Notes From 9th and Final Listening Meeting in Texas

USTA Folks in Attendance:
  • Bill Mountford
  • Dave Haggerty
  • Lew Brewer, though he arrived a bit late and stayed mostly at the back of the room.

The following information is a conglomeration of several emails that I received after the meeting. If you were there and have something to add, please do so in the Comments below.

Sadly, attendance was rather small, but those in attendance seemed to be fully aware of the changes and were fully engaged in the discussion.

The initial issue that came up was in regards to why the USTA is reducing the number of national tournaments. The conversation started with traditional schooling and the desire to try and reduce the number of days players will miss. A few of the parents voiced their disagreement with the USTA focusing so much on this. These parents felt it was not as big of a deal as the USTA was making it – and that it should be the parents’ responsibility to manage this, not the USTA. Several USTA people disagreed and backed the new rule changes.

The conversation then turned to the draw sizes. It felt like quite a bit of the conversation revolved around this topic. A few of the parents focused on the decrease in opportunities for kids that don’t fall into the 32/64/128 draw sizes. There was a concern for the kids that will just miss the cut or would have otherwise been able to make it into a national tournament. Even if they weren’t the “high quality” players, the experience could be enough to motivate and incentivize these players to work harder and grow their game. In addition, a few parents mentioned that the kids that aren’t among the top 128 could potentially have fewer chances to be seen by college coaches. The USTA response was that these coaches would see them at the regional tournaments (of which the parents were skeptical). The USTA and coaches tried to focus the discussion on the quality of the draw for the players, saying smaller draws will drive stronger competition.

Dave Haggerty once again brought up that USTA is discussing a 64 player draw qualifier for the national tournaments that are reducing from 192 to 128. The thinking is that this would give the lower ranked kids a chance to play for a berth in the main draw and keep similarly ranked kids playing together. Of interest was how the USTA would deal with the qualifier and wild card issue. Suggestions were made to have 0 wildcards from the USTA and also having 7 to 8 wildcards allocated to the USTA with 8-9 spots coming out of the qualifier.

I saw the following posted on the USTA-Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes Facebook page: There are a number of people who think that the 128 draw is ample for Level 1 tournaments. What those people usually don’t understand is that entry into those draws are not on a child’s National ranking but on sectional quota’s. So technically a kid from the Caribbean could be ranked 1400 in the US and get in a 128 draw while a kid who is ranked 50 in Southern California would not get it. Usually when people find that out, they have a greater understanding of why the 192 is more fair to the stronger sections. Additionally, these events have become showcases. There are many colleges who recruit kids at that level and the change from 128 to 192 has caused a tremendous amount of introductions of college coaches to US kids. Countless US kids are playing college tennis because of the move to 192.

There was emphasis placed on 12 and unders – having 128 draws and including 12s in the team competition in the winter. Foreign scholarships were addressed, and the USTA folks indicated they are talking with other sports to address this issue as they feel that making this a tennis only issue would not work with the NCAA. It was reiterated that the USTA has no jurisdiction in regards to this issue.

One parent shared with me that, overall, it was a civil meeting, with no fireworks – they just didn’t have enough parents show up. That being said, the vibe (in his opinion) was that the USTA attendees in the audience have already made up their mind to back the changes. It was obvious in their body language in reaction to parent and coaches comments, as well as under-the-breath comments and side bar conversations.

Overall, those in attendance believe Bill and Dave were engaged. Whether that leads to committee action remains to be seen.

All Sections Are NOT Created Equal

all-things-are-not-equal-in-the-eb5-visa-world

Voting within USTA is much like the Electoral College system in the US federal government.  All USTA sections are not created equal.  Apparently, size DOES matter.

That said, and as was suggested by Scott Schultz at the listening meeting in Los Angeles, it is still crucial that we all continue to reach out to our Section Presidents (click here for a list of Sections, 2013 Presidents, and contact info where available) and ask them to vote for a pause on the 2014 changes to the junior competition calendar.  It is our best hope for getting the result that many of us have been working toward for the past year or so – to see the USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee take the 2014 plan, push the pause button, seek input from those in the trenches day in and day out, use it as a base to create something that serves the greatest number of junior players, vet it properly among its constituents, then move forward in hopes of providing a clear pathway for our kids to make the most of their junior tennis years.

Here’s what I sent to Bud Spencer, the Southern Section President: “Mr. Spencer, please vote to PAUSE the 2014 schedule at the next USTA meeting!  The proposed changes will have a significant negative impact on junior tennis.  Why not just take one more look at this whole proposal and re-evaluate?  What is the harm?  What is the rush?  Isn’t it better to do things right instead of doing them right now?  Please listen to the concerns of so many of the coaches and parents and players involved and vote NO on moving forward with these changes in 2014.  Thank you.”

Please note that the next (and final!) listening meeting is Friday, February 15th at 4:30pm at the DFW Airport Hilton in Grapevine, Texas.  Dave Haggerty, Bill Mountford, and Lew Brewer are scheduled to be the USTA representatives there.   You folks in Texas are up against it, though.  A parent posted the following on the ParentingAces Facebook page:  “Just got an email from Ken McAllister, Director over the Texas Section, they will continue to support the changes to the jr. tournament schedule and do so more strongly than before.”  This, despite the fact that many parents have reached out to Mr. McAllister asking him to vote for a pause.  This, despite the fact that the listening meeting in his section hasn’t even happened yet.

If you are planning to attend the Texas meeting and are willing to share your thoughts with me, please contact me at fitmom@bellsouth.net.

And, don’t forget to keep sharing your thoughts with LetUsKnow@usta.com.

By the way, Monday’s ParentingAces radio show will continue with last week’s discussion on the 2014 changes and how they will impact players and families.  My guests will include Antonio Mora, Geoff Grant, Sol Schwartz, and Martyn Collins.  I hope others of you will call in and share your questions and concerns.  The show airs at Noon ET – please click the Radio Show tab above for details.

Notes From 8th Listening Meeting in Los Angeles

USTA Folks in Attendance:
  • Scott Schultz
  • Bill Mountford
  • Lew Brewer
  • Ellen Ehlers
  • Greg Hickey – SoCal President
  • Michael Cooke – NorCal President

I’m happy to report that I have heard from several folks who attended last night’s meeting in Los Angeles, and that there was once again overwhelming opposition to the 2014 changes.

There were 61 attendees including several parents, coaches, USTA representatives, and even a tennis journalist.   Some people who had planned to be there didn’t make it because they thought it was at UCLA (I’m not sure how or why they had incorrect information regarding the meeting location).  School-night traffic on the LA freeways made it impossible for some parents to get there, but, still, 61 people came.

During the meeting, there was a constant barrage of passionate parent after passionate parent making very poignant statements about how these changes were “ill-conceived”.  People attacked the fact that only one person on the 2011-2012 Junior Competition Committee (the one that is responsible for the changes) had children currently playing competitive tennis, and said that no one can understand what goes on in tournament tennis unless they are living it everyday.  The point was made over and over that, at the tournaments, everyone is against these changes.

While there was one parent who said that he thinks a system where kids can play in their backyard is better, that was quickly refuted by nearly everyone in the room who simply said, “There aren’t enough kids to make that a reality right now.”  Parent after parent kept saying how the experience of these National events and the friendships that kids make are the things that keep them in the sport.

One mother said, “My daughter is a very talented athlete, and every other sport is courting her.  I can write a check for $400 for the year, and volleyball will handle everything else.  She wants to play tennis, and I want to provide that for her.  But it seems like you guys are doing everything in your power to push her out of it.  At every turn, you just make it more and more difficult.  Do you not understand what goes on at these tournaments with every single parent complaining about these changes?  All of your customers do not want any part of these changes.  So why are you continuing to push them?”

That drew a large ovation from the crowd.

UCLA assistant coach Grant Chen was there and said how hard they were trying to recruit local kids.  Apparently, UCLA head coach Billy Martin is strongly against the changes.

Another parent said, “Your entire customer base has been complaining for a year straight, and right now we are all tired of saying the same things over and over.  What do we have to do to get these changes stopped?”

USTA representative Scott Schultz then gave the most optimistic answer heard at any of the listening meetings when he said, “The USTA is a political organization.  You guys need to rally all the sections and get the sections to vote this down.  We just implement what they tell us. So you guys really need to talk to Section Presidents [click here for a list of Section Presidents and their contact information] and Section Junior Comp Committees and get them to stop them.”

While some in the room were angry and felt that Mr. Schultz’s statement was just a way to shift the blame and responsibility, others were encouraged and invigorated to have a concrete pathway to pause the 2014 changes that had not ever been disclosed before.

One parent said, “To me, when Mr. Schultz said his thing about getting the sections to overturn this, that made my day.  I have been involved with this for 9 months and have never heard any tangible way to get this fixed.  Now we know there is a way.  We just need to get the sections to vote it down.”

One well-spoken, passionate father gave a speech about how all the changes were taking the fun out of tennis and the soul out of the tournaments, that he drove all the way from Santa Barbara to speak up for the future generations as his kid was only 7 and already losing interest.  At the end of the speech, Lew Brewer’s response was,  “We have a plate of cookies back there.  Feel free to take your kid one.  Maybe it’ll make him feel better.”  The whole room just sat there with their mouths open, not believing what they had just heard.  I also heard from parent Gordon Bellis (who traveled to LA from Northern California for the meeting) that Lew Brewer would evade any tough direct question and respond that all of the changes were justified and fully supported.

Brad Sraberg, the parent of two SoCal junior players, said, “I want my kids playing tennis so that they can have a tool to get into college.  If these changes are implemented, it will be an absolute tragedy to so many kids at Adam’s level.  Maybe the Bellamys, Bellises and Gealers will be fine, but so many US kids will be pushed out of college tennis because of a policy change.  I pray that these changes get overturned.”

The bright spot of the night was near the end of the meeting when SoCal President Greg Hickey polled the attendees and said, “I’m listening and so I get this clear, you guys are against the loss of opportunity?”  A chorus of “YES” rang out. Then Mr. Hickey brought up the point about entry into tournaments which led to the evening’s most contentious moments as a couple of people, including USTA SoCal Manager of High Performance Darren Potkey, chimed in about “points chasers”.  The whole point-chasing argument was refuted by many who said that, really, there aren’t that many points chasers out there.  One person said that points chasers are actually a net positive for the sport because the wealthy pay for the travel to disperse the talent. He said, rightfully, “You still have to win the matches.”

In the end, those in the room said that the main focus is on not losing any opportunities and gaining back the Bowls.  They wanted to make it clear to USTA that 99.9% of parents are against these changes.

Dennis Rizza, the father of an ATP player and the Kramer Club Director (Pete Sampras, Lindsey Davenport, Tracy Austin have all come through his program), said, “We fought for 5 years to get the 192 draws.  I can’t believe that we are now fighting to hold onto them after we spent so much time fighting for them.  A 128 is simply not fair for kids in SoCal.”

Geoff Grant echoed, “If you want the best 128 kids in America on the court, and you want to have quotas, then you have to have larger draws.”

One parent who asked to remain nameless said, “Over and over, I just kept hearing the words ‘USTA Politics’.  Not one time during the 2.5 hours did I hear a USTA official say a single thing about doing what is right for the kids.  For all of you people within this USTA volunteer system, for all of you people who voted for this politically derived mess – shame on you! Shame on you people for not having any real concern for the kids and only caring about the politics.  And shame on you Ellen Ehlers for sitting there shaking your head and having a face filled with disdain at every comment from every heartfelt parent who actually attends these tournaments and actually knows these children who are impacted.  While I still hold hope that good prevails over evil in this situation, what last night meant for me is that the USTA politics are more pervasive and onerous than I ever would have been led to have believed.  If the sport wasn’t so beneficial, my kids would be playing another because of the USTA’s involvement.”

Chris Boyer emailed, “While I greatly appreciate the USTA finally coming around to the strong suggestions of ‘listening’ to its constituency, which after all is the very fabric of the organization, I was at the same time frankly shocked at the number of times the USTA executives mentioned the word ‘politics’.  From what I heard, much of the rationale that was given for these ill-conceived changes had more to do with ‘politics’, than logical business reasoning.  Since when do politics preside over what’s best for the kids?  As a businessman, and looking at this purely from an organizational standpoint, it appears that the root cause of this issue and so many others that seem to be permeating the USTA lately, is about the organization’s structure, and how it fosters the allowance of politics and incompetencies to come into play so frequently.  Just the mere fact that the these ‘town hall meetings’ need to take place – and when they do are so cantankerous – is an indictment of the organization itself and way of doing business, in my opinion. There are clearly a lot of people very upset with the USTA.”

I got a call this morning from parent Bob Cummins who wanted to share his thoughts on the meeting and the 2014 changes.  He told me that he realized after sitting through the meeting that the thing that’s really bothersome to him is that the Points-Per-Round system has created a “feeding frenzy” of people playing so many tournaments and just going a couple of rounds to earn points.  Some people can’t afford to travel to so many tournaments, and so they’re “locked out” of the system.  SoCal got the PPR system a couple of years ago – before that, they used the STAR system which focused on who you beat rather than how many tournaments you played.  Bob is all for getting more people involved in the sport, getting more people traveling and enjoying the big events like Copper Bowl and the team events.  He thinks USTA’s intention is to keep families out of the tennis “rat race” by eliminating a number of national tournaments so kids don’t have to travel so much and suggested that maybe those big events need to be kept separate from the national schedule so players aren’t locked out because of a tie-in to the national points system. That’s certainly an interesting proposal to consider, and I hope USTA takes note of it.

One parent who had planned to attend the meeting emailed me, saying, “I didn’t go to the meeting because they have worn me down and they just don’t listen or care.” That was disappointing to read. I hope it’s not a pervasive attitude among tennis parents because I do think we need to continue fighting for our kids and their tennis opportunities while there’s still a chance to get USTA to put a pause on the 2014 changes.

When is USTA going to listen – REALLY LISTEN – to its constituents and pause these changes until they can be properly vetted?  When is USTA going to engage the people who are in the trenches, spending several weeks each year at these junior tournaments, to create a schedule that makes sense?  The 2014 schedule was created by – and is being defended by – people like Scott Schultz, Ellen Ehlers, Andrea Norman, and Lew Brewer, who, by the way, have NO CHILDREN PLAYING JUNIOR TENNIS either at a competitive level or at all.  They are NOT the ones who should be determining the fate of junior tennis in the U.S.  What’s it going to take for USTA to push the pause button?

Please note that the next (and final!) listening meeting is Friday, February 15th at 4:30pm at the DFW Airport Hilton in Grapevine, Texas.  Dave Haggerty, Bill Mountford, and Lew Brewer are scheduled to be the USTA representatives there.

Notes From 7th Listening Meeting in Troy, Michigan

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to report from last night’s “listening” meeting in Troy.  The only word I’ve gotten is that there were only a small handful of people there, and that everyone stayed cool, calm, and collected.

Paul McDonald and Mark Bey were the USTA representatives leading the meeting.  Apparently, Scott Schultz was also supposed to be there but got delayed by the weather.  The parents in attendance who did speak were against the 2014 changes to the junior competition schedule, but the opposition was voiced in a very factual rather than impassioned manner.  From the emails I received, it seems that the overall feeling was one of resignation – one attendee reported that it just felt “flat out terrible for the sport more so than terrible for the cause.”

To me, this just underlines the sentiment that we in the tennis community need to find a resolution – and fast! – to this latest rift between USTA and its constituents.  The longer this goes on, the more harm will result.  Parents are talking to each other at tournaments and on social media outlets, and the frustration we feel has gone beyond idle chatter.  I think (I hope!) USTA realizes that it needs to seriously reconsider these changes and to, at the very least, put them on hold until more work can be done.

If any of you were among the 25 or so attendees at the Troy meeting, please add your insights in the Comments below.  Monday’s ParentingAces radio show will be dedicated to a discussion of the 2014 changes and their potential impact on players and families – I hope you’ll join in by calling the show at 714-583-6853 and sharing your thoughts and questions!

Please note that the next meeting is Monday, February 11th at 7:00pm at the Mountaingate Country Club in Los Angeles – click here for a link to the flyer.  Scott Schultz is scheduled to be the USTA representative there.

Notes from First USTA Town Hall Listening Meeting Nov 17, 2012

The following information was emailed to me by a parent who was in attendance at the Reston, VA, “listening” meeting held by USTA.  I am reprinting it exactly as it was sent to me.  Please read and share with other tennis parents and coaches so our voices will be heard.  Thank you.

USTA Town Hall Meeting

11/17/2012

Mid-Atlantic Annual Meeting — Reston, VA

Representing the USTA:       Lew Brewer, Director Junior Competition

Scott Schultz, Managing Director, Youth Tennis

Scott Schultz (SS):            Introduction

wants to really listen and wants participants to leave feeling like they have listened

This is 1st town hall meeting

This is not about kids going pro.  These proposed changes affect critical group of kids:  those who devote the most time, energy, and money, and those with lots at stake — college, scholarships, etc.

Lew Brewer (LB):             effort is to serve vast majority of players competing

it is NOT about trying to make great players

the tournament structure is there:  if it works for you use it, if not, don’t

the junior tennis competition committee was asked to look at changes that would increase player development, increase affordability, and decrease missed school (and missed work for parents)

the vast majority of players are better served by playing locally

only changes that will happen in 2013:  new nat’l doubles tournament (to be played at us open series event) and new national grand masters tournament

in 2014 draw sizes for hard courts and clay courts will be reduced (assuming USTA approves committee’s recommendation to postpone this change for 2013)

Q (audience member):  why reduce draw size?

LB:          it used to be 128

the purpose of these tournaments is to crown a national champion and therefore they need the best players

Coach Chuck Kriese (CK):              I agree with the reduction.  The field at Kalamazoo has been diluted.  Recently, there were 51 defaults in the backdraw.  Lots of kids cramp the first day because they are not prepared to win, they are there just to have shown up.  But maybe there can be a qualifying tournament.

Q:           If there were 51 kids pulling out of the backdraw, the majority was actually those kids who came expecting to win and wanted only to be part of main draw.  It was not kids who were so excited just to get in.

Q:           There are amazing kids who are between 128 and 192, or even alternates who get in and have phenomenal tournaments.

It is also much better for college coaches to have larger draws.

If a parent doesn’t want to travel, they always have that option.

LB:          We could debate this issue all day and would still disagree.

Q:           Have you studied the impact of those kids between 128 and 192?

LB:          Yes, we studied players who lost 1st round to see how they did in backdraw but I don’t have the results with me.  There have been kids who have done very well, even a kid who made it to quarters of Kalamazoo.

But players will now qualify solely based on results in section and this will greatly change the complexion of who makes it.

Q:           But mid-atlantic is so strong, it will be impossible for all of the great players to get in.  Our number 8 kid could be top 100 in the country and not get in.

LB:          they will have to work hard and train hard and win.

Q:           There are other very valid reason for tournament besides crowing a national champion.  These tournaments give kids an incredible opportunity to learn and grow and improve.

Q:           Could you make some change so older kids don’t lose their last chance to play?

SS:          maybe  we could look at phasing it in with 12s first.

Q:           The proposed quota/endorsement system does not work for a section like the mid-atlantic.  Why is size relevant?  The 8th player in the 14s in the midatlantic is in the top 100 nationally but would not be allowed to play.  There are 16 midatlantic players in the 14s in the top 200 nationally.  Meanwhile, the top kids on different sections would get spots even though they could be in the 600s nationally.

LB:          Many people have argued it should just be the best players but the structure of the USTA demands that every section is represented.

SS:          There will never be traction on this issue.  Midatlantic has to make a proposal and fight that fight.

Bonnie Vona, mid-atlantic:          under the current structure these issues are addressed.  Every section gets endorsements, and others can get in off of the NSL.

Q:           much better for college coaches to have larger draw sizes.

If player is injured in summer out of luck unless they have Easter Bowl or winter nationals.

Q:           at NCAA division 1 tournament, only 22 of 128 players were american.

CK:         Very big and serious issue.

Only Americans in top 50 or 60 can easily play — otherwise competing against all international players.

$63 million in scholarships given to foreign players.

Q:           So can’t the uSTA address this issue and help US kids play tennis for US colleges?

SS:          this issue is incredibly upsetting and we have to do something.

Q:           If we are not competing well internationally, how do we improve kids beyond top 50?

LB:          Most kids better served by competing locally

CK:         kids should play with people of all different ages.  See universal tennis.com ratings.  Play should not be so age specific.

 Q:           Keeping kids playing in their sections limits playing styles and chance to play different types of players.

LB:          Lots of different playing styles in mid-atlantic.

SS:          88,000 kids play tournaments.  370,000 play in high school.  Tournaments don’t work for all kids.  It is very impt for kids to compete against different ages.

Q:           there are many reasons to compete in a national championship besides crowning the one national champion.

it is very important to college recruiting to have larger draw sizes.

The quotas are horrible.

LB:          explains how quotas will work.

Q:           in mid-atlantic, the top players don’t play sectionals — only nationals and ITF’s.  Won’t the quotas force them back into sectional play?

LB:          yes.

Q:           The quotas are the most disturbing proposal.  Will take away a kid’s chance to play and that will squash all enthusiasm.

LB:          quotas are good or bad depending on how you look at it.

Q:           There needs to be two means of entry:  quotas and NSL.  ANd no player should get in off of a quota unless they have a minimum ranking on the NSL.

SS:          New email address for comments:  letusknow@usta.com.  We are absolutely open to making adjustments.  We won’t be going back to the system as it is but we can make the changes better.

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

Okay, this is Lisa “talking” again.  It is crucial that parents and coaches take the time to educate themselves on the issues and attend these meetings.  If you can’t attend a meeting, then please use the new email address, letusknow@usta.com, to communicate your concerns.  I propose that we identify one or two parents in each USTA section to act as the voices for the section.  If you are interested in serving in that capacity, please contact me ASAP so we can get to work on compiling a list of speaking points.  Your ideas are welcome in the Comments section below.  If we present a united front to the USTA, letting them know that parents and coaches are on the same page and are only interested in what’s best for our junior players, I believe we stand a decent chance of being heard.  The onus is on us now.  USTA is providing the forum – we must seize the opportunity!