More Slashing of Opportunities

slashing swordIn case you haven’t heard (!), USTA changed the national junior competition schedule, effective January 1, 2014.  A big reason for the change, according to USTA, is to drive competition back to the sections instead of having so many big national tournaments requiring travel all over the country.

Those opposed to the changes, including Yours Truly, kept asking USTA what it was doing to ensure the sections would step up and fill in the gaps.  We never got a clear answer.

And, now, that which we feared – that sections would not take on that task but would actually slash competitive opportunities instead – has come to fruition.

I found out this week that the Southern California section is taking a big step in that direction (click here to read the information posted on its website which includes a link to a Comment form where you can share your opinion before the plan is finalized).  Traditionally, all SoCal “designated” tournaments (comparable to our Bullfrogs in the Southern section) have had open draws.  That is, any player who signed up got to play.  And many of the age groups wound up with 128 or 256 draws played over two consecutive weekends.  However, beginning January 1, 2014, Southern Cal will limit its designated draws to either 96 or 64 players (I’m still not clear on how they’ll make that decision for each event), in essence eliminating the opportunity to compete at that level for hundreds of juniors.

The reasons SCTA gives for the reduction in draw size have to do with weather delays (it rains, on average, 16 days a year in Southern California), lack of enough large facilities, and difficulty in completing the large draws over two weekends – all valid reasons. However, the fact that these reductions come at the very same time as the reduction in national play opportunities under the 2014 changes seems short-sighted.  Isn’t this the time that sections should be increasing opportunities to compensate for what’s happening at the national level?

Interesting to note is the fact that a member of the 2013-2014 National Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee (the one responsible for passing the new 2014 national schedule) also chairs the committee in the SoCal section responsible for these designated tournament draw reductions.  She obviously understands that the sections are supposed to be picking up the slack left by the national reductions; however, instead of making sure her section added competitive opportunities for its players, she pushed through this major slashing of opportunities in her own backyard.  I just don’t get it!

To put things in perspective, at this year’s Southern California Anaheim Designated, 166 boys and 105 girls would not have gotten to play if the SCTA had limited the tournament to a 64 draw.  And the Boys 16s are going to be hit the hardest since that is typically the group with the largest number of players. The 16s is usually the first age group where college coaches are watching players to scout out future recruits. What will these reductions do to the chances for the kids “on the bubble” in terms of being seen by these coaches?

Let’s also consider the issue of players who are trying to prepare for aging up to the next division.  I’ve been told that the SoCal section is trying to figure out how to accommodate juniors who are in that situation, but, for now, there is nothing on the SCTA website to indicate there will be spots in the draws for these players.  I hope that changes before the smaller draws take effect.

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

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“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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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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New Coke & 2014

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Today’s post courtesy of Antonio Mora . . .

In 1985, before all our junior players were born and when many of their parents were young enough to be junior players themselves, the Coca-Cola Company took what has been referred to as the greatest marketing risk in consumer goods history.  The company changed the formula for Coca-Cola, the world’s most popular soft drink, the first significant change in its formula in 99 years.

The development of what everyone ended up calling “New Coke” was a long and secret process that even had a code name, “Project Kansas.”  The company’s most senior executives launched the effort, hoping to find a new “champion” for the company and reverse years of decline in Coke’s market share.  By the early 1980s, Pepsi had become the best-selling soft drink among young Americans and Coke found itself suddenly in the unfamiliar position of not comfortably dominating the soft drink market.

“Project Kansas” and Coke executives chose to compete with Pepsi by drastically changing what was arguably the world’s greatest brand.  Their huge mistake?  They failed to consider their customers and Coke drinkers’ loyalty to the “real thing.”  The outcry from Coca-Cola’s customers and its bottlers was immediate and “New Coke” turned into a marketing disaster amid public protests and boycotts.  At first, Coke executives considered slightly “tweaking” the formula of their new drink, to make it more similar to traditional Coke.  Cooler heads prevailed and, only 79 days after “New Coke’s” debut, the company reintroduced the old formula and started selling it as “Coca-Cola Classic.”  It was the most spectacular about-face in American corporate history, bigger than Ford turning its back on the Edsel.  My old boss, Peter Jennings, interrupted regular programming on ABC to report the breaking news.  On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Democratic Senator David Pryor of Arkansas called Coke’s reversal a “meaningful moment in the history of America.”  Trust me, I’m not making this up.

It was certainly a meaningful moment in Coca-Cola’s history.  The company’s sales numbers soared, “New Coke” soon disappeared and “Coca-Cola Classic” went back to being plain “Coca-Cola.”  Within a few years, Pepsi became an also-ran in the soft drink wars, and today, both Coke and Diet Coke outsell Pepsi.

The parallels between “New Coke” and the USTA’s 2014 changes to the junior competitive schedule are pretty obvious.  Well-intentioned USTA executives launched the effort, trying to find a new “formula” to develop American champions and reverse years of decline in US tennis fortunes on the world stage.  The USTA’s effort may not have had a code name, but the process was long, a lot of hard work was involved, and it was secret.  Like Coca-Cola, the USTA didn’t fully consider the reaction of its customers and faces a huge public outcry.  As Coca-Cola executives did at first, USTA officials are considering just “tweaking” their new “formula,” instead of fully reconsidering their decision.  The big question, of course, is whether USTA officials will learn from the past, acknowledge the overwhelming opposition to their new “formula,” have the courage to stand up to internal pressure and reverse course, starting a new process that will be more inclusive of its customers’ wishes.

Notes From 9th and Final Listening Meeting in Texas

USTA Folks in Attendance:
  • Bill Mountford
  • Dave Haggerty
  • Lew Brewer, though he arrived a bit late and stayed mostly at the back of the room.

The following information is a conglomeration of several emails that I received after the meeting. If you were there and have something to add, please do so in the Comments below.

Sadly, attendance was rather small, but those in attendance seemed to be fully aware of the changes and were fully engaged in the discussion.

The initial issue that came up was in regards to why the USTA is reducing the number of national tournaments. The conversation started with traditional schooling and the desire to try and reduce the number of days players will miss. A few of the parents voiced their disagreement with the USTA focusing so much on this. These parents felt it was not as big of a deal as the USTA was making it – and that it should be the parents’ responsibility to manage this, not the USTA. Several USTA people disagreed and backed the new rule changes.

The conversation then turned to the draw sizes. It felt like quite a bit of the conversation revolved around this topic. A few of the parents focused on the decrease in opportunities for kids that don’t fall into the 32/64/128 draw sizes. There was a concern for the kids that will just miss the cut or would have otherwise been able to make it into a national tournament. Even if they weren’t the “high quality” players, the experience could be enough to motivate and incentivize these players to work harder and grow their game. In addition, a few parents mentioned that the kids that aren’t among the top 128 could potentially have fewer chances to be seen by college coaches. The USTA response was that these coaches would see them at the regional tournaments (of which the parents were skeptical). The USTA and coaches tried to focus the discussion on the quality of the draw for the players, saying smaller draws will drive stronger competition.

Dave Haggerty once again brought up that USTA is discussing a 64 player draw qualifier for the national tournaments that are reducing from 192 to 128. The thinking is that this would give the lower ranked kids a chance to play for a berth in the main draw and keep similarly ranked kids playing together. Of interest was how the USTA would deal with the qualifier and wild card issue. Suggestions were made to have 0 wildcards from the USTA and also having 7 to 8 wildcards allocated to the USTA with 8-9 spots coming out of the qualifier.

I saw the following posted on the USTA-Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes Facebook page: There are a number of people who think that the 128 draw is ample for Level 1 tournaments. What those people usually don’t understand is that entry into those draws are not on a child’s National ranking but on sectional quota’s. So technically a kid from the Caribbean could be ranked 1400 in the US and get in a 128 draw while a kid who is ranked 50 in Southern California would not get it. Usually when people find that out, they have a greater understanding of why the 192 is more fair to the stronger sections. Additionally, these events have become showcases. There are many colleges who recruit kids at that level and the change from 128 to 192 has caused a tremendous amount of introductions of college coaches to US kids. Countless US kids are playing college tennis because of the move to 192.

There was emphasis placed on 12 and unders – having 128 draws and including 12s in the team competition in the winter. Foreign scholarships were addressed, and the USTA folks indicated they are talking with other sports to address this issue as they feel that making this a tennis only issue would not work with the NCAA. It was reiterated that the USTA has no jurisdiction in regards to this issue.

One parent shared with me that, overall, it was a civil meeting, with no fireworks – they just didn’t have enough parents show up. That being said, the vibe (in his opinion) was that the USTA attendees in the audience have already made up their mind to back the changes. It was obvious in their body language in reaction to parent and coaches comments, as well as under-the-breath comments and side bar conversations.

Overall, those in attendance believe Bill and Dave were engaged. Whether that leads to committee action remains to be seen.

All Sections Are NOT Created Equal

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Voting within USTA is much like the Electoral College system in the US federal government.  All USTA sections are not created equal.  Apparently, size DOES matter.

That said, and as was suggested by Scott Schultz at the listening meeting in Los Angeles, it is still crucial that we all continue to reach out to our Section Presidents (click here for a list of Sections, 2013 Presidents, and contact info where available) and ask them to vote for a pause on the 2014 changes to the junior competition calendar.  It is our best hope for getting the result that many of us have been working toward for the past year or so – to see the USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee take the 2014 plan, push the pause button, seek input from those in the trenches day in and day out, use it as a base to create something that serves the greatest number of junior players, vet it properly among its constituents, then move forward in hopes of providing a clear pathway for our kids to make the most of their junior tennis years.

Here’s what I sent to Bud Spencer, the Southern Section President: “Mr. Spencer, please vote to PAUSE the 2014 schedule at the next USTA meeting!  The proposed changes will have a significant negative impact on junior tennis.  Why not just take one more look at this whole proposal and re-evaluate?  What is the harm?  What is the rush?  Isn’t it better to do things right instead of doing them right now?  Please listen to the concerns of so many of the coaches and parents and players involved and vote NO on moving forward with these changes in 2014.  Thank you.”

Please note that the next (and final!) listening meeting is Friday, February 15th at 4:30pm at the DFW Airport Hilton in Grapevine, Texas.  Dave Haggerty, Bill Mountford, and Lew Brewer are scheduled to be the USTA representatives there.   You folks in Texas are up against it, though.  A parent posted the following on the ParentingAces Facebook page:  “Just got an email from Ken McAllister, Director over the Texas Section, they will continue to support the changes to the jr. tournament schedule and do so more strongly than before.”  This, despite the fact that many parents have reached out to Mr. McAllister asking him to vote for a pause.  This, despite the fact that the listening meeting in his section hasn’t even happened yet.

If you are planning to attend the Texas meeting and are willing to share your thoughts with me, please contact me at fitmom@bellsouth.net.

And, don’t forget to keep sharing your thoughts with LetUsKnow@usta.com.

By the way, Monday’s ParentingAces radio show will continue with last week’s discussion on the 2014 changes and how they will impact players and families.  My guests will include Antonio Mora, Geoff Grant, Sol Schwartz, and Martyn Collins.  I hope others of you will call in and share your questions and concerns.  The show airs at Noon ET – please click the Radio Show tab above for details.