Notes From 8th Listening Meeting in Los Angeles

USTA Folks in Attendance:
  • Scott Schultz
  • Bill Mountford
  • Lew Brewer
  • Ellen Ehlers
  • Greg Hickey – SoCal President
  • Michael Cooke – NorCal President

I’m happy to report that I have heard from several folks who attended last night’s meeting in Los Angeles, and that there was once again overwhelming opposition to the 2014 changes.

There were 61 attendees including several parents, coaches, USTA representatives, and even a tennis journalist.   Some people who had planned to be there didn’t make it because they thought it was at UCLA (I’m not sure how or why they had incorrect information regarding the meeting location).  School-night traffic on the LA freeways made it impossible for some parents to get there, but, still, 61 people came.

During the meeting, there was a constant barrage of passionate parent after passionate parent making very poignant statements about how these changes were “ill-conceived”.  People attacked the fact that only one person on the 2011-2012 Junior Competition Committee (the one that is responsible for the changes) had children currently playing competitive tennis, and said that no one can understand what goes on in tournament tennis unless they are living it everyday.  The point was made over and over that, at the tournaments, everyone is against these changes.

While there was one parent who said that he thinks a system where kids can play in their backyard is better, that was quickly refuted by nearly everyone in the room who simply said, “There aren’t enough kids to make that a reality right now.”  Parent after parent kept saying how the experience of these National events and the friendships that kids make are the things that keep them in the sport.

One mother said, “My daughter is a very talented athlete, and every other sport is courting her.  I can write a check for $400 for the year, and volleyball will handle everything else.  She wants to play tennis, and I want to provide that for her.  But it seems like you guys are doing everything in your power to push her out of it.  At every turn, you just make it more and more difficult.  Do you not understand what goes on at these tournaments with every single parent complaining about these changes?  All of your customers do not want any part of these changes.  So why are you continuing to push them?”

That drew a large ovation from the crowd.

UCLA assistant coach Grant Chen was there and said how hard they were trying to recruit local kids.  Apparently, UCLA head coach Billy Martin is strongly against the changes.

Another parent said, “Your entire customer base has been complaining for a year straight, and right now we are all tired of saying the same things over and over.  What do we have to do to get these changes stopped?”

USTA representative Scott Schultz then gave the most optimistic answer heard at any of the listening meetings when he said, “The USTA is a political organization.  You guys need to rally all the sections and get the sections to vote this down.  We just implement what they tell us. So you guys really need to talk to Section Presidents [click here for a list of Section Presidents and their contact information] and Section Junior Comp Committees and get them to stop them.”

While some in the room were angry and felt that Mr. Schultz’s statement was just a way to shift the blame and responsibility, others were encouraged and invigorated to have a concrete pathway to pause the 2014 changes that had not ever been disclosed before.

One parent said, “To me, when Mr. Schultz said his thing about getting the sections to overturn this, that made my day.  I have been involved with this for 9 months and have never heard any tangible way to get this fixed.  Now we know there is a way.  We just need to get the sections to vote it down.”

One well-spoken, passionate father gave a speech about how all the changes were taking the fun out of tennis and the soul out of the tournaments, that he drove all the way from Santa Barbara to speak up for the future generations as his kid was only 7 and already losing interest.  At the end of the speech, Lew Brewer’s response was,  “We have a plate of cookies back there.  Feel free to take your kid one.  Maybe it’ll make him feel better.”  The whole room just sat there with their mouths open, not believing what they had just heard.  I also heard from parent Gordon Bellis (who traveled to LA from Northern California for the meeting) that Lew Brewer would evade any tough direct question and respond that all of the changes were justified and fully supported.

Brad Sraberg, the parent of two SoCal junior players, said, “I want my kids playing tennis so that they can have a tool to get into college.  If these changes are implemented, it will be an absolute tragedy to so many kids at Adam’s level.  Maybe the Bellamys, Bellises and Gealers will be fine, but so many US kids will be pushed out of college tennis because of a policy change.  I pray that these changes get overturned.”

The bright spot of the night was near the end of the meeting when SoCal President Greg Hickey polled the attendees and said, “I’m listening and so I get this clear, you guys are against the loss of opportunity?”  A chorus of “YES” rang out. Then Mr. Hickey brought up the point about entry into tournaments which led to the evening’s most contentious moments as a couple of people, including USTA SoCal Manager of High Performance Darren Potkey, chimed in about “points chasers”.  The whole point-chasing argument was refuted by many who said that, really, there aren’t that many points chasers out there.  One person said that points chasers are actually a net positive for the sport because the wealthy pay for the travel to disperse the talent. He said, rightfully, “You still have to win the matches.”

In the end, those in the room said that the main focus is on not losing any opportunities and gaining back the Bowls.  They wanted to make it clear to USTA that 99.9% of parents are against these changes.

Dennis Rizza, the father of an ATP player and the Kramer Club Director (Pete Sampras, Lindsey Davenport, Tracy Austin have all come through his program), said, “We fought for 5 years to get the 192 draws.  I can’t believe that we are now fighting to hold onto them after we spent so much time fighting for them.  A 128 is simply not fair for kids in SoCal.”

Geoff Grant echoed, “If you want the best 128 kids in America on the court, and you want to have quotas, then you have to have larger draws.”

One parent who asked to remain nameless said, “Over and over, I just kept hearing the words ‘USTA Politics’.  Not one time during the 2.5 hours did I hear a USTA official say a single thing about doing what is right for the kids.  For all of you people within this USTA volunteer system, for all of you people who voted for this politically derived mess – shame on you! Shame on you people for not having any real concern for the kids and only caring about the politics.  And shame on you Ellen Ehlers for sitting there shaking your head and having a face filled with disdain at every comment from every heartfelt parent who actually attends these tournaments and actually knows these children who are impacted.  While I still hold hope that good prevails over evil in this situation, what last night meant for me is that the USTA politics are more pervasive and onerous than I ever would have been led to have believed.  If the sport wasn’t so beneficial, my kids would be playing another because of the USTA’s involvement.”

Chris Boyer emailed, “While I greatly appreciate the USTA finally coming around to the strong suggestions of ‘listening’ to its constituency, which after all is the very fabric of the organization, I was at the same time frankly shocked at the number of times the USTA executives mentioned the word ‘politics’.  From what I heard, much of the rationale that was given for these ill-conceived changes had more to do with ‘politics’, than logical business reasoning.  Since when do politics preside over what’s best for the kids?  As a businessman, and looking at this purely from an organizational standpoint, it appears that the root cause of this issue and so many others that seem to be permeating the USTA lately, is about the organization’s structure, and how it fosters the allowance of politics and incompetencies to come into play so frequently.  Just the mere fact that the these ‘town hall meetings’ need to take place – and when they do are so cantankerous – is an indictment of the organization itself and way of doing business, in my opinion. There are clearly a lot of people very upset with the USTA.”

I got a call this morning from parent Bob Cummins who wanted to share his thoughts on the meeting and the 2014 changes.  He told me that he realized after sitting through the meeting that the thing that’s really bothersome to him is that the Points-Per-Round system has created a “feeding frenzy” of people playing so many tournaments and just going a couple of rounds to earn points.  Some people can’t afford to travel to so many tournaments, and so they’re “locked out” of the system.  SoCal got the PPR system a couple of years ago – before that, they used the STAR system which focused on who you beat rather than how many tournaments you played.  Bob is all for getting more people involved in the sport, getting more people traveling and enjoying the big events like Copper Bowl and the team events.  He thinks USTA’s intention is to keep families out of the tennis “rat race” by eliminating a number of national tournaments so kids don’t have to travel so much and suggested that maybe those big events need to be kept separate from the national schedule so players aren’t locked out because of a tie-in to the national points system. That’s certainly an interesting proposal to consider, and I hope USTA takes note of it.

One parent who had planned to attend the meeting emailed me, saying, “I didn’t go to the meeting because they have worn me down and they just don’t listen or care.” That was disappointing to read. I hope it’s not a pervasive attitude among tennis parents because I do think we need to continue fighting for our kids and their tennis opportunities while there’s still a chance to get USTA to put a pause on the 2014 changes.

When is USTA going to listen – REALLY LISTEN – to its constituents and pause these changes until they can be properly vetted?  When is USTA going to engage the people who are in the trenches, spending several weeks each year at these junior tournaments, to create a schedule that makes sense?  The 2014 schedule was created by – and is being defended by – people like Scott Schultz, Ellen Ehlers, Andrea Norman, and Lew Brewer, who, by the way, have NO CHILDREN PLAYING JUNIOR TENNIS either at a competitive level or at all.  They are NOT the ones who should be determining the fate of junior tennis in the U.S.  What’s it going to take for USTA to push the pause button?

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.

Notes From 7th Listening Meeting in Troy, Michigan

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to report from last night’s “listening” meeting in Troy.  The only word I’ve gotten is that there were only a small handful of people there, and that everyone stayed cool, calm, and collected.

Paul McDonald and Mark Bey were the USTA representatives leading the meeting.  Apparently, Scott Schultz was also supposed to be there but got delayed by the weather.  The parents in attendance who did speak were against the 2014 changes to the junior competition schedule, but the opposition was voiced in a very factual rather than impassioned manner.  From the emails I received, it seems that the overall feeling was one of resignation – one attendee reported that it just felt “flat out terrible for the sport more so than terrible for the cause.”

To me, this just underlines the sentiment that we in the tennis community need to find a resolution – and fast! – to this latest rift between USTA and its constituents.  The longer this goes on, the more harm will result.  Parents are talking to each other at tournaments and on social media outlets, and the frustration we feel has gone beyond idle chatter.  I think (I hope!) USTA realizes that it needs to seriously reconsider these changes and to, at the very least, put them on hold until more work can be done.

If any of you were among the 25 or so attendees at the Troy meeting, please add your insights in the Comments below.  Monday’s ParentingAces radio show will be dedicated to a discussion of the 2014 changes and their potential impact on players and families – I hope you’ll join in by calling the show at 714-583-6853 and sharing your thoughts and questions!

Please note that the next meeting is Monday, February 11th at 7:00pm at the Mountaingate Country Club in Los Angeles – click here for a link to the flyer.  Scott Schultz is scheduled to be the USTA representative there.

The Things That Really Matter


The following was emailed to me by Tom Walker.  . .

Changes were passed by a small number of misguided bureaucrats to the National Junior Tournament schedule. Unchallenged these will go into effect in 2014. Developmental coaches predict that these measures will negatively diminish junior tennis. Why are we so enlightened? What do we understand that they do not? Today, I was reminded in the briefest of moments why reversing this course is so imperative. Please indulge me and read on….

I was out on a marathon training run. Dusk was bleak and the temperature was a bone chilling 18 degrees. My course skirted by the local university. Wearily on mile twelve I fought with myself whether to push and continue onward. It was at that moment a simple yet extraordinary event occurred. Passing me in the opposite direction were two young college athletes. On my approach… one of two fist bumped the other and then unexpectedly reached up to offer me their hand as we passed. The gesture was a clear act of admiration and encouragement between athletes. It did not matter that I was easily 25 years their senior, nor that they did not know me. In that moment we shared a common bond. As our hands slapped in passing, I marveled at the unplanned and uplifting nature of this gesture. As the next six miles flew by I vividly recalled all the junior events I had coached at over the years. The lessons learned by so many athletes over time were once again brought into the sharpest of focus.

Magic or inspirational moments occur in the blink of an eye. As a son of a teacher I grew to understanding this. Such things are unscripted. Regrettably, those that seek to change our current tennis system fail to understand this. Their actions will reduce the environment that these moments live within. If more developmental coaches had been part of the process a different direction would have been pursued.

Youth tournaments are not really about who won and who lost. They are instead opportunities for players, coaches and parents to spend time learning and growing from each other. Competition of course …but also to lift one another beyond what the individual is singularly capable of. Whether on the courts, or simply spending time together the ability to inspire or learn is ever present. The size and level of the event increases the number of players who these gifts are bestowed upon.

Our decision makers are disturbingly unaware of these occurrences. They are neither teachers nor developers. The desire to share a common interest or bond is unmistakably the same force that drives millions of people each year to attend conventions. The powers that be have forgotten this. So has the national coach that bemoans an extra day away. Each no longer sees extra matches or obtainable goals as instruments of inspiration. Rather, they view them as a waste of time and money. Such is a selfish and narcissistic attitude and not a value I teach my athletes. Such attitudes have the power to destroy USA junior tennis. It is incumbent upon us to always extend a hand up. Players must be taught to appreciate assistance by freely willing to offer it.

Those that voted on these changes simply did not understand sharing and transmittal of hopes and dreams. The misguided desire to reduce these occurrences destroys the light and joy of youth involved in tennis. Why is it so hard to find the real value the players receive from these gatherings? Doesn’t the bureaucrat enjoy their time together at the US Open? Yes, unfortunately there is a financial cost in all things. While not everyone can afford each and every national junior tennis tournament, our goal must still be to allow as many as possible to share these wonderful moments…eliminating them serves no one.

In closing, I submit that we use the remaining time this year to develop and revamp the junior system. The 2014 changes should never be implemented! They were put together with a faulty premise by a group that was not representative of the junior tennis community. Simply putting events back will not fix the overall problems. Please contact your tennis representatives to demand that a new council is formed to undertake these issues correctly and together.

Tom Walker
Kalamazoo, Michigan

I’ll Be Your Messenger

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I have heard from several parents and coaches who are concerned about speaking out regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes for fear of retaliation from USTA. While I truly believe those concerns are unfounded, I do understand them.

So, as a way to help USTA gather as much input as possible before the 2013 Annual Meeting and the 2013-2014 Junior Competition Committee meeting in March, here’s my offer to all of you:

Email me at fitmom@bellsouth.net. Share your thoughts on the 2014 changes with me – what you like and what you’d like to see changed. I will remove all of your identifying data then forward your email to the LetUsKnow@usta.com address. Once I get a reply from Bill Mountford at USTA, I will forward it to you so you can decide how to proceed from there.

It’s crunch time on this thing! USTA is paying attention to the various blogs, Facebook groups, and tweets. They are reading our emails and taking the time to reply to most of them. If you are truly committed to convincing USTA to go back to the drawing board on the junior competition structure, or if you are in favor of the new calendar, then you need to speak up now. If you don’t feel comfortable putting your name on it, take me up on my offer to be the Messenger.

And, be sure to “like” the new Facebook page dedicated to this effort then share it with everyone you know. Ask your junior player to do the same. Encourage your kid(s) to share the link on Twitter and whatever other social media they use.

Let me repeat . . . it’s Crunch Time!

Social Media In Action

Tom Walker (you’ll recognize his name as the one who wrote the Call to Action on the Junior Competition changes in March 2012) has created a Facebook page entitled USTA – Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes (click here to see it).  His mission is reprinted in its entirety below.  I encourage you to visit the page, “like” it, then share it with your tennis friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other means you have available.  There is definitely strength in numbers, and Tom’s goal is to show USTA in no uncertain terms that a critical mass of its constituents are opposed to these changes and want to see the Junior Competition Committee go back to the drawing board:

This page is dedicated to spotlighting the insane 2014 changes to the USTA National Junior Tournament Calendar and hopefully to motivate Dave Haggerty, Kurt Kamperman, the new Junior Tournament Competition Committee, the 17 Sections and the new USTA Board of Directors to permanently pause these changes and devise a new plan that is thoroughly vetted, transparent, and agreed upon by the tennis industry at large.

Background:

Last year the USTA sections passed a sweeping new National Junior Tournament Plan that was to take effect in 2013 and 2014. This plan involved shrinking the opportunities to play National tournaments for US juniors by a significant margin.

The goal of the changes as stated by the USTA was to address three major concerns:

• The rising costs of competing at the national level for juniors and their families;
• The desire to reduce the amount of time juniors would be absent from school;
• The creation of a logical progression of earned advancement from local play to sectionals to nationals to ensure that the best players move on to nationals (the best have earned the right to play) – not the players from families with more economic flexibility.

While those stated goals are noble on the surface, many in the industry question if those were the actual goals and anyone with the slightest knowledge of junior tournament tennis quickly realized that the 2014 plan did exactly opposite of these stated goals for the overwhelming majority of players.

Cost – under the 2014 plan, players will have 9 chances to play National tournaments during the course of the year. If a player was going to play 9 national events in the year, they would now be completely wed to this schedule. You could likely poll first graders and realize that if a player had 9 chances to 9 events, it is going to cost more than if they had 30 or 40 chances to play 9 events.

School – school breaks and testing schedules have never been more fragmented. Again when choice is taken away, the homeschooled kids with flexible schedules or the lucky kids whose breaks and test schedules match up with the USTA schedule will be fine while the rest of the kids will be left missing more school and will have more balancing of tests and tournaments.

Earned Advancement – this is nothing more than propaganda to pretend like there are a bunch of rich kids flying around in private jets chasing points and unfairly advantaging themselves against the kids of lesser financial means. There has always been earned advancement. The 2014 plan doesn’t change any of the earned advancement for the rank and file junior tennis player, but it does give the USTA more wild cards so that their own players are not subject to have to play in their sections. So this plan of earned advancement not only doesn’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist, it creates a pathway for a few of the chosen ones to completely avoid earning their advancement.

So on all three stated goals, these changes completely fail any reasonable smell test.

The 2014 plan has been universally panned by an overwhelming majority of parents, coaches, junior players, college players, professional players, famous ex-pro players and virtually every person of significance in the tennis industry.

To the credit of some of the USTA brass in October of 2012, a group: Jon Vegosen (past USTA President,) Kurt Kamperman (USTA CEO of Community Tennis,) Dave Haggerty (USTA President,) Gordon Smith (USTA GM) and Bill Mountford (USTA rep) met with a resistance group of tennis parents and industry figures including: Antonio Mora (father of a junior,) Robert Sasseville (tournament director,) Steve Bellamy (father of 4 juniors and founder of Tennis Channel,) Sean Hannity (father of 2 juniors) and Kevin Kempin (father of 2 juniors and the CEO of Head.) From that meeting, the USTA agreed to “pause” the 2013 changes and have a “listening tour” in various parts of the country.

Right now as stated by the USTA President Dave Haggerty in the Atlanta meeting, “the 2014 changes will not go forward as they are now and there will likely be some sort of a compromise that puts some opportunity back on the table.”

The history of the changes are that Jon Vegosen (former President) enlisted Tim Russell (music professor no longer involved with the junior comp committee) and his committee of 20 (of whom virtually none were parents or coaches of junior players and 1/2 of whom are no longer on the committee) to come up with a new plan. That plan was then given to player development (which is no longer involved in the process) who supposedly were the ones who cut all the opportunity and gave themselves more wildcards.

This plan was then pushed around the USTA sections under the guise of cutting costs, upping school attendance, criminalizing the supposed points chasers and giving the sections back all their talent who were now playing Nationally. Although the plan was passed by a margin of 16 to 1, rampant were reports of anyone speaking out against the changes being ostracized, bullied to get on board and even fired. Many section leaders who voted for the changes now say that they would not have voted the way they did had they understood what they were voting for. Others have said they received substantial political pressure to vote for the changes. Basically an election in a country with a dictator took place to slam the changes through while Vegosen’s administration was in place.

Virtually no parent, coach, college coach or person in tennis was apprised of these changes prior to them being passed and there were specific directives from USTA managers not to let the tennis industry know about the changes until after they had passed.

Additionally, little foresight was given to the impact of the changes to college coaches. The changes will directly push a large portion of college coaches out of using their recruiting travel budgets for USTA events and move them to ITF events, therefore creating even fewer US players getting seen by college coaches which is the driving reason that many US kids play junior tennis.

We believe that these changes are going to be some of the most detrimental in the history of the sport and will basically do the following:

· Make junior tennis cost more

· Significantly detract from some kids’ school

· Overly benefit kids who can get wildcarded in

· Push more foreign players into college tennis by more exposure to college coaches

· Make kids quit tennis because so many kids will be playing the same kids week after week in their same section

There are many other negatives as well.

The goal of this page is to mobilize the tennis industry to push the USTA to get this process permanently paused and a new plan put in place that is transparent, smart and vetted by all the parties impacted in junior tennis.

In lay terms, WE DON’T WANT A COMPROMISE BY ADDING BACK OPPORTUNITY TO AN UNVETTED, BROKEN PLAN. WE WANT A NEW PLAN AND THE ABILITY TO WORK WITH THE USTA TO GET THE PLAN THAT IS BEST FOR U.S. JUNIOR TENNIS.

I again urge everyone to attend one of the remaining “listening” meetings and/or to email LetUsKnow@usta.com with your thoughts regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes.  If you need a refresher on the exact changes or dates of the meetings, please click on the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.

Notes From 6th Listening Meeting in Atlanta

It was an interesting day yesterday, to say the least!  I had spent the previous several days preparing my talking points for Sunday’s “listening” meeting as well as for my pre-meeting meeting with Lew Brewer and Andrea Norman, the new chair of the Junior Competition Committee (Andrea was a member of the JCC that created the 2014 changes and is now chairing that same group).  Peter Lebedevs, also a member of the current JCC  – and an active USTA volunteer, coach, and tournament director at both the junior and professional level – joined us, too.

The pre-meeting meeting was very informative.  We talked for almost 2 hours about the changes and the impetus for them (I’m still not 100% clear on the “why” behind them other than that USTA is trying to find a better way to develop our junior players), how I would like to see them change, and what USTA can do better.  We spoke at length about USTA coming up with some concrete ways of helping tennis families save money, like discounts on hotels and airlines and the like, rather than telling us that these new schedule changes will accomplish that goal.  I tried to explain to them how fewer opportunities drives up costs – basic supply and demand – but I’m still not sure Andrea understands what I was saying (more on that in a minute).  She told me that the schedule goes from 15 competition blocks to 12, that fewer blocks means families have to spend less money.  I took issue with that statement, explaining that fewer blocks means fewer options, and fewer options means potential additional expense, especially if those remaining options require further travel for families.

On the issue of smaller draw sizes at the 2 remaining national tournaments, Peter said that he is in favor of leaving the draws at 192, that going from 192 to 128 isn’t a significant change in the amount of work for tournament directors and that he feels giving more juniors the opportunity to compete at that level is a good thing.  I hope he sticks to his guns on that point when the JCC has its next meeting.  Andrea brought up the idea of holding a 64-draw qualifier before the Nationals.  I asked if the Qualifier would be “one-and-done” or would there be a backdraw?  And, would players earn ranking points in the Qualifier or would it be like the ITF qualies where no ranking points are awarded.  She said there would be a guarantee of 2 matches in the Qualifier but that a backdraw probably wouldn’t be played out, and, yes, ranking points would be awarded but USTA hasn’t created those point tables yet.

I emphasized how having the opportunity to compete at the national level and to see the country’s top players in action can be a huge motivating force for those players on the bubble.  I have to say, Lew was uncharacteristically quiet during the meeting, only getting involved when I started talking about my son’s ITF experience this past Fall.  He asked me if competing in our section’s top events wouldn’t provide the same motivating force as traveling to an ITF or Nationals.  I explained that, at least in my son’s case, he’s friends with all the boys at the top of our section and that there’s something different about watching your friends play versus watching top kids from the rest of the country (or world, in the case of the ITFs).  I think he understood what I was trying to say.  One thought I had after leaving the meeting is that if USTA is truly concerned about those players who get “rounded” at the National events, then why not use their resources to provide match-play opportunities and/or coaching to those players in hopes that they’ll be motivated to improve before their next tournament?  That way, if the family has had to fly to the tournament, they won’t necessarily have to change their return flight but can stay and receive free coaching for their player(s).

The “big” meeting started at 1:00pm and was led by Dave Haggerty (USTA President), Gordon Smith (USTA Executive Director and COO), and Scott Schultz (USTA Managing Director of Youth Tennis).  Also in attendance were current JCC members Andrea Norman (Chair), Peter Lebedevs (Vice-Chair), and Chuck Kriese, as well as previous JCC member Eddie Gonzalez.  The room was filled with some incredible tennis experience, and those folks didn’t hesitate to share their thoughts.  We heard from Walker Sahag, an incredible junior coach from Mandeville, Louisiana; Jerry Baskin, who has over 40 years of experience developing and coaching players at the junior, collegiate, and professional level; Chuck Kriese, former Clemson coach and current Senior Director of Competition and Coaching at USTA’s Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland; Jessica Amick, Junior Competition Coordinator at USTA Southern; Patricia Hy-Boulais, former collegiate and professional player who now coaches in Hilton Head; Amy Johnson, long-time USTA official; Julie Wrege, former Georgia Tech coach and creator of TennisRecruiting.net; Robert Sasseville, long-time tournament director; and Johan Kriek, former Australian Open champion and current junior coach.  All told, there were over 100 people in the room, including Manny Guillen, who has 40+ years of experience in the tennis world as an endorser and ranker for juniors; Lucy Garvin, past President of USTA; Doug Wrege, co-creator of TennisRecruiting.net; Julie Thiets of High-Tech Tennis; J.P. Weber, junior tennis coach and tournament director; Bill Ozaki, USTA Southern’s Director of Programs & Player Development; and Sam Kennedy, junior tennis coach, among others.

I think the simplest way for me to convey the points made is to do a bulleted list, so here goes . . . For those who were there, please pardon me if I’ve put any of the statements in the incorrect order – I was trying to listen and take notes (and keep those notes organized) all at the same time but may not have been successful.  And, for the record, the statements below are NOT direct quotes but rather paraphrasing or summaries of what I heard during the meeting.  The meeting was recorded by USTA Southern – I will make that recording available to you as soon as I get it.

  • Dave Haggerty: Welcome and thank you all for coming.  [He then introduced those on the stage and the committee members in the audience]  I would like to open the floor to anyone who would like to speak.
  • Walker Sahag: Reducing draws at the national events limits the chance for players to be seen by college coaches.  As the system stands now, if players don’t make the cut in the 12’s, they never catch up.  Grouping sections into larger regions creates additional sacrifices for those who will have to travel further in order to compete.  Particularly in the western part of the Southern Section, including Florida and the Caribbean exacerbates the travel and expense issue and will likely see the best tournaments migrate toward Atlanta.  Regarding international players taking college scholarships from American players, we’re being asked to pay for something [via our tax dollars] but are being excluded from it.
  • Dave Haggerty: College is the rainbow for 99.9% of junior players.  We’ve been hearing all of Walker’s points from others, too.  I understand that if a player doesn’t have visibility, it’s tough to be seen by the college coaches.
  • Lisa Stone: My son aspires to play more national events and needs to know that it is a realistic aspiration, that he can achieve it through hard work, that USTA hasn’t set up road-blocks to keep him away from the big events.  But the new 2014 schedule is extremely restrictive, decreasing the number of national calendar dates from 12 in 2012 (17-24 in 2010) to 7.  Having fewer opportunities for national play is not decreasing the cost of play – it will only make it more expensive.  USTA, why are you doing this?
  • Scott Schultz asked Andrea Norman to address the rationale behind the changes.
  • Andrea Norman:  We had a charge from our previous president (Jon Vegosen) to create a better pathway.  By going from 15 to 12 date blocks, the cost to compete is reduced.  Regarding the smaller draws, some kids don’t belong at that higher level; they should be playing Regionals instead.  The tournament sites are chosen by an application process and awarded to quality sites.  We try to distribute the sites geographically based on the size of the airport, ease of travel, number of courts, etc.  We  are trying to push play back to the Sections like in the “olden” days – the idea is to get back to Sectional play.  At the ITA “listening” meeting, there was concern about going from a 192 draw to 128, and Jon Vegosen brought up the idea of holding a 64 qualifying draw to be held over 2-3 days prior to the National Hardcourts.  The coaches there thought that was a good idea.
  • Jerry Baskin: Andrea, which college coach said he viewed 64 qualifiers on the same level as the 128 main draw players?  At least the USTA is now listening but every point Andrea makes can be debunked by coaches who develop collegiate players.  Memphis and Kalamazoo are the most influential tournaments for college recruiting.  High-level coaches come in now for the round of 16 anyway.  Other coaches are looking at players 96-192.  If you reduce the size of the draw, you reduce the exposure for these players.  Regarding the simultaneously-held Regional events, how can a coach be at 6-8 events at the same time?  They can’t!  So those players at those Regional tournaments won’t get seen.  Bill Ozaki [Director of Programs & Player Development, USTA Southern Section] has developed top players.  If you reduce the draw sizes at these events, you’ll kill college recruiting and will see half the number of coaches attending the tournaments.  The most exciting day of the year for me is sitting with my players on Signing Day and having my picture taken with them as they sign their NLI.  Do you know why the Thanksgiving indoor tournaments have been so important?  It’s because they come right after Signing Day so those coaches who didn’t get the players they thought they would get can go and see the next crop of players.  The top coaches are in panic mode if they didn’t get the players they expected!  And, what’s the purpose here – to develop world class players or to get college scholarships?  And, quotas being based on strength of the section?  That’s too subjective!  Basing them on size is a whole lot more objective.  It’s ridiculous to have people on the Junior Comp Committee who have never coached, never developed a player, making decisions for those of us who know what we’re doing.
  • Gordon Smith: I would like your feedback on the fact that junior competitive tennis hasn’t grown.  How do we change that?  USTA hasn’t been involved with the NCAA Tennis Committee, but I want us to be more active in that aspect.
  • Dave Haggerty: I believe strongly that the rainbow for 99.9% of kids is a college scholarship, but 40% of those scholarships are now going to foreign players.  We need to come up with a robust environment for juniors to aspire to that is better for our players.
  • Jerry Baskin: Thirteen years ago, I made a mistake when I gave a presentation in New York about the point system.  We need to go back to looking at wins and losses.  That would reduce costs because it would cut down on the number of tournaments a junior would need to play.  The last year that we had a group of men’s champions at Kalamazoo (Roddick, Ginepri, Reynolds, and Fish) was the last year before the point system went into effect.  The point system drives up costs because kids have to play so many events.
  • Scott Schultz: The STAR system gave players the opportunity to duck play.  Is it really a bad thing to have a couple of different systems?
  • Jerry Baskin: College coaches only care about TennisRecruiting ratings, not about USTA ranking.  USTA is looking in the wrong direction with PPR.
  • Eddie Gonzalez: I voted against the 2014 calendar because I know you need to talk to your customer before you make a change of this magnitude and we hadn’t done that.  Let’s do a formal survey on TennisLink for players, parents, junior coaches, and college coaches so we can get feedback from our customers!
  • Dave Haggerty: Please use LetUsKnow@USTA.com if you think of something after this meeting.
  • Amy Johnson: Why isn’t USTA establishing corporate relationships to help every single member?  Things like airline, hotel, and rental car discounts?
  • Scott Schwartz: The Sponsorship Department divvies up the money to various other departments within USTA.  Gordon will take that idea back to them to see what we can do better.
  • Julie Wrege: What’s the difference between having a 192 versus a 128 draw plus qualies?  Where would the qualifying spots come from?
  • Andrea Norman: 8 spots would come from the qualies and 8 from reducing the number of wildcards.
  • Julie Wrege: Why do smaller sections award the same number of national points as bigger sections?
  • Chuck Kriese: I never thought having too many opportunities would dumb down achievement, but I don’t think we should have draws bigger than 128 at Nationals.  That said, coaches should be able to coach however they feel is best.  Dave, your 40% number regarding international players receiving college scholarships is wrong – it’s closer to 65-70%.  We have to make college a viable training ground again.  The USTA needs to have an All-American Team made up of Americans and incentivize coaches for recruiting American players.  Title IX wasn’t set up to eliminate men’s sports but that’s what’s happened.  USTA must incentivize 15, 16, 17 year olds by making college a strong option.  By the way, no one has sued over Junior College’s 2-foreign-player limit!
  • Robert Sasseville: When you have an unreliable ranking system to select players into events, you don’t have an accurate predictor of champions.  The JCC should halt and start over.  Get a task force and re-examine.  You need the input of your customers.
  • Dave Haggerty: We don’t have any answers at this point but we have a lot of thoughts.  We’re hearing the same themes at these meetings.  You won’t see the changes as they are now going into effect in 2014.
  • Walker Sahag: When you streamline opportunities, you negatively impact players’ opportunity to develop.
  • Patricia Boulais: I suggest that USTA work some hotel and airline deals if you’re really serious about saving families money.
  • Scott Schultz: The small number of players competing at the national level make it not such a great deal for companies to offer a discount.  They don’t get much bang for their buck.  How many in this room think we need doubles at tournaments?  [Most hands went up] Should we keep the feed-in consolations?  [Most hands went up]
  • Chuck Kriese: If USTA did nothing to train and develop players, the tournaments should help players develop.  Hybrid scoring systems are crippling our children.  We should honor the scoring system of tennis.  Learning how to win 3 points in a row.  Backdraw kids are often the toughest kids!  These are the things that make players.  But backdraws are only valuable at big tournaments.  Experiencing the pain of losing is very important for development.  Playing pro sets in doubles is crap!  Full  doubles matches should take priority over backdraws.  The concept of winning 3 points in a row is sacred.  Those 3-minute or 10-minute set breaks kill momentum in a match.  Just let the kids play.  If a player is too tired, then he’ll lose and the match will be over soon enough.
  • Patricia Boulais: You have new players coming up but you’re streamlining opportunities for them.
  • Dave Haggerty: While there will be fewer national events, there will also be more local events.
  • A Dad: If I choose for my kid to miss school, it’s my choice!  If I choose to spend my money on tournaments, it’s my choice!  I’d like to see a show of hands of how many pros in this room have had a player outside the National Top 100 who got a college scholarship.  [Many, many hands were raised]
  • Jessica Amick: What about creating more sectional tournaments with national points?
  • Andrea Norman: Currently there are 12 sectional events with national points.  In 2014, there will be 2 Level 3s and some Level 4s with national points.  The Committee can discuss this the next time it meets.
  • Jerry Baskin: I’d be a lot happier if the people making these decisions were people who have been in the trenches and who know the pathway to success.
  • Dave Haggerty: A lot of thought and care went into the selection of the JCC.  It’s always difficult to reach perfection.  The Committee wants to do what is right for junior tennis.  One thing the Committee heard at the meetings held during Winter Nationals is that families want events where all the age groups play in the same city.
  • Johan Kriek: USTA is doing well to listen.  I am a former professional player who did pretty well on the tour.  I’m now coaching and learning as I go.  USTA needs to listen to folks like Eddie Gonzalez, Jerry Baskin, and Coach Kriese.
  • Jerry Baskin: If USTA could get together with NCAA and offer prize money to juniors to offset expenses, that would make our system comparable to the foreign system.
  • Chuck Kriese: In the late 1990’s, 86 international college players were ruled ineligible by the NCAA because of prize money they had won.  The NCAA gave them a 3-match penalty which enabled the teams to arrange their schedules so they could “duck” tough opponents while those players were benched.
  • Dave Haggerty: Thank you all for coming.  We are listening and will take back all we’ve heard here today.  Don’t forget to use the email address if you think of anything else after we leave.
  • Lisa Stone: Please, please don’t take away opportunities for our kids!

The opposition to the 2014 changes seemed to be unanimous, and I think the USTA folks recognized that fact.  After the meeting ended, several pow-wows were going on around the room.  I have heard that many of the attendees emailed those JCC members who were unable to attend with their thoughts and suggestions.  For what it’s worth, I left the meeting feeling hopeful.

I urge everyone to attend one of the remaining “listening” meetings and/or to email LetUsKnow@usta.com with your thoughts regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes.  If you need a refresher on the exact changes or dates of the meetings, please click on the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.

USTA Will Hold 6th Listening Meeting on Sunday

This coming Sunday I will be attending, finally(!), a USTA “listening” meeting.  I’ve been working on my talking points for the past several days and hope I have the opportunity to share them live and in person during the meeting.

Earlier this week, I received an email from USTA’s Bill Mountford putting me in touch with Andrea Norman, the new Chair of the Junior Competition Committee.  Andrea and I, along with Lew Brewer, will be sitting down together Sunday morning before the “listening” meeting, presumably to get to know one another a bit and to discuss what’s in store for our junior players.  I will of course be reporting on the outcomes of Sunday’s meetings, so please check back early next week for any updates.

Below is the information I received from USTA Southern about this next “listening” meeting. Please forward it to any tennis parents or coaches in the Atlanta area and encourage them to attend.  It’s important that our voices be heard!

Southern_town_hall_meeting_011313

I urge everyone to attend one of the remaining “listening” meetings and/or to email LetUsKnow@usta.com with your thoughts regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes.  If you need a refresher on the exact changes or dates of the meetings, please click on the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.