My Sit-Down with USTA’s Bill Mountford

mountford

Earlier this week, I received an email from Bill Mountford, currently USTA’s Market Development Specialist and one of the guys present at the 2nd listening meeting in Rocky Hill, CT.  He was coming to town for the USPTA’s 10-and-under coaching workshop and wanted to meet me.  He said he had no proposed agenda for this meeting but simply wanted to sit down and chat.  I figured it would be a great opportunity to ask him some very pointed questions about the 2014 junior comp changes and where things were heading.  I was right.

The main point that came out of our 2 1/2+ hour conversation is that many of the parents and coaches who came to the first two listening meetings seemed either uninformed or confused over exactly what the 2014 junior competition changes entail.  Some came into the meetings not even knowing that these changes had been proposed and approved.  So, those of us who ARE familiar with the changes need to do a much better job of talking to our fellow tennis parents and coaches about exactly what the changes are and how they will impact our junior players.  To that end, I am working with a group to put together a one-sheeter that very clearly lays out the changes along with their intended and unintended consequences.  Once that document is ready for public consumption, I will post it here in hopes that all of you reading my blog will share it early and often!

Another major point is the need for those attending the listening meetings to understand the purpose of the listening meetings.  According to Bill, the meetings are not designed as Q&A sessions where parents and coaches ask questions and USTA folks give answers defending the changes. They are designed as an opportunity for the stakeholders in junior tennis – players, parents, and coaches – to tell USTA exactly what works and what doesn’t work in the 2014 schedule and to give specific personal examples as evidence.  For example, regarding the elimination of Winter Nationals in December, perhaps you could tell USTA that because of your child’s school schedule and obligations, traveling to national events during the school year is not an option for you.  But, Winter Nationals is the one national tournament your child is able to play (not counting the summer tourneys) because she is on break from school.  It is her opportunity to gauge how her hard work on and off the courts during the Fall is paying off.  By eliminating that event, USTA is making it so she will only have the Summer national events to play IF the new quota system even allows her a spot in the shrunken draws.

Bill asked me to remind you that if you are unable to attend one of the listening meetings, USTA has set up an email address, Letusknow@usta.com, for you to voice your concerns.  He assured me that he is personally reading every single email that comes in and has even called several folks for clarification on their messages.  Your email won’t fall on deaf ears.  Please take the time to write, keeping in mind the need to be very specific and to include personal stories to underline your concerns. Refer to USTA’s document outlining the changes (the link is at the end of this post) in your email so Bill knows that you’ve read the changes and understand them.

Toward the end of our time together, I asked Bill what the status is, moving forward, on the 2014 changes.  He told me that the USTA Board will be voting in December (probably this weekend) on the pause put forth by the current Junior Comp Committee relative to the 2013 national junior tournament schedule – to change the draw sizes for the Boys’ and Girls’ 18s & 16s USTA National Clay Courts and the USTA National Championships (hard courts) from 128 to 192, reversing the reduction in draw size previously approved by the USTA Executive Committee on March 19, 2012.  Basically, votes will be counted concerning the short-term pause that was agreed upon at the October meeting in Chicago with Steve Bellamy, Antonio Mora, Robert Sasseville, Sean Hannity, and Kevin Kempin. Bill went on to say that at the Annual Meeting in March 2013, USTA leadership will likely review any proposed refinements/changes to the approved 2014 national junior tournament schedule and any feedback from the listening sessions, after which a vote will be taken on how to proceed in 2014;  mid- or long-term changes to the 2014 schedule could be voted upon at that time.

You may wonder why USTA is continuing to hold listening meetings even after the December vote takes place.  It’s because USTA needs to hear from all of us about what tweaks and refinements we want to see to the already-approved changes to the 2014 schedule before its Annual Meeting in March.

Shortly after our meeting, I received a follow-up email from Bill that included the names and affiliations of the members of the 2013-14 Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee – included on that list are Steve Bellamy and Kevin Kempin, among others (see complete list below).  Please look carefully at the names and make note of any members from your Section. Reach out to them and express your concerns.  It is crucial that they hear from you now so they can go into the new year and their first meetings understanding the level of discontent with the 2014 changes.

I want to publicly thank Bill for reaching out to me and being so candid.  I left our meeting feeling confident that USTA finally understands the need to communicate more effectively with its stakeholders and to be more transparent in its procedures.  In this age of social media, one misstep can lead to a PR nightmare, as it has with these 2014 changes.  Based on what Bill told me, I feel much better about where things are headed.  There are several members on the new committee who are parents and who understand what’s at stake here.  I trust they’ll do the right thing by our kids.

USTA 2013-2014 Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee Members

Committee Chair Andrea Norman Northern California
Coordinator Mitchel Alpert Middle States
Coordinator Ellen Ehlers Southern California
ED Liaison Mary Buschmann Missouri Valley
Member Martha Ariza Caribbean
Member Steve Bellamy Southern California
Member Mark Bey Midwest
Member Katy Bickham Intermountain
Member Scott Boyer Northern
Member Sally Grabham Southwest
Member Karl Gregor New England
Member Cindy Harkins Florida
Member Robert Ingersole Eastern
Member Kevin Kempin Intermountain
Member Chuck Kriese Mid-Atlantic
Member Paul MacDonald Midwest
Member Rick Meyers Texas
Member Gina Pileggi Middle States
Member Mark Riley Midwest
Member Jeff Rothstein Eastern
Member Roland Thornqvist Florida
Vice Chair Peter Lebedevs Southern

USTA’s document on 2014 Jr Comp Changes

If This Doesn’t Convince You . . .

Spreadsheet Links

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -with teams

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -Individual entries-No Teams

The two spreadsheets above were created by Robert Sasseville, a member of the group that met with the USTA folks in Chicago in October.  Robert has run the Girls 14s Nationals for the past 30 years and has been involved in junior tennis in some way, shape, or form for over 40 years, so he’s seen the evolution of the competition calendar and ranking system over a long enough period of time to understand clearly how the 2014 changes will impact our junior players.

The first link shows a comparison between the 2014 national competition opportunities and those in 2012 and 2009, including the new team events.  The second link shows the same comparison but without including the new team events so there is an “apples to apples, oranges to oranges” comparison.  The spreadsheets are broken down by weeks, so that when viewed, it is obvious how restrictive the current and proposed 2014 schedules are compared to pre-2011.

If, after studying the spreadsheets, you still aren’t convinced that the 2014 calendar will greatly reduce competition opportunities for our juniors, please let me know in the Comments below. I have Robert on stand-by!

The following was written by Robert Sasseville and posted in another article‘s Comments section:

It was today one year ago, December 1, 2011, that I first received a copy of the proposed changes to the National Junior Competition Structure.  It was that night that I composed my first “comparison” of competitive opportunity reductions.  That night I compared 2014 with 2011, 2010, and the 1980’s, our recent “golden age” of junior tennis.  I compared only Level 1 and Level 2 changes.

In the original proposal the Winter and Spring Nationals were eliminated.  Both remaining Level 2 Nationals were reduced to 64 draws, while The Nationals (Hard Courts) were reduced to 128 draws and the National Clay Courts were moved to Memorial Day weekend and reduced to 64 Draws.  Depending on age group the Level 1 reductions from 2010 were 75% for 12’s, 60% for 14’s,  59% for 16’s, and 58% for 18’s.  Sweet Sixteen’s weren’t counted because they were automatically entered into the succeeding Level 1 National.

The Level 2 events were all reduced from 16 events with 64 players each in 2010 to 6 events with 32 players each in 2014.  That was a reduction for all age groups of 81.25%.

The National Junior Competition Schedule that passed in March had some changes, like not moving the Clay Courts to May and adding a 32-draw Spring event for 12’s, 14’s, and 16’s, so our updated numbers have changed as modifications occurred.

To get a picture of how the schedule changes will affect playing opportunities for juniors, I put together a spreadsheet comparing 2009 with 2012 and 2014.  It was not only designed to show percentage decrease in opportunity, but also the event distribution.   Because it was laid out in a 52-week format, the flexibility inherent in the 2009 schedule contrasted with the rigidity of the 2014 schedule was readily apparent.

The original comparisons were based on National “developmental” opportunities, which meant that a single player could enter a  tournament with the opportunity to play another player from anywhere in the United States.  (A player from College Park, Maryland could possibly have opponents from Spokane, WA, Houston, TX, and San Juan, PR, or any other location within the United States.)  In our original computation we included the proposed 2014 Winter Team Championships, although they are really not individual events.

We did not include 2014 Regionals in the computation, because they are “National” in respect to “point opportunities” only, as opposed to the current events labeled “Regional” which currently have no geographic restrictions, and are truly “National”.

In this document we expanded the spreadsheets and looked at both the individual events, the team events, as well as the new ‘Regional’ events and computed percentages based on individual and team events, separately and together, as well as, including the new  “Regionals”.

It all depends on one’s definition of “National”.

If “National” means you have the possibility of playing anyone from anywhere …..

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 82.47% to 86.75%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 71.00% to 80.75%.

If “National” means the tournament has “National” or “Regional” in the title, and you will receive National points  …….

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 60.73% to 65.90%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 51.24% to 61.65%.

Another reduction, for those defining “National” opportunities using the criteria that National Points are available, is the fact that the number of Sectional events offering “National” points has been reduced by 50%.   Each section’s number of events carrying National points has been reduced from 12 to 6.  Even though the events eliminated were Level 5, elimination of 6 events spread throughout the year reduces opportunities for players whose schedules are restricted by school or other commitments.

If you are defining “National” by the opportunity to acquire National Points, you might want to consider exactly what National Points and National Rankings will do for you in 2014.

Already, National Rankings are basically a tool used by the USTA online entry system for player selection and seeding.   Having a “National” ranking has devolved to the point where its only real value is in the selection process for “National” events.

Seldom does one hear people talk about National ranking, particularly as a player reaches college age.  Now people mention, or aspire to be, “Blue Chips”, “5 Stars”, “4 Stars”, etc.  USTA Rankings have become irrelevant for college recruiting purposes because they don’t take into account the quality of play.    Once USTA moved away from a merit-based head-to-head ranking system, the value of the ranking secured by point acquisition is merely the value granted to it by USTA.  The value is that if you have more points, you will be admitted ahead of someone who has fewer.

Additionally, the number of events accepting entrants based on a player’s National ranking shows a staggering decrease. The events per age group admitting players via National ranking in 2014 compared to 2009 and 2013 are:

  • 12’s    28 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    •  [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each) and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)
  • 14’s    29 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 79.3% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 16’s    31 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]  Reduction: 80.6% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 18’s    32 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), Winter Team event (64 players)]  Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)

Imagine being a rising 17- or 18-year-old and having your National Ranking used for admittance to only 3 National level events for all of 2014, when in 2013 there had been 12 events played in 10 different months that admitted you via your National Ranking.

So, one thing is certain.  National individual opportunities for all will be reduced anywhere from 51% to 86%, depending on your age group and your definition of “National”.

The numbers of events where your National Ranking will have any significance at all will drop by 79.3% to 89.3%, or 50% to 75%, depending on which year you choose as a comparison.

Severely reducing the number of events making selections based on USTA National standing serves to diminish the value of a USTA National ranking, and therefore the value of events that carry National points, but no National developmental opportunities (e.g., 2014 Level 3 and Level 4 Regionals).

While there may be argument over the exact percentages, there is no argument that the operative word for 2014 is REDUCTION.

Notes from 2nd USTA Town Hall Listening Meeting Nov 24, 2012

The following information was emailed to me by Jason Lampione – tennis coach, mentor, and writer – who was in attendance at the Rocky Hill, CT, “listening” meeting held by USTA.  These are simply Jason’s notes taken during the meeting – he will be compiling his own analysis of them over the next day or so which I will then post on ParentingAces for you to read.  

This second meeting was led by incoming USTA President Dave Haggerty and USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis Kurt Kamperman and was attended by 30-40 (exact number unknown) parents and coaches.  I have inserted my comments in italics at the end of certain bullet points below.  

USTA released a statement via email to some key people after the meeting – that statement is posted in its entirety on the ParentingAces Facebook page.  Please read and share all of this information with other tennis parents and coaches so our voices will be heard.  Thank you.

NOTE:  I have edited the article based on comments shared by Bill Mountford of USTA – my edits are in ALL CAPS below.

  • In two years, we would like to see the USTA go from an 800 pound gorilla to a more balanced 400 pounds.  (D. Haggerty)
  • Communication and structure are problematic within the USTA.  (parent)  This is an issue that I’ve been discussing with various USTA committee members and staff.  They have to do a better job of communicating with the membership.  USTA has a Facebook page, is on Twitter, and sends out regular emails – the tools are in place.  There is no excuse for the lack of communication on these proposed changes and other relevant issues.
  • We’re going to reduce the cost of travel within each section of the USTA.  (D. Haggerty) How is USTA going to accomplish this feat?  They’re proposing to CREATE REGIONS now, potentially increasing the cost of travelling to tournaments.  Is USTA going to develop relationships with gasoline companies and airlines and hotel chains to give discounts to members?  If so, I’m in full support!
  • Kids at every level have better competition through earned attainment.  (K. Kamperman) I agree with this statement as it applies WITHIN sections.  However, we all realize that the strength between sections varies enormously, so if a player emerges as the best in a weak section then goes to a national event to compete against the best player in a strong section, I’m not sure how that’s better competition for the strong-section player. 
  • Our children are playing each other at least 5, 6 and even 7 times within the tournament format within our section.  (parent) That’s why it’s good to have the option to play OUTSIDE your section.  Why would USTA want to limit or eliminate that option?  I still don’t understand the reasoning here.
  • The regional format is pretty good.  (parent) I would question whether or not this parent has looked at the new region map and how much travel it could potentially involve.
  • Playing other regions gives better competition.  (parent) I agree.  Kids love the chance to play against new opponents.  That’s why we need to increase the opportunities to play nationally and increase the draws at those national events. 
  • Playing within only one region doesn’t allow for proper player development.  (parent) I think it depends upon the region.  But, generally speaking, yes, I would agree with this statement.  Playing a wider variety of opponents gives a developing player the opportunity to learn how to deal with a variety of tactics, making him/her into a more complete player.
  • The consensus is that variety is good!  (K. Kamperman) Yes, it is!
  • It is terrible that players cannot get on-court coaching.  (parent) That’s an issue for another day.
  • I spend all this money, and our players have very limited options.  (parent)
  • The pressure to perform and accumulate points in each round is incredible and very costly to us parents.  (parent) Pressure to perform is a big part of tennis, of any sport really.  If that pressure is harming your child, then maybe it’s time to find a different activity that is better-suited to the child’s temperament.  High-level competition is NOT for everybody!
  • You cannot limit a player’s potential just by their ranking or age.  (parent) I’m not exactly sure what this parent is saying.  I think we all agree that the current PPR ranking system could use some work.
  • Distance and travel, financially, is troublesome for certain parents, especially outside our region!  (parent)
  • In the Eastern section, I am being charged 25 dollars per each tournament main draw entry along with traveling expenses.  This is becoming too much for me and my husband to handle, financially speaking!  (parent) I think we can all agree that tennis is an expensive sport, especially if you’re trying to develop a player to the top echelons.  However, I must say I’m surprised by the $25 entry fee – we pay much higher fees ($45 and up) in our section, even at local tournaments.
  • International players are heavily marketed here in the United States, and our American counterparts are being singled out!  (parent) I’m not sure I understand this statement.  If someone could clarify for me, that would be helpful.
  • From experience, most USTA coaches only support players here in the United States who are highly ranked!  (parent) That’s a problem inherent in the Player ID and Player Development departments of USTA.  Those departments are charged with identifying players who have the potential to become our next American champions.  The question becomes: would the dollars allocated to paying the salaries of those coaches be better spent supporting local coaches who are developing top-level players in their own backyards?
  • The entire ‘talent id’ for pre-adolescents is a complete crap shoot.  (K. Kamperman) Amen, Mr. Kamperman!  I’m hoping to see USTA do away with this piece of the puzzle entirely and paint with a broader brush when using its financial resources for player development.
  • The Mid-Atlantic region converts every parent into a cash machine and is ultra selective as per the ability of the player they choose to work with.  (parent)
  • I feel that I should homeschool my child just so he/she can get ahead and attend a better school!  (parent) I still don’t understand how the proposed changes are going to reduce missed school days.  Can someone please explain that one to me?  Is homeschooling going to become the necessary norm for those wanting to achieve the highest levels in junior tennis?  Is it already the norm?
  • By expanding the participation base here in the United States, we have a wider audience to draw from, player-wise!  (K. Kamperman) Agree.
  • When my child is being coached at a club, I have no idea how to measure the quality of the program with regard to the training environment!  (parent) This is where USTA could really step in and prove to be a valuable resource to parents.  I hope the parent quoted here finds my blog and reads my series on Choosing A Coach!
  • I am in favor of increased draw sizes at the national level, tournament wise!  (parent) Me, too!
  • You [the USTA] need to make the draws more backended!  (parent) What does that mean?
  • We have to look at the structure, with regard to the rankings.  (K. Kamperman) I’m not sure what Mr. Kamperman is saying here.  Is he concerned about the current PPR ranking system?  If so, I’m very glad to hear that and hope that it is re-evaluated to include head-to-head competition.
  • There isn’t any other ranking system in any other sport that doesn’t come under heavy scrutiny!  (K. Kamperman)
  • I’d like to see more American players get more scholarships.  (D. Haggerty) Me, too, Mr. Haggerty!  How is USTA going to make that happen?  Is it going to take a firmer stand with NCAA and college coaches and athletic directors?  We need USTA to advocate for our kids in this regard.
  • I think it is good for both the American and International players to compete with one another.  (D. Haggerty) That is why the ITF circuit is such a great option for many players.
  • The USTA is not in the driver’s seat for college scholarships.  (K. Kamperman) Right.  Those rules are established by NCAA.  USTA could, however, take a stronger position and advocate for increased scholarships on the men’s side and for limiting the number of scholarships that go to international players.  The NJCAA has already paved the way.
  • The parents’ feedback and recommendations have no value with regard to influencing change within the USTA.  (parent) I think these listening meetings prove otherwise.  At the very least, USTA is making an effort to get feedback directly from those of us affected by these proposed changes.  Whether or not it acts on that feedback is yet to be seen.  I’m trying to remain hopeful.
  • The players from Florida and California are complaining that other sections have weaker competition.  (parent) The statistics confirm that fact.  I looked at the November 2012 National Standing List for the Boys 18s – the sections with the most players in the top 100 are (in order) Southern California (17), Texas & Southern (tied with 12), Florida & Eastern (tied with 10), and Midwest (9).
  • If I was running the USTA like a business, I don’t know why I would limit American players’ options!  (parent)
  • I think it is good business if the USTA supports the passion of players here in the US.  (parent)
  • The emotional rollercoaster that my child suffers, because of the extreme pressure in performing, is hampering his passion to wanna compete.  (parent) High-level competition isn’t for everyone.  Parents have to look at each child to determine what’s in his/her best interest.  One thing I will say is that, at least in the Southern section, there are many levels of competition from which to choose.  For a player who doesn’t thrive under the pressure of high-level play, there are other options to still compete but at a lower stress level.
  • Parents aren’t seeing developmental plans from USTA coaches.  (parent) Again, I feel like USTA could really be a positive force if it would become more of a guide for parents trying to navigate the complicated tournament and development system.
  • We’re gonna look at all recommended proposals and pass them on to section leaders.  (K. Kamperman) A question that was posed on the ParentingAces Facebook page: “What will compel USTA to change anything as a result of holding these ‘listening’ meetings?”  I would really like to hear USTA’s answer to this question as I think it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle.
  • A VOTE FROM THE USTA BOARD OF DIRECTORS REGARDING A PAUSE TO THE CHANGES FOR 2013 WILL TAKE PLACE IN DECEMBER 2012.  USTA LEADERSHIP WILL REVIEW FEEDBACK FROM THESE “LISTENING” MEETINGS DURING THE ANNUAL MEETING IN MARCH AFTER WHICH A VOTE WILL BE TAKEN ON HOW TO PROCEED IN 2014.   (K. Kamperman) This is why we need to communicate NOW with our section presidents and let them know our thoughts on these proposed changes.  Time is of the essence.
  • Currently, 88,000 kids play at all levels here in the US.  (K. Kamperman)
  • Increasing participation at the high school level will help increase the USTA bottom line, player-wise!  (coach) I have to disagree with this statement, at least insofar as high school tennis in Georgia is currently structured.  Our state high school association has passed an eligibility rule which will effectively eliminate all high-performance players from their high school teams.  The level of competition in our state’s high schools has become on par with recreational league tennis.
  • I travel from Rochester to NYC seven times a year and it is VERY costly and time-consuming.  (parent)
  • I wonder if the USTA is willing to pick up the traveling expenses for players who travel outside of their respective region.  (parent) I know my section (Southern) does have need-based scholarship funds available to help offset some of the costs of junior tennis.  I’m guessing other sections have something similar.
  • I’m on the board of player development for the New England section and am concerned about these new rule changes.  (coach)
  • There is no guarantee for our children, especially when we have to spend so much money for travel and tournament fees that I am beginning to think the investment isn’t worth it anymore!  (parent) That is a decision each family has to make for itself.  With my three kids, only one of whom is a tennis player, I’ve found that pursuing an interest to the point of mastery is expensive, whether it’s a sport or an art form.

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

Let me say again that it is crucial that parents and coaches take the time to educate themselves on the issues and attend these meetings.  To read the proposed changes, click here.  If you can’t attend a meeting, then please use the new email address, letusknow@usta.com, to communicate your concerns to USTA.

Action Steps & Why I’m Going to Take Them

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

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Parent/Coach Speaking Points for USTA Listening Meetings

I am working on compiling a list of speaking points that we can all use when attending the USTA listening meetings.  As you know, the next meeting is this Saturday, November 24th, in Rocky Hill, CT – for those of you in the area, please try to make it and, if you’re so inclined, give the rest of us a de-briefing afterward.

What I am hearing from USTA is that we need to present clear, detailed alternatives to the proposed junior competition changes.  These meetings were created as an opportunity for those in attendance to voice well-thought-out ideas that will improve junior tennis for our kids.  My hope is that those of us in the proverbial trenches can come together and show USTA a better way of doing business on behalf of our young players.

I have started compiling a list of speaking points based on the information I’m getting via your comments, emails, posts on other tennis blogs, etc.  But, I need your help!  Please email me ASAP at fitmom@bellsouth.net if you have thoughts on what should be included and/or if you’d like to see my initial draft.  I will continue working on this and tweaking it as needed until we have something concise and easy to understand that we can all use.  In the meantime, please keep spreading the word about the meeting dates – I have re-posted them below – so we are well represented.

Tennis parents rock!

The proposed dates for the remaining “listening” meetings are as follows:

November 24: Boys & Girls 14s National Open, Rocky Hill, CT
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