The Gift of A Mentor

Christian HarrisA couple of years ago, we were at a designated tournament in Mobile, Alabama, and my son struck up a conversation with a young man from South Carolina who was 2 years ahead of him in school. That conversation was the beginning of what was to become a really important relationship for my son.

The young man, Christian Harris, is now a freshman playing tennis for Clemson University. He and my son have stayed in regular contact, even playing each other in a sectional tournament last year, and Christian has become one of my son’s mentors in terms of college recruiting.

When my son was ready to begin contacting college coaches, the first person he reached out to was Christian, asking him the best things to say in that introductory email and getting his input on which coaches and programs to approach. Christian has checked in with – and guided – my son along the way, offering suggestions and support.

This weekend, the Southern Intercollegiate Championships was played in Athens, Georgia, a short 75-minute drive from our house. Christian texted my son to let him know he would be playing and would love for my son to come watch and have the chance to meet his coach and teammates. What a great opportunity! We headed over to Athens on Saturday, arriving about 30 minutes before Christian’s scheduled match time. I left my son to hang out with his friend/mentor and indulged myself in some pretty exciting tennis around the UGA complex. Christian talked to my son about how things are going at Clemson so far – balancing tennis and academics, finding time for a social life (a tough challenge for these student-athletes, for sure!), and trying to stay healthy through it all.

After Christian’s match, I had the chance to chat with him for a minute about what it means to be a mentor. Here’s what he had to say:

What was so interesting to me was to hear that Christian had had his own mentor, Harrison Kennedy, who has also been a valuable friend and resource to us, and is now paying it forward to my son. If your junior is lucky enough to find an older player who can help him/her navigate the various intricacies of tennis, be grateful! It is truly a gift, one that I hope each of our own children will pay forward to those coming up behind them.

High School Tennis Revisited

State Champs

Last year, about this time, I was writing regularly about my son’s experience on his high school tennis team – the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

However, due to some ridiculous eligibility rule changes by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), my son did not play for his school team this year.  It was HIS choice, don’t get me wrong, but, basically, our state governing body made it very unattractive for any high-level players to join their high school teams this year – to summarize, the rule said that a player lost eligibility if he or she trained for his/her sport during stated school hours.  For my son and many other tennis players, their school hours are modified in such a way as to include “zero period” and online classes so they can get to the courts earlier in the afternoons for training.  In other words, they get out of school an hour or two earlier than the rest of the student body.  Under the new GHSA rule, that modified schedule and their extra training made them ineligible to play.

That said, there were still many talented high-schoolers who played this season as evidenced by the tight matches during this past weekend’s State Finals.  And, there is hope for the rest of the players as I recently heard GHSA reversed that eligibility rule for the 2013-14 school year.

And now, especially in light of what recently happened at UGA with its number 1 singles player on the men’s side, it seems to me that high school tennis needs to take on a bigger role in preparing our juniors for tennis at the collegiate level.

A fellow tennis mom feels exactly the same way.  “I’m so tired of hearing ‘nobody cares about high school tennis’. In light of the recent events [sic], shouldn’t college coaches reconsider the high school player? These kids play for the sheer joy and camaraderie that they get from being a member of a team and representing their school (and they don’t get paid to do it)! They give up individual opportunities to earn tournament points and improve their rankings so they can play and practice with their team. Isn’t that exactly what college coaches are or should be looking for?”

I would love to see high school tennis become a training ground for college.  Unfortunately, at least where we are, the level of coaching the high school teams receive is pretty amateurish.  Often times, a teacher or coach from another sport are recruited to coach tennis even though they may have little or no knowledge about the sport.  It makes it a very tough decision for a kid who is used to training at a high level to take a step backward in order to play for his or her school team.  Add to that the fact that many college coaches and recruiting consultants have said over and over that they don’t care whether a kid plays for his school; they simply care about tournament performance and ranking/rating.  Is it wonder that many top-level juniors are opting out of high school tennis?

 

 

“If You Don’t Like Us, Find A Way To Get Rid Of Us!”

sprnats

 

“If you don’t like us, find a way to get rid of us!”  That was Patrick McEnroe’s response to a parent’s question regarding the 2014 Junior Competition Changes at last summer’s Girls 12 Nationals in Atlanta, and it was really the beginning of my extensive coverage of the new calendar that USTA was planning to implement beginning January 1, 2014.

Now that the calendar changes have been finalized and approved at the National Board level, I figured I should do a sort-of recap of the process around the changes and how they came to be . . .

  • Some time in 2011: Jon Vegosen, then president of USTA, charged his Junior Competition Committee (JCC) to devise a new national tournament schedule.  Please note that the JCC was chaired by Tim Russell, a former tennis parent who was currently a music professor at Arizona State University, and his assistant chair was Andrea Norman who had very limited experience with junior tennis.  The JCC created the new calendar, some of which was to go into effect January 1, 2013, and some of which was to go into effect January 1, 2014Tom Walker found out about the changes and organized several meetings as well as wrote several opinion pieces that were published on various websites.  The news spread at junior tournaments, and parents were terrified that the rumors were true – who in their right mind would want these changes, especially after investing years and thousands of dollars in a system only to have it changed mid-stream and, for some, right when their children were trying to get into college?  Harsh warnings were issued to people within USTA to keep all information about the changes under wraps until after the March vote.  A woman in the Midwest Section was purportedly fired because she was stirring the pot about the changes.  Sean Hannity published an op-ed on his website that was seen by millions of his readers; he offered personally to fund a survey of the USTA membership to gauge support of or opposition to the changes.  Tim Russell responded to Mr. Hannity’s article with a 17-page memorandum [Note: the link to the memo that was posted on USTA’s website seems to have been deleted] that was hung on tennis club bulletin boards all across the country.
  • March 2012: At the USTA Annual Meeting, the 17 USTA sections approved the new Junior Competition Calendar with a vote of 16-1.  The Southern Section was the only one opposed.
  • Late Summer 2012:  Patrick McEnroe and other USTA staff members traveled to the various National Championships across the US to “hold court” with parents and coaches on the new calendar. These meetings were basically a disaster for USTA and really got parents riled up anew over the changes.  USTA’s stated goals of saving families money and reducing missed school days were proven to be completely bogus – the new system is going to be far more expensive for most families.  And, the new system pretty much guarantees the need to homeschool in order to play at the national level.  Immediately following this “tour,” an online petition was launched by a tennis parent to oppose the changes, and it eventually garnered close to 1000 signatures.
  • September 2012: After getting bombarded at tournaments by parents and players who were against the changes, Sean Hannity (national talk show host with 2 nationally-ranked children), Steve Bellamy (founder of The Tennis Channel with 4 nationally-ranked children), Robert Sasseville (one of the US’s longest-working tournament directors), Kevin Kempin (CEO of Head with 3 nationally-ranked children), and Antonio Mora (broadcast journalist with 1 nationally-ranked child) met with USTA leadership in Northern California and then again in Chicago to discuss their concerns about the calendar changes.  The “Fab Five” were able to get the leadership to agree to a pause for 2013 as well as to hold a “listening tour” across the country with parents and coaches.
  • November 2012:  The “listening tour” kicked off in Reston, VA.  Turnout was extremely low due to the late notice of the meeting.  The meetings clearly demonstrated that virtually no one who was part of the junior tennis world and who understood the changes were in favor them.  With little to no publicity, USTA announced the creation of the LetUsKnow@usta.com email address for folks who were unable to attend one of the “listening meetings” to express their feelings about the changes.  I published the first of many controversial blog posts on the changes, and ParentingAces’ readership began to increase dramatically.  USTA began issuing public statements regarding the changes via its website which were emailed to various media outlets including ParentingAces.  By now, every conversation at every tournament was focused around whether the pause for 2013 was going to be sustainable or whether USTA would forge ahead with the changes in 2014.  College coaches expressed concern about having the ability to see players outside the very top of the rankings.  Tennis pros and facilities were concerned about losing business as parents and players spoke of abandoning the game altogether. One parent went so far as to say, “We just spent nearly $400 thousand on our daughter’s tennis over 5 years, and right as she is about ready to be in a position to be seen by coaches, she won’t be able to play in any of the tournaments where coaches go.”
  • December 2012:  Robert Sasseville created two spreadsheets comparing the tournament opportunities under the pre-2012, current, and proposed calendars which I published on this blog.  That post garnered many comments, some of which were posted under aliases that were USTA volunteers and/or staff members.  The USTA PR machine went to work again, getting an article published on The Examiner about the changes and the listening tour.  Former professional player and current junior coach, Johan Kriek, spoke out against the changes in an interview on TennisNow.com.  The 2013-2014 JCC members were announced – Steve Bellamy and Kevin Kempin were among the new members.  TennisRecruiting.net announced its National Showcase Series of tournaments as an alternative to limited national play under the new USTA calendar.
  • January 2013:  The “listening tour” continued, and I had the opportunity to attend the one in Atlanta.  Tom Walker created a Facebook page to oppose the changes, which quickly gained over 3500 members.  As a point of comparison, USTA’s Junior Comp Facebook page had only 170 members after a full year.
  • February 2013:  The “listening tour” concluded in Grapevine, TX.  I had several phone and email exchanges with Bill Mountford who encouraged me to remain hopeful.  I worked with several other tennis parents and coaches to mount a campaign to contact local USTA leaders and board members in hopes of convincing them to vote down the changes at the March 2013 Annual Meeting.  At the Scottsdale listening meeting, USTA President Dave Haggerty acknowledged that about 90% of the tennis community was opposed to these changes.
  • March 2013:  Lew Brewer informed me that the JCC made some amendments to the junior comp changes at its committee meeting.  At the 2013 USTA Annual Meeting, those changes were approved but still needed Board approval.  Rumors started circulating that Jon Vegosen had made a deal with Dave Haggerty prior to his taking office as President that if any changes were going to be made, Dave had to insure that they didn’t scrap the entire plan and start from scratch with the calendar.
  • April 2013:  The USTA Board approved the modified junior competition calendar to go into effect January 1, 2014.

So, to summarize, here’s where we stand . . . we have a national junior competition schedule that:

1.  Was created by a music professor who didn’t spend any substantive time at junior tournaments and who was subsequently removed from his position;

2.  Was adjusted by Player Development which was then promptly removed from the process;

3.  Was passed by a Junior Competition Committee with only one active junior tennis parent out of the 20 members, and that one active parent was opposed to the schedule.  It is interesting to note that half of the 2011-2012 JCC members were removed when Dave Haggerty took office in 2013;

4.  Was passed by a Board comprised of voters, many of whom admitted after the fact that they were pressured to vote for it and that they really didn’t understand the implications of the changes at all.  Then, the changes were exposed to a 9-city “listening tour” after which USTA executives were told by Dave Haggerty’s own admission that over 90% of the tennis community were opposed to them;

5.  Was then put into the hands of a new Junior Comp Committee with only 2 parents (out of the 20 members) with kids currently competing at the national level, both of whom pushed heavily for a pause.  Please note that it was this new Committee which added back some of the competition opportunities in March 2013;

6.  Was pushed through via the most non-transparent process USTA could’ve possibly utilized.

Never once was the membership polled or asked for its opinion in a meaningful way.  Geoff Grant, a fellow tennis parent, offered to fund a study or any type of mechanism in order to “get it right” – USTA did not take him up on his offer.  And, even though the listening tour comments, Facebook posts, and (admitted by President Dave Haggerty, himself) the majority of consumers were against them, the changes with some opportunity added back were passed.

So, I have to ask USTA one more time:  If the overwhelming majority of your customers, the overwhelming majority of tennis pros, all industry dignitaries who have spoken out (Robert Landsdorp, Wayne Bryan, Jack Sharpe, among others), the brands themselves (Head, Inc. published a letter on its website, and Athletic DNA provided the video footage posted on the USTA-Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes Facebook page), the college coaches who have commented – with all of the opposition, why would you go forward with these changes?

The only group of people who are in favor of them are the USTA folks themselves, most of whom are NOT parents of current national junior players.

The US tennis community has spoken.  We do not want any of these changes.  We want the 2010 system back in place.  We want experts – not volunteers – to make these decisions on behalf of our junior players, and we want them to make the decisions via a transparent process.

Update on 2014 Junior Comp Structure

I know I said you probably wouldn’t be hearing from me this week – I’m still at the beach on Spring Break, luckily – but I wanted to pass along the latest news from USTA’s Board of Directors meeting.

I received an email this morning from USTA’s Bill Mountford, letting me know that the changes to the previously approved Junior Competition Structure were unanimously approved by the Board last night.  That means, as predicted, that the changes will go into effect January 1 of next year.

It’s time to take a serious look at your child’s current schedule and the tweaks that you’ll need to make for next year.  Alternatives to USTA tournaments are popping up around the country, and I’ll continue to post them here as I get word.

Time to move on . . .

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New Rules in GA for U10s & U12s

gasquetaschild

Why, you might ask, is there a French magazine cover pictured at the top of this post?  Well, 2 reasons . . . first of all, because I want everyone to notice that it features French pro, Richard Gasquet, at the age of 9, playing tennis using a yellow ball.  Second of all, because in just a few weeks I’ll be at Roland Garros watching a couple of days of phenomenal tennis at the French Open and am pretty darn excited!  (P.S. Anyone who wants to hook me up with courtside seats, you know how to reach me!)

Some of you may have gotten wind of the changes happening across the country with 10-and-under tennis and the mandated use of the ROG balls in tournament play.  What you may not know is that ROG is now infiltrating the 12s, too.

The state of Georgia implemented a new competition structure for the 12-and-under crowd this year, and more changes are coming in 2014.  I spent some time on the phone with Rick Davison, USTA Georgia’s Director of Junior & Adult Competition, to find out what’s new, what’s coming, and the reason behind the changes.

As of today, all Georgia sanctioned 10-and-under tournaments use an orange ball on a 60 foot court.  For the 12s, in local Georgia sanctioned tournament levels 4 and 5 only, players use the Stage 1 green ball on a full-size court; at the higher level local tournaments, the 12s use a yellow ball.

What does that mean?  It means that a child who is under the age of 13 who wants to compete in a local tournament on a full-size court with yellow balls must play in the 14-and-under age division.  So, if your child is 9 years old (or 10 or 11 or 12), practicing each day with a yellow ball on a regular court because you and the coach feel the child is ready, and wants to compete under those same conditions, you must put him or her in the 14s in order to play a local event.

Take a close look at this photo:

IMG_0026

The player on the left is my son, age 11, playing at a local Georgia tournament in the 12-and-under division.  The player on the right is his opponent, also age 11.  Please note the physical size difference between the 2 boys.  Now, imagine that, in order to play with regular balls on a regular court, my son had to play in the 14s . . . and my son was already 11 in this picture!  He would’ve gotten crushed!

I asked Rick why Georgia decided to implement these new rules for the 12s.  He told me that the talented 12-and-under players have historically always played up in the 14s anyway at the local events, so this change won’t impact them.  The target audience for this change is the 10-and-under player who is transitioning from the orange ball.  Georgia felt that it would make an easier transition for the players if they have a stint with the green ball on the way to the yellow ball.  So far, Rick says, the Georgia kids are transitioning well in the Southern section, and the level of play in the 12s is getting better.

One other change that happened in the 10s this year was the shift to 4-game sets.  Rick says that he was initially opposed to this change but quickly realized that the parents were in favor due to the much longer rallies with the orange balls – matches that were 2 out of 3 6-game sets were lasting much too long.

For 2014, Georgia is making some additional changes in terms of the match and tournament format.  For the 10-and-unders only, since matches are the best of 3 4-game sets, tournament fees will be reduced and tournaments will most likely be compressed into one-day events.  Rick acknowledged the fact that parents are unhappy about traveling to a tournament, having to spend money on a hotel and restaurant meals, for their child to play these short sets.  Georgia’s answer is to shorten the tournament for these young players so parents can avoid most of the travel expenses.

In case you were wondering, Georgia isn’t the only place seeing these types of changes.  Texas has been under an even more-complicated system for the last year with more changes going into effect this month (click here to read the new rules).  The NorCal section recently introduced its Junior Development Pathway illustrating the progression of a young player from the red to the orange to the green and, finally, to the yellow ball.  Please note that in both Texas and NorCal, progression from one level to the next is absolutely mandated by the section itself – a player may not jump to the appropriate level based on their own personal development but rather must go through each painstaking step in order to move to the yellow ball in competition.  I’ve recently heard that the Midwest section is looking to adopt similar mandates for its 10s and 12s, too.  To hear more about what’s going on around the US, listen to the podcast of my radio show with Lawrence Roddick and others by clicking on this link: ParentingAces Radio Show

If your child is ready to move on, developmentally-speaking, be assured that alternative opportunities are popping up across the country.  Take a look at the events I have listed on our 10-and-Under Tourneys page above – I will continue to add to the list as more events are created so please check back regularly for updates.

I also want to direct you to the complaint that Ray Brown filed with the US Olympic Committee regarding the 10-and-under initiative.  You can click here to read the complaint and all subsequent responses on Ray’s website.

And for those who missed my recent Facebook post/Tweet, proof positive that kids younger than 13 can train and play with a yellow ball:

Pete Sampras Age 10

 

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Now What?

The 2014 changes to the junior competition calendar are all but a done deal.  The Powers That Be at USTA, despite our best efforts, have decided they (not parents, not coaches, not the players themselves) know what’s best for our young players and have slashed competitive opportunities at the national level by a huge margin.  So, now what?

Add to the mix the fact that several USTA sections have also adopted a rather Draconian policy for the 10-and-unders and 12-and-unders, forcing them onto the ROG path, making it so they have to play all the way up in the 14s if they want to play with a yellow ball on a full-size court.  If you haven’t already, be sure to listen to the free podcast of my radio show with Lawrence Roddick (Andy’s older brother) about what’s happening in the Texas section and what’s coming in Southern and Midwest and NorCal.  Later this week, I’ll post the changes coming in Georgia in 2014.

What’s a tennis parent to do???

I think many of us are frustrated and stumped and just plain angry over all these changes – I know I am.  I feel like decisions are being made by executives who are so far removed from our World of Junior Tennis that they just plain don’t get it.  They still don’t acknowledge how many parents and coaches and players are opposed to what they’re mandating out of White Plains.  When asked about how they can still say that the opposition is small, they throw out the fact that only 160 some odd people emailed the LetUsKnow@usta.com address even though almost 4000 joined a Facebook group in opposition and almost 1000 signed a petition to stop the 2014 changes.  How do those numbers NOT make you sit up and take notice???

I would love to hear from y’all about how you’re planning to navigate starting in 2014.  What changes will you make to your child’s tournament schedule?  Will you add more ITF events, more non-sanctioned events, or have them play adult events instead?  What’s your plan?  I’m still working with my son’s coaches on figuring out the best path for him, but you can be sure I’ll report back once we come up with something concrete.

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Another Giant Step

teenboydriving

 

This past weekend was another giant step in my Tennis Parent Journey.  My son drove himself to a tournament.  Out of town.  About 2 hours from home.  While my husband and I were at a family reunion out of state.

Now, before you start thinking I am totally out of my mind, please know that I enlisted the support of a Fellow Tennis Mom to be on call for my son.  She and her son were staying at the same hotel as my kid.  She was in charge of checking my son into his room and making sure he had his key.  Her son was playing in the same age division as my kid.  And the boys go to school together.  (And I now owe her a very nice bottle of wine!)

As my husband and I left our house and headed to the airport, I made a mental list . . . Had I reminded my son to text us each time he got behind the wheel of the car?  Had I reminded him to take an extra pair of contacts?  Did I tell him enough times that NO ONE was allowed in his hotel room except himself?  I will admit the whole thing had me pretty nervous!

And, it didn’t help matters that, once my husband and I arrived at my aunt and uncle’s ranch outside of Houston and said our hellos to numerous family members, everyone decided to share stories of their high school escapades and the parties they threw when mom and dad weren’t around.  Ack!

I think I’ve written before about how much trouble my son has waking up in the morning – he doesn’t hear his alarm most of the time, and it typically takes about 3 tries before I get him to open his eyes and acknowledge my presence.  The fact that he had an 8am match on Saturday morning had “disaster” written all over it.  That meant a 5:30am wake-up and a 7am warm-up, all without a parent or coach there to nudge him when the alarm started blasting Imagine Dragons loud enough to wake the entire hotel (but probably not loud enough to stir him out of his deep sleep).  I spent a restless night worrying whether or not I would get a panicked phone call that he had overslept and had to default his first round.

I’m pleased to report that he DID wake up, DID make it to his warm-up, and DIDN’T have to default.  He played a tough match that didn’t go his way, but then he picked himself up and got ready for the backdraw, all without me there to comfort him or take him to get lunch before his next match.

My baby is growing up.  He’s way more capable than I give him credit for, even calling me on his way back to Atlanta to find out if he should pick up something for dinner for his dad and me since we would be arriving later that night.  It’s a big relief to realize he was/is up to the challenge of taking responsibility for his tennis and his tournament play.  I’m not sure I’M ready to relinquish all responsibility just yet, but it sure is good to know that my son can handle things on his own, at least from time to time.  And, I think I only grew a few more gray hairs this weekend!

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