USTA Florida Taking the Lead

usta florida

Somehow, even though I live in the Southern Section, I got on an email list for USTA Florida. I’m glad I did! The section sends out great information each week on the various tournaments going on within the section, registration deadlines, and industry news. It’s very informative!

But, this week, I got a new email from them. This one, called the USTA Florida Junior Competigram, was focused solely around junior tennis. Here’s what it contained:

Dear Junior Tournament Player and Tournament Parent!

Welcome to the Competigram being sent exclusively to USTA Florida Junior Tournament  Players and Parents each month. It will include new and upcoming events in Florida, reminders about changes in Florida competitive regulations, and other topics of special importance to you as a Tournament Player and Tournament Parent.  Your input and feedback are welcome.

USTA Florida 2015 Youth Tennis Pathway!

New program for the 10 and under event player!
USTA Florida is in the process of creating an exciting pilot program for junior players in the USTA Florida tournament system. Please go to this article on our Game Changer Blog to read more and make comments:

Game Changer Blog: Your Feedback on the Youth Tennis Pathway Pilot!

New Youth USTA Florida Website!

There are Junior Tournaments for all players whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Use the website to find out what Junior Tournament Level is right for you. To go directly to the Competitive area of the website to find out about tournaments start here: Junior Competitive Website

I forwarded the email to the designated Junior Competition person in each of the other 16 sections in hopes that they will follow suit and keep all of us updated on any information and/or changes within our sections. I’ve already heard back from Bonnie Vona in the Mid-Atlantic Section that they are in the midst of restructuring their section and their website, so those of you in that area can expect some positive changes very soon!

Congratulations to USTA Florida and Ann Brown for taking the initiative to better communicate with members! This is exactly the type of information I’ve been asking for for a long time, and I believe it will greatly help all of us in our Junior Tennis Journeys.

 

Winter Nats So Far

SRPTennisCenter

What an amazing couple of days it has been so far in Scottsdale!

My son flew from Atlanta to Phoenix by himself on Christmas day (the rest of us were still celebrating with our extended family down in New Orleans). He got himself to the airport in Atlanta, arrived in Phoenix, took a cab to our hotel in Scottsdale, then met up with one of his Southern Section buddies to hit. The next morning, he connected with two of his future Santa Clara University teammates, Kamran and Connor, to hit and check in for the tournament. Later that afternoon, he hit with Kamran again, then joined his family for dinner. My husband and I didn’t get to the hotel until close to 9pm. It was a long day!

About a week before the tournament, I got an email from a ParentingAces reader letting me know she lives in Scottsdale and offering to help us with anything we might need. I took her up on her offer, asking if my son could borrow a cooler to use on court during the tourney. She graciously volunteered to drop it at our hotel for him. Well, not only did she drop off the cooler, but she also brought us a huge cooler filled with Gatorade, orange juice, bananas, oranges, granola bars, pretzels, and all sorts of other snacks. On top of that, she left a case of bottled water for us. What an amazing gift! I called her to say thank you, and she explained: “I’m the team mom for my kids’ various sports, and whenever we travel to a tournament, my first stop is Costco to load up on drinks and snacks. I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if someone could have that stuff waiting for us when we arrived?’ so that’s what I did for you!” Cindy, you have no idea how awesome a surprise that was and how much we are enjoying all the treats! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Yesterday was Day One of competition. My son had arranged to warm up for his 11:30 first-round match with Kamran at a local high school. I briefly met Kamran’s dad at breakfast before heading to the courts. The boys were decked out in their Santa Clara gear – Go Broncos! It was chilly but the sun was out, so we figured the weather would be pretty perfect by the time the boys started their matches, and we were right!

When we got to the tournament site, Connor was on court, and his parents and one of the Santa Clara assistant coaches, Aaron, were watching court-side. My husband and I introduced ourselves and spent some time visiting with them, getting to know each other a bit. Once my son went on for his match, we headed to his court to watch. Aaron and Connor’s parents came over, too, after a bit. Then Kamran went on the court right next to my son, so we got to watch him play, too. The 4th Santa Clara incoming freshman in the tournament, Robert, was scheduled to play as well. It was great for my son to get to meet so many of his future teammates and for my husband and me to meet their parents!

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many college coaches on site yesterday. They were there watching their 2015 recruits but also scouting players for future years. I’m always amazed at the camaraderie among these guys and love seeing them laugh together and share their war stories.

After the singles, my son and Connor were scheduled to play their first-round doubles match together. They seemed to communicate well with each other and pulled out a solid win to move onto Round Two. All I kept thinking was how cool it was to see these two young men on the court together as a preview to their next four years. The emotional mom side in me kept popping up as I watched them play. It truly warmed my heart!

Last night was the little parent get-together I had organized at a local sports bar. I wish I could report that we were over-run with attendees, but that wasn’t the case, sadly. I’m not sure why more people didn’t come, but I’ll keep trying in hopes of getting the parents away from the grind of competition and into an environment where we can get to know each other better.

So, now it’s the morning of Day Two, and I’m sitting in the hotel breakfast area, drinking my second cup of coffee, and looking forward to another beautiful day in Scottsdale. Good luck to those of you with kids competing here this week!

 

Getting USA Juniors Back On Track

 

tom walker article

By Tom Walker

Parallel tracks of development in competitive youth tennis must be reestablished. The USTA must not be the gate keepers in this process. Players must be unfettered to advance and decline based on individual merit and performance.

Great harm has come to the programming of youth tennis players over the past year. In the zeal to change the junior tennis system, key pathways of development and progression were altered or destroyed. Tennis stars are produced from a diverse combination of factors and variables. Experience teaches us that there is not a single path. The USTA must maintain multiple pathways at every age so talent and innovation can flourish within the sport.

The love of tennis is passed from one generation to another. A college level player is not a failure.  His or her offspring may be tomorrows Nadal or Federer. It is with this in mind that maximum participation and qualifying for national events should take precedence. Giving young players the opportunity to take part in this journey breeds a love of the sport and develops passions that will transcend their own lives. The spirit of achievement is contagious. In this way, small programs grow as the dream is seen as plausible reality. The intention of making junior play cheaper is and remains a noble one. However, the attempted process failed to adequately understand how youngsters advance through the sport. The result was a more expensive product with fewer opportunities for advancement.  The time for blame is over. Let us work together to solve these problems. Where do we go from here?

 

Reset and reestablish: Parallel Tracks Of Advancement:

Just as subways lines intersect for passengers to change direction before reaching their destination; junior players do the same. The three main lines of development in junior tennis are Sectional, National and ITF (International). All three lines must be nurtured, cultivated and properly rewarded. Tremendous talent is contained in each pathway. Players may fail to move over to the next line for many valid reasons. Travel, time, expense, coaching, exposure, growth all play a part in development. The intersecting points of these lines must be both encouraged and mandated by the USTA. They must never be blocked or impeded.  Major harm comes to all when results are ignored for predetermined advancement. The major cross points for lines 1 and 2 are individual sectional championships and regional events. For lines 2 and 3 these would be the ITF events within the USA and higher-level national tournaments. Most importantly, all lines must be forced into collision at National Surface Championships. Such competition must be required to occur no matter the cost or potential for embarrassment.

 

tom walker graphic

 

Lack of Progression in National Schedule

The current junior system fails to provide rational progressions. The elimination of a significant or meaningful national schedule has left top sectional players scrambling with out a clear path or goal for advancement. Many are forced to compete on multiple tracks of unrelated sectional and national events. Such events are void of any reward; except at the very top. For the higher level National player, this is problematic as time and resources would be better utilized to their on a National / International schedule. A perception has emerged that the USTA instituted these policies improperly to control and limit player development.

 

Closed Gateways

The reduction of the draws (64 spots) at the major nationals had the effect of rendering smaller national events as meaningless; since a national ranking no longer has any bearing on national championship selection. Only the wealthy can afford to play a significant amount of such events. Players and coaches have become confused as to what to play. Many have abandoned smaller national play as “a road to nowhere”. This defection has diminished quality of play. Sections have realized that drain is a problematic since their quota spots are dependent on a national strength calculation. They are now busily awarding inflated sectional points for these events. This forces sectional level players to travel greater distances outside of their domain. The inconsistency is that “this is increasing travel and cost for play that is by definition sectional”. The National ranking gate has closed!

Players at the junior ITF level or the professional level have also suffered a similar fate. It remains illogical for a top 200 ITF player to abandon grand slam events for low level sectional play. These players’s have already transcended this level. Instead of having a policy in place for the top 200 World Ranked ITF player or top 1000 professional player for the USTA nationals, players are now dependent upon USTA controlled wild cards. Who decides these? The USTA coaches are naturally inclined to select players they are working with. Without sufficient spots for these players; the International Ranking Gate is closed!

Elimination of the 18 Spring Nationals greatly reduced the opportunity for USA players to be seen by college coaches. The Easter bowl 18’s is an ITF event and limits participation by many players who attend year round school. Such players cannot play ITF events. The effect was that a successful event and college recruiting tool was replace by a nonsensical team event that has handed out the highest USTA awards to non deserving players. This experiment cheapened the “gold ball” as  some participants that did not win a single match received the USTA’s  most prestigious player award.  This College Gate was closed!

 

Unfair Control?

All transitional gates are now controlled by the USTA. Why have all access points been replaced by wild cards?  Who will get them? Are they merit based? Ask the players… they don’t think so. Despite direct wins, tournaments players from outside the high performance training feel ignored.  It is felt that organizational coaches who train players …favor players they are working with to validate their jobs. Who can blame either side? Transparency is a vital commodity to restore faith in our system. Under our present condition, it is far to easy for player development to have its finger on the scale.

 

Qualifying: The Real Cost

This year saw record numbers of children forced into playing qualifiers to reach their national championships. Many such players would have already made the event before the draw reductions. There were top ITF players, top national players and many smaller sectional quota hopefuls.  The 64-player reduction of the national championships did nothing to lower the cost to players. What happened to the reduced price tag that was advertised to make the game more affordable?  Many older players felt pressured into competing in the qualifications in the hope of catching a college coach’s eye. Remember, the Spring National was eliminated.

The price tag for these events were exorbitant for many families. In some cases the cost was as much as $3000.00 for venues such as southern California. For that price you received a single match in which a ITF and/ or a professional players were laid in wait since they did not receive entry nor a wild card.

Many otherwise worthy players opted out of the qualies citing the negative risk / reward of the situation. The reality was the wealthier the family, the more likely that the child would play the qualification rounds. As for the warm-up events, how many parents can afford two consecutive weeks from work?  The result was if you drew a seed it became a very expensive single match because your non-counting match opponent in the 1st rd consolation defaulted.

This year’s qualies were a failed experiment.  The pre-event cheapened the value of nationals for the players while imposing an unfair burden on parents who felt forced to make these trips. Let us never forget the intrinsic value of a reaching the National Championships. For many simply being there is a lifetime goal. It remains nonsensical to permit large qualification draws to destroy the experience for those who have already earned it.

 

Necessary Change & Remedies

The first step is a tough one. Committee decisions have complicated the process. How did things spin so far out of control? There is so much to be done where do we start?  Here are key starting points.

  1. Reestablish a workable national schedule for aspirating top sectional players
  2. Reset the All National Championships 12-14 to 128 draw / Real FIC with a compass component for first and second round losers. (This will create advancement with a guarantee of 4 matches for all competitors)
  3. Reset 16 and 18 divisions to either 192 (block seeding) or 256 for Clay and Hard courts. Winter National 128 draw.  Real playing incentives tied to every winner of National events which include USTA led ITF travel.
  4. Spring 18 National reinstated in March with 128 draw FIC Draw.
  5. **(Selection for all National Championships includes 1. Top 1000 players in ATP or WTA 2. All top 100 ITF players 3. Top 20 National players 4. Sectional quota’s  5. Remaining spots filled off national selection list (wildcards limited to injury situations only, USTA players required to play and complete National hard Court Championships for any consideration for funding or US Open wildcards.
  6. Eliminate Team Spring Event
  7. Eliminate all onsite qualifications for nationals
  8. Eliminate Warm-up National Events

 

Independent Leadership

Finally, junior tennis requires an independent department that is not operated by committee. Establishment of a commissioner of junior tennis is an important step in cutting through the layers of bureaucratic encumbrances that have been instituted. This domain would include:

1. Establishment of a proper schedule and administer the events away from influence from player development.

2. Select workable venues for tournaments based on accessibility, all travel costs, tradition, climate (San Antonio must go in the summer) and exposure.

3. Work on reducing known expenses to tennis families. A. Official USTA airline sponsorships/removal of change of fair fees for tournament play venues. B. corporate discount rates on hotels and rental cars.

4. Secure funds to put junior tennis on television with human-interest spots. Similar to the little league and Major league Baseball sponsorship.

5. Create a final 4 round robin 14’s event at the US Open.

4. Convene a select committee to review the following: High school tennis seasons, possible ranking system changes, eliminate multiple birthdate season changes.

5. Competition committee relegated to over-site and advisory panel. A.committee would have term limits and must have required experienced developmental guidelines in order to be appointed.

6. Junior wild card selection panel independent from coach selection.

As Messy As We Predicted

Image courtesy of tsukasachronicles.blogspot.com
Image courtesy of tsukasachronicles.blogspot.com

The player selections have been posted for the upcoming national hardcourt Level 1 tournaments, and, as predicted, it’s another big mess. (See ZooTennis.com for more details)

Like the clay court selections, there are several top-ranked players who were either selected into the qualifying event (16s and 18s) or placed on the alternate list or, worse yet, weren’t selected at all because they didn’t even apply. The recent Wimbledon Junior Boys Champion, Noah Rubin, is in the qualies for B18s. Last year’s Kalamazoo champion and runner-up are both in qualies as well.

Remember USTA’s reason for shrinking the draw size for this event? Remember the statement about reducing the number of 0 & 0 matches in the early rounds for the seeded players? Remember the “this will save families time and money” argument? Remember the t-shirt comment? Please go back and read my post from August 2012 (click here) for a reminder. Well, how do you think the kid who won the event in 2013 is going to feel about having to go through 3 rounds of qualies just to get in the main draw? And how do you think the kids who have to face him during qualies are going to feel? And now those kids have to be at the event 3 days before the main draw starts which costs money in terms of hotel and meals and maybe even rental car. How does any of this accomplish USTA’s stated goals?

Let me remind you, too, that USTA only has 8 wildcards to award in each age group. In the Boys 18s there are at least 15 players who deserve to be in the main draw, including the Wimbledon Junior Finalist, the winner and runner-up of the 2013 Orange Bowl, and several players in the top 15 on TennisRecruiting.net. Again, there are only 8 wildcards, so what happens to those players who aren’t among the Chosen 8? They either decide to go through qualies (if they even bothered to sign up for the tournament and were selected) or they skip the event altogether, weakening the field for our most prestigious junior event. I really don’t see how this is better for junior tennis, do you?

The USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee members and the Junior Comp staff have some major cleanup work ahead of them to fix this broken system and to fix it quickly before even more kids fall through the cracks. The sad thing is that all of the selection outcomes we’re seeing with both clay courts and hardcourts were predicted and discussed ad nauseum before anything was voted on or approved and yet USTA still went forward with the 2014 changes. I want to renew my plea to USTA to go back to the drawing board, to clean up their mess, to enlist the help of current junior tennis parents way smarter than me who can help create a system that will provide the best opportunity for the most junior players to reach their highest potential.

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Being Parent-Advocate Again

Photo courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com/artzeechris/for-holland-moms-and-dads/
Photo courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com/artzeechris/for-holland-moms-and-dads/

 

I’ve already written about the importance of advocating for our kids (click here and here to read my prior posts), but this past weekend’s events have prompted me to address this topic yet again.

My son played in our section’s Level 1A tournament (also a national Level 4) in the B18s singles and doubles. The doubles started Friday evening, and my son and his partner had two very solid wins, taking out the 3 seeds in their second match. The following morning, singles began. My son played his two matches as scheduled, no drama. His doubles partner, though, was a different story.

My son’s partner – let’s call him Bob to make things easier to follow – faced an opponent in his second round match who has a reputation for questionable line calls, so Bob called for an on-court official several times throughout the match. As I understand it (though I was not there watching), the official over-ruled Bob’s opponent more than once but chose not to stay on the court for the duration of the match. At some point in the match, after another questionable call and no official there to overrule it, Bob lost his cool and let go some profanities directed at his opponent. Bob’s outburst was reported to the tournament director, and Bob was disqualified from the remainder of the tournament. That meant Bob and my son were not allowed to continue in the doubles draw though they were now in the quarterfinals.

When I checked the doubles draw online that evening, I saw that it showed my son and Bob losing their quarterfinal match with the designation “Def (DQ)” which stands for “Default (Disqualified)”. Let me say that again . . . the draw showed MY SON being disqualified from the match even though Bob’s DQ happened during his singles match and had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any action on my son’s part!

After having a little verbal explosion in the privacy of my hotel room, I emailed the tournament referee to ask if he could change the designation in the doubles draw to something that wouldn’t reflect negatively on my son. I shared that, while Bob is a graduating senior who is not planning to play college tennis, my son is a high school junior with one more year of junior tennis and is in the throes of college recruiting. After a couple of emails back and forth, the referee agreed that it was unfair to my son to have the DQ next to his name when he was not responsible for Bob’s behavior in a singles match. He changed the designation to Tournament Administration Decision.

Fast forward to the Tuesday after the tournament. I received a voicemail from the tournament referee letting me know that the head of junior competition for our section insisted the designation be returned to Def (DQ), that the rules stated that was the appropriate designation in these circumstances. I called the head of junior comp and explained the situation in detail to him. He again insisted the Def (DQ) designation was appropriate. At that point, I asked him who I could appeal to in our section to have the designation changed, and he gave me the contact info for the section’s Grievance Committee.

I sent a detailed email to the head of the Committee with copies going to the head of junior comp and the director of player development for our section. I explained that I was certain that the rule was not intended to punish a player in my son’s situation and that USTA could find some other designation to use that wouldn’t reflect negatively on my son when college coaches were looking at his player record online.

The next day, I received an email from the head of the Committee letting me know that the designation had been changed to “Walkover/Personal Circumstance”, a designation we can all live with.

I urge all of you to keep a close eye on your child’s player record in TennisLink. Make sure results are being reported accurately and that no errant designations appear next to your child’s name.

Would a college coach pass on a player simply because of one DQ on his/her record? Maybe not. But, all things being equal, when a coach is deciding which of two players to bring on the team, my guess is he or she would choose the player with a clean record, behavior-wise. Neither my son nor I are willing to chance it, and, thankfully, USTA was willing to take a deeper look into the rules and find a solution that works in this situation. I am very grateful to them for that.

 

 

Bonus Points Update

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

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

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

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

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

 

Info from Sections for 2014

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Below is a link to the information that each USTA section has posted regarding the 2014 junior competition calendar. Those sections that haven’t posted information online yet are indicated below – I will update this article as I receive information, so please be sure to check back over the next few weeks. If you have thoughts or analysis to share, please post them in the Comments. Thank you!

Nationalhttp://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/2014_National_Junior_Tournament_Schedule.pdf (see below for an additional explanation)

 

    • Caribbean: Not yet available

 

 

 

 

 

 

    • Middle States: Not yet available

 

 

 

    • New England: Not yet available

 

 

 

    • Pacific Northwest: Not yet available

 

    • SoCal: Not yet available

 

 

    • Southwest: Not yet available

 

    • Texas: Not yet available

A couple of comments regarding the changes in the Southern section, the January Southern Level 1 (National Level 3) tournament will start on Saturday and run through Tuesday (most players will have Monday off school for Martin Luther King Day). The reason for the expanded draw size is to allow for more players to earn National ranking points.

Also, regarding selection for the National events, each section will have a quota for the 3 National Championships, 2 Closed Regionals, and Zonals.