We quickly agreed on a reasonable amount, after which I had to go back to telling high-profile coaches and former players (many of whom couldn't carry her racket as competitors or coaches) that no, I wasn't interested in paying them $250,000 a year for sharing their wisdom and experience. And certainly not when I have great coaches out there, busting their asses for these kids on a 24/7 basis for less than half of that. Those coaches are the ones who have the biggest impact on these kids; if I'm going to take care of anyone first, it's them.
If some of Tracy's mental strength and determination rub off on the youngsters, we'll be in good shape. But that's even tougher, in some cases, than teaching someone to play tennis in a circle.
I was also open to bringing Tracy's mentor Robert Lansdorp into our tent, but anyone can tell you he's a tough nut to crack. Robert has a history and well-earned reputation as a lone wolf; he's the classic guy who's got a basket of balls in the trunk of his car and a résumé that enables him to ask whatever price he wants for a half-hour or 60-minute lesson. You can do pretty well for yourself, getting two or three hundred bucks for an hour lesson.
Also, the prototypical Lansdorp product is a vanishing breed on the tennis landscape; it's about topspin and fitness these days. Robert is a very smart guy, and he's made some adjustments to keep up with the times. But he was by no means an automatic fit with the program I conceived.
Some of Robert's ideas are original and provocative, great starting points for debate, even if they run counter to our own view. Among other things, Lansdorp believes that the only way to create champions is on a one-on-one basis. A great player, he believes, needs someone to serve in a hybrid role as coach-manager-authority figure. For Jimmy Connors, it was his own mother, Gloria. For Bjorn Borg it was Lennart Bergelin. For Rafael Nadal, it's Toni Nadal. And the women's tour is awash with parents, almost all of them fathers, whose control over their daughters is comprehensive.
But a strong protégé/mentor relationship, while common, is by no means the only path to success. As valuable as Tony Palafox was to my brother John, he wasn't a towering figure in his life. Nor was my dad, at least not in a tennis context. Many of the fine French players bubbled up out of a state development program, while Roger Federer didn't have an omnipresent coach-manager—nor did Lindsay Davenport, despite the critical role Lansdorp played in shaping her game.
We don't want to get into the business of these intense one-on-one relationships, although we'll support them as a third party in any way that makes sense. And we don't write checks under the assumption that the money will be well spent by a kid's mentor. That's like plonking down your money, squeezing your eyes shut, and rolling the dice. But you'd be surprised to know how many parents or coaches come to us for help and pretty soon make it perfectly clear that the only thing they really want is cold, hard cash. Often, there's a streak of paranoia under the surface—the coach or parent is afraid that we want to steal the kid and get all the credit for his or her subsequent glory. So they try to keep us at arm's length, while appealing to us for help.