SI Vault
Edited by Franz Lidz
July 29, 1985
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July 29, 1985


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While West Germany celebrated the Wimbledon victory of 17-year-old Boris Becker, the youngest player ever to win the event, the International Tennis Federation was mulling over a West German study on tennis burnout. The report adds impetus to efforts to place limits on junior competition. Two weeks ago the ITF accepted a special commission report recommending restrictions on under-16s competing on the world circuit, a ban on pro play by under-14s and abolition of under-12 international tournaments. The measures still have to be enacted by the men's and women's pro councils.

Commissioned by the European Tennis Federation, the study found that of 203 top West German players aged 11 to 16, 66% already had spinal damage, and fewer than 27% had escaped foot trouble. According to German federation head coach Richard Sch�nborn, who coordinated the study, the muscles of many juniors had developed "inadequately, irregularly or weakly, leading to deformity, serious impairment of performance, stagnation and, eventually, the inability to play—all at an age when excessive physical stress should be omitted."

Sch�nborn concluded that premature damage to the spine, hips, knees and ankles combined with psychic stress to eliminate many promising youths from German tennis long before they reached their peak. "Professional managers already entice 14- to 15-year-olds with tempting offers," he said, "only to cast them off ruthlessly when they subsequently fail. Initially celebrated as Wunderkinder, they are then quietly dropped and forgotten, which may have far-reaching consequences throughout their lives."

West Germany and Sweden have withdrawn from international under-12 events. The Germans have had several pre-teen European champs but, says Sch�nborn, "Nothing is heard of them now. They possess neither the physical condition nor the mental attitude for international competition." Becker, he points out, was unimpressive at that age, which presumably spared him some of the psychic stress the study spoke of.

Notwithstanding the ankle injury he suffered at Wimbledon, Becker also has avoided chronic physical problems, a fact that J�rgen Hackauff, the coach of the West German junior tennis program, attributes to Becker's having played soccer, basketball and other sports besides tennis. This, Hackauff suggests, makes for healthier all-around physical as well as emotional development, which is why the German federation is launching a program for under-12 tennis players in which participants will be obliged to play other sports. To prevent burnout, the competition will be weighted so that tennis accounts for only 40% of the scoring.


Fifty years ago this week a would-be Cincinnati chanteuse named Kitty Burke dug her high heels into the dirt of the Crosley Field batter's box and became the first and only woman to bat—albeit unofficially—during a major league game.

It was the end of a seven-game home-stand in 1935, and 30,000 fans had come to see the Reds play St. Louis's world-champion Gas-House Gang. But the stadium held several thousand fewer, and the crowd overflowed onto the field. Burke was part of the spillover.

"You can't hit a lick," she shouted at Cards first baseman Ducky Medwick.

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