Data Tells the Story

The following article was written by Javier Palenque and is reprinted here, unedited, with his permission.

In the past thirty years American tennis has seen a 73% decline in the amount of top 100 players in the ATP tour. This alarming number basically tells us that we lose every decade 25% of our players in the higher echelon of worlds’ tennis. What then will happen in the next ten years with the new massive investment by the USTA in Lake Nona and the new crop of American stars who seem to be on the rise? Will this change the clear trend line that the sport is basically slowly dying for America at the professional level? When you talk to the people at the USTA, they will tell you that things could not be better and that the new crop of players will reverse the disappearing number of Americans. Of the current top 100 stars, we will lose the older players and replace them with the younger players. Essentially this will mean that over a 40 year period we managed to keep our declining rate at 73%.

In my opinion here is how the top 100 will look like for the next decade.

We will lose the players in Yellow and replace them with the players in green. These new kids are truly remarkable as breaking the top 200 at such a young age, truly means that they are very, very talented. However the number of players in the top 100 still remains low, for the largest and richest country on earth. This makes me want to learn further more about the way these new group of young stars came up through the system here in the US?

So, I wanted to see if there is some sort of pattern to figure out of a career path that these guys have taken, so we can try to replicate it and have instead of 8 new stars 80.

The first thing that comes to mind as I read these names is how close to tennis (having a tennisfamily or coaches as parents, or ex. playersis so significant) Escobedo, Fritz, Koslov, Tiafoe, Mmoh, Rubin (father had tennis knowledge). This in essence means that of the eight future American stars 75% have a solid tennis family tradition. The reason this number is important is because then it stands to reason that if you as a current 18U player do not have this tradition, if you thought the odds of becoming a pro were low, I can tell you with a 75% chance of being right that in three out of four kids if your parents don’t have years of knowledge of the sport the chance for you to make it as a pro is even worse than you think. What about the other 25% the other two players? Reilly Opelka has the physical advantage of size (like Isner) and the last kid Jared Donaldson, took 2 years of training on clay in Argentina, a surface that here in America we don’t play in. Ok, got it so what does that mean to me as a parent? Why should I invest in this sport? The hours, the trips, the never ending tournaments, the rankings, the way the tournaments are governed and award points, the way the sport is targeted for who can afford it and not who is most likely to be a pro. While on the surface this looks like a great reversal of fortune of American tennis. In essence I think it reveals the exact opposite, I know, I will get a lot of mail, telling me how incorrect I am. But, follow me, I may be able to present my case to you. Who knows you may end up agreeing with me.

The data reveals three important things that are at the core of tennis in America that remain flawed and only enable the further destruction of American tennis supported by system in place and the governing body structure.

1) Tennis is simply not reaching the very people who will make it grow.

2) Coaches and academies in general must not be that good if for 75% of the future top players the coaches are the parents coaches of the stars who have years of knowledge of the sport by being regular coaches. The other 12.5% Opelka is a big guy who was coached very well, but his size is his differentiator (though he was lucky to train with a well-known coach) and Donaldson the other 12.5% trained for two years on clay. In summary, if you have a coach-parent you are most likely to be in the highway to become a pro, if you are not (which means 99.99 of the population, you are out of luck). Then your only option is to have good coaches around where you live, but who can tell if they are good or not if you don’t know tennis?

3) The tournament and competition structure does not bring up tennis stars. Let me show you my arguments for these three key issues:

TENNIS IS NOT REACHING THE MASS OF PEOPLE WHO CAN GROW THE GAME

There are roughly 9.9 Million (*) core tennis participants (that play more than 10 times a year in the US that is only 3.1% of the 318.9 million population. This number is extremely low if you consider that of 75% of our next stars come from people who played, coach or had been for a lifetime in tennis in this small group. Please realize that maybe there are 100,000 tennis coaches in the US (this number is very high only for calculation purposes). This number represents 1% of the tennis population. This effectively means that about 99.9% of the population remain separated from tennis and with no way of connecting, much less to aspire to be a professional athlete? As the pool of players is so small, the vast majority of possible tennis people is simply not reached. What is the USTA’s plan to reach 99.9% of the population if week in and week out, it plays under a competition system and ranking system that feeds the impossible numbers?

Within the US population there are ethnic groups that are growing at a faster rate than the rest; Hispanic and Asians. Yet these ethnic groups are not known for being physically big and the same USTA states that the future of tennis is for the bigger sized players given the new equipment and speed of courts. What to do?

Another aspect is the cost of playing as a junior. We all know that tennis is an elite sport, given its costs and years of training it requires. So, from a financial point of view tennis is not only played by only 3.1% of the population, it is so expensive that it excludes the masses of people who cannot afford it. Yet, the number of the future pros and their own financial backgrounds tell us that it not need be so expensive as for 6 of the 8 new players for the next decade come from modest background and modest income. Being a coach is not a high income profession.

A big part of being a pro prospect is about the proximity to good tennis knowledge, and passion for tennis.

What is the USTA doing to address this? What is the governing body doing to supply the market with exactly that: the proper tennis knowledge? This void and market reality clearly reveals that who tennis currently attracts and gets to travel and compete every week are the same very people that have the lowest chance of being a pro, even though they may be highly ranked, or under the current system attended a high number of tournaments and therefore acquired the rankings with cash. This makes no sense, yet the sense that the USTA conveys is as if these kids were under a pro path and nothing can back that up in the last twenty years. Nothing.

Finally, if we know that there is a direct correlation for 75% of the new stars of having a tennis coach and family, the key group to target then are adults ages 25 -40 who are the vehicle for growth of tennis in America. This means these are the parents to be that need the fun and excitement to enroll their kids in tennis. What is the USTA doing about them? Nothing.

THE KNOWLEDGE LEVEL OF THE AVERAGE COACH IN THE US IS UNABLE TO PRODUCE PRO- PROSPECTS

If you then consider that of the next stars: Fritz, Escobedo, Koslov, (all parent coaches), Mmoh (dad a pro), Tiafoe (he lived at the facility in Maryland- 24 hr. tennis exposure) and Rubin (McEnroe Academy and dad high school player). Where does that leave the vast amount of kids that are left along the way who with the best intentions and support but who are never with the proper professionals. Here the weakness of tennis in America is the poor level of coaching and the lack of a standard basic USTA driven certification system to validate coaches and facilities. For the 99.9% of parents who want the services, yet do not have the knowledge of who they are hiring. So, in a marketplace where it is driven by no standards, we have the suppliers of the service with no real knowledge of what is a world class forehand is and the country’s governing body certifies no facilities or coaches, So, ignorant parents (the core of the future for tennis ) waste time, money and dreams. The result, nothing is achieved. Nothing is tied together, the coaching, the kids, the USTA, the parents, each work on their own and everyone loses. Why would anyone in a leadership position at the USTA allow this? This weakness revealed and the initiatives the USTA takes show how it does not understand what are the root problems of tennis in America are and how it has no plan to address the problem. I live in Miami, sun 90% of the time, warm weather 95% of the time. Yet the providers of tennis services is extremely weak. Imagine how it is in other parts of the country where there is not a tennis court in every neighborhood or park or condo, or where the weather does not cooperate?. Unless something is done to address this, the next decade will produce the same poor results we have been for the last two decades even with all the investments, and hoopla. This is a tragedy and mismanagement of tennis.

TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE DOES NOT ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION

The current structure and system of competition makes the pool of participants smaller and smaller as the kids get older. All one has to do is see the pool of players from ages 8-12, 12-16, and 16+. Tennis needs to have a complete change of shape.

Do any of you reading this disagree with the suggestion?

The way to do this is to grow the game, to create competitive environments and competitions that are “out of the box”. Not the century old tournament structure and point allocation that is giving us results that are low under any parameter and only shrink the pool of players:

Suggestions:

  •  One day Tournaments Round Robin by level
  • USTA camps for the masses in each age group, not the top players. Good education.
  • Training for local coaches who may have great prospects but not a competitive program
  • Some form of match play for all
  • Promote competitive team tennis locally
  • Allow tournaments where coaching is allowed
  • Create a structure to increase the appeal of tennis as opposed to the current structure that only encourages individual participation. (remember this individual participation is boring, has produced the best results 30 years ago, it is dead, yet the structure and results we get continue to be the same)
  • Other ideas and input from players and parents
  • Pricing structure revisit, ex, two tournaments a month cost $100 for 4 matches. In other words to play a match in the US we need to pay $25.00. This is absurd. We need thousands of match play hours that need to be FREE, In South America and Europe kids play match play every day at no cost. Here in the richest country on earth that produces the least amount of tennis players and pays the most amount of money we have the fewest hours of match play? How does this make sense?
  • Working together is the key, we don’t as a common group work together as parents, kids and coaches.
It is the failure of vision and leadership at the USTA that creates this void and poor results.

Conclusions:

The next decade of men’s pro tennis has clear data as to where the kids will come from. They will come from tennis parents and coaches with kids. So, if you are a parent whose kids love tennis and you know little about it, you are out of luck. Why do we make this so hard, so exclusive of the very people who will grow the game and so expensive that it allows the people with hunger and attitude to be excluded and the people with resources and not attitude to endure the journey and both with poor results.

Why are we continually doing this? Who can answer that?

We need critical analytical thinking of business people for the benefit of tennis in America. The way it is, it is announcing its death. The worst part is that it will be our fault. We will have watched it die and changed nothing. We need fresh thinking from outside the walls of what now is the USTA. Count me in for help.

I wish the USTA leadership would open its mind and hear other perspectives because from where I stand I only see what will never happen, change. Expecting different results from doing the same things is the definition of insanity. Can anyone tell me why we put up with this?

I can be reached at @palenquej or jpalenque@yahoo.com

Little Mo Announces K-Swiss As Official Shoe & Clothing Sponsor

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation announces K-Swiss as the “Official Apparel” and “Official Footwear” of the “Road to the Little Mo Nationals” in addition to the “Little Mo” Internationals in California, New York and Florida.

“K-Swiss is proud and excited to be the Official Apparel and Footwear partner for the ‘Little Mo’ and to be involved with the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation,” remarked Mike Miringoff, Global Director of K-Swiss Tennis. “Little Mo is well-respected and important as it is the first entry point for kids into tournament tennis building a foundation for their future and the sport. At K-Swiss, we are known as a strong tennis brand that is passionate about the sport and our product reflects this with its high quality and performance. We look forward to participating in the Little Mo and meeting the players and parents!”

“The Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation is absolutely delighted to have K-Swiss as our Official Apparel and Footwear Sponsor for our ‘Road to the Little Mo Nationals’ yearlong circuit and for our three international tournaments,” said Cindy Brinker Simmons, daughter of “Little Mo” and President of the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation. “This stylish and iconic footwear company has been setting a standard of excellence in the tennis shoe and apparel industry for over 50 years. Just as our elite and talented young competitors are the future champions of tennis, our esteemed collaboration with K-Swiss continues to partner us with the best-in-class and most reputable sports brands in the world. We are just thrilled with our new relationship with K-Swiss!”

What does this mean for Little Mo players? According to Miringoff, starting at the end of April 2017, K-Swiss will be providing a player gift for each Little Mo Sectionals event. For the Regionals, Nationals, and Internationals K-Swiss will provide each player with a t-shirt. Also at the Regionals and Nationals K-Swiss will provide gifts to the Sportsmanship Award winners, most likely a pair of tennis shoes. An added bonus is that all Little Mo players will have the opportunity to buy K-Swiss clothing and shoes at a special discounted rate throughout the year.

Named in memory of tennis champion Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly, the “Little Mo” circuit of tournaments is the premier challenge for juniors ages 8-12 to compete against others who are the same age at the sectional, regional, national, and international level. The mission of the “Little Mo” tournaments is to further the development of junior tennis worldwide by providing players with an opportunity to: a) progress in tennis – a healthy sport for a lifetime; b) build strong values and character; c) learn good sportsmanship; and d) meet new friends from across the country and world. The youngest and brightest stars in junior tennis will be competing in the “Road to the Little Mo Nationals” and the “Little Mo” Internationals.

This year, MCB is celebrating the 20th Anniversary of its “Road to the Little Mo Nationals”. It is a yearlong circuit that begins in the spring with “Little Mo” sectional tournaments held in 18 different cities throughout the United States. The quarterfinalists (top 8) from the sectional tournaments will advance to the four “Little Mo” regionals held in the summer. The semifinalists (top 4) from the regional tournaments will advance to the prestigious ‘Little Mo” Nationals, which features the top 160 boys and girls from across the United States competing at the Austin Tennis Academy in Austin, Texas from October 14-17.

The “Little Mo” Internationals were created in 2006 to allow young juniors to see different styles of play from around the world. The three international tournaments include the 4th Annual “Little Mo” Internationals in California to be hosted by the Tennis Club at Newport Beach Tennis Club (June 30-July 4), the 6th Annual “Little Mo” Internationals in New York to be held at the historic West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills (August 21-26) and the 10th Annual “Little Mo” Internationals in Florida to be held at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens (December 2-7), both of which are open to any player worldwide. Last year, 450 players from 50 different countries competed in the “Little Mo” Internationals in Florida. K-Swiss will have a presence at the “Little Mo” Sectionals, Regionals, Nationals, and Internationals where players and parents will be able to demo new K-Swiss apparel, footwear and other products.

For more information about the “Road to the Little Mo Nationals, please visit www.mcbtennis.org.
For more information about the “Little Mo” Internationals in California, please visit www.littlemosocal.com.
For more information about the “Little Mo” Internationals in New York, please visit www.littlemoforesthills.com.
For more information about the “Little Mo” Internationals in Florida, please visit www.littlemoflorida.com

If you have any questions, please email cartennis@aol.com.

ABOUT K-SWISS
K-Swiss is a heritage American tennis brand. During its 50-year history, the company has been making some of the most innovative, high quality, comfortable tennis footwear in the sport. K-Swiss is 100% invested in the sport of Tennis and committed to helping players play their very best and win at every level; from a competitive junior player or adult player, to the greatest doubles team of all-time, Mike and Bob Bryan.

ABOUT MCB
In 1953, Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly was the first woman to capture the elusive Grand Slam by winning the Australian Championships, the French Championships, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Championships in one calendar year. She is still the only American woman and the youngest person at age 18 to have accomplished this magnificent feat. Maureen was known as the incomparable “Little Mo.” Her powerful strokes were compared to the USS Missouri battleship nicknamed “Big Mo.” She won Wimbledon three years in a row (1952-54) and was voted “Woman Athlete of the Year” by the Associated Press for three consecutive years (1951-53). In July 1954, “Little Mo’s” brilliant tennis career abruptly ended with a leg injury suffered from a horseback riding accident. Her competitive days now behind her, Maureen focused on promoting her beloved sport and, in 1968, she joined her dear friend Nancy Jeffett to establish the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1968. Her untimely death to cancer occurred on the eve of Wimbledon in 1969. She was 34 years of age.

The “Little Mo” tournaments are sponsored by the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation in memory of its tennis champion namesake Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly. Known by her nickname “Little Mo”, she was the first woman to win the Grand Slam of tennis at only 18 years of age in 1953. Maureen Connolly is still the youngest and the only American woman to have accomplished this magnificent feat. Today, the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation continues to benefit talented boys and girls throughout the country and around the world. In its 49th year, the foundation is involved in a myriad of activities including, but not limited to, the “Little Mo” national and international tennis tournament circuit, the “Mini Mo,” (ages 5-8), the “Big Mo,” (ages 13 and 14), the National Junior Tennis League (inner-city youth program), wheelchair tennis, international team competitions, and distributing travel grants and sportsmanship awards to deserving players.

Drumroll Please! Best Tournament Director Award Goes To . . .

Best TD Banner 2014

This past Fall, I announced that ParentingAces would be giving out a Best Tournament Director Award to shine a light on those men and women who go above and beyond for the benefit of our junior players. I opened up the nominations back in October and received 21 unique names. Those of you who submitted nominations really took the time to describe the why behind your nomination, and each of the nominees deserves to be recognized for his/her great work. For a while, I considered giving the award to all 21 of them – honestly, they all warrant extensive kudos from all of us! However, after careful consideration, I decided that, since I had dubbed it the “Best,” I should make the difficult decision and choose one overall winner. And so, I give you the 2014 Best Tournament Director(s) . . .

Scott & Lorraine Novak

When I emailed Scott and Lorraine about their award, they replied with, “The ParentingAces Best Tournament Director Award is a great honor for our tournament staff at the Mobile Tennis Center.  We often browse the ParentingAces website looking for suggestions to improve our tournaments.  For example, we recently read ParentingAces ‘My Wish List for Junior Tournaments‘ and borrowed a few ideas on how to make tournaments more fun for the kids”

They went on, “We have a great tournament staff. Many who have been with us for 10 years and really want to create a positive experience for kids and parents.  We are fortunate in Mobile to have the financial support and backing of our community and local government to help run quality events.  In sports, we realize that you can’t always please everyone, but we strive and grade ourselves on the following:

  1. Communication before and during the tournament.
  2. Plenty of staff.  Overstaff officials, run the tournament at a financial loss if necessary, but always have enough officials.
  3. Customer Service.  Be friendly with everyone, but always strive to be fair.  Be sensitive to parents.  They drive hours to get to Mobile, AL, spend hundreds of dollars, and want their child to have a positive experience.
  4. Kids are the priority.  Only one kid can win a tournament, but 63 other kids can have a positive experience.  Create a fun environment for players.
  5. Be organized and have a plan for the many things that can occur during a tournament.
  6. Schedule and being efficient with times.  No one likes to wait and be late going on the court.  No one cares if we have a good excuse.  Late is late!
  7. Realize tournament directors are not perfect and admit when we make a mistake.  It happens.
  8. The 98-2 Theory.  Have the attitude that all parents and kids are good people.  But realize during each tournament, 98% of kids and parents are good people who are honest on and off the court.  Don’t penalize the 98% of the “good acting”  kids and parents for the actions of the 2% who are having a bad day or bad month. On the other hand, appropriately deal with the 2% that misbehave so they don’t ruin the tournament.”

The person who nominated the Novaks for the award was pretty definitive that they should be the recipients of this first honor! “Scott and Lorraine are organized, innovative and generous. They are always trying to find ways to improve their tournaments. They handle any problems professionally, are flexible and resourceful and are always willing to listen. Scores are posted promptly and the website provides plenty of information. The amenities they offer, from the clothing to the food to the recreation for players, are top notch. They are able to continually improve their facility and often provide chair umpires (for national tournaments) above what is required. Southern hospitality is alive and well in Mobile.” I would say that’s a glowing recommendation!

So, what does this mean for Scott and Lorraine? Well, for one, they are getting some amazing swag to add value to their tournaments in 2015 from Adidas, Holabird Sports, and Wristpect Sport!. They will also be receiving a banner to hang at the Mobile Tennis Center. And I have sent a press release to various tennis media in hopes that the Novaks will get additional recognition for their outstanding work.

I would be remiss if I neglected to honor the other nominees. They all deserve to be recognized for their outstanding efforts. Hopefully, in future years, this award can be expanded to include multiple recipients. In the meantime, I give you the 2014 Nominees (listed alphabetically):

  • Scott Axler – Eastern Section
  • Brian Banas – Midwest Section
  • Don Bradley – Southern Section
  • Amy Rose Brooks – Mid-Atlantic Section
  • Joseph Cappellino – Mid-Atlantic Section
  • Lowell Coffman – Florida Section
  • Michael Coleman – Southern Section
  • Judy Dippold – Missouri Valley Section
  • Laurie Hackbirth – Mid-Atlantic Section
  • Wayne Harrell – New England Section
  • Cathy Jacobson-Guzy – Southern Section
  • Michael Jessup – Northern California Section
  • John Lansville – Southern California Section
  • Teresa LeMair – Mid-Atlantic Section
  • Brian Morrissey – Florida Section
  • Brian Notis – Texas Section
  • Mark Riley – Midwest Section
  • Randy Stevens – Mid-Atlantic Section
  • Eric Voges – Southern Section
  • Robbie Wagner – Eastern Section

Congratulations to all the nominees! And thank you to those who took the time to nominate them! I believe it is important that we continue to recognize and thank those tournament directors who make the extra effort to create events that stand out and make us want to keep coming back year after year. Please be sure to support all of these incredible tournament directors in 2015. Well done!

USTA Junior Tournaments Survey

Image courtesy of USTA
Image courtesy of USTA

To all Tennis Parents, junior coaches, and junior players: USTA has posted an online survey on junior tournaments, the current structure, and what changes (if any) people would like to see. It is crucial that as many of us as possible take the time to answer the survey questions, giving thought and care to our answers, as I suspect the Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee will rely heavily on the responses to formulate a junior competition structure and schedule for the coming years.

For those who are happy with the current system, this is your opportunity to speak out in support of it.

For those who are unhappy with the current system, this is your opportunity to say so and to offer suggestions as to how to make things better.

The survey is a bit long and will likely require 20-30 minutes of your time to complete. Please invest that time. For convenience, you can save your answers and come back later to complete the survey.

There is a place at the end of the survey to include your name and contact information. It is optional to do so. If you are uncomfortable lending your name to your answers, that’s fine. But, if you’re willing to go on record with your responses and have the Committee potentially reach out to you for further elaboration, then please include your contact information.

The survey is online at https://www.snapsurveys.com/wh/s.asp?k=140137846815 – the deadline to respond is August 18th, so please click the link today and then forward this to your junior tennis friends and colleagues. USTA is making the effort to reach out to us. We need to take advantage and give them our input.

P.S. Since it was brought up in the Comments below, can you please comment and let me know (a) if you received the survey via email; and (b) if you received it directly from USTA or from some other source? Thanks!

 

The Good Ol’ Days

Photo courtesy of www.fashion-era.com
Photo courtesy of www.fashion-era.com

 

We don’t have to go quite as far back as the image above to find the glory days of junior tennis in this country, but with all the mess surrounding the upcoming national clay and hard court tournament selections, it’s worth taking a look in the rearview mirror as a reminder of how things used to be only a few years ago. I believe we can restore the high quality – and, yes, FUN – of junior tennis in the US, but it’s going to take some major re-thinking and additional work on the part of our national governing body (USTA) as well as the other organizations connected to US tennis development (ITA for one). A great place to start would be to include parents of current junior and college players in the discussion and planning process.

Tournament director and tennis historian Robert Sasseville wrote a very thorough history for ParentingAces of our junior competitive system. You can click here to read the whole piece. Robert also posted the following [excerpted] Comment (it’s Comment #49 for those who want to read it in its entirety) on the Clay Courts Confusion article:

In the early 80′s all players to National Championships had to be endorsed by their home section, or they didn’t play. There were no Wild Cards. Players who failed to be endorsed, whether by choice or otherwise, such as injury, had no recourse but to wait until next year.

National Championship sectional quotas totaled 100. The final 28 players were selected from the remaining sectionally endorsed players, based on player record. The one provision was that each section’s ordered endorsement list was sacred and could not be altered. In other words, the remaining players had to be taken in the order in which they appeared on the sections’ endorsement list. That meant that if alternate #2 deserved to be admitted, but #1 did not, the tournament had to decide if it was better to take an undeserving player (alt #1) to admit a deserving one (alt #2), or just go to another section and not select anyone from that section. At least the tournament got to do the best it could to get the top 100 players in a draw of 128.

Only a head-to-head ranking system, like TRN’s, can give an accurate assessment of a player’s relative merit compared to others. Until such a ranking system is implemented, it is incumbent upon the USTA to offer LARGER draws, not smaller, and offer MORE opportunities, not fewer, to make sure that “the best” actually do get to play “the best”, even if that occurs one or two rounds later in the tournament.

It’s very interesting to look around the world and see how others are doing things in the junior tennis arena. Tennis Europe (click here to go to its website), the umbrella organization for pan-European junior tennis, for example, has set up an incredible system of 300+ competitive events (compare this to the 10 or so national events per age group we have in the US) in over 100 countries for 3 age divisions: U12, U14, and U16. The idea for the oldest age group of juniors (U18) is that they’ll graduate from Tennis Europe events into the junior or pro ITF circuit, a natural progression in the development process for those who are ready. Every tournament has a qualifying draw, consolation draw, and some hospitality is provided at each event. As Geoff Grant reminded me, Europe has roughly twice the population of the US and tennis is a more popular sport, but they are running 20 times the number of national events and they are running them well. With 90% of the world’s top players coming from their system, maybe we should take note. Tennis Europe is not hung up on points chasers, but they are obsessive about providing opportunity to junior tennis players.

The key, in my opinion, to creating future US champions AND growing the game in this country is ensuring a quality junior competition structure while preserving the integrity of the college tennis system and making it a viable goal in and of itself as well as a pathway to the professional circuit. There are many blueprints from which our governing body can borrow if they are in fact committed to doing what’s best for the players and what’s best for the game.

 

2014 Georgia Rules & Regs

I received the information below from my son’s coach this afternoon. It was sent to Georgia coaches on Friday, March 14, 2014, nearly 3 and a half months into the competition year. According to the footer on the document below, these 2014 Rules and Regulations were adopted in February of this year.

The major changes for 2014 include the Points Per Round tables, the Performance Waiver available for direct entry into the June Southern Closed (the winner of which gets direct entry into the Summer National Hardcourts), and late entries into tournaments – see the highlighted sections in the document below for more detail. I did confirm with Georgia’s Director of Junior & Adult Competition that the Points Per Round tables are retroactive to 2013. While this is the case for USTA Georgia, it is NOT the case for USTA Southern at this time.

2014 USTA Georgia Junior Tournament Rules and Regulations

I would love to hear what’s happening in other states and sections!

 

 

 

A Look Back … The Past 30 Years of National Junior Tennis

Little Theatre

[The following post was written by Robert Sasseville, long-time tournament director and participant in the world of competitive junior tennis. While quite long, Robert’s post gives a thorough history of the junior tennis tournament and ranking structure and explains how we got where we are today. A huge thank-you to him for doing this extensive research and presenting it in an easy-to-understand format!]

The extended discussion that occurred on ParentingAces.com about a week ago (terminating on February 16, 2014) would be amusing if the situation weren’t so sad. The issues associated with tournament admittance and rankings are fraught with contradictions, largely imposed by the national organization.

Although opinion is sprinkled within these notes, an effort was made stick to the facts.* Some older dates have been approximated.

Technology and increased population mobility have served to change all youth sports in the United States. The concept of sports academies (residential or local), and more recently, homeschooling, were foreign to tennis in 1980 except in Soviet Bloc countries.

There have been dramatic philosophical changes that irrevocably altered the landscape of junior tennis between the early 1980’s and 2010, the year before the National Schedule began to be compressed. These changes not only affected the structure of the competitive environment, they also created expectations on the part of players, parents. and coaches.

In 2014 we see abrupt changes to a system that had evolved over a 20-year period. It’s no wonder that many are confused, conflicted, and downright mad.

Changes in the past three decades include:
• Computer Rankings
• Limiting Results that counted for ranking
• Establishment of Tournament levels
• Optimum schedule and the first use of National Standing for selection for National tournament play
• Points Per Round Rankings (PPR)

In the 1980’s tournament play and rankings were independent and existed in “parallel universes”. Rankings were of little practical import except for early year seeding. But all that changed 14 years ago with the adoption of the Optimum Schedule. In 2000 tournament structure and rankings became intertwined and remain so today, so it is impossible to discuss one totally independently of the other.

Any discussion of tournament structure would be incomplete without a “rankings” component. Tournament history without mention of ranking denies the existence of the symbiosis that now exists by USTA fiat. Today almost every aspect of one affects the other, from event levels to draw formats to PPR point tables, one influences the other. And, they all affect how players make their competitive participation decisions.

Appendices
Everybody knows about tournaments. You register… you check your match time… you show up and play your match … and you do it over again … and again until you lose twice. However, the history, evolution, and utility of “Rankings” are unfamiliar to a great many. A detailed history of USTA ranking concepts is in Appendix A.

The selection process has been closely tied to Rankings since 2000, so Appendix B shows the apparent philosophical inconsistency which has now been imposed on the 2014 schedule.

Appendix C addresses the 2014 national point tables.

Appendix D is for those who appreciate details. It contains the laborious selection process for National Selection Tournaments and Open Regionals.

Now let’s look back to see how we got to 2014.

1983
When was I first involved with a National Championship (1983 Girls’ 14 National Championship), most of tennis as we know it didn’t exist. Draw size was 128. Format: Full FIC in singles; Single elimination in doubles. All matches played the best of 3 sets.

In 1983 there were no computer rankings. In fact hand-held cell phones and the wide-spread use of personal computers were still in the future. The National tournament calendar basically followed the traditional school year. The Hard Courts were in late June, the Clay Courts were in July, The Nationals (Kalamazoo, etc.) were in August, and the National Indoors were during Thanksgiving. The Easter Bowl was a traditionally strong invitational event held during the March-April Easter spring break period.

Age Control Date Change
Rankings (national, sectional, and district) were generated once a year at the end of the ranking year. In 1983 the ranking year ended on September 30. Around 1988 the 12 and under age group began transitioning to the calendar year age control date to align the U.S. with the international age convention. Older age groups continued to use the October-September ranking year until they aged out around 1994.

Player Record Sheets and Rankings 1983
Since no computers were used, the USTA had a Ranking committee made up of one or more “rankers” for each age group. Tournament records were submitted on player record sheets by players for consideration by the committee. [The very first thing a player had to do at check-in at our Girls’ 14 Nationals was turn in an updated copy of their player record sheet. That record, along with the tournament draw sheets would be given to the tournament rankers for Girls’ 14 and was the basis for those players’ year-end national rankings. Other players were free to submit their records to the ranking committee for consideration.]

Results from any event played were considered for ranking. Events like the Easter Bowl, Midwest Open, Texas Open, Florida Open, and even smaller local events generated results that were taken into account. In like manner each section, and even each district in larger sections, had a ranking committee. They generated year-end rankings based on paper player record sheets submitted by the players who “applied” for ranking. Rankings were an evaluation of 12-month’s play and an attempt to order players based on whom the committee felt would likely prevail in head to head match play based on that year’s results. Since rankings were “after the fact” they had limited utility for seeding and tournament selection purposes except early the next year.

Because rankings were static for 12 months, and widespread out-of-section travel and play weren’t common, a system for admittance of players to national championships was devised that relied on sectional play.

Sectional Endorsers and Entry Process 1983
Again, since computer rankings were still in the future, sections had committees that created ordered “endorsement” lists based upon the criteria that each section independently determined. Each section had an individual who was the “Endorser” for each national age group. That person was responsible to collect the paper entry forms, player records, and entry fee checks for all applicants from their section (including alternates) and submit them along with their sectional ordered endorsement list to the national championship. The endorser was the tournament’s point of contact with the section and often with their players as well.

Sectional Quotas 1983
Since there was no equitable way to evaluate player strength other than on-court, each section was given a “quota” of players based on the section’s percentage of junior membership. The total of all quota spots in 1983 was 100.

Selection Process 1983
The remaining 28 players were selected based on an analysis of all alternates’ player records submitted by the endorsers. However, alternates had to be selected in the order in which they fell on the sectional endorsement list, unless permission was granted by the endorser to select a player out of order. Some sections permitted it, others didn’t. This created the situation where a deserving player was denied entry by the intransigence of the section, or a weaker player (in the opinion of the National tournament) was admitted to allow the selection of a strong player ordered below him. The tournament made an effort to get the best players possible in the event based on the information available. It was our goal to get the best 100 players in the draw of 128. Obviously, weaker players were admitted because of quotas, but it was amazing to see some of those weaker players blossom in later years. Who knows, maybe that tournament is what made the difference? This was the national structure in the “Golden Years” before tennis became an Olympic sport and tennis became a true international sport.

12 and Under Nationals Eliminated and, National Hard Courts Discontinued
However, in 1989 USTA Junior Competition Committee was convinced that National Championship competition for ‘12 and under players’ was too much too soon, so the members voted to eliminate all National 12 Championship play. They also felt that the summer calendar was too crowded, so the National Hard Courts (mainly in California) were eliminated, as well. So, in 1990 half of all summer National Championships were eliminated. In 1989 there were 24 events. In 1990 there were only 12, and Kalamazoo had 2 of the 12. The National Indoors at Thanksgiving dropped from 8 events to 6.

Computer Rankings
Around that time computer rankings started creeping into use. Eventually, all sections adopted a version of computer ranking and most used the STAR system. Midwest used ‘Sapphire’, and the experimental ‘WinRank’, probably the best of all, was piloted in parts of the Southern section. With the introduction of computer rankings, it became possible for sections to use the generated lists as “endorsement” lists.

192-Draw
In 1996 at least two summer National Championship tournaments conducted 192-draw pilots. Based on responses from players, parents, coaches at the pilots, the 192-draw size was adopted for the 1997-2013 National Clay Courts and The National Championships (August). In 1997 the 192 draws were filled in the following order:
• 144 players from sectional quotas
• 4 wild cards
• 48 (or more) sectionally endorsed players not already selected in the order they fell on the National selection list. Selecting endorsed players to fill remaining vacancies at the end of the process allowed the tournament to mitigate inequities in the quota selection process. Our goal was to get the best 128 players who applied in our draw of 192.

12’s Restored in 1999
In 1999 the 12 and Under National Championships were restored. Initially, 12’s had the same draw size (192) and draw format (full FIC) as the other age groups. In 2000 the draw size for 12’s was reduced to 128, and in 2004 (or 2005) the draw format was changed to compass.

Ranking Challenges and the Creation of Tournament Levels
In 1999 to qualify for a ranking players participating in “The Nationals” (August) had to submit their updated “Player Record Sheet” before beginning play and submit additional tournament results to the ranking committee by September 30. Any subsequent results until the end of the year were to be submitted “as they occur.” Year-end National rankings were also generated by computer. Initially, USTA entered national events and any results submitted by the players from any event played.

Since the summer National Championships expanded to 192 players and there was the expectation that all results should be entered in the computerized ranking program, a problem arose at the national level. There were so many results to enter from across the country that USTA was unwilling to invest in sufficient staff to input the player data. This reluctance on the part of USTA to input all tournament data resulted in a limit being placed on the number events whose results would be considered for ranking, and ultimately caused the creation of tournament levels. It is ironic that when technology finally enabled the USTA to input all data through their sections and districts (which was happening) and import all the data into a national database that they elected to exclude the majority of data. So, in 2000 the concept of levels was born. Initially, ranking levels were to used to limit the quantity of results that counted for national ranking and to determine participation points. Events below District qualifier were designated as level 6 and did not count for ranking. Below is the 2000 table of levels:

Level 1 USTA Super National Championships (6 pts)
Level 2 National Open Championships (4 pts)
Level 3 Other events on the National Junior Tournament Schedule (4 pts)
Level 4 Sectional Championships (2 pts)
Level 5 District Qualifiers and sectional designates (2 pts)
Level 6 All other events (1 pt)

To qualify for a National ranking in 2000 a player had to have played in at least one National Championship or two National Opens, have acquired at least 22 participation points, and have at least 2 wins over players who had qualified for national ranking. Otherwise, he was ineligible for national ranking. Even though results were not being imported into the ranking system, USTA’s crediting participation in Level 6 events did allow players to qualify for ranking without having to travel to only major events to acquire every one of the 22 points required.

If it ain’t broke … The Optimum Schedule
At about the same time, around 1999, members of the junior committee felt that certain inequities existed in the sport that could be addressed using recently acquired ability to generate rankings instantaneously, if needed. Among them were:
1. Fixed ranking year
2. Uneven distribution of National Championships
3. Single pathway to National Championships

Fixed Ranking year: The calendar year rankings were viewed as unfair to those who had “bad” birthdates. They felt that there was institution inequity for those who were born late in the ranking year and that the concept of “Rolling Rankings” would mitigate those inequities. Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success, looks at youth sports and found that those with “good” birthdays had a significant advantage throughout their youth and adult careers, so maybe the committee members were way ahead of their time on this issue.

Uneven Distribution of National Championships: If the traditional school year was to be honored, but “Rolling Rankings” were to be implemented, the national tournament calendar had to be revised.

Single pathway to National Championships: There were always horror stories of deserving players not being admitted to Nationals because of overly strict sectional requirements, players foregoing opportunities to compete in other tennis events or other worthwhile activities, or deserving players who were injured and couldn’t meet endorsement requirements.

On August 1, 2000 the Optimum Schedule was born and for the first time:
• National ranking (standing) was used as a basis for player selection to National Championship events.
• Remote Qualifiers (National Opens) for succeeding National Championships were created
• Sectional endorsement was no longer required for the top nationally ranked players, nor was it required for National Open qualifiers.
• Age Eligibility was based on month of birth rather than the former birth year.
• Birth month was the criteria for inclusion in ranking lists.
• Rankings were generated monthly (Rolling Rankings) and year end rankings used a composite of the players highest monthly rankings during the calendar year.
• Sectional endorsement was not required for entry
• Sectional endorsement order had no bearing on player selection except for those who fell within the section’s quota.

The Optimum Schedule:
• Eliminated the National Indoors at Thanksgiving
• Created the Winter Nationals in late December and
• Established the Spring Nationals (which absorbed the former Easter Bowl).

This gave a more year-round national schedule, while still leaving the fall and winter school year unaffected. In 2000 the selection order for 192-draw summer National Championships was:
• All who entered listed in the top 60 on the Super National Selection List (rankings)
• 24 National Open Qualifiers (6 from each site)
• 100 Sectional Quota Players*
• 8 Wild Cards
• Remaining Vacancies selected from Super National Selection List

By 2003 the selection order for 192-draw events changed to:
• Players listed in the top 24 on the Super National Selection List
• 24 National Open Qualifiers (6 from each site)
• 100 Sectional Quota Players*
• 8 Wild Cards
• Remaining Vacancies selected from Super National Selection List
* Because Sectional Quota players were selected after ‘Top 60’ or ‘Top 24’ and after ‘National Open Qualifiers’, much lower ranked players likely fell within the quota and made quota player selection much less reliable than they had been in the previous years, when sectional quota players were selected first. The Optimum Schedule created a radical break from tradition and was the first step away from sectional play being the staple for most players.

2004: Points Per Round Ranking System is Hatched
2004 was a watershed year and the face of junior tennis experienced a radical change, both in perception and in reality. In 2004 the Points Per Round ranking system (PPR) was adopted and each section was directed to designate 12 Sectional Ranking Tournaments which would offer national ranking points. Regardless of the section’s size, each section was allotted 12 events with identical national ranking points. In small sections with few strong events this offered an opportunity to grant National status to events that previously could not qualify based on strength, while in some larger sections it caused some event to lose National ranking points, since some events had been granted National Level 5 status based on strength of field (e.g. GA Jr. Open). The points per round ranking concept took on a life of its own, and the junior competitive landscape was forever changed. The rationale for implementing a PPR ranking system was that players needed more match play and head-to-head ranking systems discouraged play because of fear of losing. The proponents were right! Data indicated that there was a dramatic increase in match play, so PPR had succeeded in getting more players to play more matches.

Exit: DUCKING
Enter: POINT CHASING
(That seems like that is the reason PPR was adopted in the first place.)

USTA created a ranking environment that begets inequity, but encourages play, so the only way to keep deserving players from “falling through the cracks” is to increase the number of opportunities and make draws at major events larger, not smaller.

By 2005 the following changes occurred in summer Nationals:
• In 18’s players listed in the top 40 on the Super National Selection List were admitted.
• The number of National Open Qualifiers admitted was reduced to 12 (3 from each site – effective 2004)

NOTE: At some point June Closed Sectional Championships were elevated to Level 3.

National Junior Tournament Schedule Expands “Regional” Play
There had been many popular and often unique Level 3 events on the National Junior Tournament Schedule scattered throughout the year. Several were “Bowls” (Copper, Fiesta, Gator, California, etc.), others were “Opens” (Florida, Texas, Midwest, Southern), while many identified a sponsor, a memorial, or location (Pacific Coast, Kentucky Derby, St. Louis Gateway, Peach State, K-Swiss, Muterspaw, Columbus, Franklin, Quicksilver, Roxy, Sportwall, Gamma). These events offered unique and very competitive environments. In 2006-07 the USTA decided to institutionalize the concept of “Regional” play, renaming what had formerly been National Junior Circuit Tournaments as Regional Tournaments. They actually decided to INCREASE the number of Regional events. Apparently, the belief was that players would limit their play to the events held in the player’s geographic “region”. In 2006-08 the number of Regional events increased. Events like the Mike Agassi No Quit in Las Vegas, NV filled vacancies in the calendar. However, the term “Regional” was just that, a “term”. It was not predictive of who would enter the event. Because these events were geographically near transportation centers and well dispersed throughout the calendar, they were very attractive.

Instead of keeping players close to home, “Regionals” attracted players who wanted good competition, new unfamiliar opponents, and an excuse to travel. The first year of the Mike Agassi No Quit in Las Vegas (2007) we had more than 700 applicants for 256 spots. It’s hard to imagine that 700 players were all “Point Chasers”, particularly since the tournament was very strong.

USTA had set in place a system that encouraged play and was offering more opportunities to do so. USTA created a ranking environment that begets inequity, but encourages play, so the only way to keep deserving players from “falling through the cracks” is to increase the number of opportunities and make draws at major events larger, not smaller, and yet …

Death of National Schedule Events and the Ascent of Concurrent “Regionals”
Around 2010 someone decided that the system was working too well and …
• Players were playing too much.
• Players were traveling too much.
• Players were missing too much school (at least those who were still attending traditional school).
• More Sectional play was needed.
• Point Chasing was rampant and was the downfall of US Tennis.
• Parents were stupid and didn’t have sense enough to keep their kids at home.
• Most players wouldn’t be professionals anyway

So, in a blinding moment of enlightenment, in 2011 the committee concluded:
• Why don’t we neuter all of the National Junior Schedule Level 3 tournaments and rename them “Regional (name of location)”,
• Make them all the same, except summer events can have 64-draws (for a while)
• How about let’s pick 4 weekends out of 52 weeks on the calendar and stack all of the formerly unique events one upon the other.
• In fact let’s have 8 concurrent events on each of the 4 weekends and let’s break up age groups and disperse them throughout the U.S.
• Never mind that we don’t have a computer entry system that will accommodate such a structure.

In 2011 the following changes occurred in National Championships and the tournament calendar:
• The number of National Open Qualifiers admitted was reduced to 8 (2 from each site)*
• The draw sizes of summer Boys’ and Girls’ 14 National Championships were reduced to 128.
• All Boys’ and Girls’ 14 National Championships adopted the compass draw format.
• National Open draw sizes were reduced from 64 to 32 (4 sites)
• Generic Regionals replaced National Schedule events
• Regionals were limited to 4 weekends with age groups scattered at different sites, as determined by the National Junior Sanction and Schedule committee to spread the wealth among competing sites.
• 8 concurrent events were held in each age group.

So what happened?
• Players desperately entered 4 sites in 2 age groups to assure that they could play in one of the few events available.
• Because of the awkward and confusing entry process, families of selected players often found that siblings had been accepted at events 1,000 miles apart.
• Others had other commitments on one or more weekends and missed 25% of the “Regional” year for each conflicted weekend.
• Strength of field took a tremendous hit and was much lower. With 256 spots available on a weekend vs. 64 or 96, it doesn’t take a savant or rocket scientist to realize that the last 100 players selected will be much weaker when there are 8 concurrent events.
• Many, many events that had rich histories of service to the sport were destroyed.
• Rest in peace Copper Bowl, Peach State, Muterspaw, Fiesta Bowl, et al.

Even that didn’t work. Apparently, Point Chasers cannot be discouraged so easily. It appeared that the only way to eliminate them was by putting a stake through their heart, or by just doing away with their quarry. Take away the point-bearing events and there is nothing left to chase.

Charge of the Lite Brigade
A well-meaning committee directed by what appeared to be disenchanted leadership, decided that “enough was enough.” The committee was to reinvent junior tennis and the sport would be better for it. No longer would players spend tons of money chasing a dream that was merely a vapor. It would be back to the real world, and back to school. So, subcommittees met and talked, planned, maybe even argued about the future of junior tennis. Not all sections were included in the subcommittee doing the heavy lifting. In fact, the largest section, Southern, was not included in the subcommittee charged with recommending the new and improved tournament landscape.

2013-2014 Proposed Competitive Structure is Unveiled
On November 16, 2011 a document was prepared and sections were given a peek at what was to happen. Here are some of the things the original proposal contained:
• Elimination of Spring Nationals

• Elimination of Winter Nationals

• Reducing The Nationals (August) to 128 draws for 14-18’s effective in 2013.

• Reducing The Nationals 12 draw size to 64.

• Increasing the number of wild cards for The Nationals 18’s to 16.

• Reducing the 2013 Clay Court Nationals to 128-draws for 14-18’s

• Reducing 2014 Clay Court Nationals to 64-draws and moving event to Memorial weekend

• Replacing 4 National Opens 4 times a year with 2 National Selection tournaments held 2 times per year (Level 2)

• Mandating that concurrent National Selection tournaments play on 3 different surfaces- hard, clay, and indoor (one 32-draw on each … Can you say, “Huh?”).

• Creating Grand Masters event in which four 14’s play to advance one player to join seven 16’s who would advance two players to join 14 18’s and play do determine a champion. Losers would stay and train while the others played. (Level 1, but not sure which age group)

• Creating National Masters for 14’s and 16’s at same time as ITF Easter Bowl (Level 1A) [All sixteen participants who completed the event would be admitted directly to the 64-player National Clay Courts].

• Created a July National Masters for 14’s and 16’s (Level 1A) [All sixteen participants who completed the event would be admitted directly to the 128-player National Championships].

• Creating a Level 1 Winter Team event for 32 players to replace Winter Nationals

• Creating a Level 2 Winter Team event for 32 players to replace Winter Nationals

• Replacing 8 32-draw Level Regionals held 4 times per year with: 4 32-draw Level 3 Regionals held 3 times per year played concurrently with National Masters and National Grand Masters tournaments and 4 32-draw Level 4 Regionals held 2 times per year played concurrently with National Selection tournaments

• All Regionals would be closed to players within the region and selected based on sectional quotas.

• Each Sections would be given an additional National Level 3 event (total of 2) and 4 National Level 4 events to do with as they pleased.

• The 8 sectional Level 5 events previously allowed would be eliminated altogether, so sectional designated events no longer had national value.

• The Level 3 August doubles event would be elevated to a Level 1 National Doubles Championship.

• Entry to National Clays and The Nationals based solely on Quotas (except wild cards and the sixteen National Masters entrants directly admitted to 14’s and 16’s).

• Sectional Championship winner admitted directly to The Nationals.

• Quotas would be determined by 60 % on strength (players ranked in the top 150 nationally) and 40% on membership.

While few knew about this November 16, 2011 proposal, or even understood it after a cursory review, those who understood it had grave reservations.

Resistance to the Proposed 2013-2014 Structure and the ‘Listening Tour’
Although it took a few months to coalesce, individual and industry stakeholders began to express their disapproval through Facebook, online petitions, blog articles and discussions, and other public and private communications. The pushback to the proposal took a quantum leap forward when Sean Hannity published an article on his website questioning the wisdom of a system that eliminated more than 50 percent of national competitive opportunities and more than 75% of national play outside a player’s region compared to the 2010 opportunities, and calling on the tennis community to get involved. (June 26, 2012)

Patrick McEnroe responded publicly on the USTA.com website, but deferred to Timothy Russell, chair of Junior Competition, for comments. Dr. Russell used a little sarcasm in his response, so the battle was on. Because of the uproar created when these changes became public and began to draw fire, the USTA made an effort to educate the tennis community by sending Patrick McEnroe and others from Player Development to the 2012 National Championships to conduct player/parent/coach forums to explain why the changes were in the best interest of tennis. At the meeting at the Girls’ 14 Nationals in Peachtree City, GA there were civil and courteous interchanges of opinions, but the vast majority of the comments were negative. It became obvious that Patrick McEnroe had very limited knowledge of the changes and had been recruited to make an appearance simply because of his celebrity status. [About 3-4 months later Junior Competition was moved under the Community Tennis umbrella.] In September and October 2012 two meetings were held between USTA staff and officials and a group of individuals who were labeled as “industry” representatives. As a result of the October meeting, USTA agreed to maintain draw sizes for all events in 2013 and to conduct a “Listening Tour” at various events and sections’ annual meetings around the country. While some events were very well attended and opposition to the new schedule was generally overwhelmingly expressed, the die had been cast. The USTA staff and board were unwilling to pause implementation of the plan for a year to have further review, but were willing to make some modifications to the original plan. However, at the end of the day, the opportunity reductions from 2010 (or even 2013) to 2014 were dramatic and the attempt to “pause” the proposal for at least a year failed. USTA had been encouraged to have a “blue ribbon” task force look at the proposal and make suggestions regarding modification, implementation, or scrapping it and starting over.

If you compare the proposed changes above with what actually occurred in 2013 and what is scheduled for 2014, you will see that the “Listening Tour” resulted in some important changes , namely the restoration of the Winter Nationals, maintaining the National Clay Courts in July with larger draws, and keeping 128-draws for the 12 Nationals. Qualifiers were added to the 16 and 18 summer Nationals in an attempt to mitigate the reduction in draw size from 192 to 128.

The Final Product
After analyzing what was being added and what was being deleted from the 2011 and 2010 schedules, the data showed at least 50% of the individual national competitive opportunities that existed in 2010 had been eliminated. The continued stacking of events of different levels scheduled concurrently on the same weekend exacerbated the reduction of opportunities. A player cannot compete in both a Level 2 and a Level 4 event, even if he would be qualified to do so, if they are held at the same time.

Additions to the schedule seemed to favor the highly ranked players. After years of access to national events and national championships, USTA decided to limit both access and availability to events that had become cherished and desired. USTA by implementing a PPR ranking system had created a demand for national play, and with the stroke of the pen (or delete key) USTA was slashing the supply. The effect is that many will give up trying to acquire the product at all (they may find other sports are more appealing).

Top Players Will Suffer

Since the number of events are fewer, and thereby creating geographical dispersion, it will be more costly for players who do have the necessary standings to compete. Lower ranked players who don’t qualify and remain close to home will have to appreciate a reduced number of opponents and hope that unhealthy relationships and habits don’t ingrain themselves because of boredom or familiarity. The select few who are the top players have recently realized that they don’t have any periods during the year that can be set aside for training and preparing for major events because of the changes.

Top players have the traditional National Championships, the Orange Bowl, Eddie Herr and other ITF events that important to them. Now USTA has created new boutique events for top players, and on top of that, mandated that they play within their sections, since National Championship admittance is exclusively at the pleasure of the sections’ endorsement order (except the June Sectional Champion who qualifies for the Nationals in August). So, top players must add sectional events to their list of “must play” events. The concept of “periodization” is a casualty of the latest tournament structure.

Sections are back in control (partially)?
In 2000 Sectional Play was an unintended casualty of the Optimum Schedule. With multiple pathways to National events, players no longer had allegiance to their sections. Southern California was an extreme example, where their sectional championship could likely have been held without their top 10 players in some age groups. The current schedule attempts to restore sectional sovereignty. Unfortunately, it has overlaid sectional control over a process that has evolved for over 15 years and relied heavily on the nationally ordered selection lists. The tennis community is now being asked to revert to an older more nostalgic time when interstate travel was uncommon and intersectional play was almost unheard of except 4 times a year. It’s no wonder that there is discontent about quotas. The discontent is about the entire system and the perceived withdrawal of opportunity for the majority of those who were formerly competing in National events. The attempted reversion to a pre-Optimum Schedule structure is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. You might get it back in there, but you certainly wouldn’t want to brush your teeth with it.

Simple Solution Overlooked!
The saddest part is that all of the constituencies could have been satisfied by maintaining the 2010 tournament calendar and merely adding the requirement that all players admitted to National Championships must be endorsed by their home sections.

Players would have more flexibility, and likely lower expense, with a year-round schedule of events which offered all age groups at the same or nearby locations. Sectional influence over their stronger players would have been restored to pre-Optimum Schedule levels, and those who needed or wanted an expanded menu of opponents and surroundings would have been free to fulfill those needs and desires.

It’s not Quotas that are the problem, although they tend to illuminate the problem. The real problem is the contraction of the system to which players and families had become accustomed and largely satisfied with for more than a decade.. It’s taking a system that was using protocols like PPR rankings to expand, then diametrically deciding to compress it.

The Ideal Gas Law says it best: PV=nRT

If you increase the pressure on a closed system, the temperature within the system will rise. And so it has!!!!

Appendix A:
National Rankings – The Past 30 years – A Brief History, Just in Time
In 1980 rankings were an evaluation of how well a player had played against those in his age group. Because they were head-to-head based, they were a starting point for college recruiting and the basis for qualifying for manufacturers’ “Free Lists”. Number of players ranked Rankings were based on head to head results, not points. The total number of players with 1994 year-end National rankings per age division were:
Boys’ 18 – 199; Boys’ 16 – 181; Boy’s 14 – 180
Girls’ 18 – 177; Girls’ 16 – 164; Girls’ 14 -1983

The total of all Nationally ranked players in 1994 was 1,084. Standings did not yet exist. For perspective, there are 2,111 Boys’ 18 players in the 2/20/14 national standings.

Rankings give way to “Standings”
The Optimum Schedule spelled the end of the line for year-end “Rankings” as the standard. Starting in 2000 “Standings” became functionally important while “USTA Rankings” became a beauty contest with no prize for the winner. The Optimum Schedule used ordered lists to select players, so the rankings used for that purpose were renamed “standings”. In addition, they were further used to order alternates, so “rankings/standings” took on an absolute value. Since the ordinal aspect of standings was absolute, it was important to have them include as many players as possible. Subsequently, when that was realized, the minimum point threshold needed to be listed in the “standings” was removed. Under the Optimum Schedule if a player, particularly a sectional player ranked near, or just below, the bottom of the sectional quota, wanted to assure that he would have a chance to get to play in National events through at least one of the pathways, he would have to acquire a national “standing”.

After 2004 and the adoption of the Points Per Round ranking system acquiring a national standing meant harvesting points. This system was easy to understand, eliminated fear of losing, and encouraged more match play. A points-based system is by its very nature an incestuous creature. Those who are in the system and have the points are able to get into more events where points may be accumulated. It’s an imprecise and generally arbitrary way to apportion competitive reward, but because it has been shown to increase play and eliminate “ducking”, its concomitant inequities can be overlooked.

USTA created a ranking environment that begets inequity, but encourages play, so the only way to keep deserving players from “falling through the cracks” is to increase the number of opportunities and make draws at major events larger, not smaller.

Rankings have been used as a behavior management tool. Doubles play had long been promoted as being essential to a well-rounded all-court game, but some coaches and players had decided not to play doubles and rest or drill instead. Since the committee agreed that doubles was essential, they decided to establish standings (used for selection purposes) that combined both singles and ranking points into a single standing list.

In 2008 combined standings became the norm, and guess what? Doubles play immediately increased, and remains so today.

You may ask, “If we allow people who can afford to travel to gobble up all of the ranking points, then how will players of lesser financial means ever have the chance to be recognized?” Those with resources will have an advantage if they choose to exercise it. But that is the case in all endeavors, not just tennis. However, removing the opportunity to travel and play events outside of their home area won’t have any effect on those who don’t have the resources or inclination to do so. The elimination of national play opportunities levels the playing field for everyone, but it does so in a “lowest common denominator” fashion. It also removes the developmental and social benefits that may be associated with those events. Elimination of events also reduces the chance that a player will have a national event close to home or a relative’s home.

One other point here …
The Sectional pathway to National Championships has never gone away! A player who elects to play only within his section, still can compete in all four National Championships, Zonals, and any other national event held within his section. There is no requirement that a player leave his section to qualify for national play. Contrary to what has been alleged, players of limited means can still play within their section and have the opportunity to play at Kalamazoo, San Diego, or any of the other National Championships. Because of the evolution of rankings from a year-end ordering process to the basis for entry into many national events, a demand has been created in the playing population to have opportunities available to seek an improved ranking and thereby improved chances to be included in more national events.

Appendix B:
2014 Selections … Sectional Quotas or National Standing? It Depends!!
Selections for Level 1 National Championships (Clay, The Nationals, Winter) and Level 4 Closed Regionals are via sectional quotas and wild cards. (8 players for 16-18 Clay and The Nationals are qualifiers.) Selections for the Level 1 Grand Masters and National Doubles Championship (gold ball), Level 1A Sweet 16’s, Easter Bowl 12-16 National event, Level 2 and Level 3 National Selection Tournaments, Level 3 National Warm-up Tournaments, and Qualifiers for 16 and 18 summer Nationals are made based on USTA National Standings.

What this means is that if a player wants to play Level 1 national championships and other Level 1, 2, and 3 national events, he must have a high sectional standing plus maintain a national standing, as well. The system bounces from sectional quotas to national standings in a whimsical selection process that forces players meet both sectional and national ranking requirements if they want to have the opportunity to play in the complete national menu of events. The selection process has evolved over the 10 years that the Points Per Round “ranking” system has been in place. The point/ranking criteria for selection for national play has been periodically adjusted.

These selection criteria demand a large pool of players with national standings, while the structure itself serves to limit the numbers of players in the pool who qualify through intersectional national play and substitute them with players who acquire national ranking points in sectional events.

To see detailed 2014 selection criteria, see Appendix D.

Appendix C:
Radically Increased 2014 Point Table Values
Point totals will change radically in 2014 as the year progresses. While the opportunities to acquire points nationally drops, the points awarded to each win are 200-300% higher than their corresponding level in 2013. [The #1 player in Girls’ 16 just won one of four Level 2 32-draw National Selection Tournaments and received 1500 base points, compared to her 1250 base points for winning the Girls’16 National Championship in San Diego.] It is hard to understand this logic, since the relative weighting within the table is relatively close to 2013. Multiplying each value by 3 only serves to devalue results acquired in 2013 and excessively weight results from sectional events with National points. The winner of a 2014 sectional National Level 3 event will acquire more points that the 5th place finisher at the 2013 Nationals at Kalamazoo.

Increasing the point values for rounds reached by 200-300% basically keeps the players point totals similar to 2013 while representing many fewer matches played. Had the point tables been applied retroactively, the desire to increase the importance of National Championships or finishing in the top echelon of any National event would have been satisfied without the skewing that is now occurring, particularly as a result of early-year closed Sectional Level 3 and Level 4 events.

One parent related that his child had no points to defend in January and February and yet has dropped 50 places in the standings

Appendix D:
Selection Process for National Selection Tournaments and Open Regionals
According to the 2014 USTA Junior National Tournament Committee Manual. selection of players for National Selection Tournaments sets no minimum number of points, but rather uses “top 200” of the National Standings List of the next-younger age division, and has no limit on the age division of the event.

Ordering of alternates for National Selection Tournaments uses the top 600 of the natural age division, followed by top 400 of the next lower division, followed by all below 600 on the Standings list of the division, followed by all below 400 on the Standings list of the next younger division.

The 2013 Year-End National Rankings have only one age division (Girls’ 16) with more than 400 “ranked” players. They have 401. None come close to having 600 players, so “rankings” give way to “standings” in the National Selection tournament selection process.

The Open Regionals selection process has different set of tiers, using “top 250” as the cutoff for next-younger age division selection and no cutoff or the age division of the event. Filling remaining vacancies has no restrictions except that the age group of the division is considered first. Alternates are ordered first from the division of the event considering all those with 100 or more points, then those in the next-younger division with 100 or more points.
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* Sources include:
• 2002 and 2009 National Junior Tournament Schedules
• Friend at Court: 1994 to 2014 (except 1995 and 1998)
• USTA Yearbooks as far back as 1995
• 2014 USTA National Junior Tournament Committee Manual