Last First Day

Today is my son’s last First Day of School. The last time I ask him to – begrudgingly – pose for that oh-so-important First Day of School photo.

There’s something just a bit heartbreaking in the realization that this is the very last time I will experience a First Day of School with one of my children. My older two are out of school altogether, and my son’s future First Days will probably be on a college campus some distance from our home in the Atlanta suburbs. I’m feeling nostalgic and, yes, a little teary this morning. I’ve been going through old photographs, finding some pretty special memories in the boxes on my shelves. Like his first day of preschool. And his first soccer game. And his first tennis lesson. Photos with my now-deceased grandfather and with friends we have lost track of over the years. The wonderful birthday cakes my husband decorated each July 18th.

As I look at the photos of my son’s very first day of preschool next to his first day of Senior Year, I am reminded of all the incredible people we’ve met and experiences we’ve had – the teachers who helped shape him, the coaches who taught him more than simply the rules of the game, the friends who have been there through the entire journey and those who have come and gone along the way.

Next year around this time, he will be starting his first day of college and, hopefully, his first days as a collegiate student-athlete. There’s a lot to look forward to, but I’m hoping we can both stay focused on The Now and enjoy the moments right in front of us.

Lately, several people have asked me what I’m going to do with ParentingAces once my son is done with the juniors and leaves for college. So far, I haven’t really come up with a good answer. The obvious one is that I’ll shift my focus from Junior Tennis to College Tennis. But that doesn’t feel quite right. After spending 10+ years in the Junior Tennis World, it seems wrong somehow to abandon it cold turkey. Maybe I can convince one of you to be my eyes and ears on the ground at the junior tournaments so I can continue to write about what’s happening? Or maybe one of you with younger players wants to take up writing for this site? I don’t know. I guess I still have several months before I have to make that decision.

For today, though, I’m going to let myself wallow in reflection and memories, going through these boxes of photos, riding the rollercoaster of emotions contained therein.

 

 

Our Clay Courts Experience

Now that Phase 1 (the Florida part) of our Summer Tennis Travel is done, I thought I’d write up a quick list of things we experienced and learned from the National Clay Courts in Delray. For those of you who were there or at sites for the other divisions, please add to my list in the Comments section below.

1. Having qualies is great except for the fact that, if the draws had remained the same size as in previous years, boys who lost 2nd or 3rd round in qualies would still have the opportunity to play in the backdraw and to be seen by the college coaches who didn’t arrive until the main draw started.

2. Saving money by shrinking draws & having qualies is bogus. There was a no-tennis day after qualies finished and before the main draw began, requiring those players who made it through qualies and/or chose to stay and chance getting in as a “lucky loser” and/or play doubles to pay for extra day/night of hotel, food, etc.

3. The tournament charges the “official stringer” $2000 to be there. He was at our hotel, not at one of the tourney sites, requiring players to make special trips (15 minutes plus each way) back and forth to have racquets strung. He said his business was significantly reduced this year due to the smaller draw sizes.

4. A couple of the players who are in the main draw here didn’t even make the qualies for Kalamazoo. That speaks to two things: the fact that many of the top players chose not to play Clays this year and the fact that the selection process for Kzoo was such that several elite juniors were placed in the qualifying draw instead of the main draw because they chose to play an ITF and/or professional schedule as opposed to staying in their section and meeting endorsement criteria. These top players really do belong in the main draw and will probably make it through qualifying to get there. However, it’s a real shame for those players in the qualies who will face them and lose their chance at competing in the main event. It’s also a real shame for those players who were kept out of the tournament altogether because of the crazy selection process.

5. I loved having certified trainers at each site! They were kept very busy in this heat/humidity.

6. Several college coaches were on site for the 2nd day of qualies. I had the chance to speak to a couple of them and found that they were as confused as the rest of us as to how to handle recruiting for this tournament and how to plan their travel. Very few coaches were there the first day, but there was a swarm of coaches once the main draw started.

7. I asked my son if this tourney felt any different than others he’s played. His answer was, “Only that i’m not in it” meaning he didn’t make main draw singles. He really wishes he were at least in the backdraw and had a chance to be seen by more college coaches.

8. Early round blowouts are still happening despite having qualies. Really, there is nothing to do to eliminate that. USTA needs to just go back to the old draw sizes and give the most kids an opportunity to test their game at this level.

9. Not surprisingly, there were several walkovers in the consolation draw for qualies – duh! It’s a real shame for those players who didn’t get to play a 2nd match. They came all this way to play one match.

10. Of the 9 qualifiers/lucky losers in B18s, 7 of them lost in the first round of the main draw. However, one of the qualifiers won 2 main draw matches, taking out a 17 seed 0 &2, and another won 1 main draw match (for the record, the NSL rankings of these two players are 195 & 257). Of the 7 qualifiers/lucky losers who lost in the main draw first round, four of them won 2 rounds in the backdraw and one won 1 round in the backdraw. Remember: the qualifiers/lucky losers had to win 3 matches before even starting their main draw competition.

And, I just want to wish my son a very happy 18th birthday today. As I wrote earlier, he is now officially in his last year of junior tennis, and I know it’s going to be his best year yet!

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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Clay Courts Wild Card Selections

Image courtesy of www.douglasbeaton.com
Image courtesy of www.douglasbeaton.com

The wild card selections have been made for the various age groups at the upcoming National Clay Court tournaments around the US. I emailed Lew Brewer (Director of Junior Competition for USTA) to find out how the players were chosen and to get a list of all the wild cards since a “WC” designation isn’t indicated on the competitor lists. Here’s what Lew shared with me . . .

The criteria for selecting wild cards is published in the 2014 Friend at Court.  It lives in USTA Regulation IX.A.9.l. (2014 FAC page 183).  The actual criteria is in FAC Comment IX.A-8 which is on page 184.  I’ve inserted the text below.

FAC Comment IX.A-8: The Wild Card Committee shall use the following criteria to select wild cards:

  • No player that is under suspension by the USTA, a Sectional Association, the ITF, the ITA, the WTA, or the ATP may be awarded a  wild card.
  • No player who has a national standing below the standing of the first alternate may be awarded a wild card unless, in the opinion of the Wild Card Committee, the player will improve the overall strength of field of the tournament.
  • No player who submits a late wild card application may be considered.  Timely entries into the tournament are recommended, but are not required.
  • A player with an established record in international, professional, or collegiate competition may be considered.
  • A player whose ability to qualify has been affected by injury, illness, or other personal circumstance may be considered.
  • A player with a high standing in a younger age division of the event may be considered.
  • A player with a high standing in the division of the event who was not endorsed by their Sectional Association may be considered, provided that the player has been recommended for a wild card by their Sectional Association.
  • A player who has been recommended for a wild card by the USTA National Coaching Staff may be considered.

Although 2014 is the first year that the criteria has appeared in the FAC, it is the same criteria that has been used for many years.

And, now, a list of the 2014 National Clay Court Championship wild cards:

Boys 18

Belga, Jordan

Marinescu, Andrei

Seelig, Kyle

Ray, Pally

Boys 16

Bellamy, Roscoe

Kirkov, Vasil

Boys 14

Bicknell, Blais

Fenty, Adrian

Boys 12

Andre, Michael

Boulais, Justin

Girls 18

Haffey, Mary

Lampl, Caroline

Oosterhout, Erica

Smith, Stephanie

Girls 16

Kulikov, Angela

McKenzie, Kylie

Riley, Sydney

Scotty, Elizabth

Girls 14

Blake, Angelica

Conard, Nicole

Elhom, Anna

Mandilk, Elli

Thomas, Katelyn

Girls 12

Eades, Elizabeth

Gauff, Cori

Smith, Kelsey

As you can see, USTA did not award all 8/age division permitted wild cards for this tournament. I’ve asked Lew why and am awaiting his response. I will update this article as soon as I hear back from him.

Clay Courts Confusion

 

clay courts

A child ranked over 1000 nationally got selected for the upcoming National Clay Court Championship while another child ranked in the top 50 did not. How is this possible? It’s one of the “unintended consequences” of the 2014 rule changes.

As you may be aware, the player selection lists were just published for next month’s National Clay Court Championships held in various locations for the various age groups and genders. Since my son is in the Boys 18s, his event is being held in Delray Beach, Florida. When making our summer plans, my son asked to include this tournament as a “reach” so that he would have an opportunity to play in front of some of the college coaches that attend for recruiting purposes.

In 2014, for the first time, the Boys 16s and 18s include a qualifying event due to the smaller draw size in the main event. The same will be the case for the National Hardcourts at the end of July/beginning of August. This is all part and parcel of the 2014 Junior Competition changes that were implemented on January 1st. This tournament is the first national level 1 championship tournament to take place since the changes went into effect. Many of the concerns that were discussed at the various face-to-face meetings, via email and phone calls, and during the Listening Tour have come to fruition, unfortunately. Below are just a few. First, though, a primer on how to decipher the selection process and where a particular player falls on the list.

1. Go to TennisLink (click here) then click on National Junior Tournaments under the Shortcuts section. In the “Month” dropdown box, choose “July” then scroll down the results page until you see the tournament for your child’s age and gender and click on the link to go to that event’s TennisLink page.

selection process
Image 1

2. Click on the Selection Process tab which is located underneath the main tournament information about 1/4 of the way down the page (see Image 1 – click to enlarge).

3. Scroll down until you locate your particular section, then click on the blue link listing your section name’s endorsement list.

4. Read the paragraph explaining what each color dot means next to the players’ names to determine if a player is in the main draw, qualifying draw, an alternate, has withdrawn his/her entry, or is not eligible for selection. (If you view the Section Ranking list, and see a ‘green’ dot next to your name, it means you are EITHER in the Main Draw OR Qualifying event. The NSL list will show you which event you are in.)

5. Next, go to the National Standing List (NSL) for your child’s age division and do the same as in Step #4.

6. If a child is an alternate, count how many alternates (yellow dots) are ahead of him/her to determine the likelihood of selection into the tournament. Here’s the tricky part, though. If a player from your section pulls out of the main draw, he/she will be replaced by the next player entered from the same section; that player could come from the qualies selection list or from the section’s alternate list. At the same time. if someone pulls out of the qualies, he/she would be replaced by the next player on the National Standing List (NSL) regardless of section.  So what happens to a player in the qualies if someone from their section drops out? As it was explained to me, the player in the qualies would move into the main draw to replace the sectional player there. However, if a player pulls out of the qualies, he/she would be replaced by the highest alternate on the NSL. Clear as mud, right?

Now, some observations and questions I have for USTA:

  • As predicted and warned against, the combination of using a quota system and sectional rankings for selection into the tournament has resulted in some very strange outcomes.
  • Each section, due to the autonomy awarded by the USTA National office, has different rules in place in terms of which types of tournaments are included in sectional rankings. Southern California, for example, includes any national tournaments played outside the section in its rankings; Florida only includes the three Level 1s and Zonals if played outside the section. The implications of this variance is that players in SoCal are rewarded for playing outside the section when it comes to sectional endorsement to the national events while players in other sections may not be given the same consideration. For example, one of the top-ranked players in the country from one of the smaller sections is in the qualifying draw for the B16s. He played a number of sectional tournaments but because his section doesn’t count national tournaments toward sectional ranking, he missed the quota. The same tournament schedule for a SoCal player would have placed him high on that section’s endorsement list because SoCal counts all national tournaments. Every section seems to have its own methodology, further adding to the confusion and inequity of the current structure.
  • In years past, college coaches have set up tables at the B18s event the day before play began so they could talk to potential recruits about their program. It was a great opportunity for some of the smaller programs, especially, to get their name out to the players and “sell” the benefits of their schools. With the qualies scheduled right before main draw play begins, will the coaches still be able do that? Will NCAA rules allow them to talk to the players if qualies are going on? If anyone has the answer to this one, please chime in! [NOTE: See Comments #12-16 below for clarification on this point]
  • In the B18s you have 5 kids in the top 100 in the nation being forced to play qualies while kids ranked between 400 and 515 are in the main draw, and in the B16s the 45th ranked kid is in the qualies while the 422nd kid is in the main draw. How can we legitimately call this a national championship?
  • The biggest thing I am noticing is that no one is playing Clay Court from So Cal.  Basically about 1/2 of the players eligible even signed up. With this new system of all the points in the level 1s, it is clear that people don’t understand the system or have just lost the desire to care anymore. With this system, if you don’t play Clay Courts, you are simply not going to have a high ranking.  In the old system, you could miss Clays – which a lot of kids did – and still have a strong national ranking because there were so many other ways to earn ranking points.
  • In the 12s it looks like the player ranked 864 in the nation got in on the boys’ side and 677 on the girls’.  It also looks like the first alternate is ranked in the high 200s for both.  This is obviously unfair, but USTA’s argument from the get-go on these 2014 changes has been that it’s irrelevant, that kids in the high 200s shouldn’t be playing anyway.  Of course, the counter argument is that USTA has now created a system that pretty much guarantees kids in the 400s will leapfrog their higher-ranked peers and get to play instead.
  • The selection process for this tournament proves how the NSL and the quotas are an utter mess.  All along, we’ve pointed out that the new system would allow for kids from weaker sections to make it as high as the top 50 in the country without winning a match outside their section. But what I noticed today when asked about something else is something I hadn’t thought of . . . it’s the chain reaction that happens as a result of the “weaker section” advantage.  Here’s one example:John Agassi (not his real name) is ranked in the top 50 in the country.  He is on the young side of the 14s ( he just finished 7th grade).  He has managed his high ranking mostly by doing well against weak competition within his section. He has almost 2000 points, about 70% of which come from sectional play.  The sectional points got him ranked highly enough to get into the Spring Team Championships.  There, he lost three out of four matches, only beating one boy, Bob Sampras (again, not his real name), who was then ranked in the top 75 in the country.  From that one win, Agassi got a total of 325 national points, 275 for the win plus 50 bonus points (the 325 are the majority of his national points). On its face, that wouldn’t seem to be too big a deal.  But the win was over a weak player from a weaker section who also got to play the tournament because of a ranking acquired from points won in his weaker section.  At the spring team tournament, that player, Bob Sampras, went 0-8 between singles and doubles.  He’s ranked just over 200 this week on TRN. Thirty-two (32) kids in Florida are ranked above him in his grade, and I’m sure there are another ten Florida kids in the grade below him who would be ranked higher if TRN combined the grades.  That means there are some 40 kids in Florida who are likely better to much better players than Bob Sampras, but he will sail into the summer level 1s under his section’s quota, while 29 of those better Florida kids will be excluded. Now let’s go back to John Agassi. He won 325 points for his win over a weak player in a tournament neither he nor that weak player should have gotten into to begin with.  To get 325 points in Florida you would have to take third place in the level 3, 64 draw, state championship.  So a Florida kid would have to go 5-1 against very tough competition to get the points Agassi earned by winning just one match against a weak player from another weak section. Aside from how all this is making the NSL irrelevant, the decision to make the 2014 points table completely disproportionate to last year’s points without making the changes retroactive to 2013 has made it even worse.  A kid who made the quarterfinals in 2013 at last year’s level 1s would have earned 350 points, a quarterfinalist at our national championships getting a comparable number of points to a boy who won one match against a weak player.  How does that make any sense? One last thing: bonus points make a system that’s already rigged to favor weak sections even more inequitable.  Why?  Because weak-section kids more easily get a higher ranking, they will have weak kids who get over-ranked from whom they can win bonus points.
  • Girls 16s is even crazier! The player ranked over 1200 in the nation got into the main draw off her sectional ranking while the player ranked in the mid 100s only got into the qualies. Three players ranked in the 1000s got selected into the main draw. Take a look at the chart below for details. The first column shows each age group for each gender. The second column lists the national ranking of the last 5 players accepted into the main draw. The third column lists the national ranking of the last 5 players accepted into the alternates (14s)/qualies (16s and 18s). The fourth column shows how many players were ranked higher nationally than those selected into the main draw but who weren’t chosen because of quotas (between 20-25% of the acceptances overall).

I welcome any feedback and/or comments on what is presented here. If your experience is different from what I’ve reported, please share that with us. If anyone from USTA’s Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee would like to add his/her thoughts, I know we would all appreciate that as well.

 

Age GroupLast Accepted1st Alternate/Qualifier# of displaced players
Boys 145519719/120
493112
476126
438129
429121
Boys 16434320/120
42245
39552
37873
326119
Boys 185576226/120
51868
49680
44696
40899
Girls 1469817617/120
624194
505207
487219
442221
Girls 16148316723/120
1123187
1031199
721200
714226
Girls 188125929/120
79568
73199
640105
588122

 

 

 

Our Summer Is In Full Swing

Photo courtesy of www.thesweatshoppe.com
Photo courtesy of www.thesweatshoppe.com

 

Summer 2014 is in full swing at the Stone house. My son finished his junior year of high school as of May 20th, and immediately started training hard to get ready for the state qualifier to our sectional closed tournament. He had a very good tournament, playing seven (7) matches in 3 days, winning five of them, and ensuring entry into Southerns which begins this Saturday. Needless to say, his body needed a few days to recover after the Qualifier, but after taking time away from the court and the gym, he hit both hard to make sure he is in optimal condition (the humidity levels here are ridiculous!) for what will likely be the biggest tournament he plays this summer.

Southerns is sanctioned for 7 days, so, depending on how he does, we’ll come home for a day or two (hopefully, not more than that!) before heading to our state clay court open tournament. After that, we’re heading down to the Florida Gulf Coast with my extended family for a week of R&R for me and a mix of rest and tennis for my son. He’s bringing a tennis buddy with us to the beach so they can hit each day because we’re driving straight from the beach to Florida State University for his first ITA Summer Circuit tournament of the summer. We’ll combine the tournament with some campus visits around the area, too – we’re still mapping out our route through Florida – and will wind up in South Florida where, hopefully, my son will have a chance to play in the Qualies for the National Clay Court tournament in Delray Beach. If he doesn’t get into the Qualies, that’s okay because there are some schools he wants to see in that part of Florida, too, so we’ll make the most of the fact that we’ll have our own car and can go at our own pace.

After our Florida Tour, we’ll be home for a few days to regroup . . . and do laundry! Then, it’s off to the West Coast to celebrate my son’s birthday, do more college visits, play another ITA event, and train again with Craig Cignarelli, Lester Cook, and, hopefully, Amir Marandy, too. While my son is on the courts, my husband and I are hoping to steal a bit of beach and family time and to take advantage of all our favorite SoCal haunts. Unfortunately, our oldest daughter, Emma, who lives in Los Angeles, will be away while we’re there, but the plus side of that is we’ll have use of her cute little Mustang convertible – FUN!

At the end of almost two weeks in California, we’ll fly back home for a few days and keep our fingers crossed that we have a reason to head up to Kalamazoo for the National Hard Court Qualies. Because school starts so early here (August 4th this year – ugh!), if my son does happen to get into Kalamazoo, he will wind up missing the first few days of his senior year of high school, but I’m hoping his teachers will be understanding of his situation and cut him a bit of slack – we’ll see!

It’s hard to believe that this is my son’s last full year in the Juniors, but our journey is nearing its end. I feel very lucky to have the chance to spend so much time with him this summer as he continues to work toward his goal of playing college tennis. I realize these opportunities are going to be few and far between once he leaves the nest next Fall, and I’m savoring every single moment while I have the chance.

 

What To Pack When You Have to Fly

Photo courtesy of www.theconnectivist.com
Photo courtesy of www.theconnectivist.com

A while ago, I wrote a post on packing for tournaments. The focus was on tournaments you can drive to, but when you have to fly, things are a bit trickier.

Here are a few tips I can share from my son’s experiences. Each airline treats carry-on bags a bit differently, so you might want to check with your specific airline about what’s allowed.

  • Carry your racquet bag onto the plane with you. Hold your ground on this one! Put your racquets, string, towel, grips, shoes, socks, and a couple of changes of clothes in there along with any toiletries (extra contacts, medicines, etc.) that you will need in case your checked luggage doesn’t make it to your final destination.
  • Arrange ahead of time to board the plane early to ensure there is space in the overhead bin for your racquet bag. While my son has been hassled a couple of times by gate agents and flight attendants, most of the time they don’t say a word, and he finds a safe spot for his bag during the flight.
  • If you use a powdered drink mix on the court, pack some in a ziploc to bring on the plane with you, but be sure to include the label so there is no question about what the mix contains! Especially if you’re travelling overseas, the customs agents don’t take too kindly to random powdered substances!
  • Plan to go to the grocery store once you arrive at your destination to stock up on bottled water, sports drinks, an inexpensive cooler or water jug, sunscreen, and snacks. There’s no point in weighing down your luggage with that stuff when it’s just as easy to buy it on the back end. Yes, you may end up leaving some of the items instead of lugging them back home, but I promise you it’s worth it. Wherever you’re playing your matches, there is likely another player that will be happy to take your leftovers and extra jug or cooler off your hands.
  • In terms of whether to take your racquets already strung or to string them once you arrive, if you’re taking them on the plane with you, the tension shouldn’t be noticeably affected. If you think the airline will make you check your racquets, then you may need to re-string once you arrive due to the changes in air pressure.
  • Be sure to print out draws and all pertinent tournament information (including driving directions and hotel confirmation) before leaving home. You never know how your internet connection will be, and it’s best just to have those details on hand just in case.
  • Lately, I’ve been packing the video camera and fence mount in my suitcase, too. I like having the option to record my son’s matches, especially now that he’s at the stage where he’s sending clips to college coaches.
  • Coach Marc Lucero tweeted to me that players also need to be sure to pick up a couple of big bottles of water once they’re through security to drink during the flight to help prevent dehydration.

What am I leaving off the list? Please feel free to add to it in the Comments below.

Note: Coach Allistair McCaw shares some good tips for handling jet lag in this article: How To Handle the Jet Lag