tennis “model” transferable to that of sailing? In some ways, yes, Cesari argues. Do you agree with him?

Sinner effect – Tennis “model” for sailing? Yes, that’s why

In these days of euphoria over Sinner’s Davis Cup victory. and comrades I reread an article from last year’s Post which chronicles the work done by the Italian Tennis Federation in recent years to get to this level, with a generation of athletes capable of staying in the top twenty in the world and reaching the final stages of the Slams.

Although it is difficult to find cause-and-effect relationships, the article investigates the reform of tennis over the past 10 to 15 years and with a general change in mentality, going to look at all aspects of the sport from communication to the training path of athletes and coaches.

We have already begun to talk about these issues in our sport, and I am thinking especially of the excellent article by Marco Tommasi on our website that has cleverly sorted out with data and names the multitude of players in the Italian boating scene, through the coordination of whom a wise direction could really make an impact on this market that is as fragmented as it is important.

Tennis and sailing. Similarities and differences

Let us now do a little imaginative exercise by taking a cue from the Post article and see how a “model” can be transferable to a sport as diverse as sailing.

tennis and sailing
Tennis and sailing. The topic of our article

First we discuss the media aspect with the opening of a TV channel dedicated to tennis. Unfortunately, sailing suffers from being poorly televised, we know it, we tell ourselves it and the IOC tells us so, and despite the millions invested by Russell Coutts and the America’s Cup it remains perhaps one of our sport’s biggest problems. This is for all intents and purposes the biggest difference with a sport like tennis, which in contrast is the perfect television sport and because of this enjoys funding and prize money. This brief space is not the place to address such a complex topic, but surely the arrival of an Italian SailGP team (we will tell you about it in a future article, ed.) is a small additional drop that helps our movement.

Ganga Bruni saw this coming

I really enjoyed reading about the “fast courts” project, an investment aimed at getting kids to play more on the courts where they compete most in the world (before, Italians were only strong on clay). It comes easy to think of the similarity to our Mediterranean or lacustrine conditions so different to the northern seas, and the difficulty we have historically found racing in the Ocean or northern Europe; the below-expectation result in many classes in Den Haag (where the World Sailing Championships were held in August) is proof of this.

I’m not saying anything new, and I think this was one of the winning insights of coach Ganga Bruni, who in the last four years moved to Italy with the Nacra 17 team going to look for the most similar wave conditions to Tokyo, and the results were seen with Tita-Banti’s gold and the Italian nacristi at the top of world sailing.

Tennis and young people

In tennis there has been a reform of the technical sector, going for specific outside expertise (mental coaches, nutritionists, physical therapists) and building thematic courses on tennis so as to give them the specific tools to work with tennis athletes. Similarly, there was a push for former athletes to bring their experiences into play to help young people not make the same mistakes again rather than becoming circle masters. The Sailing Federation has done a great job in recent years on training, but so many specific skills are still lacking.

The most interesting point is the one on the training path of young people, where previously emerging talents were selected and taken to the CONI center in Tirrenia in fact “tearing them away” from their natural growth path, now an intermediate selection is favored on the territory with zonal gatherings, where athletes participate with their coaches gradually inserting themselves into the federal environment and are accompanied on this path making friends and receiving support that alone they could not afford. “The intermediate steps are a big help, because a natural selection comes out in the end.”

Better “average” athletes, but let there be many of them!

At the time then of the transition to professionalism comes the intervention and support of the federation: tennis is a sport that requires enormous sacrifices, constant travel from tournament to tournament around the world, and very little money. It is not certain that an emerging talent at age 12 will have the right mindset to deal with this. That’s why Paolo Bertolucci, a former tennis great and TV commentator, says the ambition must be to scout as many “average” players as possible at the youth level: “At 12-14 years old I don’t want one good one, I want six decent ones: there in the middle there is more likely to be one with more desire than the others who becomes a player for me.”

We have sometimes been critical of some of the distorting effects of the Optimist class, but the work being done on interzonal rallies goes exactly in this direction.

The Post article then talks about the great effort made to have Challenger (intermediate) tournaments in Italy and the “trailing effect” of Italian girls, who were incredibly successful in previous years. The Italian Sailing Federation is not always an active subject of what good happens in the movement, but in ocean sailing for example, the trailing effect is there for all to see; and we hope that this favorable moment of Italian sailing between Olympic gold, America’s Cup and ocean sailors can really inspire today’s boys and girls.

The task of us journalists and communicators is to transfer these enterprises, filtering the scale of values in the sail in the right way.

Institutions are tasked with coordinating promotion bodies, training, and the relationship with schools and families; tennis has shown that through an overall vision of can create a successful system.

Lamberto Cesari

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