Earlier this week, the TeamUSA division of USTA Player Development held its 3rd quarter online forum entitled “College Tennis: A Pathway to the Pros”, and I was able to sit in for the entire session hosted by USTA National Coach Kent Kinnear.
Speakers for the webinar included UCLA Women’s Head Coach, Stella Sampras-Webster, USC Men’s Head Coach, Peter Smith, and USTA’s head of collegiate tennis, Stephen Amritraj. You can click here to watch the forum in its entirety, but here are some of the highlights that I tweeted out yesterday:
From Stella Sampras-Webster:
Coachability & being willing to do what’s best for the team are key factors in recruiting.
Coaches have to be careful when signing athletes because most have a 4-year scholarship agreement. Editor’s Note: This is NOT a widespread practice, except for the very top recruits.
College coaches have to put pro events on the calendar now so their best players have an opportunity to play pro events in between college events and schoolwork.
There is now pressure on college coaches to sell the fact that their program can help players transition to the pro tour.
From Peter Smith:
How does a player treat his parents? This is an important factor during the recruiting process.
Recruiting is a very inexact science.
“A complete person makes a great pro. A complete athlete makes a great pro.”
As y’all know, I’m back in the Coachella Valley at the Asics Easter Bowl this week, helping out with some of the media stuff, doing a little commentating for the livestream (you can watch at EasterBowl.com), and just helping out wherever I’m needed. If you’d like to keep up with results throughout the day, I suggest you follow @zootennis on Twitter – Colette is doing her usual amazing job of following all the action and reporting it quickly! It’s a bit bizarre to be at a junior tournament without a junior in tow, but it does offer me a very different perspective and allows me the opportunity to tune into other families’ experiences. If your child is competing in the California Desert this week, please let me know so we can connect. I would love to hear your thoughts on what the tournament is doing well and where it can make improvements for the future.
Yesterday, I had the chance to participate in a conference call hosted by USTA to hear from newly-appointed General Manager of Player Development, Martin Blackman. While I’ve already posted the information that came from USTA, it was really nice to hear from Blackman himself on what he has planned in his new role. There were a variety of media folks on the call, including Colette Lewis from ZooTennis and Pam Shriver representing ESPN. You can read the complete transcript of the call here (and, by the way, the question about college tennis came from Yours Truly!).
Last but not least, I have to do a little Mom Brag here. My son is featured in this article on TennisRecruiting.net, and I’m just a bit proud! This Junior Tennis thing is such a long haul with lots of bumps along the way. To see your child reach his destination is a wonderful thing. There were times we doubted whether he would be able to – or even still wanted to – achieve his goal of playing Division I tennis. He persevered and pushed himself beyond his comfort zone to get there, and I’m so excited for him. As we have done with each of our kids, we will become die-hard Broncos fans and proudly wear our red-and-white as we cheer on the team. Go Broncos!
Click here to read Tom Perrotta’s piece on USTA’s new head of Player Development, Martin Blackman.
Click here to read Colette Lewis’s piece on the appointment.
As Colette mentioned, there will be a conference call today hosted by USTA. I plan to participate and will let you know if I hear anything else of importance regarding the future of Player Development.
And please pardon any typos or formatting errors – I originally posted this from my iPhone on the plane!
There is so much happening on the College Tennis Front these days – some good, some not so good – that I wanted to do a quick update for those of you who are, like me, on the brink of getting your junior player ready for this next step. Please feel free to discuss any or all of the following points in the Comments section.
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) recently published its pre-season individual ranking list for both men and women (see below) as well as its ranking list for incoming freshmen. Just looking at the names on the men’s list, 26 of the top 50 (those in bold type below, 52%) are from outside the US. For the freshmen men, 8 out of 10 (80%) are foreign. Yet, on the women’s side, only 14 out of the top 50 (28%) are foreign while 3 out of the top 10 (30%) freshmen women are from outside the States. Why are the women’s coaches doing so much better at attracting top American players?
When you consider the fact that fully-funded Division I universities only have 4 1/2 scholarships to award on the men’s side and 8 on the women’s, it makes you think twice about why we in the US are willing to spend well into the 6 figures to help our juniors develop their tennis games when the chance of them getting any type of college scholarship – or a spot in the lineup – is so slim. Yes, tennis has become a global sport – and college tennis has become global as well – and that’s a great thing, in my opinion. But, what are the ramifications of that globalization? I’ve posed this question before, but does the NCAA need to limit the number of foreign scholarships and should USTA and ITA take a strong leadership role in bringing this about? The USTA (and ITA to some extent) have said limiting foreign scholarships would open up universities to a slew of discrimination lawsuits, but there is no evidence to back up that assumption. In fact, effective August 2012, the National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA) limits the number of foreign players on any sport team to 25% of the total roster (2 for tennis). At the moment, only 25% can be on scholarship but there is NO limit on the number of students who can pay their own way and be on the team. Why couldn’t the NCAA adopt a similar rule?
While the ITA approved no-ad scoring and clinch-clinch for the 2014-2015 season, NCAA has decided to table the discussion on the format for its 2015 National Championships. Colette Lewis of Zootennis.com spoke with the ITA’s David Benjamin who told her that the ITA Operating Committee will convene soon and will likely make a decision concerning scoring for the Fall events by early next week. Historically, the college coaches have adopted whatever format would be used at the National Championships during the Spring dual-match season. If the NCAA decides to stick with traditional scoring for now, it will be interesting to see if the ITA and the coaches themselves follow suit. As of publication, there is still no additional information on either the NCAA or ITA website regarding yesterday’s decision.
I had a chance to speak with several college coaches while I was at the Open. Though they may have differing opinions when it comes to no-ad scoring, I didn’t find a single coach who felt that using a clinch-clinch format is in the best interest of their players or their team. Luckily, ITA allows the coaches to choose whether or not to play no-ad or clinch-clinch in dual matches. As long as both coaches agree before the match begins, they can decide to play out all singles and doubles matches even after one team secures the overall match win. I suspect we’ll see all (or at least most) teams playing to completion despite the ITA ruling.
After a quarter century of questionably-successful exploits, the USTA Player Development (PD) division is, once again, making a change. Patrick McEnroe no longer sports the PD crown, and the National Board has begun the search for a successor. Having spent the last two decades watching regime after regime take the PD division’s reigns – only to drop them a few years later after effecting policies that have yet to produce a US Champion – I’m inclined to offer some thoughts about the next evolution in PD’s history.
Decide whether you are going to hire a leader or a representative. When there is a conflict between what constituents desire and the personal principles of the PD chief du jour, how do you want that person to act?
Recently, we’ve seen a mandate imposed against the will of the masses, changes to college scoring against the will of the masses, changes to the national junior schedule against the will of the masses – see the theme here – and the masses have developed some serious skepticism toward the administrative powers-that-be. Prior PD chiefs have come into the position with their own visions and plans for execution. During the interview process, they broke out their bullet points and impressed the Board with ideas and their ability to articulate a vision. Except, those visions have never produced a US champion. In fact, all too frequently, those visions have gone against the wishes of players and coaches and created a chasm between the private tennis community and USTAPD. There is a pervasive US against THEM mentality that prevents synergy between the parties, and this antagonistic relationship between the tennis world and USTAPD is not helping the nation’s rising stars.
The latest PD regime took many hits – the US has failed to put a male player into the second week of a major for several years – and the former PD chief had little interest in hearing ideas from the tennis community at large. Some accused him of succumbing to the arrogance of power, while others suggested he was too busy with performing other duties. At present, there is both animosity and mistrust of the USTA PD, coming mostly from the private coaching community, but too, from parents and players. Thus, the national governing body has a choice – to hire another leader to create another regime with fresh ideas and to, once again, hope that they work, or to revisit and reconstruct the PD leadership model.
Should you choose to hire a representative, that individual should take time to talk with parents, players, coaches, colleges, former professionals, tournament directors, media personalities, and other players in the tennis world, to gather information about the current state of tennis topography and to procure ideas for developing a national PD plan. Gather Wayne Bryan, Chuck Kriese, Nick Bollettieri, Robert Lansdorp, Bill Scanlon. Round up Richard Williams, Blanche Roddick, Betty Chang, Steve Johnson Sr. Bring in James Blake, Lindsay Davenport, Jim Courier, Tim Mayotte, John McEnroe. Toss in a few PD trench-men like Frank Salazar, Dave Licker and me. Invite Joel Drucker, Lisa Stone, Peter Bodo. Buy us all lunch and dinner and let’s talk out what the future of USTA PD should look like. Hell, I’ll even splurge for an extra magic marker and a white board. Once there are enough ideas on the table, let’s post them on the USTA website and let the membership have a say in where they want their PD dollars to go. Even if you are not inclined to heed their advice, at least let them be heard and then make the arguments as to why you believe they are right or wrong. After all, it’s about them and the country, not you.
Too, the National Board must not be swayed by the international community’s tennis models, for as we have seen with the hostility toward the ROG mandate, not to mention political policies coming from the UN, the international community’s interests do not necessarily dovetail with American interests. Yes, we can learn from them, but one man’s treasure is often another man’s trash, and to follow on the heels of foreign successes means we will no longer be trailblazing future paths to success.
All of this implies it is critical to select a PD steward whose acumen lies in the arena of synthesis. Visionary thinking is important, however, collecting ideas from the constituent communities and synthesizing them into an effective national program is a far more worthy and desirous talent for an incoming PD chief.
In the hierarchy of international tennis, America’s status has fallen, but few things inspire this country’s citizens like the threat of non-exceptionalism. Recently, strong voices have emerged onto the tennis landscape. It seems tennis aficionados want more for this nation of rugged individualists, and the idea of a national governing body is antithetical to that individualism. Some would dismantle the entire PD program and allow the private coaching community to continue its work to produce the next American champions. “After all,” they say, “PD has never turned out a champion. It’s always been private coaches doing the hard work in the trenches, giving millions of feeds and with intense concentration on the individual athlete, that has produced the Grand Slam titlists.” Others would suggest PD be reconstituted into something else – perhaps an advisory board for emerging players, maybe a group of coaching educators that travels around the country disseminating the best practices to the private coaching community, or possibly the entity just continues to run tournaments in a fashion that offers enough prize money to help support young Americans trying to make their way in the professional arena. Whatever the decision, PD requires new thinking.
Whoever you select to wear the crown, help is here. This is a conch shell call to all parties interested in US player development. We are at a critical and crucial time for expression. The absence in PD now needs a significant presence. We need your thoughts, your ideas, your words – now.
Whatever the Board decides, it is not White Plains, but rather, the fruited plains that are filled with stories of successes. It is time to turn an ear to the purple mountain’s championship echoes, to touch the fonts of achievements coming from the shining seas. Player development will always work best when you leave the ivory tower and till the soil with the people doing the work. In the interest of promoting the marketplace of ideas, I’ll start with the following and hope some others jump in to help the cause:
Begin with addressing the culture of PD in the US so we all know your intentions. There are some deep wounds that should be resolved before we all attempt to move forward.
Develop a meritocratic American circuit where rising players can earn enough money to give themselves a shot at professional tennis. Something like: a series of 50K events where it’s winner take all and once you’ve won one, you cannot play another, American players only, and you must be outside the top 200 ATP/WTA.
Identify the nation’s successful player development coaches and promote conferences/social media/webinars/other methods of dissemination where they can transfer their knowledge to the greater coaching community. A rising tide lifts all boats and if more coaches can offer more information, more players will benefit.
Create more team events for the youngsters. Most competitive players will tell you that their most enjoyable experiences come from Zonals, Intersectionals, Junior Team Tennis. Ultimately, kids want to be around other kids who push them and who understand them. Past regimes have done an admirable job innovating in this area. Do more.
Create a SIMPLE tournament system where your average ten year old can figure out what he/she needs to do to get a ranking and to get into tournaments. Make it so kids can’t duck each other. And then try not to change it every other year.
Very quickly, archive the knowledge of some of the more senior coaches in this country. We are about to lose hundreds of years of tennis insight, and while the game may have evolved beyond some of their methods, few things inform like the wisdom of experience. Think Lansdorp, Segura, Bolletieri. Braden, Gould, DePalmer, Fox etc.. And then open-source that information for comment and analysis.
And finally, how about an honest conversation with kids and parents about “What it Takes” in today’s world of international competition? Certainly, there are many paths to the top of the mountain, but none of them exclude athletic development and hard work. If parents, players, and coaches had a better understanding of professional habits, we might gain an edge early on in the development process. With their access to all of the top players, I’m a believer that one of PD’s greatest offerings could be information.
The point is, there are hundreds of passionate advocates screaming out for American achievement. We all have ideas and energy, and most importantly, PLAYERS – with hearts and strokes and ambition. We are a corps of very invested folks out here, and we are prepared to help. Whoever the National Board chooses, if the new chief can find a way to harness it all, to find a balance between vision and collective wisdom, perhaps the next regime will finally be successful playing its role in returning America to a dominant place upon the international tennis landscape.