Unintended Consequences

When I first started blogging a little over a year ago, it was with the intention of sharing my son’s and my experiences in junior tennis with those coming up behind us.  I had been so frustrated trying to navigate the tournament structure and ranking structure that I figured maybe I could save others from going through that same frustration.

For the first few months, I wrote about our personal journey and the roadblocks we encountered.  Some of my posts generated feedback from readers, but, mostly, I was writing from the heart thinking it might be nice for my son to one day go back and read how his tennis truly impacted his mom.  Some of my posts were how-tos and were more fact-based than feeling-based, but overall I tried to keep it personal because I felt that would be the most useful to other tennis parents.

Now, one year three weeks and five days after my first post, I find myself embroiled in a heated debate over the USTA’s changes to the 2014 junior competition schedule.  I’m getting emails and phone calls from people I had only read about or seen on tv.  I’m also getting emails and phone calls from people who are just like me . . . concerned parents looking out for their child’s best interests.  Some of the communication is very positive and encouraging, thanking me for speaking out and informing others, offering their experience in hopes of convincing USTA to put the changes on hold.  Some of the communication, though, is not so nice, filled with accusations and other negative words.

When I told one fellow tennis cohort about all the negative stuff and how it was impacting me, she said, “Get your armor on girl.  We are in a battle!”  That was never my intention.  I never wanted to engage in a fight.  I never wanted to see the soft underbelly of junior tennis.  I never wanted to get involved in the politics of junior tennis.  I never thought my little blog would be on USTA’s radar even.  But, I’ve now seen the little man behind the curtain, and I have learned a very valuable  lesson here (Tennis Life Lesson #387) – no matter how much thought you put into an action before you take it, there are bound to be unintended consequences.

I can’t help but think that USTA is learning the same Lesson #387 right now.  When it proposed the changes, I don’t think the USTA board or volunteers or staff had any idea they would generate this type of public outcry.  And, when the USTA Junior Competition Committee created the changes, I don’t think the members thought through the unintended consequences of reducing opportunities for our kids.  I don’t think they considered that many kids choose to learn the game of tennis because they want a chance to compete at the highest levels against their most accomplished peers.  I don’t think they considered that they shouldn’t cut national opportunities without putting policies into place to ensure that the sections would pick up the slack.  I don’t think they considered that eliminating a 128-draw event held when most kids are on Winter Break and replacing it with two 32-draw team events would leave out half, HALF!, of the juniors who want to play while they’re out of school.

Those are just a few of the outcomes of these changes.  There are more.  My hope is that USTA will do the right thing by its members, its constituents, us, and go back to the drawing board to see how the committee can make junior tennis more inclusive, not less.  More accessible, not less.  More transparent, not less.

If incoming president, Dave Haggerty, and his Board and his Junior Competition Committee (and affiliated staff) will commit to keep that pause button pushed until they can fully evaluate the unintended consequences of these changes, I think two very major intended consequences will emerge – growth in junior participation and growth in member trust and satisfaction.  Please, USTA, do the right thing here – the future of our sport depends on you.

USTA on Supplements

Given all the talk about doping in sports these days, I thought y’all might be interested to read what USTA has to say about supplements for junior tennis players. This type of educational information is exactly what I’d love to see more of from our tennis federation.  Thank you to Adirondack Tennis for posting this information!

Notes from 2nd USTA Town Hall Listening Meeting Nov 24, 2012

The following information was emailed to me by Jason Lampione – tennis coach, mentor, and writer – who was in attendance at the Rocky Hill, CT, “listening” meeting held by USTA.  These are simply Jason’s notes taken during the meeting – he will be compiling his own analysis of them over the next day or so which I will then post on ParentingAces for you to read.  

This second meeting was led by incoming USTA President Dave Haggerty and USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis Kurt Kamperman and was attended by 30-40 (exact number unknown) parents and coaches.  I have inserted my comments in italics at the end of certain bullet points below.  

USTA released a statement via email to some key people after the meeting – that statement is posted in its entirety on the ParentingAces Facebook page.  Please read and share all of this information with other tennis parents and coaches so our voices will be heard.  Thank you.

NOTE:  I have edited the article based on comments shared by Bill Mountford of USTA – my edits are in ALL CAPS below.

  • In two years, we would like to see the USTA go from an 800 pound gorilla to a more balanced 400 pounds.  (D. Haggerty)
  • Communication and structure are problematic within the USTA.  (parent)  This is an issue that I’ve been discussing with various USTA committee members and staff.  They have to do a better job of communicating with the membership.  USTA has a Facebook page, is on Twitter, and sends out regular emails – the tools are in place.  There is no excuse for the lack of communication on these proposed changes and other relevant issues.
  • We’re going to reduce the cost of travel within each section of the USTA.  (D. Haggerty) How is USTA going to accomplish this feat?  They’re proposing to CREATE REGIONS now, potentially increasing the cost of travelling to tournaments.  Is USTA going to develop relationships with gasoline companies and airlines and hotel chains to give discounts to members?  If so, I’m in full support!
  • Kids at every level have better competition through earned attainment.  (K. Kamperman) I agree with this statement as it applies WITHIN sections.  However, we all realize that the strength between sections varies enormously, so if a player emerges as the best in a weak section then goes to a national event to compete against the best player in a strong section, I’m not sure how that’s better competition for the strong-section player. 
  • Our children are playing each other at least 5, 6 and even 7 times within the tournament format within our section.  (parent) That’s why it’s good to have the option to play OUTSIDE your section.  Why would USTA want to limit or eliminate that option?  I still don’t understand the reasoning here.
  • The regional format is pretty good.  (parent) I would question whether or not this parent has looked at the new region map and how much travel it could potentially involve.
  • Playing other regions gives better competition.  (parent) I agree.  Kids love the chance to play against new opponents.  That’s why we need to increase the opportunities to play nationally and increase the draws at those national events. 
  • Playing within only one region doesn’t allow for proper player development.  (parent) I think it depends upon the region.  But, generally speaking, yes, I would agree with this statement.  Playing a wider variety of opponents gives a developing player the opportunity to learn how to deal with a variety of tactics, making him/her into a more complete player.
  • The consensus is that variety is good!  (K. Kamperman) Yes, it is!
  • It is terrible that players cannot get on-court coaching.  (parent) That’s an issue for another day.
  • I spend all this money, and our players have very limited options.  (parent)
  • The pressure to perform and accumulate points in each round is incredible and very costly to us parents.  (parent) Pressure to perform is a big part of tennis, of any sport really.  If that pressure is harming your child, then maybe it’s time to find a different activity that is better-suited to the child’s temperament.  High-level competition is NOT for everybody!
  • You cannot limit a player’s potential just by their ranking or age.  (parent) I’m not exactly sure what this parent is saying.  I think we all agree that the current PPR ranking system could use some work.
  • Distance and travel, financially, is troublesome for certain parents, especially outside our region!  (parent)
  • In the Eastern section, I am being charged 25 dollars per each tournament main draw entry along with traveling expenses.  This is becoming too much for me and my husband to handle, financially speaking!  (parent) I think we can all agree that tennis is an expensive sport, especially if you’re trying to develop a player to the top echelons.  However, I must say I’m surprised by the $25 entry fee – we pay much higher fees ($45 and up) in our section, even at local tournaments.
  • International players are heavily marketed here in the United States, and our American counterparts are being singled out!  (parent) I’m not sure I understand this statement.  If someone could clarify for me, that would be helpful.
  • From experience, most USTA coaches only support players here in the United States who are highly ranked!  (parent) That’s a problem inherent in the Player ID and Player Development departments of USTA.  Those departments are charged with identifying players who have the potential to become our next American champions.  The question becomes: would the dollars allocated to paying the salaries of those coaches be better spent supporting local coaches who are developing top-level players in their own backyards?
  • The entire ‘talent id’ for pre-adolescents is a complete crap shoot.  (K. Kamperman) Amen, Mr. Kamperman!  I’m hoping to see USTA do away with this piece of the puzzle entirely and paint with a broader brush when using its financial resources for player development.
  • The Mid-Atlantic region converts every parent into a cash machine and is ultra selective as per the ability of the player they choose to work with.  (parent)
  • I feel that I should homeschool my child just so he/she can get ahead and attend a better school!  (parent) I still don’t understand how the proposed changes are going to reduce missed school days.  Can someone please explain that one to me?  Is homeschooling going to become the necessary norm for those wanting to achieve the highest levels in junior tennis?  Is it already the norm?
  • By expanding the participation base here in the United States, we have a wider audience to draw from, player-wise!  (K. Kamperman) Agree.
  • When my child is being coached at a club, I have no idea how to measure the quality of the program with regard to the training environment!  (parent) This is where USTA could really step in and prove to be a valuable resource to parents.  I hope the parent quoted here finds my blog and reads my series on Choosing A Coach!
  • I am in favor of increased draw sizes at the national level, tournament wise!  (parent) Me, too!
  • You [the USTA] need to make the draws more backended!  (parent) What does that mean?
  • We have to look at the structure, with regard to the rankings.  (K. Kamperman) I’m not sure what Mr. Kamperman is saying here.  Is he concerned about the current PPR ranking system?  If so, I’m very glad to hear that and hope that it is re-evaluated to include head-to-head competition.
  • There isn’t any other ranking system in any other sport that doesn’t come under heavy scrutiny!  (K. Kamperman)
  • I’d like to see more American players get more scholarships.  (D. Haggerty) Me, too, Mr. Haggerty!  How is USTA going to make that happen?  Is it going to take a firmer stand with NCAA and college coaches and athletic directors?  We need USTA to advocate for our kids in this regard.
  • I think it is good for both the American and International players to compete with one another.  (D. Haggerty) That is why the ITF circuit is such a great option for many players.
  • The USTA is not in the driver’s seat for college scholarships.  (K. Kamperman) Right.  Those rules are established by NCAA.  USTA could, however, take a stronger position and advocate for increased scholarships on the men’s side and for limiting the number of scholarships that go to international players.  The NJCAA has already paved the way.
  • The parents’ feedback and recommendations have no value with regard to influencing change within the USTA.  (parent) I think these listening meetings prove otherwise.  At the very least, USTA is making an effort to get feedback directly from those of us affected by these proposed changes.  Whether or not it acts on that feedback is yet to be seen.  I’m trying to remain hopeful.
  • The players from Florida and California are complaining that other sections have weaker competition.  (parent) The statistics confirm that fact.  I looked at the November 2012 National Standing List for the Boys 18s – the sections with the most players in the top 100 are (in order) Southern California (17), Texas & Southern (tied with 12), Florida & Eastern (tied with 10), and Midwest (9).
  • If I was running the USTA like a business, I don’t know why I would limit American players’ options!  (parent)
  • I think it is good business if the USTA supports the passion of players here in the US.  (parent)
  • The emotional rollercoaster that my child suffers, because of the extreme pressure in performing, is hampering his passion to wanna compete.  (parent) High-level competition isn’t for everyone.  Parents have to look at each child to determine what’s in his/her best interest.  One thing I will say is that, at least in the Southern section, there are many levels of competition from which to choose.  For a player who doesn’t thrive under the pressure of high-level play, there are other options to still compete but at a lower stress level.
  • Parents aren’t seeing developmental plans from USTA coaches.  (parent) Again, I feel like USTA could really be a positive force if it would become more of a guide for parents trying to navigate the complicated tournament and development system.
  • We’re gonna look at all recommended proposals and pass them on to section leaders.  (K. Kamperman) A question that was posed on the ParentingAces Facebook page: “What will compel USTA to change anything as a result of holding these ‘listening’ meetings?”  I would really like to hear USTA’s answer to this question as I think it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle.
  • A VOTE FROM THE USTA BOARD OF DIRECTORS REGARDING A PAUSE TO THE CHANGES FOR 2013 WILL TAKE PLACE IN DECEMBER 2012.  USTA LEADERSHIP WILL REVIEW FEEDBACK FROM THESE “LISTENING” MEETINGS DURING THE ANNUAL MEETING IN MARCH AFTER WHICH A VOTE WILL BE TAKEN ON HOW TO PROCEED IN 2014.   (K. Kamperman) This is why we need to communicate NOW with our section presidents and let them know our thoughts on these proposed changes.  Time is of the essence.
  • Currently, 88,000 kids play at all levels here in the US.  (K. Kamperman)
  • Increasing participation at the high school level will help increase the USTA bottom line, player-wise!  (coach) I have to disagree with this statement, at least insofar as high school tennis in Georgia is currently structured.  Our state high school association has passed an eligibility rule which will effectively eliminate all high-performance players from their high school teams.  The level of competition in our state’s high schools has become on par with recreational league tennis.
  • I travel from Rochester to NYC seven times a year and it is VERY costly and time-consuming.  (parent)
  • I wonder if the USTA is willing to pick up the traveling expenses for players who travel outside of their respective region.  (parent) I know my section (Southern) does have need-based scholarship funds available to help offset some of the costs of junior tennis.  I’m guessing other sections have something similar.
  • I’m on the board of player development for the New England section and am concerned about these new rule changes.  (coach)
  • There is no guarantee for our children, especially when we have to spend so much money for travel and tournament fees that I am beginning to think the investment isn’t worth it anymore!  (parent) That is a decision each family has to make for itself.  With my three kids, only one of whom is a tennis player, I’ve found that pursuing an interest to the point of mastery is expensive, whether it’s a sport or an art form.

The proposed dates for the remaining “listening” meetings are as follows:

December 16: ITA Convention (for convention attendees only), Naples FL
December 26: 16s & 18s Winter Nationals, Scottsdale, AZ
December 27: 12s & 14s Winter Nationals, Tucson, AZ
Jan. 10-13: Southern Section annual meeting, Atlanta, GA
Feb. 15-17: Texas Section annual meeting, Grapevine, TX

Let me say again that it is crucial that parents and coaches take the time to educate themselves on the issues and attend these meetings.  To read the proposed changes, click here.  If you can’t attend a meeting, then please use the new email address, letusknow@usta.com, to communicate your concerns to USTA.

Action Steps & Why I’m Going to Take Them

Given that it seems to be crunch time with the last-minute scheduling of the first two “listening” meetings, I have spent countless hours over the past few days going over the proposed changes to the 2014 junior competition schedule, talking to very experienced people about them, and trying to understand the “why” behind them. I have come to the conclusion that, tennis-wise, there is nothing in the proposal that helps our kids and plenty that has the potential to hurt them. So, I am choosing to tell USTA in no uncertain terms that I want them to throw out the proposed changes – just get rid of them entirely – and start over. Use the research and data that the Junior Competition Committee has been collecting over the past two years to help determine what, if anything, needs to be changed, then engage knowledgeable tennis minds to create and build it.

For those who say I’m only opposing the changes because of personal reasons, that is absolutely 100% correct. I’m a parent looking out for the best interests of my son. I would hope that every tennis parent reading this is evaluating the proposed changes for him/herself and deciding what best suits his/her child, too. USTA is a very large organization that probably will never make every one of its members happy. I see my role as a blogger to share my experiences and any information I can glean from those who are way more experienced than I am.  But, my posts are intermixed with personal opinion – my personal opinion – so please keep that in mind.  And, if you have a different opinion, I always welcome you to share it in the Comments section of each post.

USTA keeps telling us that its mission is to grow the game of tennis while also trying to get more American players into the second week of the US Open – in other words, finding and developing the next generation of champions. We’re more likely to find a world-class player in a pool of 500,000 than 50,000, right? That makes perfect sense to me, and the 10-and-Under initiative seems to be doing a good job at bringing more kids into the sport, so kudos to USTA on solving that piece of the puzzle.

However, in order for kids to want to continue playing and developing, in order for kids to be willing to make the huge sacrifices required to reach the upper echelons of the sport, there have to be some concrete incentives. Like getting to play on regular courts with regular balls when you’re developmentally ready (not when your age determines you’re ready). Like getting to travel and compete with friends. Like having your whole family go together to a tournament so you’re playing in the same place as your brother and sister. Like having a way to earn the chance to play against the best players in the nation. Like having your tennis open the door to a college education.

And, in order for families to encourage their kids to stay in the sport, there have to be some concrete incentives for them, too. Like affordable travel options. Like minimizing time off from your job. Like the potential for financial support from your local or sectional or national USTA office for coaching or tournament fees or travel. Like knowing that if your child wants to play tennis at the collegiate level there will be ample opportunities – and scholarships available – for him or her to do so.

Eliminating tournaments and shrinking draws at the national level while doing nothing to ensure that the sections will pick up the slack is not the answer. I don’t know about other sections, but our Southern section tournament calendar is already pretty jam-packed throughout the year.

Please, ask yourself and those running the “listening” meetings – what was the impetus behind these proposed changes in the first place? I’ve heard USTA say that the changes were created to reduce travel, reduce school absences, and cut expenses for families, but the changes do none of those things. As one Middle-States parent shared with me, the new regional competition will actually increase her child’s number of missed school days from 10-16 per year to 20-24 depending on the number of tournaments they choose to attend.

Besides attending the “listening” meetings and strongly voicing my opposition, what else can I do? Contact the president of my section (click here for a complete list of USTA Sections and Presidents with email addresses) immediately and let him/her know that I’m opposed to these changes and that I want my section to vote accordingly at the next USTA Annual Meeting in March. Encourage my fellow tennis parents and coaches to do the same. Keep reading other resources so I stay on top of what’s happening in the world of junior tennis and have a working knowledge of the necessary steps to help my child be successful. Talk to the head of Junior Competition in my section and work together with his coach to devise a tournament schedule for my child that makes sense for my family. Most importantly, keep encouraging my child to play, to have fun, and to reach his own potential in tennis, whether that’s at the recreational level or at a more competitive pace, so that tennis stays a part of his life for now and years to come.

I have been told by one USTA insider that the current Junior Competition Committee – the group responsible for creating these proposed changes – is actually now 17-2 in favor of endorsing a proposal to call for a pause in the implementation of the changes. It will be voted on at the USTA Board’s December meeting. I can only hope this person’s intel is accurate!

NOTE: The proposed dates for the remaining “listening” meetings are as follows:

December 16: ITA Convention (for convention attendees only), Naples FL
December 26: 16s & 18s Winter Nationals, Scottsdale, AZ
December 27: 12s & 14s Winter Nationals, Tucson, AZ
Jan. 10-13: Southern Section annual meeting, Atlanta, GA
Feb. 15-17: Texas Section annual meeting, Grapevine, TX

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2013 USTA Section Presidents & Contact Info

Caribbean: Humberto Torres brodriguez@cta.usta.com

Eastern: Gerry Cuva schoell@eastern.usta.com

Florida: Bob Pfaender tennismaster@florida.usta.com

Hawaii-Pacific: Russell Lum tennis@hawaii.usta.com

Intermountain: Angela Emery platteriver@wyoming.com

Mid-Atlantic: John Raker vaprotennis@me.com

Middle States: Gina Pileggi servingtennis@ms.usta.com

Midwest: Jonelle Smith feedback@midwest.usta.com

Missouri Valley: Scott Hanover ptcguy@yahoo.com

New England: R. Gary Pina info@newengland.usta.com

Northern: Jeff Baill jbaill@yostbaill.com

Northern California: Michael Cooke michael@cookefamily.org

Pacific-Northwest: Mike Temple mike.temple@comcast.net

Southern: Bud Spencer jspen61@comcast.net

Southern California: Gregory Hickey EddaS@scta.usta.com

Southwest: Paul Burns paul@southwestwealth.com

Texas: Dan Barta http://www.texas.usta.com/forms/texas_feedback/

Tomorrow’s Listening Meeting in Rocky Hill, CT

The following information was posted on the USTA National Open’s website:

National Junior Competition Structure Town Hall 12 noon Saturday

Parents of junior players, coaches, teaching professionals and tournament organizers are cordially invited to attend a “listening session” Town Hall. In conjunction with this weekend’s National Open in Rocky Hill (Boys & Girls 14s), we will discuss the following: National Junior Tennis Competition Structure USTA President – elect David A. Haggerty and Kurt Kamperman USTA Chief Executive, Community Tennis upstairs at the Tennis and Fitness Center of Rocky Hill.

If you are planning to attend, please let me know.  While the speaking points aren’t quite ready for public consumption, I hope to have something in email-able (is that a word?) form for you to consult so that you’re up to date on the issues at hand.

In the meantime, click here to read Chris Oddo’s update at USAToday Online.

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Parent/Coach Speaking Points for USTA Listening Meetings

I am working on compiling a list of speaking points that we can all use when attending the USTA listening meetings.  As you know, the next meeting is this Saturday, November 24th, in Rocky Hill, CT – for those of you in the area, please try to make it and, if you’re so inclined, give the rest of us a de-briefing afterward.

What I am hearing from USTA is that we need to present clear, detailed alternatives to the proposed junior competition changes.  These meetings were created as an opportunity for those in attendance to voice well-thought-out ideas that will improve junior tennis for our kids.  My hope is that those of us in the proverbial trenches can come together and show USTA a better way of doing business on behalf of our young players.

I have started compiling a list of speaking points based on the information I’m getting via your comments, emails, posts on other tennis blogs, etc.  But, I need your help!  Please email me ASAP at fitmom@bellsouth.net if you have thoughts on what should be included and/or if you’d like to see my initial draft.  I will continue working on this and tweaking it as needed until we have something concise and easy to understand that we can all use.  In the meantime, please keep spreading the word about the meeting dates – I have re-posted them below – so we are well represented.

Tennis parents rock!

The proposed dates for the remaining “listening” meetings are as follows:

November 24: Boys & Girls 14s National Open, Rocky Hill, CT
December 16: ITA Convention (for convention attendees only), Naples FL
December 26: 16s & 18s Winter Nationals, Scottsdale, AZ
December 27: 12s & 14s Winter Nationals, Tucson, AZ
Jan. 10-13: Southern Section annual meeting, Atlanta, GA
Feb. 15-17: Texas Section annual meeting, Grapevine, TX