Tennis Parent Re-Education

Tennis Parents

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.

 

2016 Asics Easter Bowl In The Books

2016 Easter BowlPer a release from Steve Pratt, media director for the Asics Easter Bowl . . .

One current and a former USTA Midwest Section player took home the top prize as the big winners on Sunday on the final day at the 49th Annual ASICS Easter Bowl as a longtime former Illinois resident Gianni Ross, and Westerville, Ohio, native Alexandra Sanford both won prestigious ITF singles titles.

In the Boys’ ITF final, the unseeded Ross beat his former doubles partner and friend John McNally, the No. 4-seed, from Cincinnati, 6-4, 7-6 (3). Ross, whose family moved to Florida in September, joins recent boys’ champions Gage Brymer (2013), Marcos Giron (2011) and Bjorn Fratangelo (2010) to win the title as an unseeded player.

In the Girls’ ITF singles final, the No. 8-seeded Sanford took out No. 13 Ellie Douglas of McKinney, Texas, 6-4, 1-6, 6-1. All four players were awarded $750 travel voucher checks by tournament director Lornie Kuhle, who has pioneered the idea with approval from the ITF to pay the players and helping to defray the high cost it takes to travel to junior tournaments like the ASICS Easter Bowl, held for the third consecutive year at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, site of the BNP Paribas Open.

In winning his first ITF singles title, Ross, 17, didn’t show tons of emotion and was humble in accepting the first-place trophy. After taking the first set against McNally, he fell down a break at 5-4 and McNally serving for a set point. But Ross got “lucky” on a drop shot at his feet and then took advantage of a net cord eventually converting the break to swing it to 5-all and the momentum back on his side. On break point, he hit a backhand down the line for a winner. “I was fortunate in that game,” he said. “I had a lucky game.”

McNally, 17, admitted he didn’t serve well, and if he would have converted on the second-set set point, that he would have won the match. “I thought I was going to win today, but that’s how it goes.”

McNally held a 2-0 lead in the tiebreaker but hit several unforced errors to go down 2-5. “And you can’t do that against a player like him,” McNally said.

Ross joined recent former USTA Midwest Section players Chase Buchanan (2008) and Evan King (2009) on the champions list. He said he hopes he can remember this special victory, “Whenever I have any bad moments.”

McNally said he will get ready for the Europe junior Grand Slams and that his junior tournaments are numbered. “I’m looking forward to a really fun summer and hope I can tear it up.”

Sanford, who won the Torey Fretz / Jackie Cooper Sportsmanship Award along with yet another USTA Midwest player, J.J. Wolf of Cincinnati, on Saturday, said accepting that award didn’t stop her from some audible “Come Ons” during the match.

Like Ross, Sanford was not very demonstrative in her actions immediately after the win. “It was more on the inside,” she said. “I felt a lot of emotion out there on the court today, and when I put away that backhand (on the final point), it was just kind of a relief. I was so happy on the inside, but I just didn’t show it.

“To be able to win the Easter Bowl, I’m pretty excited.”

Sanford, 17, thanked her mother and her USTA coach Henner Nehles, who was on hand all week and who she has worked with since the beginning of the year.

She said she lost some focus after winning the tight first set. “I may have relaxed a little bit,” she said. “In the second set I got too comfortable.”

The 15-year-old Douglas said she was hurt by some “dumb errors that cost her early in the third set. “I feel like I had several chances and many, many game points I didn’t convert on,” she said. “My serve was really off today. I just need to go home and get some rest and then practice some more. That’s how tennis goes.”

Douglas added: “I think I played too short and she served out wide very well and it was very consistent. I wish I would have played a little bit better today.”

Playing for the first time as a team, Nathan Ponwith and Jake Van Emburgh topped the unseeded team of Vasil Kirkov and Sebastian Korda, 2-6, 7-5, 12-10. Ponwith, who also won the Carson ISC doubles title last week with Will Blumberg, and Van Emburgh battled back saving match points in the second set down 4-5. The pair led the super tiebreaker 9-6 and then again at 11-10, finally converting on the fifth match point to win the ITF doubles title.

In the another thrilling doubles final on the girls’ side, the unseeded team of Elysia Bolton and Chiara Lommer took out the No. 6-seeded team of Victoria Emma and Sofia Sewing, 4-6, 6-2, 10-8.

Boys’ ITF Singles (Finals)

Gianni ROSS (USA)  def. John MCNALLY (USA) [4] def. 6-4, 7-6 (3)

Boys’ ITF Doubles (Finals)

Nathan PONWITH (USA) / Jake VAN EMBURGH (USA) [6] def. Vasil KIRKOV (USA) / Sebastian KORDA (USA) 2-6, 7-5, [12-10]

Girls’ ITF Singles (Finals)

Alexandra SANFORD (USA) [8] def. Ellie DOUGLAS (USA) [13] 6-4, 1-6, 6-1

Girls’ ITF Doubles (Semifinals)

Elysia BOLTON (USA) / Chiara LOMMER (USA) def. Victoria EMMA (USA) [6] / Sofia SEWING (USA) 4-6, 6-2, 10-8

Other Champions (Click here for all draws)

Boys 12s Singles: Max Fardanesh (NorCal)

Boys 12s Doubles: Eli Gordon (Midwest) /Samuel Landau (SoCal)

Girls 12s Singles: Katrina Scott (SoCal)

Girls 12s Doubles: Carson Tanguilig (Southern)/Elise Wagle (Eastern)

Boys 14s Singles: Alex Lee (Midwest)

Boys 14s Doubles: Joshua Raab (Southern)/Andres Martin (Southern)

Girls 14s Singles: Ava Hrastar (Southern)

Girls 14s Doubles: Fiona Crawley (Texas)/Ava Hrastar (Southern)

Boys 16s Singles: Carson Haskins (Missouri Valley)

Boys 16s Doubles: Trey Hilderbrand (Texas)/Kevin Zhu (Texas)

Girls 16s Singles: Angelica Blake (Florida)

Girls 16s Doubles: Chloe Beck (Southern)/Emma Navarro (Southern)

 

What A Difference 2 Years Make!

Image courtesy of www.ITFtennis.com
Image courtesy of www.ITFtennis.com

Almost exactly two years ago, my son played in his very first Junior ITF tournament in Waco, Texas. While it was an excellent learning experience for him to understand what he needed to do to reach the next level, it was also a very quick experience in that he lost his first qualifying match pretty handily. A couple of weeks later, he played in his second Junior ITF tournament near our home in Atlanta. That time, he got through the first round of qualies but came up against a very talented player from the midwest in the next round and went down fighting.

Fast forward to last weekend, my son’s next experience playing a Junior ITF event, once again in Atlanta. He was on the alternate list for the qualies when he went to check in for the tournament but found out that he had indeed made it into the qualifying draw. He was set to play the 6 seed, a young man from Canada, in his first round qualies match . . . not the best draw one could ask for!

But, my son, unbeknownst to me, had set a goal for himself to achieve an ITF Junior ranking before the end of 2014 (when he ages out of the ITF Juniors), so he was determined to get through the qualies and into the Main Draw Round of 16 to earn those elusive ranking points (click here for a detailed look at the ITF ranking point tables). He took care of business in his first match, dropping only 1 game. He had a second match later that day and again took care of business. The following morning, he was slated to play the 10 seed, a high school freshman from the DC area who trains at the JTCC. My son was definitely feeling the pressure going into that match. Not only was he trying to make it into the Main Draw with the win, but he was also facing a much younger – though very accomplished – opponent. Once again, my son stepped up, stuck to his game plan, and overcame the pressure to reach the next stage of the tournament winning 7-5, 6-2.

In his first Main Draw match, my son again faced a seeded player, this time the 7 seed from Florida. Again, the pressure was on, but my son handled it beautifully, losing only 3 games in his straight-set victory. The next round, though, was where the real pressure set in.

For boys playing ITF Grade 2-5s with a 64-draw, they only receive ranking points by reaching the Round of 16. That meant my son HAD to win this next match in order to achieve his goal. I later found out also that TennisRecruiting.net only counts ITF match wins if the player makes it into the Main Draw.

My son’s 2nd round opponent was a familiar one, an 8th grade Blue Chip who my son used to train with in Atlanta. So now, not only was my son feeling the pressure of winning to earn the ranking, but he was also feeling the pressure of playing a MUCH YOUNGER opponent who he was, of course, expected to beat. That said, this younger player had also fought his way through the qualies and had won his first-round Main Draw match, so it wasn’t going to be an easy match in any way, shape, or form.

Let me say that I very rarely get nervous before my son’s matches. I figure it’s him out there on the court, and he’ll give it his best effort, and, win or lose, hopefully learn something to help him in the next match. This time was different though. I was a nervous wreck! And so was my son!

My nerves, though, stemmed solely from the knowledge that if my son lost to this younger player, he would be a nightmare to deal with for at least several hours (if not several days). He knew he was expected to win, and he had to find a way to stay calm and focused in order to make that happen. It wasn’t going to be easy. The pressure was all on him, very little on the other guy because a 13 year old isn’t expected to beat an 18 year old, right?

We didn’t talk about the match beforehand. Not the night before, not on the ride to the tournament site, not at all. The car ride was all about listening to music – we spoke very little – and once we arrived, I left my son alone to do his pre-match preparation while I drank my coffee (and tried to keep down the little breakfast I managed to choke down!). Once my son went on court, I found a place to sit where I could see the match but not be within earshot. The opponent’s mom, who is a friend of mine, sat elsewhere.

The match started off well for my son. He broke his opponent’s serve then went on to hold and go up 2-0. He knew his opponent’s game style very well and found a way to stay on top of the score line throughout the match, eventually winning 6-1, 6-1.

It was a victory unlike any he had had before. Yes, he had won and earned an ITF Junior ranking, and that was critically important to him. But also, he had withstood the pressure in a series of matches and had stuck to his game plan in each one, maintaining his focus and finding a way to win even when he was the underdog and even when he was the favorite – two very different types of pressure, for sure.

The next day, my son played the 11 seed, the same boy he had lost to in the 2nd round of qualies 2 years before. This boy is now a senior in high school and has committed to play for Duke University next Fall. He’s come a long way, developmentally, in the last 2 years. But so has my son. It was going to be a good match.

Due to expected rain, all matches were moved indoors for the Round of 16. The boys went on court as scheduled, and my son went up a break right away. After several more games, the score evened out, and my son wound up losing that match 6-3, 6-3.

What did he take away from that last match? He learned that he can compete well against the top players in his class. He learned that he has the ability and skill set to create opportunities to win points and games and matches. He learned that he can adapt quickly to a change of court surface. He learned that he is strong enough and fit enough to go deep into a tournament. He learned that he is continuing to develop as a player. He learned that he’s almost ready for the next step: college tennis.

 

Rebecca Donaldson Discusses Her Son’s Tennis Pathway

Rebecca Donaldson

Jared Donaldson is a 17-year-old tennis player who has followed his own pathway to professional tennis. Yes, it included some USTA tournaments along the way, like the very prestigious Kalamazoo, but, mostly, Jared has played the ITF circuit around the world. At an age when most junior players are thinking about which college they might like to attend, Jared is focusing solely on how to keep competing with the “Big Boys” on the pro tour. Just a few days ago, he was playing his first main draw US Open match against France’s Gael Monfils on the Grandstand at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. This week, he’s playing on some of the slightly smaller outer courts in the US Open Juniors (though today’s second round match will be on the Grandstand once again).

I had a chance to chat with his mom, Rebecca, about Jared’s decision to turn pro. Click on the arrow in the box below to hear what she had to say.

 

 

 

 

 

USTA & ITF Rankings on TennisRecruiting.net

You may have noticed the recent addition of both USTA and ITF rankings on your child’s TennisRecruiting.net (TRN) profile. I asked TRN’s Dallas Oliver why they decided to add this information, especially given all the confusion over USTA rankings and point tables in 2014. Here is his response:

“Don’t read anything into the timing. Coaches (and others) have asked for us to show USTA and ITF rankings on our profile pages for years. We think this will be good for Tennis Recruiting. Since it is easy to find players on our site, we thought our site would be more valuable as a jumping-off place for people to find all information about a player – not just Tennis Recruiting information. We hope to add Universal Tennis to the list at some point in the near future as well. Hopefully, people will use Tennis Recruiting as their starting point for all junior tennis information – the more information, the better.”

It is now more important than ever for your child to check his/her TRN profile on a regular basis to be sure the information is up to date. College coaches are using TRN as a first-stop, so you want to be sure your child is putting his/her best face forward!

 

 

The Emperor Has No Clothes (reblogged from 10sBalls.com)

[The following article was originally published on the website 10sBalls.com – I saw the link posted in a Facebook group frequented by tennis coaches and former players and felt it would be appropriate to repost it in its original form here.  Please take some time to read through the author’s words and share your thoughts in the Comments box below.  Although the author chose to remain anonymous, there are some very viable suggestions contained in the article that could help all of us parents help our junior players achieve their tennis goals. — Lisa]

 

(Editor: This story was submitted to the site. It’s 4,300 words composed from years of frustrations and first hand experience By: An American Guardian Of The Game)

Patrick McEnroe, you are responsible for directing the quite extensive resources of the USTA into junior player development.   In the absence of producing successful players, rather than taking responsibility, you have chosen to throw the junior tennis players and their coaches under the bus.  It is time to call you to task.

“For the first time since 1912, when no American men entered the tournament, not one advanced past the second round.

Patrick McEnroe concedes there may be some truth in the claim that young Americans aren’t willing to sacrifice as much as their counterparts around the world. “Blaming our players is not the answer,” he said. “We need to educate them at a younger age about what it takes, so they learn the right things to do early.” –Washington Post

Not willing to sacrifice?  There are thousands of kids out there that spend a fortune to travel to USTA national (you know, the ones with the absurd $151 entry fees) and international tournaments in search of competitive match play and rankings.  Many of them sacrifice normal adolescent lives and relationships in order to pursue something greater.  They forego fun weekends and post- school-day hangouts with friends and social interaction, and they incur injuries and debt and failure on a regular basis.  They spend five hours per day on court and another hour in the gym, and give up fun fatty foods for those which will fuel their bodies.  They suffer weeks where the mood of the house is dependent upon their performance and, sadly, they may only be ten years old when that pressure begins.  They endure losses and failure and some of that may be attributable to their unavoidable lack of talent or athleticism.  They give up dates with boyfriends or girlfriends and Friday night football games and family vacations so they can boost their rankings or get in one more practice.  They tolerate constant soreness and dehydration – and a future with swollen joints – for a shot at what is almost impossible.  They risk what would be college tuition money in hopes of avoiding injury and perfecting their games in order to receive an athletic scholarship. And you have the audacity to claim they are not willing to sacrifice as much as their counterparts around the world?  Let’s look at who is the pot calling the kettle names here.

YOU are the Czar of Player Development for juniors in the US, and presumably make the recommendations to the USTA how to structure player development across the United States.  It thus appears that YOU agree with shortening matches from three sets to two-plus-a-breaker.  YOU marginalized or eliminated doubles matches.  YOU attempted to constrict draws so fewer kids would get to compete at nationals.  YOU decided to introduce and promote Ten and Under Tennis/Quickstart to make the game EASIER, and to prevent talent from advancing when they are ready.  YOU imposed a mandate based upon unproven research to make the game easier and then accuse us of not working hard enough. YOU transformed from someone, who avoided accepting juniors with collegiate intentions into your player development program, into someone who thinks college can be good preparation for professional tennis. YOU claim our children are not willing to sacrifice and then you lower the barriers to progress in every way.  YOU have only YOURSELF TO BLAME for America’s current state in the game.

To claim Americans don’t understand hard work or that we are unwilling to sacrifice is to go against the character of this nation.  When the competition gets tough, Americans step up – WE always have.  WE do not look without for excuses. WE do not blame the competitive arena for better competitors, or suggest that the global nature of sport makes it tougher for us.  That’s what YOU do. WE get tougher, more dedicated. WE do not turn to a bureaucracy to cure our ills, but rather, WE seek that innovative individual spirit and revolutionary wherewithal that allowed this nation to overcome tyranny and thrive in the face of despotism. WE are as blue collar as it gets and WE are more than willing to jump into the trenches to fight for what we believe.  WE are willing to work harder than any competitor and to sacrifice everything for a shot at titles.  Ask the Brothers Bryan and the Sisters Williams.  Every two years, our Olympians confirm that the American athlete is still one of the greatest in the world.  In spite of your efforts to shorten matches and hold kids back from the yellow tennis ball, WE teach our children to overcome obstacles, to thwart dictatorial regimes, and to prosper through perseverance. To us, sacrifice is one step on the trail to greatness, and to suggest we are not willing to forfeit everything for a chance at glory is to demean our character. WE take umbrage at your insolence.

The truth, however, is success requires leadership.  And our present leader is performing a half-ass job for one organization, while taking money from another, and then scapegoating the people he is presumably responsible for.  That is hypocritical, irresponsible and arrogant, so we leave that for YOU, with the hope that you never again confuse the letters ESPN with USTA.

YOU continue to blame the kids for not being able to construct points and accuse them of not being willing to sacrifice (Yes, I know you said “blaming our players is not the answer” but that is exactly what you are doing), to blame the parents for being poorly educated about the sacrifices required for this game.  And yet, YOU are the one who will avoid junior tournaments like the plague.  YOU refuse to commit to the private coaching hours required to develop talent by tossing and feeding millions of balls, and sitting with players to explain what is needed to become an elite professional, and getting to know them holistically – their families, their schools, their personal relationships, and emotional setbacks, and injury-filled pasts, and myriad other petty and unsexy things that make up a human being first and a tennis player second.  YOU would rather sit in your comfortable commentator’s booth or White Plains office and offer scathing opinions of America’s best young talent.  The pivotal lines of leadership are not sketched on some whiteboard.  They are created through inspiration and participation.

Leadership’s robes do not come from making appearances, but rather, from fighting in the trenches with the troops, and surrendering one’s self for your team, and giving up media jobs and high-powered luncheons and seven-figure salaries to tough it out when the lighting is dim and the courts are cracked and the body is exhausted.  That is sacrifice, and it is YOU who are unwilling to make it. I’ll say it again, “The Emperor has no clothes!”

YOU have hired foreign coaches who prepare the curriculum for player development and who should have the motivational tools to get players to push to the levels required for professional tennis.  YOU have chosen to abandon the American coaches who’ve been responsible for the development of so many world champions, including those from other countries.  YOU have chosen to take top junior players away from their private coaches and bring them to your foreign coaches, coaches who continue to fail to produce champions from the obscene crop of talent we private coaches continue to push into your funnel of failure – If these foreign coaches aren’t succeeding, why haven’t you fired them?

Here’s another one of your loathsome comments:

I can guarantee you there are more, better coaches in other countries than in this country, percentage-wise.”  – Men’s Journal

Really? Then perhaps you should go join them.  A leader doesn’t praise the enemy and belittle his own troops, but rather, a leader leads by example.  Leadership is about role modeling and solving problems.  It requires hours of helping people break habits and putting in the effort and motivational time to rebuild them as confident competitors, not blaming them for lack of hard work and scapegoating them for your own personal and professional failures.  Assuming you actually believe these foreign coaches are better, leadership means getting your presumed “better coaches” out to the masses to educate the “lesser American coaches” so that a rising tide will lift all ships.  This makes more sense than cherry-picking the best kids and taking them from their private coaches who do all of the grunt work.  Leadership is the place where responsibility and accountability kiss, and right now that seems to be where the sun don’t shine.

Maybe if you got your ass out of the media booth for those eight weeks per year that you are supposed to be doing your player development job, and placed it on a court with some of the country’s best developmental coaches, you’d understand what I’m talking about.  You want respect from the tennis community?  Grab a racket and a few beginners and come earn it!  Until you join us in the trenches, we have neither the time nor the inclination for your disparaging words.

Wrongly, YOU believe our job as private coaches is to bring talented and successful kids to you because you believe you can do it better than us. YOU expect us to slog hours through the developmental muck and to help young children develop character, work ethic, passion and commitment.  YOU expect us to bring you perfectly formed little champions so you can ride their coattails of success and expound upon your own sagacity. And when they don’t make it, you accuse these kids of NOT SACRIFICING ENOUGH FOR YOU?  That is a condemnation of the coaches, the kids and the families.  To blame others for your own ineptitude is the highest form of arrogance.  I commend you on your achievement!

You hire ex-players as coaches assuming – with NO evidence – the skill set for coaching is the same as the skill set for competing.  Though these are great people who want the best for the kids, this demonstrates your complete lack of understanding of the requisite talent comprising the developmental coaching community.

Meanwhile, you sit in your high-salaried office having your coaches recruit/steal America’s top juniors by offering them travel and coaching incentives from your $300 million dollar US OPEN trust fund – a fund we private coaches cannot compete with  – and then blame everyone but yourself when the kids do not make it.  YOU and your coaching staff have access to every single top player in America, you have a massive player development budget compared to other nations, you have training centers and the best technology money can buy, you have private housing for kids and coaches and an absurd expense account for your personal needs, you have equipment manufacturers and trainers and past champions at your beck and call.  Annually, the US produces juniors who win international championships at both individual and team competitions, and then the USTA PD staff picks them up to presumably “take them to the next level.”

And with all of that – more resources than any nation on the planet – the USTA PD program has failed to produce a champion. Yet, the organization continues to spend millions of dollars in pursuit of just one success story to justify its existence.  American tennis is at its worst place in our nation’s history and you are manning the helm of a ship that continues to sink into the depths of international waters now thick with better boats.  And you have the gall to impugn us?  At what point do you begin to blame yourself for the recent dearth of American champions? The mirror never lies, Patrick.  THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES!

Frankly, I am not even questioning your intentions.  I truly believe you’d like to see American tennis rise again. But intention and arrogance are rotten comrades.  With intention should come humility, and an honest assessment of one’s accomplishments and failures.  On this account, you are lacking.  It is time for you to go. Before you do, though, please put some clothes on because someone has now exposed your nakedness and the crowd is starting to speak up.

It would be irresponsible of me to cast aspersions without offering some remedies for our current state.   And so, in the interest of bettering American tennis:

 

ACTION ITEM ONE

After twenty-five years of abysmal non-performance, the USTA player development program needs to reassess its purpose.  According to the establishment’s current mission statement,  “To grow the game…” they should be directing their resources toward community tennis initiatives, tournament structures, and league tennis.  However, believing the development of an elite cadre of American athletes will contribute to the growth of the game, the USTA has taken on the daunting role of player development.  Several high level coaches contend this approach does not fall within the boundaries of the organization’s proposed mission, and deem the USTA’s approach antithetical to the private coaching community’s success.

Patrick McEnroe sees the private coaching community as a conduit into the USTA PD national program.  “Coaches should be promoting their programs by touting the number of players they send to us,” stated McEnroe at an event in Southern California.  Within the private coaching profession, a vocal community reflects on the PD program’s lack of success and questions whether PD really can do it better.  They feel the USTA is cherry-picking the nation’s best players with promises of free coaching, grant money, wildcard opportunities, and travel expenses to ITF events.

“The USTA tells parents the players have to attend their workouts 4-5 days a week, and play within their development system.  Too often, this “system” goes against the private coach’s theory on player development and the kid ends up leaving the private coach for the USTA perks.  It is not the direct theft of a player, but what parents and kids are going to say “No” to the sport’s governing body?  Then, when the player underperforms, the USTA drops the kid for the next presumed prodigy.  Two decades later, with no accountability for their failures, they are still searching for someone to hang their hat on,” says one prominent Southern California coach wanting to maintain anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Having traveled the world with junior and professional players, I feel the USTA has a less-than-outstanding understanding of how to construct an elite player development program.  The professional tennis world is an ocean of talent.  The current PD model has PD scouts traveling from small pond to small pond, all across the country, in search of a few talented drops of water.  They remove these players from their small ponds, offer them the world, and expect them to enter the professional ocean and make an impact.  Handpicking twenty or so kids per year has about the same odds as buying a winning lottery ticket, and, with millions dollars going into the program, appears to be an abhorrent waste of money.

Instead, the USTA should change its model.  With PD coaches who’ve had tour experience and a good understanding of professional tennis life, they have an under-utilized and improperly directed asset. These PD coaches should not be centrally located to work with players, but rather, travel around the country working with players and their private coaches.  By passing on their knowledge to private coaches, they are no longer limited to affecting a few players per year, but now access and inform all of the players under all of the coaches with whom they communicate.  Once done, the few drops in a pond will become strong currents of players in a river that flows mightily into the ocean of professional tennis.  John Kennedy said A rising tide lifts all boats, and in this casePD should allocate its resources to raising the floodwaters of American coaching.

But this would entail removing the egos from the equation, the desire to have OUR OWN USTA kids, under OUR OWN tutelage, so we can show how good WE ARE as national coaches.  It would require these national coaches to stop hoarding their presumed wisdom for their post-USTA careers and to focus on educating the nation’s coaches so we can grow the quality of American tennis as a whole.

Sadly, USTA PD now sees itself in competition with the private coaching community.  The PD coaches work with talent taken from private coaches, and then, to the detriment of the other U.S. kids, sit behind court fences cheering on their OWN charges.  Few things are more offensive to a tennis parent than seeing his/her own child cheered against by the organization that presumably attracted the kid to the game in the first place.  It is nepotism inverted.

Get the information into the hands of the people that can use it and let the kids compete.

Step one on the path back to American success involves sending USTA’s PD coaches out to the country’s tennis clubs such that more coaches and players have access to the best information available.  Do this only until their contracts run out and then move on to Action Item Two.

 

ACTION ITEM TWO

In a quest to repudiate the USTA PD’s belief that they are responsible for producing the next generation of US players, and in the hopes that the USTA will stop cherry-picking America’s top players in the search for a champion, I herewith offer another solution for American player development.

The USTA has made an assumption that hiring former professional players is the equivalent to hiring quality professional level coaches.  Frankly, there is almost zero correlation between the playing and coaching skill sets.  Coaching requires creativity, an ability to articulate information through aural, kinesthetic and visual means.  It demands incredible patience and an ability to motivate others.  Moreover, coaching involves a wholesale commitment to a player in order to understand: 1) the psychological barriers which might impede a player’s progress, 2) the familial and training environment the player must deal with in addition to tennis practices, 3) a history of the player’s emotional and physical development so as to modify training for trauma, injury, and various other stressors, 4) etc.

Playing, however, requires a wholly different skill set.  Great players feel the ball, the urgencies and vacillations, and the instinctive shot making. This is not to say great players cannot be great coaches, but rather, only that great players are not necessarily great coaches.  Blessed with supreme talent, many professional tennis players frequently cannot articulate how they perform technical skills.  Their learning experience is concentrated upon their particular learning style, and their sole concern is motivating themselves.  Better than most people, great players recognize the hours required to master certain skill sets, and to suggest they can become great coaches without putting in the requisite hours is to belittle the coaching profession and to express a level of arrogance not conducive to a supra-standard organization.  Only a poorly educated organization would hire employees based on assumptions rather than evidence.

However, these coaches have wisdom from playing experience, and clearly it would be irresponsible not to include them in the national player development plan.   But, their knowledge should go to the coaching community whose professional skill in developing players is far better.  To help American tennis, the governing body should focus on the infrastructure, not the end product.  Rather than commandeer the talented few, build the framework and let champions emerge.  This is the American way.

Develop a website where professional players can submit their information.  Pay them based on the number of hits, or re-tweets, or feedback.  If the information is quality, they will benefit, but if it’s not, at least they won’t be receiving USTA PD dollars with ZERO accountability.  In other words, leave the value up to the voter.

Hypothesizing about successful solutions and failing – while burning through millions of dollars – is no longer a viable solution.  Let’s remove the player development staff and throw things back to the private coaching community, the ONLY historically successful player development entity in this country. By eliminating the constantly flipping USTA PD regimes, we can open up dollars to try new ways to develop America’s upcoming generations.

Step Two on the path back to American success involves creating a website where former players can provide coaching insight via video, while generating a small revenue stream, such that more coaches and players have access to the best information available.

 

ACTION ITEM THREE

The greatest wealth of tennis wisdom rests in the minds of men and women who are nearly done raging against the dying of the light.  Let us not be thrust into darkness.

The USTA should allocate dollars to document the knowledge from the game’s elite coaches. Send out an educated interviewer – Paul Annacone perhaps – one who presumably understands the requisite questions one should ask to glean the wisdom from these masters.  Talk about strategy and tactics, mid-match adjustments, mental fortitude and what it takes to become a champion.

In this nation, we have several coaches with incredible insight into the elite levels of professional tennis. Robert Lansdorp has coached five number one players in the world. Nick Bollettieri and his staff have coached over a dozen.  Egos aside, we can document this for future generations.  Tyson studied Ali.  Sampras studied Laver.  Our coaches should be able to study history’s best coaches.  It would be a tribute and a lasting legacy for all of these aged wise ones. Pay them their hourly rate to talk, to discuss, and to inform.  How sad to think we might not archive the strategic mind of Pancho Segura.

You want to boost USTA membership? Make the information available on the USTA website for members only.  How many of the nations lesson-takers do you think would pony up $40 for this kind of information?  You claim the coaching in the country is sub-standard, and yet, aside from a few high performance seminars each year, you do nothing to address the problem.  This is a solution that will last for generations.

Step Three on the path back to American success involves documenting wisdom from historically successful coaches, such that more coaches and players have access to the best information available.

 

ACTION ITEM FOUR

The US junior tennis ranking system is as difficult to decipher as the US Tax Code and adjustments are all too frequent.  The upshot of this obfuscation is a cadre of confused parents sweating and straining to navigate the rankings labyrinth.  We hear phrases like “spending a fortune to chase points,” and “have to play these to get into that,” all said with a face that suggests imminent diarrhea.  And yet, somehow the multi-national ITF junior circuit requires no new iterations.  Why not copy a successful model?   How does an ITF player earn his/her way into the junior U.S. Open?  They accumulate enough points at each ITF tournament level and that gains them access into higher-level events.  The private website Tennisrecruiting.net has now gained more credence than the national organization’s system. At some point, even the $300 million dollar elephant in the room is going to get old and infirm.  Study the successful model and adapt, or be relegated to extinction.

In cohesion with the simplification theme, let’s provide parents with better education about the competitive pathways for player development.  Create a simple chart to explain the USTA tournament system, the ITF tournament system, and the professional path to success.  Let’s further inform them of the possible expenses, obstacles, and expectations they should have during their road to competitive tennis.

When the USTA offers wildcards, developmental grants, and invitations to their developmental centers without providing specific selection criteria, it exposes itself to accusations of nepotism and subjectivity.  Worse yet, if the criteria are posted and exceptions are more frequent than the rule, parents and players will condemn the powers-that-be.  Thus, the current state of junior tennis disenfranchisement in America.

Step Four on the path back to American success involves simplifying the rankings system so your average ten-year old can understand how to advance.  After all, the rankings are for the kids, right.  Additionally, let’s provide clear and simple roadmaps for the various competitive pathways.

 

 

ACTION ITEM FIVE

At present, unless you are hand-picked, by the USTA, to be one of the chosen – which is probably the death knell of your career by the way – there is little chance of financial support coming your way.  Therefore, let’s take $2,000,000 of the PD budget and run 20, $50,ooo winner-take-all prize money tournaments, for men and women, across the United States, with the following caveats:

·      US players only

·      No one in the top 100 WTA or ATP is eligible to compete in them.

·      Once you’ve won one of these events, you are no longer eligible to play in another one for twelve months.

·      Once you have won three of these events, you are no longer eligible to play in them.

These events will motivate more players to compete and subsidize those who desperately need it to fund themselves on the pro circuit.

The alternative to this is a performance-based financial support system for rookie professionals, with funding recoverable if rankings improve.  This financial assistance program involves grant money for achieving specific ranking levels.  For example:

Players reaching 800 WTA/ATP receive a $10,000 stipend.

Players reaching 600 WTA/ATP receive a $20,000 stipend.

Players reaching 400 WTA/ATP receive a $25,000 stipend.

Players reaching 200 WTA/ATP receive a $25,000 stipend.

Players reaching 100 WTA/ATP or higher, would pay 10% of their annual prize money back to the granting organization, until all grant monies have been recovered or until the player retires.

Certainly the details can be worked to make this financially feasible, but as an idea in its fetal stages, it may hold some merit to incentivize performance and to allow underfunded players to stay out there long enough to build a career.

Step Five on the path back to American success involves finding alternative ways to fund talented players for their initial forays into professional tennis.

I’m sure others have many more ideas and I’m hoping to compel the forces of American tennis to speak out.  As the Americans’ brief traipse across Wimbledon’s lawns suggests, the time for new leadership is at hand.  Let the search begin.

—An American Tennis Guardian

Alternatives to USTA Tournaments

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I was having a phone conversation with another tennis parent yesterday – we were discussing all the stuff going on with USTA (2014 changes, 10-and-under mandate, cost of competition, issues with wildcards, cheating, etc.) and what we could do as parents of junior players to get away from it all. We both agreed that our goal as Tennis Parents is to keep our kids playing as long as possible while maintaining their love of the game (and not going broke in the process!) – a huge challenge, to be sure.

Then, this morning, I read an article on 11-year-old Florida player, Adam Neff, and the resources that his parents have provided for him at their home – 3 tennis courts in the backyard, one with imported Italian red clay, a hyperbaric chamber, a full-time coach – and I had to wonder if that’s what it takes to develop a successful tennis player . . .

Then it occurred to me that, for (I’m guessing here – no stats to back this up!) a majority of junior players who are playing in tournaments now, success is gauged by their eventual opportunities to play in college at some level.  Of course, many kids dream of turning pro, but, at some point, they realize that’s a huge stretch and that life will probably take them in a different direction, one in which tennis will always play a part we hope.  So, in terms of college-playing opportunities, what’s the difference between being ranked #50 or #100 or #150 in the juniors?  Does the #50 player get that many more scholarship offers than #100?  Is it really worth playing the Rankings Race Game or is your time (and money) better spent finding good opponents and good matches so you get better at competing?  If college tennis is the goal, then shouldn’t the aim of training during the junior years be to develop into the strongest competitor possible so coaches will want you on their team?  And, aren’t there ways other than playing gobs and gobs of USTA junior tournaments to achieve that aim?

Let’s look at some of the options . . .

  • League tennis: Playing on a team with your friends, boys and girls, is fun.  You get to cheer for each other, you have that team spirit thing going for you, you learn what it’s like to play for something bigger than just yourself.  Isn’t that a big part of college tennis, too?  Typically, league tennis, at least where I live, tends to be more recreational in nature and not really geared toward competitive players, but it is still a great way to learn how to be part of a team.
  • High School tennis: See “League tennis” above but add to that a nice way to develop an identity at school, especially if you go to a big high school where kids tend to get lost in the shuffle if they don’t do something to stand out, either in academics, sports, the arts, or some other way.
  • Little Mo: Open to US players ages 8-11, these yellow ball, full court tournaments are held nationwide with regional winners competing for the national title.  Little Mo recently added international competition, too, open to any player worldwide ages 8-12.
  • Adult “Open” tournaments: For a kid with little or no competition nearby in his/her own age group, adult tournaments are always an option.  These events pose their own challenges for junior players (what adult wants to be beaten by a 12 year old?), but they can be a great developmental tool for kids who are looking to take their game to a higher level.
  • ITF tournaments: This is a tough route to take, especially if you want to attend traditional school, since the tournaments run during the week and since we have very few ITFs in the US during the summer when kids are usually out of school [see my How ITF Junior Tournaments Work post for more info].  But, if you’re homeschooled and have the financial resources to travel, ITFs will expose you to players from all over the world, showing you what you’ll face at the collegiate or even professional level.
  • Tennis Recruiting’s National Showcase Series: While these are USTA-sponsored tournaments, they’re not all sanctioned for all players (it depends on whether or not you play within your own section).  With all the craziness and limitations around national play coming in 2014, the TRN events are a great way to play kids outside your section and still impact your TRN star rating, even if they don’t affect your USTA ranking.
  • ITA Summer Circuit: I love these events!  They’re held on college campuses across the country during the summer, and the winners of the regional events go on to play for a national title.  The tournaments are open to any ITA member, so juniors are welcome to join and compete.

Am I missing anything?  If so, please let me know so I can add to the list.  The point is that, for those who are frustrated or fed up with all the rule changes and schedule changes from USTA, there are some excellent alternatives out there.  We can all still keep our kids developing and playing at the appropriate level, regardless of what’s happening with our national governing body.