On the struggles of youth athletes in Poland
Tennis is a sport that teaches players discipline and improves their inner strengths. Since all tennis tournaments are single-elimination competitions, each game and match is important for young players who aspire to reach the top of the tennis world. Each match is a chance to show tennis skills, a chance to be noticed, and, as a result, an opportunity to secure a financial backer. These conditions create extremely high pressure environments, especially for those who cannot afford to finance their own athletic education. Everyone loves to watch stars like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, but few realize that behind these athletes’ success stands not only their talent and hard work but also an entire team that guides these players. There is a plethora of youngsters who dream to be amongst the Federer’s, Nadal’s, and Djokovic’s, but few can afford the necessary materials and trainings needed to become part of their league. In Poland, there are many talented children who try their best to be successful in tennis; however, the largest impediment to their goals is financial difficulties.
Aspiring to reach a spot in the top 100 (in the world open ranking) comes with many expenses, such as coaching costs, court rentals, medical care, physiotherapists, dietitians, and psychologists, to name a few. These expenses are roughly 120,000 PLN a year, while the monthly pre-taxed average wage in Poland is 4,500 PLN (current exchange: 1 PLN = 0.27 USD). Unfortunately, this is not even the complete list. Players must gain experience by playing in tournaments, which often require traveling. Being able to pay expenses is difficult, and the psychological pressure is very high, with one loss being enough to eliminate a player from the tournament. Annually, there are four tournament periods (preceded by preparation time), which require expenses of another 110,000 PLN. That results in annual expenditures of over 230,000 PLN. Comparing the above numbers, one can easily come to a conclusion that without significant financial support from sponsors, talented young players from Poland have no chance to compete with players from other, more wealthy countries.
The Polish educational system is not supportive of athletes, either. Teachers in public schools are often prejudiced against children who practice sports. As a result, schools are not flexible with creating make-up exams for student-athletes. Thus, many Polish students decide to attend a special online school in Sopot (Tennis Academy of Sopot). This alternative method of education is much more difficult and requires a higher level of self-discipline. Online studying has another disadvantage: isolation from other communities.
Despite financial obstacles in an athlete’s career, Poland is proud to have promising young players of both sexes. Our best player is Agnieszka Radwańska. In 2016, she was ranked third in the world. Her success is impressive; however, her story is a little different from other players. During childhood, her father served as her coach. A majority of coaches do not concern themselves with players’ emotional wellbeings; instead, they teach tennis just for money. However, Radwanska’s father taught her with passion and love. In addition, during Agnieszka’s training years, the Polish Tennis Association was financially supported by the Polish businessman Ryszard Krauze, and more money could be spent on individual athletes.
Currently, Magda Linette (72 WTA), Magdalena Frech (172 WTA), Katarzyna Piter (367 WTA) are working on reaching top 10. In addition, there is Iga Swiatek, who, despite being only 16 years old, is ranked 712 by the World Tennis Association (WTA). This year, she played in the Junior French Open. In the third round, she won in 38 minutes, scoring 6:0; 6:0.
In men’s tennis, Jerzy Janowicz is currently the best singles Polish player (122 ATP ranking). His highest ranking was 14 in the world, and he is now preparing for his big comeback. He won against players such as Grigor Dimitrov, who is currently ranked six in the world. Another young player, Kamil Majchrzak, is 21-years-old and holds the 222nd spot in ATP ranking. More recently, Lukasz Kubot made Polish fans proud as he, along with his partner Marcelo Melo, reached the number one position in doubles ATP. Formerly a singles player, Kubot adapted quickly and is doing wonderfully in doubles tennis.
Every year, there is a tournament in Paris called the U12-Longines Future Tennis Aces. This year, Martyn Pawelski won the tournament. This success secured him an academic scholarship for the next 4 years. Fans hope that this is the beginning of a successful tennis career for this young athlete. Sadly, despite his success, Polish media do not cover events such as these. There are still many other players trying to reach the top, such as Paulina Czarnik, Alicja Zduniak, Patrycja Polanska, Joanna Zawadzka, Maja Chwalinska, Anna Hertel, Daria Kuczer, and Weronika Forys. A few years ago, I was one of them.
However, as a result of financial struggle, I decided to give up and go for my plan B, which was applying as a student-athlete to a university in the United States. In doing so, I would be able to continue playing tennis while studying business administration. Due to financial obstacles and other impediments, many players will likely choose a similar path, which, unfortunately for Poland, will mean a loss of smart and determined citizens.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV
Photos credit: Marta Ruszczynska