Tim Russell, the head honcho at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), discusses how his organization is working with colleges, coaches, and communities to save and grow college tennis across the US.
The ITA has developed a self-assessment tool, the Program Health Index, for college tennis programs to use in order to determine whether their team is “safe” or at risk of being cut. The assessment includes items such as the team GPA, how much community outreach the players do, and how often the college president attends matches. Tim and his staff hope this will help prevent program cuts by helping coaches learn what’s important to university administrators. Tim stresses that the ITA is committed to telling the stories of college tennis, not just to the community, but also to college presidents and other decision-makers at the school. It is a tough sell since tennis is a non-revenue sport, but the Program Health Index and other tools are helping the ITA to make its case effectively.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a college tennis discussion without addressing the subject of international players! Tim and I delve into that topic as well. You can learn more about the ITA and its initiatives at www.itatennis.com.
I’ve written and discussed the differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in college tennis quite a bit over the past several months. My reason for doing so is two-fold:
I think it’s important for junior players and their families to have an understanding of what to expect in terms of facilities, equipment, support, travel, etc. when they visit and commit to a college tennis program; and
I think it’s important as a community that we understand why some programs have all the latest bells and whistles while others don’t even have crack-free courts or scoreboards.
So, in keeping with this topic, I found it extremely interesting to look at Darryl Cummings‘s chart listing the operating budget of hundreds of college tennis programs across all divisions. These numbers are from 2014, so they are a bit dated, but I suspect things haven’t changed all that much in three years.
University of South Carolina in the SEC has the largest overall budget at $1,244,834.00 on the men’s side and $1,422,750.00 on the women’s side. That’s a far cry from the $2841.00 budget at Ulster County Community College and even top D3 contender Emory University at $449,836.00!
The CEO of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Tim Russell, is my guest on next week’s podcast, and we talk about this issue in addition to many others. I hope you’ll tune in starting Tuesday at 11amET – you can find the ParentingAces podcast on iTunes, the Podcast App, Stitcher, and on this website as well.
Please click on the link below, take a look at the numbers, and share your thoughts in the Comments area below.
Navigating the world of junior tennis is tough – we can all agree on that, I think. And, once we Tennis Parents figure out a system that works for us, we tend to get comfortable and poo-poo any suggestions to change how we’re doing things.
I’m here to tell you, though, that the world of junior tennis is changing, and we Tennis Parents have to change, too, if we hope to keep up. There are a couple of specific changes that I want to address in this article in hopes of helping you shift your mindset just a teeny tiny bit.
The first thing is the way you search for tournaments for your junior player(s). Most parents start with TennisLink to find tournaments of a certain level or in a certain time period or area of the country. You go to the Find A Tournament page, select the gender, age group, USTA section, and date then click the Search button to see what comes up.
Others of you may also use the ITF Juniors website to search for events. You may use the UTR Events site, too. And these are all great resources to find junior tournaments. But, I’m sure you see that this is a bit problematic in that you have to go to all these different websites to find the available events for your players. What if you could find every single junior tournament in one place?
Well, good news! You can!
The Match!Tennis app (click here to listen to my podcast with its creators) now contains not only every USTA tournament but also all ITF (coming soon!) and UTR events, including the ITA Summer Circuit. You can go to one place and search for tournaments to your heart’s content. You can search by type of tournament, age group, geographic area, and date. You can flag the tournaments to add them to your personal calendar and to send you an email reminder when the entry deadline is approaching. You can also use the app to find a doubles partner which definitely makes life easier. And, bonus: the ParentingAces community gets a free 30-day trial plus a 20% discount if you sign up by July 15th. Just click here to try it out for FREE.
The second change I’d love to see Tennis Parents make is the way you sign up for tournaments.
The typical MO is to decide you want your child to play in a specific tournament then go to the Applicants list to see who has already entered, do a little mental rankings calculation, then wait until one minute before the entry deadline to sign up your player. Hey, I’m not judging – I did the exact same thing when my son was in the Juniors. I wanted to see who else was signed up so I could figure out if he would make it into the tournament or have any opportunity to go far enough in the draw to impact his USTA ranking.
Now, with UTR making such big inroads into the junior tournament landscape, and with more and more college coaches explicitly saying they rely on UTR for recruiting purposes, the most important thing you can do for your child is simply to make sure he or she is playing matches on a regular basis, whether it’s tournament matches, high school matches, or league matches. They all count equally toward a player’s UTR.
So, once you decide a tournament is a good fit for your player and your family in terms of level, date, and location, just go ahead and register.
With UTR Events and many other events using UTR for selection and seeding there is no need to shop for tournaments looking for a strong draw, weak draw, points per round considerations, etc. There is no rationale in waiting to sign up and find out who else may decide to play. Your placement in a level-based draw will be based on your UTR. You will get a set number of matches in a draw that will increase the likelihood that you have matches both good for your development and good for your opportunity to improve your UTR. In the event that there are not enough players within a near enough UTR range for this to be possible, then the Tournament Director will not place you in a draw that isn’t good for you. If it’s a UTR event, your fees will be refunded. If everyone is waiting on the sideline to see who else enters then nobody ends up entering.
I know. This is a new way of thinking.
If you want your junior to play in a specific tournament, then register with confidence and without regard for who else is playing. Again, the Tournament Director – if he/she follows the guidelines suggested by UTR – will not allow players to be placed in draws that are not beneficial for the player.
So, Tennis Parents, let’s practice what we preach to our kids. Let’s have a growth mindset when it comes to our kids’ competition.
For years our only choice for junior competition was USTA tournaments but now there are several options available. Let’s embrace a new way of doing business now that we have the option to do so. Our children will benefit and so will we.
The past 12 days at the NCAAs at the University of Georgia have been incredible! The level of tennis and sportsmanship exhibited by the student-athletes, coaches, and fans (well, mostly!) has been superb. I ran into some old friends (including Stanford Super Fan, Cliff Hayashi!) and made some new ones. I even had the opportunity to meet some long-time digital friends in person – including College10s2day’s Bobby Knight – what a treat!
During the 2nd week of the Championships, the ITA held its annual Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremony and banquet. It was overwhelming to be in the company of so much College Tennis Royalty! I had the unique privilege of sitting next to Nick Bollettieri throughout the evening and to be regaled by his many, many stories of his life in tennis. I was also sitting adjacent to Hall of Fame Inductee James Blake and had so much fun watching him interact with his adorable little girls.
At this year’s Championships, I wanted to give y’all a glimpse at some of the people who make this event so great, so I reached out to some of the players, parents, and behind-the-scenes folks involved. The volunteers from UGA did an incredible job of keeping things running, including squeegeeing courts, manning the gates, and keeping all of us fed and hydrated. I hope those of you on Twitter and Instagram enjoyed my updates there, too!
In this week’s ParentingAces Podcast, which is a bit longer than usual (sorry!), you will hear from Taylor Davidson, a senior at Stanford; Francesca DiLorenzo, a
sophomore at Ohio State; Chanmeet Narang, the UGA Men’s Tennis Team Manager; Elizabeth Milano, a UGA student and volunteer at the Championships; Tammy Duncan and Olga Reinberg, parents of UGA players; and Beata Redlicki, mom to players at University of Arkansas and UCLA. Please pardon the background noise as these interviews were actually conducted on the grounds of the Championships.
To watch the FloTennis profile on Michael Redlicki, click here.
Also, registration for the ITA Summer Circuit is now open. Click here for information.
For more information on the 2017 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships, click here. A huge THANK YOU to the University of Georgia, the NCAA, and the ITA for working together to put on my favorite event in tennis, hands down.
As those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter already know, I have been writing some really fun pieces for the ITA website. These pieces are question-and-answer articles with coaches outside of the “power” schools, coaches whose programs are maybe a little less well-known. The goal of these pieces is not only to share these coaches’ philosophies with their peers but also to bring more exposure to those college tennis teams that aren’t written about as much, teams that are strong and competitive and that offer amazing opportunities to their players both on and off the court.
Here’s my first piece, an interview with Auburn Women’s Coach Lauren Spencer. I hope you’ll take the time to read the various interviews and maybe add some of these schools to your child’s list as they begin to look at colleges.
Lauren Spencer, Auburn University Women’s Tennis head coach, grew up in a small Texas town 30 minutes east of Waco. When it was time for her to look at colleges, she wanted to stay in state, close to home, but her father had other ideas.
Spencer discusses her own recruiting process as well as how she uses that experience now that she’s in the position to recruit players herself for one of the top women’s programs in the SEC.
Question: What was your recruiting process like when you started looking at colleges?
Answer: Back then, recruiting looked quite a bit different than it does now. Everywhere I went for junior tournaments, my parents and I would go look at the colleges in the area. We had email (I don’t want to make it seem like I’m that old!), but regular mail was the main way coaches and players communicated with each other. Also, most people didn’t decide where they were going to go to college until their senior year, either in the Fall or, for many of my friends, not until that Spring.
Because almost everyone went to regular school as opposed to homeschooling or doing school online, we didn’t play that many national tournaments – you just didn’t have the freedom to travel and miss school plus there weren’t as many national events at that time. So how you performed in your state was drastically more important than it is now. The recruiting rules were more lax back then, too, which meant we had more interaction at tournaments with college coaches. They would come watch you play at tournaments, then you’d go on official visits.
I was very tennis oriented during my recruiting process and didn’t really look at the academics of the schools – my focus was on the tennis and whether or not I liked the school. I realize now that there has to be a checklist of priorities – recruits have to make sure their desired colleges at least have a strong education component. If I could’ve done things differently, I would have a different perspective on what to look for in terms of coaching because a coach’s personality is magnified for players. If you don’t like the coach, you can’t just switch to a new coach like in the juniors. The coach is the number one resource for players at the university.
Q: You chose Louisiana Tech for college. How did you wind up there?
A: Most of my high school classmates ended up at Texas A&M. Because my father insisted that I look at options beyond Texas so I could spread my wings, I decided to look for a medium-sized school outside of Texas but still within driving distance of home. I knew a big state school wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel like I would fit into a big city – it wasn’t what I was used to, and I didn’t really know how to function in that type of environment. Louisiana Tech was a great starting point for my life away from my parents. It’s in a college town, and it’s in the South, six hours from where I grew up, just far enough to keep me from being tempted to go home every weekend.
Q: How do you approach recruiting at Auburn?
A: Because we have a lot of players coming from out of state – or even out of the U.S. – I view my role with the parents as very important. I have to reassure these parents that their daughters will be safe at my school. Because I’m a mother myself (Lauren is expecting her second son any day now!) I understand how concerned the parents are when they send their child to a school far from home. It’s my job to make sure the parents understand that I will be taking care of their daughters, that I will help them learn time management skills, that I will do my best to keep them safe, and that I will do my best to keep them healthy both physically and emotionally.
With the players, I try to prepare them as best I can for what they will face as an Auburn student-athlete. I ask them to consider whether our school and our coaches fit in with what they want personality-wise, tennis-wise, and academically. I also look at a recruit’s birth order in their family to help me understand their personality and actions. First-born daughters have very different traits than middle- and youngest children, and I consider that when forming my recruiting class and my team as a whole.
Q: How does your role as Head Coach impact your overall coaching success?
A: When you come to play for me, you are family; you don’t get out of it. Auburn is very family-oriented. Once you come into our program, you are my child, my baby. My goal with each of my players is to raise an adult. When I send these young women out into the world, they are better tennis players, and they are prepared to go out and be self-sufficient, not return to mom and dad. We have to continue what their parents are doing and raise adults.
My personal life and my work life are very much blended. We call our team dinners “Family dinners” because we always eat our meals together. That’s very important to me. When you go to battle or war with another team, having a close bond and trust with the players helps propel the team to being confident in themselves as well as what the team is doing on and off the court. At Auburn, the coaches care as much about our players as individuals as we do about how they hit tennis balls. I believe that approach is especially important when coaching females.
Q: What advice would you give to other college tennis coaches?
A: Number one, we’re all here because of the student-athletes. There are certain times they will test us just like our own kids do. We have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect them, especially in the world we live in right now. We have to make sure the student-athlete’s welfare is protected, whether that means resting them, making sure they’re mentally and physically healthy, making sure you teach them proper life lessons. Sometimes you have to use tough love, but as long as you do it to provide the ability for the student-athlete to grow as a tennis player and a person, making sure the student-athlete comes first, that’s a big deal. Coaches in major conferences have a lot of stress around winning and losing, but you don’t want to put that in front of student-athlete welfare.
Number two, enjoy the job. When I get stressed out, I look down at my feet and see I’m wearing tennis shoes. I get to wear sweats and tennis shoes to work! I get to work outside!
My SID (Sports Information Director), Josh (Wetzel), is a military veteran and lost both of his legs in battle. One day he came into my office, took a look at my face, sat down, and asked, “What’s wrong?” I started complaining about all the stuff that was going badly at work. Josh started giggling, put his titanium leg up on my desk and said “Yeah, one day I had a really bad day at work, too.”
We have really great careers, this is really fun, we get to mentor these really awesome kids – we coaches need to keep things in perspective. Don’t let the stress of winning and losing be your only focus and priority and just enjoy this experience we have.
I learned very early: always surround yourself with good people because they’re going to make you better. My Associate Coach, Chris Hooshyar, played at SMU when I coached there. I’ve known him since he was just a kid! Chris’s wife is the head recruiting coordinator for Auburn. My dad is our volunteer assistant. It’s just a big family thing for me at Auburn. But I haven’t surrounded myself with “yes” people – these folks tell me when I’m wrong and keep me grounded and humble. And that’s what has led to our team’s success.
A little wedding-ing, a little tennis-ing – it was the perfect weekend on the Left Coast!
When I found out that the 60th annual Southern California Intercollegiate Championships were the same weekend as my daughter’s best friend’s wedding in Downtown LA, I was so excited! Not simply because I was going to have another chance to watch some amazing college tennis, but also because this was going to be the first college tournament using Playsight’s PlayFair tournament format.
What is PlayFair? Only the answer to every Tennis Parent’s dreams! Here’s how it works:
The facility must have Playsight SmartCourts installed which use several strategically-placed video cameras to record many different aspects of a practice or match.
PlayFair works just like the challenge system at a professional tennis tournament: each player gets 3 incorrect challenges per set.
If a player (or in the case of a college match, a coach) feels that an incorrect call or overrule was made, he or she can challenge the call.
The official has one minute to get to the Playsight kiosk on the court, push the Challenge button, and review the video of the shot in question.
The official can then uphold or overrule the call. If the video is inconclusive, the original call stands.
Players can also challenge an official’s overrule of their call at which point the official would go through the steps above to review the video of the shot in question.
For the SoCal Intercollegiate tournament, there were 3 roving officials covering 6 courts.
Jeff Angus of Playsight, who was the one actually on the court running the challenge replays, explained the process in a little more detail. “On every court there are 5-10 instant video replay views. Officials can access instant replay and make the call. Players make the challenge – and coaches can signal to a player to challenge – then an official and someone from Playsight (me at this event) goes to the kiosk, loads the video up. Challenge time has been anywhere from a few seconds to a minute. We rely on video – it’s 100% accurate since it’s video, not tracking software like Hawkeye. The official makes the call – good, bad, or inconclusive. The players and coaches may not be happy with the call but they respect it, so there’s been a lot of challenges, which is more than I expected, but it’s also created a deterrence mindset in the players.”
And it’s the “deterrence mindset” that seems to be the greatest asset of the PlayFair system. Erica Perkins Jasper, COO of the ITA, observed, “Because the technology is there, the players have trusted each other more.”
USC’s head coach, Peter Smith, elaborated on Erica’s thoughts, saying, “We’ve had this system for 6 months in practice, but it hasn’t had the same impact as it had in one day yesterday. Guys were trying really hard to make the right call because they had ‘god’ above them. Last week at Regionals, several teams walked away with a bad feeling. We’re okay if we lose; we just don’t want to be robbed. I don’t think anyone left here yesterday feeling like they were robbed.”
The players seemed to be happy with this new technology as well. Nick Crystal, a senior on USC’s team, explained, “You have a 2nd eye. The officials are on the court, and if it’s close, you’re going to challenge. It’s nice to get that 2nd opinion and just know that you’re sure about a call. It’s impacting the close calls. People are only calling balls they for sure see out – rather than making a tight call – because they know you can go to the challenge system and they can get overruled. I think you can go out there and play more freely when you don’t have to worry about someone making a bad call, just focus on yourself and your game.”
Jeff Angus saw a positive response to PlayFair in both the players and coaches, as well. “It’s surprised me how quickly not only the players but also coaches & officials have taken to the process. Right away there’s been a different vibe at this tournament in terms of not really any arguing and bickering over line calls because it’s pretty clear, it’s video,” said Angus.
In terms of how it’s affecting the officials, Angus went on, “There’s seems to be a sort of calmness amongst the players, not only toward each other but also toward the officials. We’re trying to create better officials by validating or overturning their calls.”
ITA official Anthony Montero agreed. “My main job [this weekend] was to work with the officials to make sure we had a process everyone could live with. Overall the players seem very happy with it. The officials are getting more comfortable with it. We have a lot of data we’re going to take back and try to work out so that we have a seamless process for the officials if this is implemented in the future. My main concern is if it is implemented in the future, how do we roll it out so the officials can maximize its benefit?”
Things are still up in the air in terms of how this new technology will be used, especially at the collegiate level. Like Coach Smith told me, “How do we NOT use this now?” Erica Perkins Jasper is optimistic. “The future is really bright. Obviously, we have a great partnership with Playsight. I definitely agree that tennis needs to be more proactive in terms of embracing technology.”
One concern about embracing this particular technology is that it could widen the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” due to the high cost of installing and maintaining the cameras and kiosks. For the programs that have the funding to embrace this state-of-the-art technology, it’s amazing. But for the vast majority of programs, the $10k+-per-court cost is prohibitive. I know the ITA is working hard to build partnerships, and maybe this is one way those partnerships will pay off. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Oracle (as an example) provided matching grants to colleges that wanted to put Playsight or livescoring or other technology in place?!? As Tennis Parent Scott Holt told me, “I think it’s great for college matches. The biggest positive is it brings fans into the game and makes it more exciting which we all need. I hope they take it a step further and put it [the challenge] up on the big board. Then we’ll be able to really see it and get the clapping going like they do at the big tournaments. I’m all for it. Anything to make college tennis better.”
So, what’s coming in terms of rolling out PlayFair to other events? Playsight’s Jeff Angus shared, “We’re hoping it will become the standard of what’s done in junior tennis, college tennis, club tennis, even the pro level beyond the Hawkeye technology. Just knowing that you don’t have to have your eyes tracking all courts, you know your player is going to be supported by the video. It really gives everyone involved peace of mind. We have some USTA-sanctioned junior PlayFair tournaments coming soon. Our goal is to get this built into USTA at all levels – juniors, league, college – leveling the playing field.”
Are you curious about how many challenges there were in this pilot event? Overall, there were 63 challenges over the 5-day tournament with 35 overrules, 19 bad challenges, and 9 inconclusive challenges. On the first day of play, Playsight confirmed every call challenged. However, on Day 2, the video caused an official to overturn his own overrule. Playsight has promised to release additional data this week.
For more information on Playsight and PlayFair, click here for a Forbes article published earlier this week, here for Playsight’s blog post, and here for my podcast with Playsight key investor Gordon Uehling.
I have so much to write about last week’s Oracle ITA Junior and College Masters tournament, but it’s going to have to wait until I get back to Atlanta! In the meantime, I thought I’d share some photos from this amazing event. A huge thank-you to Oracle, Malibu Racquet Club, the ITA, UTR, and all the other sponsors who came together to shine the spotlight on junior and college tennis!
You can click on the thumbnails below to view a larger image. You can also hover over them to read the captions.