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The financial struggle of Ireland’s top tennis player

James McGee is Ireland’s number one tennis player, currently ranked 722nd in the world, but with the highest rank of 146th in 2015. He has been playing for Ireland Davis Cup Team since 2009, starting in the 400s, in a strong need of funding to really push on, but unfortunately got stuck. After 5 years after turning professional, he wrote about his experiences of struggles on his blog.

“For many years, my biggest concern about playing on the tour wasn’t so much about my will or ability, it was more about having the money to actually do it. I was extremely fortunate to have some private sponsors help me out for a short time when I first started on the Futures Tour (July 2008) but the money didn’t last long due to the economic downturn. I ended up being in a position in early 2009 where I had no sponsorship and very little personal money. Major challenge.”

James lack of funding at that time lead to major changes in his schedule, his game, mentality, ranking and consequently his rewards. He consequently played primarily on Futures Tour during 2009/2010, was limited to a European schedule as cross-continental flight costs were too expensive, and travelled mostly alone since he couldn’t afford a coach. “At first, it was exciting to have such freedom and to be “chasing my dream” but after some time reality kicked in. I was both alone and stressed and wasn’t sure exactly how things would pan out. Loneliness and high performance don’t mix well and it’s just not surprising that I wasn’t reaching my full potential during that period,” he wrote.

He had to take strong measures to cut costs, so he flew with the cheapest flights into a few cities that were close to some of the Futures tournaments, took a boat a few times to the UK, slept next to strangers in hostels, and even made equipment changes, at the cost of some future injuries. “Expenses can really add up on a weekly basis when you take all these factors into account and you have to remember, all of this is just for myself. If you add a coach to the equation or a physical trainer, you might as well double those costs as you have to pay their flights/hotel/food along with a weekly salary. The costs end up being astronomical,” McGee explained.

To make things better, he had to spend his time on training weeks searching sponsorship and world-class coaching. He was lucky enough to work few times with the world-renowned coach Bob Brett in Italy for free, and also travelled to a few tennis academies and coaches in the U.K. He spent money on travel, but took that as an investment in his future, since he made most improvement on training with a coach.

James was playing Futures tournaments to earn enough rankings points to start playing some Challenger tournaments, but the prize money there was so low he was constantly losing money.I remember making the final of a Futures in Madrid in May 2011 and receiving under €500 in prize money. It was atrocious and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the cheque. It was both discouraging and sad to see my hard work earning me very little money,” he wrote. And when you make it to Challenger Tour, constant winning is a must to break through to the ATP Tour, but as James noted, achieving this is very hard for a young player without the help of a coach.

Since James didn’t have much luck with the sponsorship, he had to live a nomadic lifestyle, playing Club tennis in France and Germany, to earn some money. He played about 11 league matches on 11 consecutive weekends in different parts, different Future tournaments in between each league, and club matches every Saturday. “It was extremely tough and led me to question a lot of my inner beliefs as to why on earth I was putting myself through this type of lifestyle. It was stressful, physically draining and lacked any real financial reward. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of “what could be” if I manage to keep grinding. I was basically in a losing race. At some point, I either had to stop playing altogether or something great would have to happen, “he wrote.

Later on, McGee was lucky enough to receive substantial funding from his home club at the end of 2011, with the help of which he progressed significantly in improving his results. It allowed him to play a full schedule of tournaments without the stress of financial worry and has led him to use Barcelona as a training base in his weeks off from the tour, where he worked with some excellent coaches and trainers.

Of curse, “money is not the be all and end all of success in tennis”, as James stressed in the end, but it helps a lot on the way to achieve someone’s sporting goals and dreams. Many prospective athletes give up because they can cope with financial struggles, but now they can count on SportyCo.

Note: The story is shortened due to the purposes of this blog. For the full post please check James McGee website.

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