Bonus Points Update

After all the confusion over the Bonus Points awarded during the first new 2014 L3 event in January, I contacted the TennisLink division of Active.com to try to find out what was going on. USTA told us that it was a technical issue with the software (see the Comments under the Bonus Points article for details), so I figured TennisLink could shed some light on the problem. However, the email response I received from TennisLink directed me to Lew Brewer, USTA’s national Director of Junior Competition. I promptly emailed Lew asking him for information. He replied, thanking me for my email and directing me to a page on USTA’s website, www.usta.com/Youth-Tennis/Junior-Competition/players_and_parents/(by the way, you might want to bookmark that page to keep track of any future updates).

According to that web page, “Due to an unforeseen technical difficulty, implementation of the new 2014 Bonus Point table has been delayed.  Until the technical issue is resolved, players will earn Bonus Points using the 2013 Bonus Point Table.  When the issue is resolved all Bonus Points earned in 2014 will be updated using the new 2014 Bonus Point table.  All Bonus Points earned in 2013 will remain unchanged before and after the delay.”

I do find it interesting, however, that our Southern Section managed to award the proper Bonus Points after the January L3 tournament just a couple of days after the tournament ended. I believe other sections were able to as well. So, what is this “technical difficulty” at the National office and why can’t they resolve it? Who does it really affect? Were there some players whose rankings were negatively impacted under the 2014 Bonus Point schedule who maybe wouldn’t get into the February Closed Regional or National Selection tournament if those 2014 points applied?

I would love to hear from y’all about your personal experience with the Bonus Point reversal. Was your child impacted in a positive or a negative way? Did it make a difference in terms of getting into your Closed Regional or National Selection event?

There are still some unanswered questions in my mind. I’m hoping someone from USTA’s national office will comment here and help us understand exactly what’s going on with these pesky Bonus Point tables and the software required to get them right.

 

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.

New Rules in GA for U10s & U12s

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

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

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

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

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

Take a close look at this photo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Sampras Age 10

 

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Now What?

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

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

What’s a tennis parent to do???

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

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

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Another Giant Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Tournament that Almost Was

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Finally, after months of being on alternate lists and finding out last minute whether or not he was going to play that weekend, my son got direct entry into one of our Southern Level 3 tournaments AND was seeded!  He had a pretty good draw and figured he had a very good chance of getting to the Semis if not winning the whole thing.  He had been playing well in practice over the past couple of weeks and went into the weekend feeling very confident in his game.

So, early Friday evening, we packed up the car and headed to South Carolina, an easy 2-hour drive from our house.  The weather forecast was bleak, but we kept hoping the Weather.com folks would be wrong (hey, that’s not a reach, right?!?) and that the 2-day tournament would finish as planned.  We drove under clear skies and fell asleep under those same clear skies.  But, then the Weather Gods decided to have a bit of a mood swing.

My son was originally scheduled to play his first round at 2pm on Saturday, so we had planned to sleep in a bit that morning.  When we woke up and opened the hotel curtains, the weather looked grey but dry.  Apparently, though, it had been raining steadily since early morning, and the tournament was on an “indefinite” rain delay.  Oy!

My son’s warm-up partner lives about an hour from the tourney site, so his family decided to wait out the weather before driving over.  That meant we were going to hang out in our hotel room until the Tournament Director decided how to proceed.  Finally, around Noon, the draws were updated, and my son was scheduled to play his first round match at 8:30pm.  Again, oy!  That meant only one round would be played on Saturday (with short-scoring, I might add, and on clay as opposed to hardcourts as planned) instead of the scheduled 2 matches as is typical of a Southern Level 3.  And that meant 3 rounds on Sunday, probably also with short-scoring, and a late night drive home for us assuming my son did well and kept winning.  Add to that the fact that the forecast for Sunday was a 70% chance of rain starting at 3am, continuing throughout the day.  To the TD’s credit, he gave players an “out” on the tourney website, allowing them to email the Tournament Referee if they wanted to withdraw altogether.

So, I decided to throw on some clothes and head over to the main site to see if I could get a better feel for what the TD had planned.  The 10s and 12s were scheduled to play there, and the TD had found clay courts for all the other age divisions in hopes of squeezing in the matches once the rain stopped.  Unfortunately, the rain continued for quite some time, and all matches were further delayed, meaning that my son’s first match probably wouldn’t go on until at least 9pm (though, in the 18s, the matches could go on as late as 10pm under USTA rules).  Can I hear another, “Oy”?

At that point, I made an executive decision (after making sure my son was on board) to withdraw from the tournament and head home.  Our hotel let us out of our reservation without charging us for Saturday, so it was kind-of a no-brainer.  We packed up our stuff and were home in time for dinner.

We’ve never done that before.  We’ve always hung around and waited out the weather, crossing our fingers that it would clear long enough for some good tennis to be played.  I’ve always been of the mindset that if you sign up to play, then you stay and play.  Bad weather is just part of junior tennis.  But, given these particular circumstances, I felt it was the right thing to do – to cut our losses and beg off.

Turns out, we made a very good decision.  The rain did indeed continue throughout the night and the next day, and the tournament was cancelled altogether around noon on Sunday with no matches being played that second day.  Keep your fingers crossed for better weather this weekend – we’re heading to a Southern Bullfrog (Designated) on Friday, and these kids really want the chance to play!

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