Hrvoje Zmajic: an Insider’s View of Tennis Development in Europe
Very few people are in a position to experience the evolution of a sport across a continent. In his role as Development Officer for ITF/Tennis Europe, Hrvoje Zmajic was responsible for development programmes across Europe.
Hrvoje Zmajic is an international speaker, consultant and former Development Officer for ITF/Tennis Europe. Hrvoje is has a Master’s degree for the University of Zagreb, and is certified as a tennis coach by the Croatian and German tennis federations. He was also a coach for the ITF/Tennis Europe touring team for 14 and under, and national 14 and under team captain for Croatia.
In this interview (roughly 40 minutes), Hrvoje shares his vast experience of European tennis to provide pragmatic and sound advice for coaches, players and parents. He covers topics including how to help players achieve their potential, why his home country, Croatia, has produced so many tennis players, and his predictions on the future of tennis in Europe.
There is no better person to provide thoughts and opinions on Tennis in Europe past and present.
Top take-away points provided by Hrvoje Smajic
As a student, tennis is a great way to earn some money.
In communist and socialist times, the university was path was traditional. At present the coach education in Eastern Europe is more and more based in national associations. They are taking over but the path is a little different in each country.
In Eastern Europe, sports universities have traditionally been leaders in terms of disseminating coaching knowledge. That tradition is still there but in tennis it is changing.
First of all, I believe that all players, whether they play for fun in their own club, or want to play at the top of the international rankings, deserve to be able to develop their potential.
I always try to get the best out of every player. Coaches should be ambitious about what players can learn.
Another thing that’s very important to me is that I believe that everybody can practise as a pro. I’m not saying everyone can play as a pro, but you can practise like one – with a goal. There is a term, deliberate learning that means that you are committed to your learning and you take responsibility. This is the main characteristic of professional players.
Nowadays we start with very organised practise much earlier. So, in a way we are taking away the possibility that they will take responsibility for themselves because we make decisions for them.
It is hampering them… their readiness to suffer because of all of the other activities that are offered to them. For example, especially computer games are easy for them – they don’t need to suffer in the sun or in the rain to play tennis. You need commitment to go an play outside in the rain.
- I was always looking to develop myself; to try new things.
- I was alway professional and dependable in all of my roles.
- Also, I like to develop people; players and leaders in some countries – those leaders are people I’m most proud of.
What was very important when I started was being able to work with some of the leading coaches in my country. It’s important to find the right mentor; the person that you resonate with and from whom you can really learn.
Informal situations, like chatting to people in the bar in the evenings at events like conferences and tournaments gave me a great opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from talented people.
- Every parent should try to understand the development pathway and the requirements at different stages. Some parents think that they would like to buy success, but it’s a long journey and that isn’t possible.
- Cooperate with your coach and invest a lot of time in accompanying your kid. Tennis is not like a football game, a competition is more than 2 hours – it can be a whole week – and it isn’t feasible for coaches to attend the whole thing. As a parent, if you can’t or don’t want to invest your time then maybe you should think about something else.
- Get ready to look at your kid during competition.
At the beginning of the journey a coach should get a formal education.
Look for a mentor that reflects your values and expectations. I believe it’s very important at the beginning of the career that you have someone who can guide you, open some ideas for you and perhaps give you honest feedback when you need to improve something.
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to have a mentor and learn from them. The best way is if a mentor is close to you – someone you work with. If that’s not possible, in these days you can catch up in other ways but you have to build up a relationship in order to get something out of it. It’s possible that you’ll need to offer something in return. To assist them or do something to help them.
All successful player are talented players; they have excellent timing, can learn faster and they understand the game.
When we talk about extraordinary players it can happen that we see it early in their career – but not always.
As a nation we are competitive; we play to win. Fun means winning!
Parents are more willing to take a risk. Financial investment, as well as a time investment.
Many parents also see the opportunity to make money.
The sport structure is not very strong and there is no support, but we have excellent vocation. It’s important to take part in the right level of competition at the right time. Players have access to play a diverse range of tournaments. Unconsciously, Croation players are using that opportunity.
Europe is a leading area in tennis, with a strong tournament structure – but relatively small geographically. There are also different styles of play in a small area so players are exposed to different styles.
Tennis is facing challenges. There are a lot of activities fighting for kids attention. Kids also expect everything to come easily. They don’t want to commit long term.
It’s important to work closely with schools to increase the position of tennis as a sport.
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