Remember the name Coco Gauff.
For those of you that don’t follow tennis, after becoming the youngest woman to every qualify for Wimbledon, Gauff became the youngest player since Jennifer Capriatti in 1992 to advance to the fourth round. She did so by defeating her idol (and the oldest player in the tournament) Venus Williams in her opening match, dominating her second match opponent and overcoming not one, but two match points for a comeback victory in her third.
It was a sensational performance that ended at the hands of the No. 7 player in the world, Simona Halep, who went on to win the tournament. Gauff entered the tournament ranked No. 313 and left ranked No. 141 and gave us a glimpse into the future of women’s tennis.
In fact, her first victory, the one against her idol, is the best example possible that the sporting world has once again begun the cycle of passing the torch from one generation of athletes to the next. This process of transition usually takes place every 12-15 years and is marked by a sudden surge in no-name upsets, big-name retirements and an increase in naming the “next” great athlete.
The trend started with the 2018 NFL draft when a slew of quarterbacks was drafted as the next Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning. It continued into the world of golf with a half a dozen next Tiger Woods before the real one roared to remind us he was still in the hunt.
Basketball has been rocked by a summer of restructuring that can arguably be linked to the drafting of Zion Williamson by the New Orleans Pelicans and the MLB is experiencing one of its youngest eras in history as the average roster age hovers around 24.
The pattern is always the same, a seminal talent such as a Brady, or a Woods, or a Michael Jordan overwhelms their current sport. Entire teams would game plan to stop one guy. The front offices and coaching staffs would search desperately for an answer to the new level of play.
In Woods’ case, entire courses were replotted to make it more difficult for him. It was called Tiger proofing and it raised the caliber of play in golf to phenomenal heights. The same is true of all sports, they are made better by the passing of the torch.
Part of the reason each generation of sports is better than the next is just the nature of the game; competition drives improvement, but another part of the reason is an environment that stresses teamwork over individuality and the concept of long-term success.
This idea is on full display in Los Angeles as both basketball teams have made moves towards building championship teams with one, the Lakers, centered around a legend of the game, LeBron James, while the other, the Clippers, feature the league’s rising talent in Kawhi Leonard.
It will be interesting to watch the season unfold but my money is on the Lakers because they have the benefit of LeBron’s 15 years of experience on the court (almost double the years of any of the other star players), and that is critical for any team in transition.
History is filled with examples of teams achieving success with a single talent only to see that success disappear when the star leaves. The most recent example would be the Denver Broncos after Peyton Manning.
There are many more success stories involving teams that build for the long-term, teams that understand the need for a mix of talent and experience. Teams such as the United States Women’s Soccer Team, the New England Patriots, the Golden State Warriors and the New York Yankees that have created dynasties within their sport.
These teams understand that passing the torch doesn’t mean that I am quitting. It doesn’t mean that I have failed, and it doesn’t mean that the next person is inherently better than me. It just means that it is time for somebody to continue to run with my fire and continue to blaze a path for all of us to follow.