I’m Back . . .

I’m not sure anyone even noticed, but I’ve been out of town all week on a Girls Trip with my daughters.  My middle daughter and I were visiting her big sister in Los Angeles.  Yes, the Indian Wells tournament was in full swing.  No, we did not attend.  Sometimes hiking and shopping and Disneyland trump tennis.  Sometimes.

Anyway, I have been following all the comments posted on my article about our options regarding the 2014 calendar.  Wow!  A lot of emotion coming through.  Obviously, I have many passionate readers here who fall on both sides of the 2014 changes.  That’s a good thing.  And unexpected.  At least, I don’t think USTA had any inkling that all this passion would emerge a year ago when it announced the changes.

There’s another big meeting this weekend down in Florida.  I have no idea how all of this is going to shake out.  I just hope, whatever happens, that junior tennis in the US continues to grow and to thrive.  I think – despite our differences of opinion on just how that should look – that’s what everyone hopes.

2014: What Are Our Options?

There seems to be some (a lot!) confusion about USTA’s governance procedure as it relates to the 2014 changes.  After reading through the USTA by-laws in their entirety, I can tell you that I’m not any closer to understanding the intricacies of how this terribly complicated organization operates.  I have asked some people who have been involved with USTA for way longer than I have to please explain to me what our options are moving forward.  Here’s what they have told me.

At next week’s meeting (see my email exchange with Lew Brewer for more info), the Sections will discuss then vote on whether to approve the Proposed Changes to the already-approved 2014 Junior Competition Calendar.

  1. If approved, the Board will vote on the Proposed Changes at its April meeting.  If approved by the Board at that meeting, the Proposed Changes will go into effect January 1, 2014.
  2. If not approved, the original 2014 Junior Competition Calendar will go into effect January 1, 2014.

However, a third possible scenario – one that has not been mentioned by the Commenters on my previous posts – is that the Sections can combine efforts to garner at least 30% of the vote and can propose a “call item” to ask for a pause on the 2014 changes.  This “call item” would then go to a Board vote, I’m assuming at the April meeting.  If approved, we could see the Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee go back to work to develop a world class junior competition schedule with a competitive structure that:

  • Is fair to all the sections
  • Allows for a logical progression from sectional to national to super-national play
  • Results in the best players competing against the best players in the country
  • Is accessible, easy to understand, and cost-effective
  • Provides choices to families and parents in allowing them to build a tennis schedule that suits their individual needs
  • Most importantly, promotes true earned advancement

I have spoken to someone in my section’s (Southern) leadership and am hopeful that they will work with some of the other sections to harness enough support for a “call item” to be proposed.  If you are in favor of a pause, I urge you to speak with your section leadership as well to gauge their stance.  Each section should vote in such a way that benefits its own junior players – that’s why these sections exist, after all.  However, I suspect there is some political pressure from the National office for the sections to support the stance of the President and Board, so it’s important that we constituents put some pressure on our representatives to support what’s in the best interest of our kids.

TRN’s National Showcase Series

showcaseSeries_310x155

As I’ve been posting on Facebook and Tweeting this week, TennisRecruiting.net recently announced its National Showcase Series for 2013.

Per the email I received yesterday from TRN, the National Showcase Tournaments are designed to give players a chance to compete outside of their districts and sections.  They are seeking to fill the gap left by USTA’s 2013 and 2014 junior competition calendar changes, some of which limit players to competing within their own section or region.  While the TRN events will NOT count toward USTA national rankings, they WILL count toward USTA sectional or district ranking (if the player is competing in one of these events held in his/her own section or district of residence) as well as a player’s ranking and star rating on TennisRecruiting.net.  It’s important to note that players who choose to compete in National Showcase events held OUTSIDE their section or district of residence will not receive USTA ranking points but will still get credit toward their TRN ranking and star rating.

TRN’s Dallas Oliver says, “The idea of these National Showcase tournaments is to provide meaningful cross-play between different areas that will provide more data for meaningful national rankings. We have gotten a lot of positive feedback so far – players and parents appreciate having more choices. And the tournament directors we have on board so far have great reputations for running quality tournaments.  We think that this tournament series has a lot of positive qualities. These are USTA-sanctioned events, so players and their families will get a familiar experience. But the tournaments will not be on the USTA national schedule, which obviates the concerns many had about ‘point-chasing’. At the same time, these tournaments will count for Tennis Recruiting rankings, and so there are rewards for players to compete in them.”

Tournaments in the National Showcase are “open” tournaments. Entries for these tournaments will be open to all USTA players, regardless of residence. The bulk of these tournaments are scheduled during the summer or on long holiday weekends to accommodate travel and reduce missed school days.  Players and parents need to look at their section’s 2013 tournament schedule to find out the level of those Showcase events held within their section. In the Southern section, for example, some of the Showcases are Southern Level 3s and some are Southern Level 4s, and USTA ranking points will be awarded accordingly.

I asked TRN’s founder, Julie Wrege, why they decided to get USTA sanctioning for the Showcases.  She told me that a USTA sanction insures that the rules of tennis will be followed, certified officials will be used at the tournament, scheduling will be done according to the rules, and results will be published on TennisLink.  I expressed my concern that USTA would see the Showcases as filling in the gap left by the elimination of several national events and use them to justify the 2013 and 2014 changes.  Julie feels that the Showcases will not take the place of anything that is proposed or is going on now.  These tournaments carry no USTA points at the national level – and only at the section level if sanctioned by a section – and only at a district level if sanctioned by a district.  She went on to say that the sections need to have a lot more sectional play – and these few events scattered across the country will not fill that gap.

It is important to note:

  • All events in a National Showcase tournaments will count for Tennis Recruiting national rankings.
  • A player who competes in one of these events and has a win – in the main draw or a consolation event – will become a Tennis Recruiting National Player.
  • Entry into these events is open to all USTA players, regardless of residence.
  • Acceptance will start with the USTA National Rankings – followed by the USTA sectional and district rankings.

Here is the current schedule of National Showcase tournaments. Several more tournaments will be added to this 2013 schedule as their USTA sanctions are finalized:

StartsTournamentEventsContact
12/26COSTA MESA OPEN CLASSIC
Costa Mesa, CA
BG18H. Lloyd
3/30GEORGIA/ALABAMA OPEN
Dothan, AL
BG18-16D. Bryan
3/30GEORGIA/ALABAMA OPEN
Bainbridge, GA
BG14-12T. Thompson
4/06BLUEGRASS SPRING JR. OPEN
Louisville, KY
BG18-12C. Mather
4/26OJAI JR. TENNIS TOURNAMENT
Ojai, CA
G18, BG16-14C. Fugle
5/25NORTH GEORGIA OPEN
Rome, GA
BG18-12R. Sasseville
6/25NEWPORT NEWS OPEN
Newport News, VA
BG18-12S. Dearth
6/24LA JOLLA JR. CHAMPIONSHIPS
La Jolla, CA
BG18-12B. Davis
6/29JACKSONVILLE OPEN
Jacksonville, FL
BG18-12R. Jenks
7/01WILBUR FOLSON MEMORIAL OPEN
San Diego, CA
BG18-12A. Podney
7/13GEORGIA JUNIOR OPEN
Rome, GA
BG18-12R. Sasseville
7/15COSTA MESA SUMMER CLASSIC
Costa Mesa, CA
BG18-12H. Lloyd
8/03HUDLOW JR. OPEN
Norcross, GA
BG18-14C. Chapin
8/04SANTA CLARA BRONCO OPEN
Santa Clara, CA
BG18-16J. Scalese
8/11SANTA CLARA BRONCO OPEN
Santa Clara, CA
BG14-12J. Scalese
8/16ST. LOUIS JR. SUMMER OPEN
St. Louis, MO
BG18-12J. Dippold
9/21BLUEGRASS FALL JR. OPEN
Louisville, KY
BG18-12C. Mather
9/28ST. LOUIS JR. FALL OPEN
St. Louis, MO
B18-12J. Dippold
11/22ATLANTA THANKSGIVING OPEN
Norcross, GA
BG18-16C. Chapin
11/22ATLANTA THANKSGIVING OPEN
Norcross, GA
BG14-12T. Berne
11/29WESTERN STATES JR. OPEN
Tucson, AZ
BG18-12M. Houk

Again, according to Dallas Oliver, “We are excited to have 20 tournaments on the schedule so far, and we are reasonably pleased with how they are spread around the country. There are clearly some areas – like New England and the mid-Atlantic region – where we need to do better. Hopefully players and parents can talk to their favorite tournament directors about running a National Showcase tournament – we would love to hear from them!”

As you can see above, the first Showcase Tournament is the Costa Mesa Open – an 18s event that takes place the week before New Year’s in Costa Mesa, Calif. If you are interested in that one, register now at their tournament page on TennisLink or contact Hank Lloyd at hltcm@sbcglobal.net. But hurry – entries close next Thursday, December 20!  For TRN’s FAQ on the National Showcase Series, click here.

One last note from the folks at TRN: “At the end of the day, we feel that the more choices there are, the better. These National Showcase tournaments should provide more of these choices without interfering with the goals that the USTA has put forward for earned advancement.”

If This Doesn’t Convince You . . .

Spreadsheet Links

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -with teams

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -Individual entries-No Teams

The two spreadsheets above were created by Robert Sasseville, a member of the group that met with the USTA folks in Chicago in October.  Robert has run the Girls 14s Nationals for the past 30 years and has been involved in junior tennis in some way, shape, or form for over 40 years, so he’s seen the evolution of the competition calendar and ranking system over a long enough period of time to understand clearly how the 2014 changes will impact our junior players.

The first link shows a comparison between the 2014 national competition opportunities and those in 2012 and 2009, including the new team events.  The second link shows the same comparison but without including the new team events so there is an “apples to apples, oranges to oranges” comparison.  The spreadsheets are broken down by weeks, so that when viewed, it is obvious how restrictive the current and proposed 2014 schedules are compared to pre-2011.

If, after studying the spreadsheets, you still aren’t convinced that the 2014 calendar will greatly reduce competition opportunities for our juniors, please let me know in the Comments below. I have Robert on stand-by!

The following was written by Robert Sasseville and posted in another article‘s Comments section:

It was today one year ago, December 1, 2011, that I first received a copy of the proposed changes to the National Junior Competition Structure.  It was that night that I composed my first “comparison” of competitive opportunity reductions.  That night I compared 2014 with 2011, 2010, and the 1980’s, our recent “golden age” of junior tennis.  I compared only Level 1 and Level 2 changes.

In the original proposal the Winter and Spring Nationals were eliminated.  Both remaining Level 2 Nationals were reduced to 64 draws, while The Nationals (Hard Courts) were reduced to 128 draws and the National Clay Courts were moved to Memorial Day weekend and reduced to 64 Draws.  Depending on age group the Level 1 reductions from 2010 were 75% for 12’s, 60% for 14’s,  59% for 16’s, and 58% for 18’s.  Sweet Sixteen’s weren’t counted because they were automatically entered into the succeeding Level 1 National.

The Level 2 events were all reduced from 16 events with 64 players each in 2010 to 6 events with 32 players each in 2014.  That was a reduction for all age groups of 81.25%.

The National Junior Competition Schedule that passed in March had some changes, like not moving the Clay Courts to May and adding a 32-draw Spring event for 12’s, 14’s, and 16’s, so our updated numbers have changed as modifications occurred.

To get a picture of how the schedule changes will affect playing opportunities for juniors, I put together a spreadsheet comparing 2009 with 2012 and 2014.  It was not only designed to show percentage decrease in opportunity, but also the event distribution.   Because it was laid out in a 52-week format, the flexibility inherent in the 2009 schedule contrasted with the rigidity of the 2014 schedule was readily apparent.

The original comparisons were based on National “developmental” opportunities, which meant that a single player could enter a  tournament with the opportunity to play another player from anywhere in the United States.  (A player from College Park, Maryland could possibly have opponents from Spokane, WA, Houston, TX, and San Juan, PR, or any other location within the United States.)  In our original computation we included the proposed 2014 Winter Team Championships, although they are really not individual events.

We did not include 2014 Regionals in the computation, because they are “National” in respect to “point opportunities” only, as opposed to the current events labeled “Regional” which currently have no geographic restrictions, and are truly “National”.

In this document we expanded the spreadsheets and looked at both the individual events, the team events, as well as the new ‘Regional’ events and computed percentages based on individual and team events, separately and together, as well as, including the new  “Regionals”.

It all depends on one’s definition of “National”.

If “National” means you have the possibility of playing anyone from anywhere …..

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 82.47% to 86.75%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 71.00% to 80.75%.

If “National” means the tournament has “National” or “Regional” in the title, and you will receive National points  …….

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 60.73% to 65.90%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 51.24% to 61.65%.

Another reduction, for those defining “National” opportunities using the criteria that National Points are available, is the fact that the number of Sectional events offering “National” points has been reduced by 50%.   Each section’s number of events carrying National points has been reduced from 12 to 6.  Even though the events eliminated were Level 5, elimination of 6 events spread throughout the year reduces opportunities for players whose schedules are restricted by school or other commitments.

If you are defining “National” by the opportunity to acquire National Points, you might want to consider exactly what National Points and National Rankings will do for you in 2014.

Already, National Rankings are basically a tool used by the USTA online entry system for player selection and seeding.   Having a “National” ranking has devolved to the point where its only real value is in the selection process for “National” events.

Seldom does one hear people talk about National ranking, particularly as a player reaches college age.  Now people mention, or aspire to be, “Blue Chips”, “5 Stars”, “4 Stars”, etc.  USTA Rankings have become irrelevant for college recruiting purposes because they don’t take into account the quality of play.    Once USTA moved away from a merit-based head-to-head ranking system, the value of the ranking secured by point acquisition is merely the value granted to it by USTA.  The value is that if you have more points, you will be admitted ahead of someone who has fewer.

Additionally, the number of events accepting entrants based on a player’s National ranking shows a staggering decrease. The events per age group admitting players via National ranking in 2014 compared to 2009 and 2013 are:

  • 12’s    28 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    •  [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each) and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)
  • 14’s    29 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 79.3% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 16’s    31 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]  Reduction: 80.6% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 18’s    32 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), Winter Team event (64 players)]  Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)

Imagine being a rising 17- or 18-year-old and having your National Ranking used for admittance to only 3 National level events for all of 2014, when in 2013 there had been 12 events played in 10 different months that admitted you via your National Ranking.

So, one thing is certain.  National individual opportunities for all will be reduced anywhere from 51% to 86%, depending on your age group and your definition of “National”.

The numbers of events where your National Ranking will have any significance at all will drop by 79.3% to 89.3%, or 50% to 75%, depending on which year you choose as a comparison.

Severely reducing the number of events making selections based on USTA National standing serves to diminish the value of a USTA National ranking, and therefore the value of events that carry National points, but no National developmental opportunities (e.g., 2014 Level 3 and Level 4 Regionals).

While there may be argument over the exact percentages, there is no argument that the operative word for 2014 is REDUCTION.

To Sum It All Up . . .

It’s been a crazy week in the world of junior tennis!  In case you’re feeling as overwhelmed as I am, I thought I’d summarize what’s going on and my recommended action items.

  • USTA has adopted changes to its Junior Competition calendar that will become effective in 2014. If you haven’t yet seen it, the new 2014 tournament calendar is here. Some interested parties who feel that the changes should, at the very least, be delayed for further study, have created an online petition and are seeking signatures. If you would like to view and/or sign this petition, click here.
  • NCAA has passed new rules affecting its year-end Championships effective September 1, 2012, for the Spring 2013 tournament.  The rules are purported to be in the interest of bringing additional fans to the sport and garnering tv coverage.  To read the new rules, click here.  To their credit, USTA is partnering with ITA to write a joint opposition letter to the rule changes.
  • A group of current and former collegiate players have formed a Facebook group to try to get NCAA to reconsider the rule changes.  They have created an event to organize a Twitter rampage on Saturday at Noon EDT.  To learn more, click here.  They have also created an online petition to overturn the changes.  To read and/or sign it, click here.
  • Sunday’s ParentingAces radio show will feature a discussion of the NCAA rule changes and what we as tennis parents can do to help preserve the integrity of the college system for our kids.  Tune in live at 6:30pm EDT by clicking here then call in with your questions and/or comments at 714-583-6853.  If you miss the live broadcast, you can hear the podcast by clicking on the Radio Show tab in the menu bar above.

Holabird Sports-Adidas “All-In” Junior Tennis Challenge

With the various changes that USTA is implementing throughout the junior competition calendar, several forward-thinking individuals and companies are stepping in to offer players and their families alternative ways to maximize their tournament experiences.  The Holabird Sports-Adidas All-In Junior Tennis Challenge is one such event.  I had the opportunity to speak with the tournament’s creator, Sol Schwartz, and to ask him a few questions:

ParentingAces: Why did you decide to create this tournament?

Sol Schwartz: The tournament was created for a few different reasons, the main one being that it will create an atmosphere that is going to be totally unique for the junior tennis player.  Our event has a variety of rules components that players very well may face as they move on to the collegiate and maybe professional levels.  It is also a contradiction to many of the new rules that are being, or have been, instituted into junior tennis.  First difference will be that all third sets will be played out.  No tie breakers.  A second difference is that all net cords will be in play.  A third difference is that coaching on changeovers will be allowed.  A fourth difference is that there is only one draw for the boys and one for the girls – all ages will be put together and will compete against each other.  Finally, and most importantly, is that the winner of each of the draws will receive an Adidas footwear and apparel sponsorship package.  Details of the package can be found in the link for the event.  We also have a runner-up package for the 2nd place finisher in each event.

PA: What are the specifics of registering for the tournament?

SS: Registration for the tournament can be done directly through the link that is on the Holabird Sports website, www.holabirdsports.com.  The cost of entry is $100, and the deadline to enter is August 16th at 11:59pm.  Entry will be limited to the top 32 boys and girls that enter each of the events.  The criteria for entry acceptance and seeding information is online.  It can also be found on the USTA website in their list of non-sanctioned events.  There is no housing provided for the event, but special event rates have been secured at hotels that are within  5 minutes of the host site, McDonogh School.

PA: How did you decide on Adidas as the sponsor?  What’s in it for them?

SS: There are several reasons that Adidas was chosen to be the lead co-sponsor with Holabird Sports in this event.   Going with a prize package that included shoes and clothing immediately brought them to mind.  Right now, there is really no bigger company in that side of the business than Adidas.  On a bigger picture front, there is going to be a huge blow out for the weekend of the tennis event at McDonogh.  On the Sunday of the final, August 26th, Holabird Sports and Adidas will also be holding The Coach Jerry Martin Memorial XC Run.  This race is a tribute to a legendary track and field coach from the Baltimore County School System whom I also had the honor of having as part of my retail staff at Holabird for many years.  Several of the people that are with Adidas in the tennis and running divisions have a great relationship with us, and many have had the experience of knowing Coach  Martin.  It just made this a perfect match.  These events will enable Adidas to get a lot of exposure in more of  a grassroots type of setting.  They will be blowing out their brand there throughout the whole weekend.  They will have products on display. They will have their  Mi Cell and Mi Coach training systems out there for the players to experiment with as well.

PA: What do you say to the players and parents who ask why they should play if it won’t help their ranking?

SS: My reasons for keeping this tournament unsanctioned, at least for the first year, are kind of selfish.  I did not want any outside influences coming in and trying to dictate how I should run the event.  I wanted this to be a different type of experience for the kids that gain entry, and I didn’t need or want any outside organizations getting in our way, or for that matter, capitalizing on my vision for what this event can and hopefully will be.  Being able to expose your child to the type of atmosphere that this tournament will create – along with the rules of play that are being implemented – should be exciting for all that enter.  These kids are used to playing under sets of rules that are contrary to what the game of tennis should be about.  Our event bucks that trend.  Why should they play if it won’t help their ranking?  From the kid’s view, it is to compete in a totally different atmosphere than at any event they play.  To get a good taste of what it is like to compete at the next levels of the game.  As a parent, I simply look at the prize package.  A lot of these players will have some sort of racket sponsorship, but they often can’t attain footwear and clothing.  The package that is being awarded to the winners of the event will help offset some of the largest expenses that add up throughout the course of the tennis calendar.

PA: Do you think this type of non-sanctioned tourney will survive and thrive when facing the competition from USTA/ITF events?  What can the tennis community do to ensure the survival of these alternative events?

SS: When I sit back and look at this event, I wouldn’t necessarily say it is in competition with any USTA or ITF events.  What it is is a totally different type of event than those put on by other organizations.  Just because the event is not a sanctioned event does not mean that it never will be.  This event is designed to be different.  It is designed to create an atmosphere that is a celebration of what is great about different areas of our sport.  This event is a model of a vision that I have as to what could potentially grow into a larger series of events down the road.  There is a ton of negativity that exists in the tennis community across our country.  This negativity comes at every single level and a lot has to do with the overall structure of the junior tennis tournaments and changes that have been made or are going to be made in the near future.  Everybody has a view on the issues from the coaches to the parents to the kids themselves.  I listen to these conversations and engage myself in a lot of them because both myself and my company have a vested interest in the success of the game of tennis.  We at Holabird Sports, in conjunction with Adidas, have put this event out there to create some new excitement in the junior tennis world.  The Holabird Sports- adidas “all-in” Junior Tennis Challenge will take place the weekend of August 24th-26th.  Hopefully it provides a bit of a positive kick back to tennis and creates some excitement.  When that happens, who knows where we may take this in the years to come?  It’s in the hands of the tennis community to promote these types of events and bring non-tennis people in.  There needs to be an all-out attack by players, coaches, parents, and supporters to bring more people to the game.  We need to show others that tennis is a great game to be enjoyed by anyone who can hold a racket.

My son and I will be in Baltimore for this exciting tournament – hope to see you there!