We Must #SaveCollegeTennis

I’d be willing to bet that, for most of our kids, college tennis is the goal. Maybe not The Dream, but definitely The Goal. But what will college tennis look like by the time our kids get there? For my kid, that’s only one year from now. Let’s take a look at what’s there as of today and what’s coming down the pike . . .

  • Right now, as a result of Title IX, a fully-funded Division I women’s tennis team has 8 scholarships to distribute; a fully-funded men’s team has 4 1/2. That means, if you’re the parent of a tennis-playing-boy, the likelihood that he’ll get a full ride to college is pretty much zero – if he’s a top 20 player, the odds go up, but, otherwise, he may or may not get a small percentage of the overall cost to attend. Given that most private and out-of-state tuitions are now topping $50,000 PER YEAR, your ROI for the years of lessons, drills, equipment, tournaments, etc. is pretty negligible. And, let’s not forget that our children are competing against players from the international tennis community for those few coveted spots and scholarship dollars. At present, in Divisions I, II, and III, there is no limit on the number of international players who can be on a team or receive scholarship money. Junior colleges, on the other hand, limit the number of non-Americans to 1/4 of the team’s allotment of scholarship players.
  • The current scoring system for a college dual match (a match played against another college team) is as follows: (1) Teams simultaneously play three lines of doubles matches that are played as an 8-game pro-set with a 7-point tiebreaker at 7-all. Whichever school wins 2 of the 3 matches earns 1 point in the overall dual match score. All three matches are played to completion. (2) Teams simultaneously play 6 lines of singles matches, 2 out of 3 sets with a 7-point tiebreaker at 6-all. Each match win earns 1 point in the overall dual match score. In men’s matches, there are no service lets – if a serve touches the net and lands inside the service box, it is considered in play. Whichever school accumulates 4 points overall (3 singles points plus the doubles point OR 4 singles points) wins the dual match. All six singles matches are played to completion except during tournaments where it is clinch/clinch. At the end of the dual match season (which occurs during the Spring semester), the top 64 teams compete in the NCAA tournament for a spot in the coveted Sweet 16 in May and a chance to be National Champions.
  • Last year, the ITA and NCAA agreed to test out a format during the Fall (individual) season and the National Indoor Tournament (held in February before the start of the dual match season) which used no-ad scoring. The decision to test the format came out of discussions between the ITA, USTA, and NCAA on ways to shorten the overall match time in order to increase fan support and, supposedly, to increase the chances of garnering television contracts. I watched several of the matches on livestreaming – I was not impressed. After the Men’s Indoor Tournament, a player poll was conducted regarding the scoring experiment. The result: 80% of players who played singles in the tournament were against no-ad scoring and 85% of players who played doubles were against it. I would call that an overwhelming mandate opposing no-ad!
  • Now, ITA has announced the use of no-ad scoring in all matches during the Fall and Spring seasons (click here to read the announcement), and is hoping for it to be approved for use during the NCAA tournament as well. The stated reason for this scoring change is to get more fans in the stands for the matches in order to help the teams become self-funding (tennis is a non-revenue sport in Division I). Several women’s DI coaches, led by Indiana University’s Lin Loring, have signed a petition opposing the process by which no-ad was adopted (click here to read more on this topic from ZooTennis). On the men’s side, The Citadel’s head coach, Chuck Kriese, has taken the lead role (click on the link below to read Coach Kriese’s letter).

On Monday, August 11th, I will devote the ParentingAces radio show (the podcast is now online and posted below) to a discussion of these changes and their potential impact on both college tennis and junior tennis. Bill Mountford, USTA’s Director of Junior Tournaments, flat out told me during the 2014 NCAA Tournament that however the scoring system goes in college tennis, junior tournaments are likely follow, so this thing has great implications for all of us. While I haven’t had a chance to speak with Bill directly since the ITA announcement, I did get a voicemail from him last night saying that USTA is considering experimenting with no-ad scoring in entry- and intermediate-level tournaments in the name of shortening events. I urge you to tune in at Noon ET on Monday and/or to listen to the recorded podcast which will be online later that day.

As of now, none of these organizations has asked for input from the players themselves which is in direct opposition to NCAA’s recent actions putting student-athlete welfare front and center. To quote NCAA President Mark Emmert, “Today, the student-athlete voice is an essential part of our processes. Who better to consult on student-athlete welfare than student-athletes?”

We Tennis Parents need to understand what’s happening and to voice our opinion – either individually or as a group – to the ITA, USTA, and NCAA. I’m hoping we can help effect a change and that our governing bodies will fulfill their stated purpose of preserving and growing the beautiful game of college tennis while standing up for the student-athletes who make it possible. To that end, I encourage each of you to contact Mark Emmert, NCAA President, via telephone at 317/917-6222 or via email at memmert@ncaa.org and to add your thoughts in the Comments below. Maybe a parent petition is in order as well? It’s time to rally. Together, we can save college tennis.

Coach Chuck Kriese’s Men’s Division I Tennis Association (MDTA) update letter (Click link to read)

NCAA President’s letter – Spring 2014 (Click link to read)



What I Learned At The NCAA Championships


Once again taking the advice of my tennis mentor, Colette Lewis, I would like to share what I learned by attending this year’s NCAA Division I Tennis Championships held at the University of Georgia. Be sure to check out the fun interviews I did during the tournament on the ParentingAces YouTube channel (click here)!

  • Student-athletes have more heart than pretty much anybody in the world. They are willing to lay it all on the line over and over again for their teammates, their coaches, and their schools.
  • The student-athletes who are not done for the academic year still have to take exams and turn in papers even during this biggest tournament of the year. School definitely does not take a back seat to tennis. They have assigned proctors to sit with them during exams, and I saw many an athlete doing homework between matches.
  • Must-haves if you’re going to be in the stands: sunscreen, hat, refillable water bottle, snacks, stadium seat or cushion.
  • The Georgia DOT desperately needs to build a direct interstate route between Atlanta and Athens! Driving back and forth each day reinforced this one big-time for me. The existing routes all include multiple traffic lights and 2-lane roads, making the commute frustrating at best.
  • If you think your child’s days of eating at Panera Bread and Olive Garden end once he/she goes off to college, think again! When the college teams travel to tournaments, Panera and OG are still their go-to’s.
  • Player nicknames are really fun to try to figure out! Sometimes they make obvious sense (“Tay” for Taylor); other times, not so much (“Sarge” for Alex Sarkissian).
  • Junior coaches, at least the ones around here, really dropped the ball during this year’s Championships. I saw some area junior coaches at the matches but very rarely did they have players with them. It was a missed opportunity, in my opinion. How valuable it would be for the juniors to watch the college matches alongside a coach who is asking questions about strokes, shot selection, match preparation, etc.!
  • Tournament officials are tournament officials. Many of the same folks work junior tournaments, college matches, as well as pro events. I saw quite a few calling matches in Athens who I’ve also seen at my son’s junior tournaments. I spoke with one official who has called several of my son’s matches over the years. She told me that juniors’ reputations definitely follow them into college, especially if they wind up attending a school in the same section in which they grew up playing. She also said, “If I’m calling a college match, and a player challenges a call that I didn’t see made by his or her opponent, and I know that opponent from the juniors as someone who makes fair calls, I’m probably going to rule in favor of that player.” Juniors, take note: your behavior NOW matters!
  • The players like having an official in the chair calling their matches, but they dislike having line judges (that only happens during the semis and finals of this event). They feel they are better able to see and call the balls than the line judges and would prefer to maintain that control over their matches. By the way, players are not supposed to call balls when line judges are present. They can challenge a call to the chair, but they are at the mercy of the line judges otherwise.
  • It is really fun to attend the Championships when you know some of the players and/or coaches. My son had a blast this year, watching his buddies compete for their schools and getting to meet their teammates. He also took advantage of the opportunity to meet and shake the hands of several college coaches, opening the door to future conversations during the recruiting process.
  • Sometimes student-athletes decide to take time away from school (usually in the Fall) to try their hand at the pro tour. The winner of this year’s Men’s Singles tournament, Marcos Giron, is planning to do just that.  UCLA men’s assistant coach Grant Chen told me, “Your senior year, you’re allowed to take the Fall off. It won’t hurt your eligibility, and it won’t hurt your standing. Any other year, it can affect both. This is something Marcos discussed with us prior to the NCAAs, so it was no surprise to [head coach] Billy [Martin] or me or to the guys.”
  • I was under the impression that the winners of the individual singles and doubles competitions – if they are American – were guaranteed a wildcard into the US Open. That is not the case. It is at the discretion of USTA whether or not to award those wildcards. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get to see ALL of these these talented student-athletes compete again in New York this summer!


Letty Van Nguyen: Development of a Tennis Parent

letty & chanelle

Letty Van Nguyen and her husband made the long, 12-hour drive from Miami to see their daughter, Chanelle (yes, she is named for Coco!), compete for the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in the NCAA Championships. They were there watching when Chanelle and her team clinched the title. They saw their daughter and her teammates celebrate with coaches Stella Sampras Webster and Rance Brown. And they are still there watching as Chanelle competes for the individual singles trophy, earning All American honors with her 2nd round win.

They’ve also been there through Chanelle’s junior tennis years, making sure she stayed on task with her school work, graduating high school one semester ahead of her classmates, and transitioning to life on the opposite coast. Letty shared with me her personal journey as a Junior Tennis Parent and how she’s handling her new role now that Chanelle is in college.




College Tennis Parents Share Their Insights



Yesterday, I spent the entire day in Athens watching the Round of 16 men’s matches – what an incredible day of tennis! While I was waiting for the UGA vs UNC match to start, I had the special opportunity to chat with the moms of two of the UNC players: Ronnie Schneider who played 3 doubles and 2 singles, and Nelson Vick who played 2 doubles and 6 singles. Hear what these two very insightful Tennis Parents had to say . . .

I also had the opportunity to talk with Frank and Erica Puget who traveled from Bordeaux, France, to see their son compete with UCLA in the Championships. They share their unique perspective as well.








College Players Soar at US Open

With all the proposed changes NCAA is trying to make, you would think there was a problem with US college tennis.  This first week of the US Open is proving otherwise.

We have seen some incredible wins by our young guns in Flushing.  Stanford’s Mallory Burdette took out Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland in her first round match in straight sets then did similar work against Lucie Hradecka (you may recognize this name as one of the silver medal doubles winners at last month’s London Olympics) of the Czech Republic in Round 2.

On the men’s side, USC’s Steve Johnson (NCAA Singles Champion in 2011 and 2012) beat former University of Illinois player Rajeev Ram in the first round then partnered with Jack Sock to oust the top seeds in the Men’s Doubles draw.  Stanford’s Bradley Klahn had an incredible 5-set win over Jurgen Melzer – I’m guessing playing out those tight 3rd sets during the college season was instrumental in helping him get the W yesterday!  And UCLA’s Dennis Novikov, who is also the 2012 Kalamazoo champ, won a hard-fought battle against Jerzy Janowicz in his first round match.  Our best-known college player and former Georgia Bulldog, John Isner (this year’s 9 seed), had an uneventful first round win over Belgium’s Xavier Malisse.

Both the men and women are having success in the doubles as well.  Besides Johnson and Sock’s win, Ram partnered with Belmont College coach and Comeback Kid Brian Baker to beat Emmrick and Sijsling in the first round.  Novikov partnered with fellow junior player Michael Redlicki to get a win over veteran Americans Bobby Reynolds (former Vanderbilt standout) and Michael Russell (1997 NCAA Rookie of the Year at University of Miami).  And former Georgia Tech star, Irina Falconi, partnered with former USC standout, Maria Sanchez, to win their first match versus Cadantu and Johansson.

To be fair, not all of our college players fared so well.  University of Tennessee grad, Rhyne Williams, had a very tough match, drawing Andy Roddick in the first round.  Williams put up a good fight and definitely made Roddick earn the win.  And Jesse Levine, a former Florida Gator, fell in 5 sets to 14 seed Ukranian player Alexandr Dolgopolov.

It would seem that the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is applicable here.  The young men and women mentioned above are living the dream of countless junior players – going to college, getting a degree, improving their tennis, then parlaying all those skills into success at the professional level.  While I realize that a first- or second-round win doesn’t prove that college tennis is a viable stepping stone to the pro circuit, it certainly shows that a young player can take that path and have positive results.

Good luck to our players as they move on to Round 2 and beyond!

Holabird-Adidas Recap

I know I say this a lot, and please indulge my gushy-ness here, but sometimes it’s about so much more than just the tennis.

My son and I spent this past weekend in Baltimore at the Holabird Sports-adidas All In Junior Tennis Challenge.  The event was like no other tennis tournament my son has ever played.  First of all, it was an open draw which meant that any player age 18 and under could play.  Secondly, on-court coaching was allowed during changeovers which gave the players a chance to hear suggestions as to how they could tweak their game plan and, hopefully, improve their outcomes.  Also, service lets were played, adding a college-tennis twist to the matches – for some players, it took several lets before they got in the habit of playing those balls.  Finally, because it was an unsanctioned event, it wasn’t about ranking points or a trophy – the winner of the boys and girls draws each took home a one-year sponsorship from Adidas.

But, beyond all that, what my son will take away from his time in Baltimore is more than just what happened on the court.  And the more I reflect on our weekend, the more emotional I get – it’s exactly these types of experiences that you hope your child gets to have during his or her Tennis Journey.

The tournament’s creator, Sol Schwartz, went above and beyond to make our weekend special.  One of Sol’s players, Justin (who happened to be the top seed and eventual tournament champ), spent his practice time with my son from the moment we got to town.  The boys hit Thursday night then went to dinner together, sharing music, YouTube videos, and lots of laughs.  They hit again Friday morning and made arrangements to warm up together before their first matches on Saturday.  After they both played (and won!) their first rounds, my son went with Justin and his family to the UMBC campus to help Justin move into his dorm – Justin starts his freshman year this week and will be a vital member of the UMBC men’s tennis team.

When I called my husband to tell him about our son’s new buddy and what an exceptional young man he is, my husband’s response was, “That’s worth the price of the trip up there regardless of how the tennis part goes.”  Bingo!  Finding a player who is willing to mentor a younger guy, share his experiences, and help the younger one achieve his goals is a rare occurrence.  And, the best part is that my son recognized the gift he had been given almost immediately and spent the entire weekend with a smile on his face (those of you with teenage boys know what a rarity that is!).

My son wound up losing in the semis to the #2 seed.  But, here’s the cool thing:  rather than coming right off the court feeling disappointed about the loss, my son sat there for about 45 minutes after the match with his surrogate coach for the weekend, UMBC Head Coach Rob Hubbard, dissecting what went well and what could’ve gone better.  Coach Rob told him that he’s on the right track, that he needs to keep working hard, and that he’s “got game” but still has some maturing to do.  Coach Rob spent a long time talking to me after the match, too, helping me better understand what college tennis is all about at the mid-major level.

As Sol shared with me after the event ended, “I think the players that played walked away very happy on all levels.  One way or another, I think every single player in the event was able to benefit, whether in being able to play against players of a level that they don’t usually get to compete.  Being able to get some matches in to prepare for another event.  Being able to experience on court coaching while playing something meaningful, not just a practice set.  I heard a lot of different things that the kids and parents had to say.  Nobody left the event empty handed.  Players, coaches, parents, or people watching. ”

The most telling comment I heard, especially in light of USTA’s recent explanation for shrinking the draws for its National Hardcourt Championships in 2014, came from the very wise young man my son played in the first round.  “I’m just glad I got to be on the court with these really good players.  Where I live, we don’t have guys who are this good.  I learned so much from playing against them and can now see what I need to do to get better.  I’ll definitely be back next year!”  For the record, this young man only won 2 games in the entire tournament, but he came off the court feeling encouraged rather than discouraged.  USTA, please take note!

For those of you who didn’t make the event this year, please consider adding it to your child’s tournament schedule in 2013.  You will not be disappointed!

We’re in Good Hands!

Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. – George Orwell

Last week was quite a whirlwind in the tennis world.  I spent an inordinate amount of time scrolling through Facebook posts and Twitter tweets trying to keep up with all the conversations involving the NCAA changes to college tennis and the USTA changes to junior tennis.  One very positive thing that came out of all this craziness was the creation of a new Facebook group that just may be the unifying force we need.

Started by two young men – Bob Van Overbeek (University of Florida) and Evan King (University of Michigan), both top D1 college players – this group grew from 0 to 8000+ members over the course of the weekend.  It’s made up of current college players – both men and women – from D1, 2, and 3 programs as well as coaches, parents, fans, past players, and aspiring junior players.

I wondered how these 2 college boys came up with the idea of using Facebook to make a statement to the NCAA about its proposed changes to the year-end Championships.  Bob told me, “Evan and I were talking about Manny Diaz‘s tweets about the NCAA changes, and then shortly after that we saw the document with all of the writing and official changes on it. We started out sort of joking that we should do something about it. The joking led to us actually deciding to make the group and spreading it to everyone we knew. Our only goal was to simply share the information because sometimes the NCAA does these sorts of things and it gets swept under the rug. I think once people learned about what the changes were it got a lot of people angry so the word spread quickly.”

Boy, did it!  Not only were these guys able to organize a “Twitter Rampage” on Saturday, causing the #SaveCollegeTennis topic to trend several times throughout the weekend, but they’ve also tapped into the group’s resources to create an online petition (which now has more than 3000 signatures in only 2 days) asking NCAA to reverse the changes .  And, the mainstream media is certainly paying attention.  The boys’ efforts have been written about in USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times.

These two young men have turned their passion into action, and it’s been absolutely amazing to watch the explosion.  They are obviously intelligent guys given their educational institutions, but, more than that, they are wise beyond their years .

I decided to take advantage of their wisdom and get some advice.  I asked Bob if he had any advice for junior players who want to play college tennis.  His answer:  “The most important piece, something I tell everybody I meet, is to take every visit you possibly can. Every school will feel awesome when you are there, so make sure you see as many as possible. The second is don’t choose a school based on how good they are because teams can be great and then awful within a year or two. Make sure you choose based on the feel of the people who will be your teammates (people your age also looking at school), the coaches, and overall the city is something you can see being a lot of fun for four years because school and tennis can get stressful, but as long as you enjoy where you are and what you are doing, it will all be so much easier.”

And his advice for us parents?  “First, check to see if playing tennis is really what THE PLAYER wants to be doing, not what the parent wants the player to be doing. If the player is only playing because the parents want him/her to, then I would suggest getting out of tennis ASAP. But, if the player truly wants to play and loves it, then the second step is to back off as much as possible. If it is something that the player truly loves, the player will make all the effort needed and will learn by making the mistakes on their own. Obviously the parents need to give their support, but  all too often, tennis parents will get way too involved on and off the court. I see parents watching matches and freaking out, assuming that this match is the match that will solidify their child’s place in a college or at top 10 in the ranking. Parents have to remember, just as players do, that 1 match is only that, one match, and it is not life or death.”

Wise words from one who knows.