Given that it seems to be crunch time with the last-minute scheduling of the first two “listening” meetings, I have spent countless hours over the past few days going over the proposed changes to the 2014 junior competition schedule, talking to very experienced people about them, and trying to understand the “why” behind them. I have come to the conclusion that, tennis-wise, there is nothing in the proposal that helps our kids and plenty that has the potential to hurt them. So, I am choosing to tell USTA in no uncertain terms that I want them to throw out the proposed changes – just get rid of them entirely – and start over. Use the research and data that the Junior Competition Committee has been collecting over the past two years to help determine what, if anything, needs to be changed, then engage knowledgeable tennis minds to create and build it.
For those who say I’m only opposing the changes because of personal reasons, that is absolutely 100% correct. I’m a parent looking out for the best interests of my son. I would hope that every tennis parent reading this is evaluating the proposed changes for him/herself and deciding what best suits his/her child, too. USTA is a very large organization that probably will never make every one of its members happy. I see my role as a blogger to share my experiences and any information I can glean from those who are way more experienced than I am. But, my posts are intermixed with personal opinion – my personal opinion – so please keep that in mind. And, if you have a different opinion, I always welcome you to share it in the Comments section of each post.
USTA keeps telling us that its mission is to grow the game of tennis while also trying to get more American players into the second week of the US Open – in other words, finding and developing the next generation of champions. We’re more likely to find a world-class player in a pool of 500,000 than 50,000, right? That makes perfect sense to me, and the 10-and-Under initiative seems to be doing a good job at bringing more kids into the sport, so kudos to USTA on solving that piece of the puzzle.
However, in order for kids to want to continue playing and developing, in order for kids to be willing to make the huge sacrifices required to reach the upper echelons of the sport, there have to be some concrete incentives. Like getting to play on regular courts with regular balls when you’re developmentally ready (not when your age determines you’re ready). Like getting to travel and compete with friends. Like having your whole family go together to a tournament so you’re playing in the same place as your brother and sister. Like having a way to earn the chance to play against the best players in the nation. Like having your tennis open the door to a college education.
And, in order for families to encourage their kids to stay in the sport, there have to be some concrete incentives for them, too. Like affordable travel options. Like minimizing time off from your job. Like the potential for financial support from your local or sectional or national USTA office for coaching or tournament fees or travel. Like knowing that if your child wants to play tennis at the collegiate level there will be ample opportunities – and scholarships available – for him or her to do so.
Eliminating tournaments and shrinking draws at the national level while doing nothing to ensure that the sections will pick up the slack is not the answer. I don’t know about other sections, but our Southern section tournament calendar is already pretty jam-packed throughout the year.
Please, ask yourself and those running the “listening” meetings – what was the impetus behind these proposed changes in the first place? I’ve heard USTA say that the changes were created to reduce travel, reduce school absences, and cut expenses for families, but the changes do none of those things. As one Middle-States parent shared with me, the new regional competition will actually increase her child’s number of missed school days from 10-16 per year to 20-24 depending on the number of tournaments they choose to attend.
Besides attending the “listening” meetings and strongly voicing my opposition, what else can I do? Contact the president of my section (click here for a complete list of USTA Sections and Presidents with email addresses) immediately and let him/her know that I’m opposed to these changes and that I want my section to vote accordingly at the next USTA Annual Meeting in March. Encourage my fellow tennis parents and coaches to do the same. Keep reading other resources so I stay on top of what’s happening in the world of junior tennis and have a working knowledge of the necessary steps to help my child be successful. Talk to the head of Junior Competition in my section and work together with his coach to devise a tournament schedule for my child that makes sense for my family. Most importantly, keep encouraging my child to play, to have fun, and to reach his own potential in tennis, whether that’s at the recreational level or at a more competitive pace, so that tennis stays a part of his life for now and years to come.
I have been told by one USTA insider that the current Junior Competition Committee – the group responsible for creating these proposed changes – is actually now 17-2 in favor of endorsing a proposal to call for a pause in the implementation of the changes. It will be voted on at the USTA Board’s December meeting. I can only hope this person’s intel is accurate!
NOTE: The proposed dates for the remaining “listening” meetings are as follows:
December 16: ITA Convention (for convention attendees only), Naples FL
December 26: 16s & 18s Winter Nationals, Scottsdale, AZ
December 27: 12s & 14s Winter Nationals, Tucson, AZ
Jan. 10-13: Southern Section annual meeting, Atlanta, GA
Feb. 15-17: Texas Section annual meeting, Grapevine, TX