Facilitating Match Play

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Ever since my son arrived home from his stint in SoCal, he’s been arranging hitting sessions and practice matches for himself. He’s built up a nice network of hitting partners around Atlanta, and they meet up at a public park or neighborhood courts for a no-cost training session that keeps both players match-tough and in top physical shape. After 10+ years of paying for drills, lessons, and tournaments, I can tell you my bank account has greatly appreciated the break (see my last post for more $-saving ideas)!

Now, I realize my son is 19 and has a cell phone and a driver’s license, and that this type of match play might be tougher for younger players to organize, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

To make things a bit easier, I created a new group on Facebook called Tennis Match Play (click here to take a look). The group is “closed” which means all posts are private and visible only to members. New members have to be approved by an Admin (that’s me, for now!).

My hope is that junior players (and parents, especially for the younger kids) will use this Facebook group to set up hitting sessions and practice matches. Ross Greenstein suggested a great idea to me a few months ago: (1) get a group of 4 kids together with 2 courts; (2) on Saturday, have the kids play one match in the morning, break for lunch (provided by the parents), then play a doubles match in the afternoon; (3) on Sunday, have the kids rotate opponents to play another singles match, break for lunch, then switch partners and play another doubles match in the afternoon. They could play full matches, one set, or a pro set depending on the age and fitness level (and time restrictions) of the kids. What a great and inexpensive way to get in quality match play without having to travel or commit to a tournament!

According to legendary Notre Dame coach Bobby Bayliss, match play is crucial to junior development. “The biggest thing juniors need is competition. There needs to be a way for them to agree to meet periodically at a site with low or no cost and simply compete against one another.” Junior players can use these practice matches to develop the skill of analyzing and understanding what’s happening in a match situation. By sitting down with their practice partner after the set or match and telling each other,”when you do ABC against me, it really hurts and bothers me; and here’s what I’m trying to do against you,” the kids will become smarter and more effective on the court. This is a skill that even the youngest players can practice. Most of the time kids don’t even realize what they’re doing on the court to hurt their opponent. In a tournament situation, knowing how to recognize the things that are bothering an opponent, and knowing how to recognize what an opponent is doing to bother you, is a tremendous asset.

Bayliss goes on to suggest, “Perhaps local CTAs could create such a vehicle. All too often, kids play only at one club or park, partially because pros don’t allow interaction with other programs.”

The Tennis Match Play group aims to keep teaching pros out of the equation and shift the match-play burden to the players themselves (with parental assistance). I hope you’ll all take a look at the group page, share it with your junior players and other tennis parents, and encourage these kids to take ownership of their development and to get out and play!

 

 

 

 

My First Major As Media

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In case you missed my announcement several weeks ago, I was approved as Media for the upcoming US Open. This is a HUGE DEAL! I am beyond excited! And just a little nervous. I’ve never had media credentials at a big event like this (truth be told, I’ve only ever had credentials once, and that was at the end of last year at the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff in Atlanta). I have no idea what to expect. I’m just hoping I get at least one opportunity to be in the press room when Rafa is there!

Seriously, though, ever since I got word that my application was accepted, I’ve been asking questions and doing research and trying to come up with ideas that will make my experience at the Open worthy of sharing with you via this blog and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and the radio show. I think I’ve come up with some good stories to tell. The challenge will be getting in front of the folks who can help me tell the stories by sharing their own stories with me. The parents, the players, their coaches – both at the junior level and professional – those who have been-there-done-that and are willing to talk about it. Melanie Rubin will be helping me, too – she did such an amazing job with her interviews at Kalamazoo – and I’m looking forward to sharing much more of her insights as her son competes at the Open (in case you missed the news, Noah received a Wild Card into the US Open qualifying tournament which starts Tuesday!).

Lucky for me, I’ve come in contact with so many experienced people since I started ParentingAces a little over a year and a half ago, people who are generous and gracious with their knowledge.  They are helping me formulate a plan for my week at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. They are sharing their contacts with me and making introductions. They are offering to show me the ropes and hold my hand as I learn. I owe each of them an enormous debt of gratitude.

I will be in New York from August 27th through September 3rd. I will be at the Open every one of those days, soaking up as much tennis and media savvy as possible. Be sure you’re following ParentingAces on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so you don’t miss anything! If you’re there during that same week, please let me know where we can meet and chat. You have stories to share, too, and I want to include each and every one of them in my first foray as US Open Media!

When Facebook and Real Life Collide

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Those of you who know me personally know that I’m kind of a Facebook addict. Well, not “kind of” . . . I am a Facebook addict. I don’t try to hide my addiction. I embrace it. It has led me to some fantastic information and to some even more fantastic people.

Like Florida-based tennis parent Patrick Barbanes and his adorable daughter, 10-year-old Maddie, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with when they came to the Atlanta area for the Regional Little Mo tournament. And like Coach JP Weber who, even though he lives about 10 minutes from me, I had never met until after we connected on social media several months ago.

A few weeks back, I saw a post in a Facebook group that Patrick and Maddie would be in town and were looking for a hitting partner a day or two before Maddie’s matches began. I knew JP worked with several players around Maddie’s age and might be a good resource, so I put them in touch. Sure enough, JP arranged to hit with Maddie himself and to include her in his summer camp so she could meet some of the other kids. He then made some phone calls to schedule practice matches for Maddie. Perfect!

Patrick posted an update on Facebook about Maddie and JP meeting each other, and I, being the addict that I am, saw the post and commented that I would love to meet up with them while they’re in town. One thing led to another, and I wound up driving over to Laurel Park Tennis Center after teaching my fitness class (that’s my way of saying, “Please don’t judge my appearance too harshly in the photo above”!) to say a quick hello to JP and then grab coffee with Patrick, Maddie, and their friend Jaya – what a treat! We visited for about an hour before heading back over to the courts where Maddie asked me if I could hit with her for a few minutes. I begged her to go easy on me, but she had me running back and forth with her mean inside-out forehand and two-handed backhand – she may look little but you know what they say about big things and small packages!

There’s something so amazing about meeting someone in person who you’ve previously only interacted with via social media. Patrick’s first comment when we met: “You look just like you do on Facebook!”

 

“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.

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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2014: What Are Our Options?

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

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

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

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

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

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