From the USTA: WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., April 6, 2015 – The USTA today announced that Martin Blackman has been named General Manager, USTA Player Development. In this full-time position, Blackman will oversee the USTA’s Player development staff and partner with the U.S. tennis community to identify and develop the next generation of world-class American tennis players. Blackman will continue to work toward a true Team USA concept, working collegially and cooperatively with the greater American player development community. Blackman, who will report to USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Gordon Smith, succeeds Patrick McEnroe, who held the position since 2008.
Blackman will oversee both the USTA’s Player Development staff and Training Centers –including its Regional Training Center network and the Player Development facilities at the soon-to-be created USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Fla.
Blackman has a diverse and extensive background as a coach and a player, beginning with his days as a junior, when he trained with legendary coach Nick Bollettieri, alongside future greats Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Blackman, who won the USTA Boys’ 16s National Championship in 1986 and reached the Boys’ 18s final two years later, went on to become a member of two NCAA Championship teams at Stanford University. He continued his play at the ATP level from 1989 to 1995, reaching a career-high of No. 158.
Blackman then became the head men’s tennis coach at American University in 1998. During his tenure at American, Blackman was named conference Coach of the Year three times, leading American to three conference titles, two NCAA Tournament appearances and its first-ever national ranking.
In 2004, Blackman was hired as Director of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., and began to help build it into one of the premier junior training centers in America. In his five years at the JTCC, Blackman helped the Center double both its junior program enrollment and its full-time staff, and the JTCC has since worked with and helped develop pros such as Alison Riske and Denis Kudla and top junior Francis Tiafoe.
Near the end of his tenure in College Park, Blackman submitted a proposal to the USTA recommending that it partner with the best junior development programs across the nation, which was the impetus for the creation of the USTA Regional Training Center network. He was hired by the USTA in 2009 as Senior Director of Talent Identification and Development, a role that saw him oversee the implementation of the Regional Training Center program, serve as a co-leader of the Coaching Education Department and be USTA Player Development’s leader for Diversity and Inclusion.
Blackman left the USTA in late 2011 to found his own tennis academy, the Blackman Tennis Academy, in Boca Raton, Fla. After only its second year of full-time programming, Blackman’s Academy sent all eight of its graduating students to college on tennis scholarships.
Blackman also served two terms on the USTA Board of Directors, from 2003-06, serving on the Audit and Collegiate Committees.
“The USTA is lucky to have secured an individual with as well-rounded a background as Martin Blackman,” said USTA Chairman, President and CEO Katrina Adams. “I have known Martin for many years and I am confident that he is the right person at the right time to continue to lead USTA Player Development in the right direction moving forward.”
“If you set out to list all of the experience and qualifications you would want in the ideal candidate for this position, Martin checks all of the boxes. He brings a unique combination of experience and skills to the job. His expansive background in all areas of player development from experience as a player, to talent identification, to coaching at the highest levels gives him a solid platform to build on the great base that Patrick and the staff has built.” said USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Gordon Smith. “His experience as a player, coach, administrator and innovator makes him the ideal leader for USTA Player Development as we continue to work with the American Tennis Family to identify and develop world-class American players.”
Blackman lives in Boca Raton, Fla., with his wife and their four children. He holds an economics degree from George Washington University.
Update – here is the transcript from the USTA Media conference call with Mr Blackman. Journalists who asked the questions in the news conference were Colette Lewis of Zootennis, Rachel Cohen of AP, Jim Martz, Dave “Koz” Kozlowski, Pam Shriver of ESPN Cindy Shmerler of Tennis Magazine, Sandra Harwitt, Bill Simons and blogger Lisa Stone.
April 6, 2015
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I’d like to thank all the members of the media joining us for this call today. On the call today we will have the USTA chairman of the board and president, Katrina Adams, the USTA chief operating officer and executive director, Gordon Smith, and our newly named general manager for player development, Martin Blackman.
I’m going to turn it over to our chairman of the board and president Katrina Adams for some opening remarks.
KATRINA ADAMS: Thank you. Welcome, everyone, thank you for tuning in for this wonderful announcement of our hiring of Martin Blackman as our new general manager of player development. He is very qualified. It was an arduous deal for us in trying to come down to the final decision, but Martin’s background was well experienced and we’re truly excited about the future of American tennis going forward.
Without further ado, I’ll pass it over.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: We’ll open it up to questions at this point.
Q. Martin, why did you leave the USTA in 2011?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: In 2011, it was kind of the end of the first phase in RTC rollout. I thought we did a great job kind of piggybacking on the work of Jose Higueras, under Patrick’s leadership, partnering with some of the best programs in the country.
I wanted to kind of take that time in my career and start a program, kind of go back into the private sector. That was something I always wanted to do, and I thought that was the right time after we had finished the first part of the job with the regional training centers.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I wanted to point out, when Martin said the RTC in his answer, he was referring to the Regional Training Centers.
Q. What, in your experience, as a private coach in the past three or four years have you learned about interacting with the USTA and how do you think that’s going to help you going forward?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I mean, so much. Being in the trenches over the last four years and being on court six to eight hours a day with kids ages 8 to 18. I think the first thing that I noticed when I went back into the field was how different the perception of private coaches of the USTA and player development.
The outreach that we started culminating with the Team USA initiative that was brought forth by Patrick and the USTA leadership is really bearing fruit. I really felt that. I felt like the coaches felt like they were being supported, respected and partnered with. I also saw that when you get a player 14, 15, 16 years old, there’s an elite, high‑performance player, you really need the support of the Federation to get them to the next level.
Q. You just mentioned a player in the 16‑, 17‑, 18‑year‑old range, what can the USTA provide for that level of a player?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I think, again, one of the strengths of Patrick’s leadership was that the support of player development was very flexible and able to be customized. In some instances you’re going to have a player like a Madison Keys, who is able to go to a former championship like Lindsay Davenport, maybe get different types of support, or you’re going to get some players that will come to the USTA and get direct coaching.
But I think what Patrick and his team did so well, and I know Katrina and Gordon want to continue, is that we have to be flexible in the way that we relate to players, parents and coaches. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
The way the game is going, the resources that are needed to develop a top‑10 player, it’s very difficult to do that without some support from the Federation.
Q. This morning I was talking to a veteran coach, Rick Macci, who said today is a very good day for American tennis with your announcement. You can relate to what junior development is all about and deal with coaches in the private sector. Could you elaborate a little more about that.
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Well, I mean, you know that Rick is a great coach with an amazing track record. I think one of the things you learn when you’re in the private sector and on the court a lot is the emotional investment that it takes to develop a good player.
It’s not just feeding balls, not just doing private lessons, not just going to tournaments. There’s a huge emotional investment that the coach makes in the player and in the family.
So knowing that, when a transition is happening, we in player development have to be very sensitive in respecting that relationship between the player and their primary coach and their parents.
I think that’s something that I’m definitely sensitive to, but I think it’s something that Patrick and his team recognized when they rolled out the Team USA initiative.
Q. I did a story once on University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga, who is a big tennis fan. I asked him about top athletes getting into tennis as opposed to maybe basketball. I said what if Yannick Noah’s son Joakim had stayed in tennis, or what if LeBron James had gone into tennis? He said both of them would have been the No.1 player in the world, in his opinion. Talk about attracting top athletes to tennis, and is this something that high performance would get involved in?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I think it’s an ongoing challenge. I mean, if we’re going to develop world‑class players, we want to start with young people who are potentially world‑class athletes. So I think it’s a collaboration really with community tennis. I know it’s something that Katrina is very serious about doing, opening the doors and changing some of the perception, creating more outreach opportunities. I know Gordon feels that way, as well.
But it’s going to be a joint effort to broaden the base and reach out to communities that maybe we haven’t as much or that maybe perceived a lot of barriers when it comes to playing tennis. We need to make sure we change the perception and remove the barriers as much as we can.
Q. Nick Bollettieri was excited. He endorsed you by saying you were a great listener and you wouldn’t be (indiscernible). How strongly do you feel those two traits will help?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Definitely the first one. In my first 36 to 60 days, I’m going to be doing a lot of listening. I’m going to be listening to Katrina and Gordon as we crystallize the goals for player development and really set priorities. I’m going to be listening to Patrick as he transitions out. I’ll be doing a lot of lot of listening to Jay Berger, Ola Malmqvist and Jose Higueras, and I’ll be doing a lot of listening to past American champions and great coaches.
I think it’s very difficult to make good decisions if you’re not a good listener. But at that point having priorities and having goals, you need to make decisions. I appreciate Nick’s endorsement. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach and a mentor. And, yes, I will be doing a lot of listening.
Q. Will that include listening to the kids, getting feedback from the young players themselves?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Yes. I mean, I think you have different perspectives out there. I think one of the most valuable perspectives that we have, and we have to tap into, is the voice of our former champions. Katrina has initiated a great new mentorship program that’s really going to formalize some of the input and advice we get from some of those former champions. Reaching back to players like Mary Joe Fernandez, Lindsay Davenport, Billie Jean King, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, reaching out to those great champions and listening to them, then listening to some of our current champions, then coming up with commonalities that we can formalize and make a little more systematic.
Q. I know you have four kids. I’m assuming some of them, if not all of them, have played some youth sports. As a parent going through some experiences with youth sports, how is that affected and how do you think you’ll bring that experience as a parent and relate it to this position?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Yes, I have four kids. They all play tennis. Two play because they really love it. Two play because it’s a free sport from daddy. But what I’ve learned in going to tournaments and watching them, watching a lot of my players, is that there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to skip levels, to be the eight‑year‑old that plays the 12‑and‑unders, to be the player that should be playing 60 orange that plays regular yellow.
That would probably be the first thing that I would try to address or continue to address with education and incentives because when you skip levels, you at some point are really retarding the developmental process.
A great example to me of someone I admire with decision make is CiCi Bellis. After CiCi got to the second round of the US Open, beat Cibulkova, tremendous win, she played the Youth World Fed Cup, 16‑and‑under event. She led her team to that title. Then she played the Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl. The way she played 10Ks and 25Ks, that to me is an example of somebody who understands levels.
The second part of the experience with my kids is I love the concept of half‑day tournaments and one‑day tournaments for 10‑and‑under and 12‑and‑under tournaments. There are not that many parents who can afford to take full days, Saturday and Sunday, away from their family and jobs to be in that situation.
Those are the two biggest things, the process of not skipping levels, and making competitive experiences more acceptable for average families.
Q. Who were your idols growing up?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: My idols growing up were Jimmy Connors. When I was a little kid, I used to pull my socks up to my knees like Jimmy Connors. Guillermo Vilas was an idol of mine. As I got to know more about him, then Arthur Ashe became a very serious role model for me.
Q. Why all three of those?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Well, Jimmy Connors to me is probably, with the exception of maybe Rafa, the greatest competitor that’s ever played our sport. That is very compelling to a young kid, just seeing somebody fight like that and be so passionate. My parents took me to Forest Hills in ’77. I was able to see him and Vilas up close.
So really the competitive spirit in Jimmy Connors. For Vilas it’s more the grinder, somebody who worked so hard and played so gracefully. Then for Arthur Ashe, it’s really about character, it’s about tennis being a metaphor for life, what you can do when you excel, people you can help.
Q. What is the most significant character trait in your life that makes you well‑suited for this job?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I think discipline, decision making. I think that along with listening and along with being a good leader, I think at the end of the day your decision making has to be very disciplined based on objective criteria, not emotional, not reactive. I think that gives your team a sense of comfort in the process of how decisions are made, a sense of security.
At the end of the day when a great player pops up, that great player is an outlier. That great player isn’t the result of some perfect formula that everybody figured out and put together. Part of the system’s job is to stay out of the way, but also to facilitate the development of those players. You have to have discipline.
If you make a decision that doesn’t fit the prodigy, it’s okay, because the prodigy is still going to become great.
Q. The relationship of player development to the college tennis athlete. I’m sitting at the Easter Bowl. I’m at the 18s, taking note that most of these kids are on the college tennis pathway as opposed to the professional pathway. What are your thoughts on how player development will work with those kids who are focused on the collegiate development pathway.
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I think that with the changing demographics of the age of your top 100 players, that college is going to become a very important part of the pro tennis pathway. If we’ve got top hundred men who are 27 years old on average, on the women’s side 24, you’re talking about a significant window of time after a player graduates from high school.
Again, Patrick showed great leadership in setting up a collegiate function within player development. That’s something that I think we need to invest even more in to support our best college players, our best American college players, and our best American college coaches.
Q. Do you see there will be additional funding support for those players, for example, during the summers when they may want to try their hand at pro circuit events or other professional tournaments?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Well, I think it’s a little premature for me to talk about funding. I’m not officially on the job yet.
But in terms of priorities, it’s definitely a priority because especially on the men’s side, there are not that many boys who are ready for the rigors of the tour at 18 years old. If they’re not, then we have a uniquely American advantage in our collegiate system that we need to make the most of.
Q. I have been to your academy a few times. It looks like it’s a very successful program. I’m wondering why having developed it to that, what is the appeal to you about going back and not being your own boss, going back to the USTA, basically why you’re interested in moving in a different direction?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Well, I really enjoyed building my program. We have a great team of coaches. I’m going to be transitioning my program, the leadership of it, to my head coach Jose Caballero.
For me, this opportunity is the greatest opportunity for someone who is passionate about player development and really wants to give back to a sport that’s given me so much.
It’s a dream job for me. So I had to pursue it. I’m very fortunate that Katrina and Gordon have given me the opportunity to serve.
Q. I’m a proponent of the old school where kids went to college then went out on the tour. They all seem so anxious to go right away. How do you convince an eager 16‑year‑old or 17‑year‑old who has had good results, but they’re not ready and they should take advantage of the college system?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Yeah, I think player development as a department has done some great research on benchmarks for players. When a player is about to graduate from high school, either on the men’s side or the women’s side, there’s some benchmarks they should be made aware of, they, their parents, their coach, their team. So if they’re not having significant success on the tour, that should really be an indicator for them that college is the way to go.
But we have to make sure that we give them the support while they’re in college to keep developing as players and to come out when they’re 21, 22, ready to do damage, like John Isner, Steve Johnson. And I think we’ll see more of them on the women’s side. We have Irina Falconi at 100, but I think we’ll start to see more on the women’s side as well.
Q. Do you think it’s a way of making careers last longer?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: I mean, I don’t know. I do know if you’ve got five spots opening in the top 100 every year, and the average age is 24 on the women’s side, 27 on the men’s side, if I’m correct, I do know that there’s a gap of four to six years.
So the question is, what is the best way to develop a player during that window. Do you want them to go on the futures tour, the challengers tour, play 30 weeks a year between the age of 18 and 24, or do you want them to mature and get stronger and then go out there.
Q. Going back to attracting the best athletes. I know it’s early, but I want to know from early ideas about working with the community tennis division side of the USTA, the beginning youth sports athletes. How do we get better athletes, particularly when you look at the men’s side the last 15 years? How do we do it?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: It’s a big question. It’s a big question. It’s an important question.
I’m going to give you a few ideas. One of them is we have an opportunity with the 10‑and‑under formats that are kids’ sized. We have the opportunity to have play on a 36 red court, a 60‑foot orange court. Now, how do we leverage that opportunity so that we get kids who can play other sports in school for free to have a free experience in the right format en masse. I think that’s a huge opportunity and I think we’re making big headway there, but there’s a lot more we can do.
I think number two is, there are a lot of city programs that have real meaningful, organic connections with African American communities, Hispanic communities, lower‑income communities, that we can support, that already have the relationships, but maybe don’t have the capacity or the resources.
I mean, thirdly, I think we just got to keep knocking down the perception that we’re a super expensive, elitist sport.
If we talked again in two months, I’ll have a very good answer for you.
Q. Why do you think it’s been so long since the American men have lifted the trophy at a Grand Slam?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Well, I think there are a lot of factors that have contributed to the globalization of the game and just make it such a difficult sport. I think one of the things that hurt us is that college was the most viable pathway in the ’70s and the ’80s. I think that changed a lot in the ’90s where you had a lot of international players that used that time and really broke into the top 100 at a young age.
I think it’s a question of windows. So we were blessed with Sampras, Courier, Agassi, Wheaton, Chang, and then with Roddick, Fish and Blake. We’ve been blessed with Serena and Venus.
But now the role of the Federation in facilitating the development of a world‑class player is much greater. I think that’s why we opened the window six years ago when Patrick was hired, and we’re starting to see the fruit right now.
Some of the bright lights right now, we’ve got 14 American women in the top 100 on the WTA, and we’ve got 13 boys in the top 100 of the ITF junior rankings, and three more who are playing pro who would also be top 100. We’re looking at a pool of about 16 boys who are coming up the pipeline right now, and then 14 women who are already in the top 100. So the window’s open again. We just have to make sure that we get those players exactly what they need to get to the next level.
Q. Katrina awhile ago said we are a nation that is a land of excess, not opportunity. There’s a lack of motivation. If kids don’t understand they have to do the hard work, they will never get anywhere. Jose Higueras made a similar comment to the Los Angeles Times saying we were lacking competitiveness in our players. That’s all about emotion, fire, hunger. Talk about that. Is that something an association can work with a player on?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Yeah, I do think a Federation can make a huge impact. I agree with Katrina and Jose.
I think what the challenge is, is to create a culture where all of our players are striving for excellence, striving for Grand Slam titles, striving to be top five. Doesn’t mean they’re all going to achieve it, of course not. But creating that culture allows players to push each other. One player pops, the next one pops, the next one sees that, I can do that.
The mentorship program that Katrina has initiated, more involvement from some of our former champions, all those things are going to work together to create that culture.
I mean, if we’ve got boys or girls who are ranked 60 or 70 in the world, and they’re sitting at a table with Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Serena, Venus, Lindsay Davenport, those American champions are not going to be patting them on the back telling them, Hey, you made it. They’re going to inspire them to be what you said, raising a Grand Slam trophy.
Q. A lot of kids come from families that can afford to give their kids tennis, but are choosing sports that are more team sports. They like that atmosphere. Do you think there’s a way of promoting kids into tennis, in the early years, making it more of a team sport than an individual sport to attract kids, that they feel part of a whole as opposed to on their own?
MARTIN BLACKMAN: Yes, I think that’s already being done very effectively with some of the eight‑and‑under, 10‑and‑under events. Even at the national level, the competitive structure, we’ve added a lot of national team competitions in addition to zonals and intersectionals. I think that makes a huge difference in the way the game is perceived and the way a kid is introduced to tennis.
Q. I’ve been to junior Fed Cup and Davis Cup. Even that level of elite kids, it seems to bring something out in them when they’re rooting for the other person as well as just themselves.
MARTIN BLACKMAN: For sure. I totally agree with that.
CHRIS WIDMAIER: I would like to take a moment to thank everybody for joining us on the call today.
Katrina, Gordon, thank you for taking the time. Martin, congratulations. We look forward to seeing everybody soon.
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