Earlier this year, jaws dropped when 15-year-old sensation Cori Gauff walked off victorious over idol Venus Williams. Behind all the hype of her win, questions of junior professionals jumped to the forefront of the tennis community.
Considered a junior at the age of 15, Gauff is only allowed to partake in 10 professional tournaments. As a result of high performance, she has increased her total from 10 to 16.
Rodger Federer, an international talent and owner of Gauff’s management team, spoke on behalf of current eligibility rules. He is a proponent of altering the current rules about age and said that it limits their opportunities to play during their peak performance.
Corey Gauff, Cori’s dad, has a similar view on the matter. He has petitioned the current regulations in regards not only to his daughters’ ability to play a limited number of tournaments but junior professionals as a whole.
Not being able to ‘play freely’ is a problem that has been addressed in multiple situations. Gauff believes that the limited chances young athletes are granted causes more stress. He has said that “she’s like pressed because she doesn’t feel like she’ll get another chance”. Cori has weighed in on the topic herself, saying that she would prefer a limited amount of matches rather than tournaments for players under the age of 18.
Age eligibility was introduced back in 1994 with updates since. The rules have ensured two things:
1) Risk of player burnout is reduced
2) Proper development – for example, Jennifer Capriati
Athletes starting as early as 3 or 4 have an increased risk of burnout. A surprising contribution to burnout is parents. When parents have their children join the tour earlier than they should, it puts tremendous stress on their minds and bodies. When playing at this level, athletes have not had the time to fully develop. They are not capable, mentally and physically, to endure the pressures of professional sports.
Officials have seen an increase in youth participation and injury, and therefore believe that the rule is still relevant. However, allowing for flexibility based on participation would be beneficial.
The other side of the argument is removing the rule completely. Without the restrictions, it is up to the parents to decide how much their children will play. Financial incentives and results being an attraction for athletes and parents to continue the push.