Progress Tour guru Barry Fulcher discusses the player/coach dynamic and Emma Raducanu’s big call

Kevin Palmer
Barry Fulcher
Barry Fulcher founded the Progress Tour in the UK

British tennis is set to enjoy a bumper 2022 after a host of new tournaments were added to the calendar by the Lawn Tennis Association and the options for players will be further boosted by the Progress Tour.

Since its inception in 2018, the Progress Tour has seen over 4000 players take part in thousands of matches, and paid out over £150,000 in prize money, all of which has been independently sourced, and privately funded.

Here, Tennis365 speaks with Progress Tour founder Barry Fulcher, as he outlines his vision for what is needed in British Tennis and why nurturing the coach/player relationship is so important.

Why did you start the Progress Tour?

With the ever-increasing cost involved in the sport, It is harder than ever for players to fund their lives as they attempt to break through in tennis. There has been so little going on in the UK in terms of ranking and earning opportunities in recent years and that inspired the decision to start the Progress Tour some years ago, which has always been a passion project for me. The tagline of the tour is Compete, Learn, Earn and that’s what we want to do, to give players a chance to progress their careers and make some money out of the events while they are developing.

Have British tennis made mistakes in the way junior players have been backed in recent years?

I have my opinion on junior funding and support. History tells us, that there is absolutely no guarantee that the best players at the age of 12 and 13 will go on to be the most accomplished players when they are 19, 20 and 21 and beyond, so we need to look at how we can spread the resources over a wider net and support more players in the game through their teenage years.

We tend to select a small handful of players at the age of 12 and 13 and fund them to the hilt, but I would challenge anyone who says they can definitively pick which players will come through at such an early age, as there are so many variables that come into the equation. This support would be better placed in providing more and better opportunities for all players to be able to earn and access, and not just a select few. Objectivity trumps subjectivity in this regard.

So do we need to spread the net wider when it comes to funding junior players?

I believe we should incentivise coaches and players to go out and earn their support rather than backing a small handful of players at a young age. Presenting opportunities to all, would be my preference over the classic, subjective ‘funding’ model.

Equally, giving coaches a chance to ‘go on a journey with’, and develop the players they have worked with from a young age is vital. A successful coach/player relationship involves a unique set of circumstances that should be nurtured and encouraged in every way possible. History has told us that taking a player out of their environment and placing them into a system or programme that is perceived to be ‘better’ is not always the answer. Let’s reward the coaches who are out there on the coal face doing a great job, by fully supporting them, so they can continue to get the best out of their players as they develop.

Has funding gone in the wrong direction over the last couple of decades?

Yes, I think we have lost a couple of generations of young professionals over the years, who have not been afforded the right opportunities, and been unable to continue playing as a result. And by opportunities, I mean a competitive infrastructure representative of a tennis nation of our size and resource.

Even if a player is not going to win Wimbledon or the US Open, or break though in their teenage years, if they are provided with the opportunity, they may still become established professionals as they develop – whether that be at the age of 19, 24 or 28 – and it is the very least that we should be providing them with.
It’s my view that the job of a governing body is to provide opportunities for the many, and not for the few.

Emma Raducanu talks to the media

We have seen Emma Raducanu change her coach after winning the US Open, but is it fair to suggest a coach perceived to be one of the best in the game not be right for an individual player?

I am not aware of the full story, of course, but Emma did wonderful things with the support of Andrew Richardson and the rest of her team at the US Open, and the coach/player relationship seemed to be working pretty well. The dynamic between player and coach is so important to generate success in tennis, and I’m not convinced there is such a thing as the ‘best coach’, as it is not a case of one size fits all. There is only the best coach, for that particular player, at that particular time – which is always a unique set of circumstances. I hope it works out for Emma, and she finds what she is looking for, but there’s no doubt that she had the ideal team/set up for her amazing run at the US Open.

What comes next for the Progress Tour?

I’m excited to see where our marquee Progress Tour events can go, as we head into next year, with more prize money and opportunities on offer to players, and new partnerships on the horizon that will help us to grow further. We also have a new mini money series called Compete & Earn, which will provide over 50 weekend events across the country to a wider pool of players, providing player support and competitive opportunities for all. Along with the work of the UK Pro League, the LTA, and Jamie Murray’s Battle of the Brits, there is so much more in the way of opportunity for British players on home soil. If the Progress Tour is able to make a positive contribution to the British Tennis landscape in 2022, then I am happy.

In terms of International events, we are almost back to where we were 15 years ago with the Increase of ITF Pro tournaments put onto the calendar by the LTA, and that is encouraging, but there is so much more we can do. If everyone in the British game can pull in the same direction, it will give all of our aspiring players the best possible chance to progress.