An interview with Adam Coffer, David Squad Manager in the Blog of Nimrod Dror in facebook: “NImrod write’s on tennis“.

During the past decade, David Coffer has become one of the most important people in the Israeli tennis scene. His creation, you could say, has more of an influence than the Israel Tennis Association and Israel Tennis Centers combined when it comes to the development of Israel’s young tennis players. Yshai Oliel, who was spotted by Coffer’s team when he was eight-years-old and reached the final of the junior tournament at the Australian Open thanks to its support, is the most notable example to the success of Coffer’s investment, but he isn’t the only example.
David and his son Adam visit Israel several times a year to meet the team members, their parents and coaches. I met Adam at the headquarters of the David Squad at the Israel Tennis Center – Ra’anana this past Sunday.

Before reading the interview, it is important to note that the object of this interview is not to educate the public about the David Squad, which is well known to anyone who has been following Israeli tennis over recent years. If you need a basic introduction with the background story of the David Squad I recommend Dotan Malach’s article in Makor Rishon:

Nimrod: Adam, what are you doing here today?
Adam: I’m visiting family, my Israeli family. All of the kids, parents and coaches. For the past 10 years our home has been in Ra’anana and we are proud of it. All of the squad members practice here at least once a week and some of them practice here every day. I come to Israel 2-3 times a year to meet everyone and to catch up.
It is important for me to note that we are not sponsors, as you have surely heard. You saw on court the relationship we have with the kids.

We are a family which happens to also be a tennis academy. When Yshai comes to London he eats Shabbat meals at my house. Before the clay court season everyone comes to our home in Marbella, Spain to practice on the courts there. We chat on WhatsApp and I get messages after every match. We aren’t just throwing money away on these kids, we are looking at this from a holistic standpoint and that is part of the deal.
That is the answer to the question of what I’m doing here. But the question that demands a deeper answer is ‘why am I here’? And there are three parts to that answer: Our love for Israel, for tennis and for the children. Israel is viewed in the world in a very negative manner. They think of Israel as a cruel state of people waving guns in front of poor Palestinians. That reminds me that in the 1980’s we had very bad opinions towards Russia because of the movies and news that were aired in the West during the Cold War. It was always Russia vs. the West. And then we saw the Russia national team play in the Euro and saw a group of nice players that love football and our opinion about them changed. You can also use the example of Serbia. Perhaps once our opinion about them was that this was a nation of cold Eastern Europeans, even robots. That was after the civil war. But now everyone sees Novak Djokovic smile and win tournaments. The first thing he does after he wins is congratulate his opponent. Perhaps one in 10 people change their mind about Serbia thanks to Djokovic. If we can achieve the same thing with Israel that will mean we have succeeded.”

Nimrod: You have been part of the Israeli tennis world for a decade. The story I read while preparing for the interview was that David was staying at Hilton Tel Aviv and asked to play on a clay court, only to discover that there are only two clay courts in Israel in Herztliya. He understood that there was an infrastructure problem in Israel and invited several Israeli players to his summer home in Marbella so that they could train there. The attitude of the players that came wasn’t very professional and David was disappointed and understood that he needs to cause them adopt a more professional attitude so that they can succeed. I’m intrigued to hear what else you have learned since?

Adam: “That is an excellent description of what happened. Later on we understood that we need to run this in a far more sophisticated way, like a business, with the same sophistication as companies. We understood that if we do that, we will be doing it properly.”

Adam then went silent and turned to Lidor Goldberg, the David Squad Press Officer, and asked him how direct and open he should be. “We understood that in the Israeli tennis world people try to rekindle past success and attempt to recreate a model that can’t work. The relationship between the Israel Tennis Association and Israel Tennis Centers wasn’t good. They weren’t aligned in their expectations and we understood that we need to be independent from a political and financial standpoint. We couldn’t allow ourselves to be in this business for credit or budgeting.

“We very quickly understood that one of the main characteristics of Israeli tennis is possessiveness. Everyone wants a pat on the back and credit for their accomplishments and aren’t willing to put themselves aside for the bigger picture of the players’ success. Everyone feels that they are being robbed. I don’t know if this is an attribute that is unique to Israel, and I certainly hope not as I love Israel and the Israelis. The meaning of this is that certain organizations simply won’t support what we are doing. Even worse, we discovered that the more we succeed, we will be afforded less support and people think that we don’t need any support, or even want to prove to us that they can do better than us. “We also learned that parents are very important. Their influence on the kids is very important. That is why we have a code of conduct that the parents must agree to. We aren’t trying to replace the parents, but the parents must avoid becoming the professional managers of their children. The parents choose the plane and the seat, but they can’t be the ones flying the plane.

“We learned that it is very expensive to develop a professional player, even more expensive than it is to support a player after he is already a professional. “We learned that in order to really succeed, you must be willing to go out of Israel to train and play. “But most of all, we learned that if you aren’t 150 percent focused and determined, you might as well give up. Our children come home from practice and immediately turn on the TV and watch the Tennis Channel. Deep down, the children need to be very determined. It isn’t enough just to be talented. “Besides that, we understood that there aren’t enough resources in Israel. The government doesn’t provide tennis with what it requires. I appreciate the work of the Israel Tennis Association and the Israel Tennis Centers, but we understood that we need to be independent and believe in what we are doing in order to succeed.”

Nimrod: You say that you run the squad like a business. A corporation judges itself according to targets and goals. How do you know that you are heading in the right direction?

Adam: “When I say that we are run like a business I mean that we need that level of sophistication and I’m talking about the structure of the squad. We don’t feel that we are better than anyone else. The cleaner and the manager receive the same respect, but there is a hierarchy and there are rules. We talk about recouping our investment,
but that isn’t the main goal. We have a directorate that meets regularly and discusses the progress being made. The directorate includes anonymous trustees, the professional staff that includes coaches, and the management, which includes myself, my sister who raises money, and several others. We talk to the parents on a regular
basis to report on the progress being made. Part of our targets are connected to ranking and results, but we also have goals when it comes to nutrition, behavior, promoting the brand and more.”

Nimrod: I imagine to myself that when you came to Israel you encountered a different sporting culture to the one you knew. When we in Israel talk about the reasons why Israel can’t develop tennis players or top level athletes in general. there are a few reasons that are raised. I’d like to hear your opinion on three of them: The first
is service in the IDF, which enlists athletes for a long service at the age of 18, the second is the limited governmental support, and the third is the character of the Israelis, which isn’t like that of athletes in Germany or the US. Their willingness to be 100% professional is perhaps not as high.

Adam: “I completely agree with one reason, partially agree with another one, and completely disagree with a third. Regarding the IDF, it is true that it ruins the progress of athletes, but I feel that the IDF certainly tries to understand the needs of the athletes and acts accordingly. I have seen this with several of our tennis players. As
someone who loves Israel, I can also understand the important role the army has and the considerations it has, so I only agree with this reason partially.
“The reason I least agree with is the culture standpoint. The Israelis I know are very determined people. Our children are full of motivation and we let them go from the squad if that isn’t the case. We have already released kids due to their, or their parents’, attitude. This is actually an interesting question which has got me thinking and
there may be something to it. Perhaps in the Israeli culture parents prefer that their kids will go to work or study instead of becoming professional athletes.

“The biggest problem, which we touched on before, is resources and politics. Everyone wants a pat on the back. There are great people at the Israel Tennis Association and the Israel Tennis Centers, but there are also people who find it difficult to put their ego aside. On the other hand, look at Dominic Thiem. The Austrian tennis association has a tiny budget. The Israel Tennis Association’s budget is millions of shekels a year, while the Austrian association has a budget of one million dollars a year. That is nothing. The David Squad spends a similar amount. The budget of the Israel Tennis Association isn’t insignificant, it is reasonable considering the size of Israel.”

Nimrod: I read in an interview that you had wanted to be more mysterious, something of an enigma. But after that you became more public as you wanted to bring in sponsors to help you. Did it succeed? Also, why is it difficult to bring in sponsors in Israel?

Adam: “Do you know the story of King Arthur of Camelot?” Adam asked, and I lie and answer that I do. “In order to be in Camelot you need to wait for an invitation from King Arthur. You couldn’t just come to the round table and apply. There was always the question of how do you get invited? We wanted to have something similar to that. The David Squad should have been something you work really hard for in order to reach. All the children that train at the tennis center and aren’t part of the squad want to become a part of it. Also, we didn’t want people to think that we are doing this for the compliments. Later on, there were wrong things being said about us. We had meetings with some donors who asked us about this and we understood that we had to take a different approach. We wanted to get rid of the ambiguity.
Lidor recommended that we have a press conference to introduce ourselves and that was a good suggestion.

“Regarding sponsors, we couldn’t create any partnerships in Israel. On the other hand, we have recently partnered with probably the most important agency in the world of tennis, IMG. This is the first partnership of its kind in the world with such a successful company. We will be their exclusive partner in the Middle East, and among other
things, our players will be able to train at their complex in Florida. In return, the agency will represent all our players in the future, which is something that any tennis player would want anyway. This is a very good deal. They don’t support us financially, but their support in every other aspect is fantastic. They are a fantastic organization.
“As for Israel, I don’t know why we haven’t succeeded. Probably that system doesn’t exist here. This isn’t the answer you wanted but this is the answer I have.”

Nimrod: There are several models of philanthropy in sports. One model is the Sylvan Adams model, who supports the Israeli cycling academy and also invests in infrastructure, even bringing the Giro here. Your model is different, you support only athletes and professional staff. Obviously, it is also a question of the resources you have to invest, but nevertheless, you chose a certain model. Can you explain that choice?

Adam: Adams certainly has more shekels than we do. What he has done is amazing. We aren’t trying to be the Israel Tennis Association of Israel Tennis Centers. Our role isn’t to get people to play tennis. We have a certain goal and if we set ourselves too many goals we won’t succeed. The aim of the Israel Tennis Association is to get people to play tennis. The Israel Tennis Association is a regulatory body whose goal is to be a governmental body that needs to be run the way they see fit. Our goal from day one was to identify the best players in Israel and improve them. We aren’t interested in tournament in Israel. Our kids would probably win them all, or almost all of them. We already have the top kids in Israel. Our goal must be international. To find the elite players and to take them as far as possible.”

Nimrod: Final question, how long will there be a David Squad? How long will you continue this project?

Adam: What a question. I don’t know. Let’s see where life takes us. Man plans and God laughs. As long as we are needed and have the passion to do what we do and are respected, we will be here.”