The Emperor Has No Clothes (reblogged from 10sBalls.com)

[The following article was originally published on the website 10sBalls.com – I saw the link posted in a Facebook group frequented by tennis coaches and former players and felt it would be appropriate to repost it in its original form here.  Please take some time to read through the author’s words and share your thoughts in the Comments box below.  Although the author chose to remain anonymous, there are some very viable suggestions contained in the article that could help all of us parents help our junior players achieve their tennis goals. — Lisa]

 

(Editor: This story was submitted to the site. It’s 4,300 words composed from years of frustrations and first hand experience By: An American Guardian Of The Game)

Patrick McEnroe, you are responsible for directing the quite extensive resources of the USTA into junior player development.   In the absence of producing successful players, rather than taking responsibility, you have chosen to throw the junior tennis players and their coaches under the bus.  It is time to call you to task.

“For the first time since 1912, when no American men entered the tournament, not one advanced past the second round.

Patrick McEnroe concedes there may be some truth in the claim that young Americans aren’t willing to sacrifice as much as their counterparts around the world. “Blaming our players is not the answer,” he said. “We need to educate them at a younger age about what it takes, so they learn the right things to do early.” –Washington Post

Not willing to sacrifice?  There are thousands of kids out there that spend a fortune to travel to USTA national (you know, the ones with the absurd $151 entry fees) and international tournaments in search of competitive match play and rankings.  Many of them sacrifice normal adolescent lives and relationships in order to pursue something greater.  They forego fun weekends and post- school-day hangouts with friends and social interaction, and they incur injuries and debt and failure on a regular basis.  They spend five hours per day on court and another hour in the gym, and give up fun fatty foods for those which will fuel their bodies.  They suffer weeks where the mood of the house is dependent upon their performance and, sadly, they may only be ten years old when that pressure begins.  They endure losses and failure and some of that may be attributable to their unavoidable lack of talent or athleticism.  They give up dates with boyfriends or girlfriends and Friday night football games and family vacations so they can boost their rankings or get in one more practice.  They tolerate constant soreness and dehydration – and a future with swollen joints – for a shot at what is almost impossible.  They risk what would be college tuition money in hopes of avoiding injury and perfecting their games in order to receive an athletic scholarship. And you have the audacity to claim they are not willing to sacrifice as much as their counterparts around the world?  Let’s look at who is the pot calling the kettle names here.

YOU are the Czar of Player Development for juniors in the US, and presumably make the recommendations to the USTA how to structure player development across the United States.  It thus appears that YOU agree with shortening matches from three sets to two-plus-a-breaker.  YOU marginalized or eliminated doubles matches.  YOU attempted to constrict draws so fewer kids would get to compete at nationals.  YOU decided to introduce and promote Ten and Under Tennis/Quickstart to make the game EASIER, and to prevent talent from advancing when they are ready.  YOU imposed a mandate based upon unproven research to make the game easier and then accuse us of not working hard enough. YOU transformed from someone, who avoided accepting juniors with collegiate intentions into your player development program, into someone who thinks college can be good preparation for professional tennis. YOU claim our children are not willing to sacrifice and then you lower the barriers to progress in every way.  YOU have only YOURSELF TO BLAME for America’s current state in the game.

To claim Americans don’t understand hard work or that we are unwilling to sacrifice is to go against the character of this nation.  When the competition gets tough, Americans step up – WE always have.  WE do not look without for excuses. WE do not blame the competitive arena for better competitors, or suggest that the global nature of sport makes it tougher for us.  That’s what YOU do. WE get tougher, more dedicated. WE do not turn to a bureaucracy to cure our ills, but rather, WE seek that innovative individual spirit and revolutionary wherewithal that allowed this nation to overcome tyranny and thrive in the face of despotism. WE are as blue collar as it gets and WE are more than willing to jump into the trenches to fight for what we believe.  WE are willing to work harder than any competitor and to sacrifice everything for a shot at titles.  Ask the Brothers Bryan and the Sisters Williams.  Every two years, our Olympians confirm that the American athlete is still one of the greatest in the world.  In spite of your efforts to shorten matches and hold kids back from the yellow tennis ball, WE teach our children to overcome obstacles, to thwart dictatorial regimes, and to prosper through perseverance. To us, sacrifice is one step on the trail to greatness, and to suggest we are not willing to forfeit everything for a chance at glory is to demean our character. WE take umbrage at your insolence.

The truth, however, is success requires leadership.  And our present leader is performing a half-ass job for one organization, while taking money from another, and then scapegoating the people he is presumably responsible for.  That is hypocritical, irresponsible and arrogant, so we leave that for YOU, with the hope that you never again confuse the letters ESPN with USTA.

YOU continue to blame the kids for not being able to construct points and accuse them of not being willing to sacrifice (Yes, I know you said “blaming our players is not the answer” but that is exactly what you are doing), to blame the parents for being poorly educated about the sacrifices required for this game.  And yet, YOU are the one who will avoid junior tournaments like the plague.  YOU refuse to commit to the private coaching hours required to develop talent by tossing and feeding millions of balls, and sitting with players to explain what is needed to become an elite professional, and getting to know them holistically – their families, their schools, their personal relationships, and emotional setbacks, and injury-filled pasts, and myriad other petty and unsexy things that make up a human being first and a tennis player second.  YOU would rather sit in your comfortable commentator’s booth or White Plains office and offer scathing opinions of America’s best young talent.  The pivotal lines of leadership are not sketched on some whiteboard.  They are created through inspiration and participation.

Leadership’s robes do not come from making appearances, but rather, from fighting in the trenches with the troops, and surrendering one’s self for your team, and giving up media jobs and high-powered luncheons and seven-figure salaries to tough it out when the lighting is dim and the courts are cracked and the body is exhausted.  That is sacrifice, and it is YOU who are unwilling to make it. I’ll say it again, “The Emperor has no clothes!”

YOU have hired foreign coaches who prepare the curriculum for player development and who should have the motivational tools to get players to push to the levels required for professional tennis.  YOU have chosen to abandon the American coaches who’ve been responsible for the development of so many world champions, including those from other countries.  YOU have chosen to take top junior players away from their private coaches and bring them to your foreign coaches, coaches who continue to fail to produce champions from the obscene crop of talent we private coaches continue to push into your funnel of failure – If these foreign coaches aren’t succeeding, why haven’t you fired them?

Here’s another one of your loathsome comments:

I can guarantee you there are more, better coaches in other countries than in this country, percentage-wise.”  – Men’s Journal

Really? Then perhaps you should go join them.  A leader doesn’t praise the enemy and belittle his own troops, but rather, a leader leads by example.  Leadership is about role modeling and solving problems.  It requires hours of helping people break habits and putting in the effort and motivational time to rebuild them as confident competitors, not blaming them for lack of hard work and scapegoating them for your own personal and professional failures.  Assuming you actually believe these foreign coaches are better, leadership means getting your presumed “better coaches” out to the masses to educate the “lesser American coaches” so that a rising tide will lift all ships.  This makes more sense than cherry-picking the best kids and taking them from their private coaches who do all of the grunt work.  Leadership is the place where responsibility and accountability kiss, and right now that seems to be where the sun don’t shine.

Maybe if you got your ass out of the media booth for those eight weeks per year that you are supposed to be doing your player development job, and placed it on a court with some of the country’s best developmental coaches, you’d understand what I’m talking about.  You want respect from the tennis community?  Grab a racket and a few beginners and come earn it!  Until you join us in the trenches, we have neither the time nor the inclination for your disparaging words.

Wrongly, YOU believe our job as private coaches is to bring talented and successful kids to you because you believe you can do it better than us. YOU expect us to slog hours through the developmental muck and to help young children develop character, work ethic, passion and commitment.  YOU expect us to bring you perfectly formed little champions so you can ride their coattails of success and expound upon your own sagacity. And when they don’t make it, you accuse these kids of NOT SACRIFICING ENOUGH FOR YOU?  That is a condemnation of the coaches, the kids and the families.  To blame others for your own ineptitude is the highest form of arrogance.  I commend you on your achievement!

You hire ex-players as coaches assuming – with NO evidence – the skill set for coaching is the same as the skill set for competing.  Though these are great people who want the best for the kids, this demonstrates your complete lack of understanding of the requisite talent comprising the developmental coaching community.

Meanwhile, you sit in your high-salaried office having your coaches recruit/steal America’s top juniors by offering them travel and coaching incentives from your $300 million dollar US OPEN trust fund – a fund we private coaches cannot compete with  – and then blame everyone but yourself when the kids do not make it.  YOU and your coaching staff have access to every single top player in America, you have a massive player development budget compared to other nations, you have training centers and the best technology money can buy, you have private housing for kids and coaches and an absurd expense account for your personal needs, you have equipment manufacturers and trainers and past champions at your beck and call.  Annually, the US produces juniors who win international championships at both individual and team competitions, and then the USTA PD staff picks them up to presumably “take them to the next level.”

And with all of that – more resources than any nation on the planet – the USTA PD program has failed to produce a champion. Yet, the organization continues to spend millions of dollars in pursuit of just one success story to justify its existence.  American tennis is at its worst place in our nation’s history and you are manning the helm of a ship that continues to sink into the depths of international waters now thick with better boats.  And you have the gall to impugn us?  At what point do you begin to blame yourself for the recent dearth of American champions? The mirror never lies, Patrick.  THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES!

Frankly, I am not even questioning your intentions.  I truly believe you’d like to see American tennis rise again. But intention and arrogance are rotten comrades.  With intention should come humility, and an honest assessment of one’s accomplishments and failures.  On this account, you are lacking.  It is time for you to go. Before you do, though, please put some clothes on because someone has now exposed your nakedness and the crowd is starting to speak up.

It would be irresponsible of me to cast aspersions without offering some remedies for our current state.   And so, in the interest of bettering American tennis:

 

ACTION ITEM ONE

After twenty-five years of abysmal non-performance, the USTA player development program needs to reassess its purpose.  According to the establishment’s current mission statement,  “To grow the game…” they should be directing their resources toward community tennis initiatives, tournament structures, and league tennis.  However, believing the development of an elite cadre of American athletes will contribute to the growth of the game, the USTA has taken on the daunting role of player development.  Several high level coaches contend this approach does not fall within the boundaries of the organization’s proposed mission, and deem the USTA’s approach antithetical to the private coaching community’s success.

Patrick McEnroe sees the private coaching community as a conduit into the USTA PD national program.  “Coaches should be promoting their programs by touting the number of players they send to us,” stated McEnroe at an event in Southern California.  Within the private coaching profession, a vocal community reflects on the PD program’s lack of success and questions whether PD really can do it better.  They feel the USTA is cherry-picking the nation’s best players with promises of free coaching, grant money, wildcard opportunities, and travel expenses to ITF events.

“The USTA tells parents the players have to attend their workouts 4-5 days a week, and play within their development system.  Too often, this “system” goes against the private coach’s theory on player development and the kid ends up leaving the private coach for the USTA perks.  It is not the direct theft of a player, but what parents and kids are going to say “No” to the sport’s governing body?  Then, when the player underperforms, the USTA drops the kid for the next presumed prodigy.  Two decades later, with no accountability for their failures, they are still searching for someone to hang their hat on,” says one prominent Southern California coach wanting to maintain anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Having traveled the world with junior and professional players, I feel the USTA has a less-than-outstanding understanding of how to construct an elite player development program.  The professional tennis world is an ocean of talent.  The current PD model has PD scouts traveling from small pond to small pond, all across the country, in search of a few talented drops of water.  They remove these players from their small ponds, offer them the world, and expect them to enter the professional ocean and make an impact.  Handpicking twenty or so kids per year has about the same odds as buying a winning lottery ticket, and, with millions dollars going into the program, appears to be an abhorrent waste of money.

Instead, the USTA should change its model.  With PD coaches who’ve had tour experience and a good understanding of professional tennis life, they have an under-utilized and improperly directed asset. These PD coaches should not be centrally located to work with players, but rather, travel around the country working with players and their private coaches.  By passing on their knowledge to private coaches, they are no longer limited to affecting a few players per year, but now access and inform all of the players under all of the coaches with whom they communicate.  Once done, the few drops in a pond will become strong currents of players in a river that flows mightily into the ocean of professional tennis.  John Kennedy said A rising tide lifts all boats, and in this casePD should allocate its resources to raising the floodwaters of American coaching.

But this would entail removing the egos from the equation, the desire to have OUR OWN USTA kids, under OUR OWN tutelage, so we can show how good WE ARE as national coaches.  It would require these national coaches to stop hoarding their presumed wisdom for their post-USTA careers and to focus on educating the nation’s coaches so we can grow the quality of American tennis as a whole.

Sadly, USTA PD now sees itself in competition with the private coaching community.  The PD coaches work with talent taken from private coaches, and then, to the detriment of the other U.S. kids, sit behind court fences cheering on their OWN charges.  Few things are more offensive to a tennis parent than seeing his/her own child cheered against by the organization that presumably attracted the kid to the game in the first place.  It is nepotism inverted.

Get the information into the hands of the people that can use it and let the kids compete.

Step one on the path back to American success involves sending USTA’s PD coaches out to the country’s tennis clubs such that more coaches and players have access to the best information available.  Do this only until their contracts run out and then move on to Action Item Two.

 

ACTION ITEM TWO

In a quest to repudiate the USTA PD’s belief that they are responsible for producing the next generation of US players, and in the hopes that the USTA will stop cherry-picking America’s top players in the search for a champion, I herewith offer another solution for American player development.

The USTA has made an assumption that hiring former professional players is the equivalent to hiring quality professional level coaches.  Frankly, there is almost zero correlation between the playing and coaching skill sets.  Coaching requires creativity, an ability to articulate information through aural, kinesthetic and visual means.  It demands incredible patience and an ability to motivate others.  Moreover, coaching involves a wholesale commitment to a player in order to understand: 1) the psychological barriers which might impede a player’s progress, 2) the familial and training environment the player must deal with in addition to tennis practices, 3) a history of the player’s emotional and physical development so as to modify training for trauma, injury, and various other stressors, 4) etc.

Playing, however, requires a wholly different skill set.  Great players feel the ball, the urgencies and vacillations, and the instinctive shot making. This is not to say great players cannot be great coaches, but rather, only that great players are not necessarily great coaches.  Blessed with supreme talent, many professional tennis players frequently cannot articulate how they perform technical skills.  Their learning experience is concentrated upon their particular learning style, and their sole concern is motivating themselves.  Better than most people, great players recognize the hours required to master certain skill sets, and to suggest they can become great coaches without putting in the requisite hours is to belittle the coaching profession and to express a level of arrogance not conducive to a supra-standard organization.  Only a poorly educated organization would hire employees based on assumptions rather than evidence.

However, these coaches have wisdom from playing experience, and clearly it would be irresponsible not to include them in the national player development plan.   But, their knowledge should go to the coaching community whose professional skill in developing players is far better.  To help American tennis, the governing body should focus on the infrastructure, not the end product.  Rather than commandeer the talented few, build the framework and let champions emerge.  This is the American way.

Develop a website where professional players can submit their information.  Pay them based on the number of hits, or re-tweets, or feedback.  If the information is quality, they will benefit, but if it’s not, at least they won’t be receiving USTA PD dollars with ZERO accountability.  In other words, leave the value up to the voter.

Hypothesizing about successful solutions and failing – while burning through millions of dollars – is no longer a viable solution.  Let’s remove the player development staff and throw things back to the private coaching community, the ONLY historically successful player development entity in this country. By eliminating the constantly flipping USTA PD regimes, we can open up dollars to try new ways to develop America’s upcoming generations.

Step Two on the path back to American success involves creating a website where former players can provide coaching insight via video, while generating a small revenue stream, such that more coaches and players have access to the best information available.

 

ACTION ITEM THREE

The greatest wealth of tennis wisdom rests in the minds of men and women who are nearly done raging against the dying of the light.  Let us not be thrust into darkness.

The USTA should allocate dollars to document the knowledge from the game’s elite coaches. Send out an educated interviewer – Paul Annacone perhaps – one who presumably understands the requisite questions one should ask to glean the wisdom from these masters.  Talk about strategy and tactics, mid-match adjustments, mental fortitude and what it takes to become a champion.

In this nation, we have several coaches with incredible insight into the elite levels of professional tennis. Robert Lansdorp has coached five number one players in the world. Nick Bollettieri and his staff have coached over a dozen.  Egos aside, we can document this for future generations.  Tyson studied Ali.  Sampras studied Laver.  Our coaches should be able to study history’s best coaches.  It would be a tribute and a lasting legacy for all of these aged wise ones. Pay them their hourly rate to talk, to discuss, and to inform.  How sad to think we might not archive the strategic mind of Pancho Segura.

You want to boost USTA membership? Make the information available on the USTA website for members only.  How many of the nations lesson-takers do you think would pony up $40 for this kind of information?  You claim the coaching in the country is sub-standard, and yet, aside from a few high performance seminars each year, you do nothing to address the problem.  This is a solution that will last for generations.

Step Three on the path back to American success involves documenting wisdom from historically successful coaches, such that more coaches and players have access to the best information available.

 

ACTION ITEM FOUR

The US junior tennis ranking system is as difficult to decipher as the US Tax Code and adjustments are all too frequent.  The upshot of this obfuscation is a cadre of confused parents sweating and straining to navigate the rankings labyrinth.  We hear phrases like “spending a fortune to chase points,” and “have to play these to get into that,” all said with a face that suggests imminent diarrhea.  And yet, somehow the multi-national ITF junior circuit requires no new iterations.  Why not copy a successful model?   How does an ITF player earn his/her way into the junior U.S. Open?  They accumulate enough points at each ITF tournament level and that gains them access into higher-level events.  The private website Tennisrecruiting.net has now gained more credence than the national organization’s system. At some point, even the $300 million dollar elephant in the room is going to get old and infirm.  Study the successful model and adapt, or be relegated to extinction.

In cohesion with the simplification theme, let’s provide parents with better education about the competitive pathways for player development.  Create a simple chart to explain the USTA tournament system, the ITF tournament system, and the professional path to success.  Let’s further inform them of the possible expenses, obstacles, and expectations they should have during their road to competitive tennis.

When the USTA offers wildcards, developmental grants, and invitations to their developmental centers without providing specific selection criteria, it exposes itself to accusations of nepotism and subjectivity.  Worse yet, if the criteria are posted and exceptions are more frequent than the rule, parents and players will condemn the powers-that-be.  Thus, the current state of junior tennis disenfranchisement in America.

Step Four on the path back to American success involves simplifying the rankings system so your average ten-year old can understand how to advance.  After all, the rankings are for the kids, right.  Additionally, let’s provide clear and simple roadmaps for the various competitive pathways.

 

 

ACTION ITEM FIVE

At present, unless you are hand-picked, by the USTA, to be one of the chosen – which is probably the death knell of your career by the way – there is little chance of financial support coming your way.  Therefore, let’s take $2,000,000 of the PD budget and run 20, $50,ooo winner-take-all prize money tournaments, for men and women, across the United States, with the following caveats:

·      US players only

·      No one in the top 100 WTA or ATP is eligible to compete in them.

·      Once you’ve won one of these events, you are no longer eligible to play in another one for twelve months.

·      Once you have won three of these events, you are no longer eligible to play in them.

These events will motivate more players to compete and subsidize those who desperately need it to fund themselves on the pro circuit.

The alternative to this is a performance-based financial support system for rookie professionals, with funding recoverable if rankings improve.  This financial assistance program involves grant money for achieving specific ranking levels.  For example:

Players reaching 800 WTA/ATP receive a $10,000 stipend.

Players reaching 600 WTA/ATP receive a $20,000 stipend.

Players reaching 400 WTA/ATP receive a $25,000 stipend.

Players reaching 200 WTA/ATP receive a $25,000 stipend.

Players reaching 100 WTA/ATP or higher, would pay 10% of their annual prize money back to the granting organization, until all grant monies have been recovered or until the player retires.

Certainly the details can be worked to make this financially feasible, but as an idea in its fetal stages, it may hold some merit to incentivize performance and to allow underfunded players to stay out there long enough to build a career.

Step Five on the path back to American success involves finding alternative ways to fund talented players for their initial forays into professional tennis.

I’m sure others have many more ideas and I’m hoping to compel the forces of American tennis to speak out.  As the Americans’ brief traipse across Wimbledon’s lawns suggests, the time for new leadership is at hand.  Let the search begin.

—An American Tennis Guardian

Summer 2013 Version: The Ins & Outs of TennisRecruiting.Net

Below is a re-print of my June 13, 2012, article on TennisRecruiting.net.  Twice a year, TennisRecruiting.net updates its Top Prospect ratings – sometimes known as “The Stars”. The next update to the Top Prospects comes in September 2013.  This week, TRN announced a change to their ratings process – starting with this rating period, ratings will be based on a player’s second-highest rankings during the eight-week period from July 23 through September 11.  Why is TRN making this change?  According to their most recent newsletter, it is so they can avoid errors due to mis-reported scores or results.  Be sure to take a look at TRN’s new National Showcase Series of tournaments – these events may not count toward a player’s USTA ranking but will count toward his/her TRN ranking and rating.

By now, most of my readers are probably very familiar with the TennisRecruiting.net website.  Well, I recently discovered that the creators of the site, Julie and Doug Wrege, live about a mile and half from my house (!), so I figured I would pick their brains a bit about how the site came into existence as well as the way parents and players should be using the information available on the site to their best advantage.

The first thing to note is that Julie and Doug are not now, nor have they ever been, Tennis Parents; that is to say, none of their children played tournament tennis.  However, Julie is a very accomplished player and college coach in her own right – she started the very successful women’s tennis program at Georgia Tech – and Doug is an internet technology guru – he wrote the very first tennis-related software, Tournament Management System, in the 1980s and was the first to put tournament draws on the Web.  As a result of Julie’s extensive college coaching experience, she knew what the coaches needed to see in terms of player records and rankings, and she wanted to create something better for them to use.  In 2004, with Doug’s help, TennisRecruiting.net was born!

Now, the basics of TRN and its Star Rating System . . .

The TRN ratings, done by graduating class, go from Blue Chip (highest) to 1 star (lowest) as follows:

Blue Chip:  top 25 players in the class

5-Star:  players ranked 26-75

4-Star:  players ranked 76-200

3-Star:  players ranked 201-400

2-Star:  players ranked 401 up to a number based on a percentage of the size of that class

1-Star:  a player with any qualifying ranking

TRN looks at 6th graders through 12th graders and ranks 16,000 boys each year out of the approximately 34,000 male junior players currently playing and competing.  They rank about the same number of girls.  Therefore, even a 1-Star player is better than more than half the juniors currently playing tournaments.  Ratings are based solely upon a player’s position within his own high school graduating class year; for example, a 14-year-old high school freshman would be rated independently of a 14-year-old 8th grader even though they are both eligible to play in the 14-and-under age division.

In order to be ranked on TRN, a junior must play in a minimum of 3 TRN-eligible tournaments and win a minimum of 3 matches (2 of which must be over other eligible players). Ratings happen twice a year – at the end of February and the Tuesday after Labor Day in September. Ratings are preceded by an 8-week rating period. The player’s highest ranking during the 8-week rating period will determine that player’s Star Rating per the chart above*.

All matches from TRN-eligible events in a one year window are used to compute a player’s ranking, independent of age division or class of the players. In addition, TRN looks at a player’s 8 best wins during that period, averages them, then uses that as one of several complicated (understatement of the year!) mathematical components to determine the final ranking. Ratings, age, and graduation year of a player’s opponents are not used in the calculation. Previous rankings are not used to determine current rankings – TRN starts from scratch for each week’s ranking. It is important to note that wins never hurt a player’s ranking and losses never help it.  Also, “retirement” of a match counts as a loss but a “walkover” does not.

Matches are weighed according to when they were played.  A win today counts more than a win against the same opponent six months ago.  This is one way that TRN makes it very difficult to “play” their rating system or “buy” rankings.  For your player to improve his ranking on TRN, he should be sure to enter tournaments where he can win some matches but NOT where he is, by far, the best player in the draw.  As Doug says, “Winning makes you feel good.  Losing makes you learn something.”  Because of the extensive analysis that goes into the TRN rankings, college coaches consider them to be a better predictor of player quality and who’s going to beat whom in head-to-head competition.

How should players and parents use TRN?  During the Middle School years, TRN is just another tool at players’ fingertips to track their progress and that of their peers.  Parents should check their child’s profile using the Free Account option and make sure all the information is correct – if it’s not, then you can either make the corrections yourself or contact TRN if you have any questions or problems.  There are also some very useful articles on the TRN site written by experts in the junior tennis world – take advantage of this free tool to educate yourself and your child during these important developmental years.

Once a player enters High School, you might want to consider buying a TRN Recruiting Advantage membership so you can see which college coaches are looking at your child’s Player Profile.  The membership also allows you to upload gallery photos, videos, and article references mentioning your child.  It is well worth the $49.95 annual fee!  But, here’s a great tip from Doug:  if you have multiple tennis players in your family or are on a limited budget, pay only for a membership for your oldest child then use that account to do everything on the website for all of your children except see the coach visits and upload the photos, videos, and articles.  Once the oldest graduates high school, cancel the account and get one for the next child.  Another great tip from Doug is that you can buy a monthly membership (which renews automatically), load all the information you want during that first month, then cancel the account.  The information will stay on your child’s profile, but you will no longer be paying the monthly membership fee.  To cancel the account, simply click on the Member Services link at the top of the page then un-check the “Auto Renew” option.  Voila!

Given that Doug is giving away these money-saving tips, let me share how TennisRecruiting.net generates its revenue.  Initially, TRN’s biggest source of income came from players signing up for an enriched profile with the Recruiting Advantage membership.  On top of that, the college coaches pay TRN to have access to the player information.  Very recently, however, TRN started selling advertising on its website, which has now become its largest source of revenue.  If you’re a user of TRN, please consider using the advertiser links on the site in order to help TRN continue to offer its free services!

I want to emphasize that TRN is about much more than player rankings.  Doug and Julie are working tirelessly in the junior tennis community to ensure that more kids have the opportunity for cross-sectional play and that they have the opportunity to play college tennis if that’s their goal.  With the recent changes in the USTA National Tournament Schedule and smaller draw sizes, the Wreges have their work cut out for them.  They are currently working with tournament directors around the US to encourage more open events, even if it won’t impact the player’s USTA ranking, by designating tournaments as “Historically Strong” so that the players have an opportunity to improve their TRN ranking and become a TRN “National Player” (one who has won a match in a USTA National Level 1-3 event or other event that counts toward a USTA national ranking).  The upcoming Georgia State Junior Open will be the first of these tournaments – information on that tourney is online here.

This is a lot of information to digest – I know! – but please do yourself and your child a favor and do some poking around on the TRN site.  Familiarize yourself with their ratings and rankings.  Read the articles, especially the Q&As with the different college coaches if that’s your child’s goal.  Make sure your child’s information and player record are correct.  If your child is in high school, upgrade to the paid membership, at least for a period of time.  It will be time and money well-spent.

*UPDATE September 2014: TRN now takes a player’s top two weekly rankings during the bi-annual rating periods in order to determine Star Rating.

More Slashing of Opportunities

slashing swordIn case you haven’t heard (!), USTA changed the national junior competition schedule, effective January 1, 2014.  A big reason for the change, according to USTA, is to drive competition back to the sections instead of having so many big national tournaments requiring travel all over the country.

Those opposed to the changes, including Yours Truly, kept asking USTA what it was doing to ensure the sections would step up and fill in the gaps.  We never got a clear answer.

And, now, that which we feared – that sections would not take on that task but would actually slash competitive opportunities instead – has come to fruition.

I found out this week that the Southern California section is taking a big step in that direction (click here to read the information posted on its website which includes a link to a Comment form where you can share your opinion before the plan is finalized).  Traditionally, all SoCal “designated” tournaments (comparable to our Bullfrogs in the Southern section) have had open draws.  That is, any player who signed up got to play.  And many of the age groups wound up with 128 or 256 draws played over two consecutive weekends.  However, beginning January 1, 2014, Southern Cal will limit its designated draws to either 96 or 64 players (I’m still not clear on how they’ll make that decision for each event), in essence eliminating the opportunity to compete at that level for hundreds of juniors.

The reasons SCTA gives for the reduction in draw size have to do with weather delays (it rains, on average, 16 days a year in Southern California), lack of enough large facilities, and difficulty in completing the large draws over two weekends – all valid reasons. However, the fact that these reductions come at the very same time as the reduction in national play opportunities under the 2014 changes seems short-sighted.  Isn’t this the time that sections should be increasing opportunities to compensate for what’s happening at the national level?

Interesting to note is the fact that a member of the 2013-2014 National Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee (the one responsible for passing the new 2014 national schedule) also chairs the committee in the SoCal section responsible for these designated tournament draw reductions.  She obviously understands that the sections are supposed to be picking up the slack left by the national reductions; however, instead of making sure her section added competitive opportunities for its players, she pushed through this major slashing of opportunities in her own backyard.  I just don’t get it!

To put things in perspective, at this year’s Southern California Anaheim Designated, 166 boys and 105 girls would not have gotten to play if the SCTA had limited the tournament to a 64 draw.  And the Boys 16s are going to be hit the hardest since that is typically the group with the largest number of players. The 16s is usually the first age group where college coaches are watching players to scout out future recruits. What will these reductions do to the chances for the kids “on the bubble” in terms of being seen by these coaches?

Let’s also consider the issue of players who are trying to prepare for aging up to the next division.  I’ve been told that the SoCal section is trying to figure out how to accommodate juniors who are in that situation, but, for now, there is nothing on the SCTA website to indicate there will be spots in the draws for these players.  I hope that changes before the smaller draws take effect.

High School Tennis Revisited

State Champs

Last year, about this time, I was writing regularly about my son’s experience on his high school tennis team – the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

However, due to some ridiculous eligibility rule changes by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), my son did not play for his school team this year.  It was HIS choice, don’t get me wrong, but, basically, our state governing body made it very unattractive for any high-level players to join their high school teams this year – to summarize, the rule said that a player lost eligibility if he or she trained for his/her sport during stated school hours.  For my son and many other tennis players, their school hours are modified in such a way as to include “zero period” and online classes so they can get to the courts earlier in the afternoons for training.  In other words, they get out of school an hour or two earlier than the rest of the student body.  Under the new GHSA rule, that modified schedule and their extra training made them ineligible to play.

That said, there were still many talented high-schoolers who played this season as evidenced by the tight matches during this past weekend’s State Finals.  And, there is hope for the rest of the players as I recently heard GHSA reversed that eligibility rule for the 2013-14 school year.

And now, especially in light of what recently happened at UGA with its number 1 singles player on the men’s side, it seems to me that high school tennis needs to take on a bigger role in preparing our juniors for tennis at the collegiate level.

A fellow tennis mom feels exactly the same way.  “I’m so tired of hearing ‘nobody cares about high school tennis’. In light of the recent events [sic], shouldn’t college coaches reconsider the high school player? These kids play for the sheer joy and camaraderie that they get from being a member of a team and representing their school (and they don’t get paid to do it)! They give up individual opportunities to earn tournament points and improve their rankings so they can play and practice with their team. Isn’t that exactly what college coaches are or should be looking for?”

I would love to see high school tennis become a training ground for college.  Unfortunately, at least where we are, the level of coaching the high school teams receive is pretty amateurish.  Often times, a teacher or coach from another sport are recruited to coach tennis even though they may have little or no knowledge about the sport.  It makes it a very tough decision for a kid who is used to training at a high level to take a step backward in order to play for his or her school team.  Add to that the fact that many college coaches and recruiting consultants have said over and over that they don’t care whether a kid plays for his school; they simply care about tournament performance and ranking/rating.  Is it wonder that many top-level juniors are opting out of high school tennis?

 

 

“If You Don’t Like Us, Find A Way To Get Rid Of Us!”

sprnats

 

“If you don’t like us, find a way to get rid of us!”  That was Patrick McEnroe’s response to a parent’s question regarding the 2014 Junior Competition Changes at last summer’s Girls 12 Nationals in Atlanta, and it was really the beginning of my extensive coverage of the new calendar that USTA was planning to implement beginning January 1, 2014.

Now that the calendar changes have been finalized and approved at the National Board level, I figured I should do a sort-of recap of the process around the changes and how they came to be . . .

  • Some time in 2011: Jon Vegosen, then president of USTA, charged his Junior Competition Committee (JCC) to devise a new national tournament schedule.  Please note that the JCC was chaired by Tim Russell, a former tennis parent who was currently a music professor at Arizona State University, and his assistant chair was Andrea Norman who had very limited experience with junior tennis.  The JCC created the new calendar, some of which was to go into effect January 1, 2013, and some of which was to go into effect January 1, 2014Tom Walker found out about the changes and organized several meetings as well as wrote several opinion pieces that were published on various websites.  The news spread at junior tournaments, and parents were terrified that the rumors were true – who in their right mind would want these changes, especially after investing years and thousands of dollars in a system only to have it changed mid-stream and, for some, right when their children were trying to get into college?  Harsh warnings were issued to people within USTA to keep all information about the changes under wraps until after the March vote.  A woman in the Midwest Section was purportedly fired because she was stirring the pot about the changes.  Sean Hannity published an op-ed on his website that was seen by millions of his readers; he offered personally to fund a survey of the USTA membership to gauge support of or opposition to the changes.  Tim Russell responded to Mr. Hannity’s article with a 17-page memorandum [Note: the link to the memo that was posted on USTA’s website seems to have been deleted] that was hung on tennis club bulletin boards all across the country.
  • March 2012: At the USTA Annual Meeting, the 17 USTA sections approved the new Junior Competition Calendar with a vote of 16-1.  The Southern Section was the only one opposed.
  • Late Summer 2012:  Patrick McEnroe and other USTA staff members traveled to the various National Championships across the US to “hold court” with parents and coaches on the new calendar. These meetings were basically a disaster for USTA and really got parents riled up anew over the changes.  USTA’s stated goals of saving families money and reducing missed school days were proven to be completely bogus – the new system is going to be far more expensive for most families.  And, the new system pretty much guarantees the need to homeschool in order to play at the national level.  Immediately following this “tour,” an online petition was launched by a tennis parent to oppose the changes, and it eventually garnered close to 1000 signatures.
  • September 2012: After getting bombarded at tournaments by parents and players who were against the changes, Sean Hannity (national talk show host with 2 nationally-ranked children), Steve Bellamy (founder of The Tennis Channel with 4 nationally-ranked children), Robert Sasseville (one of the US’s longest-working tournament directors), Kevin Kempin (CEO of Head with 3 nationally-ranked children), and Antonio Mora (broadcast journalist with 1 nationally-ranked child) met with USTA leadership in Northern California and then again in Chicago to discuss their concerns about the calendar changes.  The “Fab Five” were able to get the leadership to agree to a pause for 2013 as well as to hold a “listening tour” across the country with parents and coaches.
  • November 2012:  The “listening tour” kicked off in Reston, VA.  Turnout was extremely low due to the late notice of the meeting.  The meetings clearly demonstrated that virtually no one who was part of the junior tennis world and who understood the changes were in favor them.  With little to no publicity, USTA announced the creation of the LetUsKnow@usta.com email address for folks who were unable to attend one of the “listening meetings” to express their feelings about the changes.  I published the first of many controversial blog posts on the changes, and ParentingAces’ readership began to increase dramatically.  USTA began issuing public statements regarding the changes via its website which were emailed to various media outlets including ParentingAces.  By now, every conversation at every tournament was focused around whether the pause for 2013 was going to be sustainable or whether USTA would forge ahead with the changes in 2014.  College coaches expressed concern about having the ability to see players outside the very top of the rankings.  Tennis pros and facilities were concerned about losing business as parents and players spoke of abandoning the game altogether. One parent went so far as to say, “We just spent nearly $400 thousand on our daughter’s tennis over 5 years, and right as she is about ready to be in a position to be seen by coaches, she won’t be able to play in any of the tournaments where coaches go.”
  • December 2012:  Robert Sasseville created two spreadsheets comparing the tournament opportunities under the pre-2012, current, and proposed calendars which I published on this blog.  That post garnered many comments, some of which were posted under aliases that were USTA volunteers and/or staff members.  The USTA PR machine went to work again, getting an article published on The Examiner about the changes and the listening tour.  Former professional player and current junior coach, Johan Kriek, spoke out against the changes in an interview on TennisNow.com.  The 2013-2014 JCC members were announced – Steve Bellamy and Kevin Kempin were among the new members.  TennisRecruiting.net announced its National Showcase Series of tournaments as an alternative to limited national play under the new USTA calendar.
  • January 2013:  The “listening tour” continued, and I had the opportunity to attend the one in Atlanta.  Tom Walker created a Facebook page to oppose the changes, which quickly gained over 3500 members.  As a point of comparison, USTA’s Junior Comp Facebook page had only 170 members after a full year.
  • February 2013:  The “listening tour” concluded in Grapevine, TX.  I had several phone and email exchanges with Bill Mountford who encouraged me to remain hopeful.  I worked with several other tennis parents and coaches to mount a campaign to contact local USTA leaders and board members in hopes of convincing them to vote down the changes at the March 2013 Annual Meeting.  At the Scottsdale listening meeting, USTA President Dave Haggerty acknowledged that about 90% of the tennis community was opposed to these changes.
  • March 2013:  Lew Brewer informed me that the JCC made some amendments to the junior comp changes at its committee meeting.  At the 2013 USTA Annual Meeting, those changes were approved but still needed Board approval.  Rumors started circulating that Jon Vegosen had made a deal with Dave Haggerty prior to his taking office as President that if any changes were going to be made, Dave had to insure that they didn’t scrap the entire plan and start from scratch with the calendar.
  • April 2013:  The USTA Board approved the modified junior competition calendar to go into effect January 1, 2014.

So, to summarize, here’s where we stand . . . we have a national junior competition schedule that:

1.  Was created by a music professor who didn’t spend any substantive time at junior tournaments and who was subsequently removed from his position;

2.  Was adjusted by Player Development which was then promptly removed from the process;

3.  Was passed by a Junior Competition Committee with only one active junior tennis parent out of the 20 members, and that one active parent was opposed to the schedule.  It is interesting to note that half of the 2011-2012 JCC members were removed when Dave Haggerty took office in 2013;

4.  Was passed by a Board comprised of voters, many of whom admitted after the fact that they were pressured to vote for it and that they really didn’t understand the implications of the changes at all.  Then, the changes were exposed to a 9-city “listening tour” after which USTA executives were told by Dave Haggerty’s own admission that over 90% of the tennis community were opposed to them;

5.  Was then put into the hands of a new Junior Comp Committee with only 2 parents (out of the 20 members) with kids currently competing at the national level, both of whom pushed heavily for a pause.  Please note that it was this new Committee which added back some of the competition opportunities in March 2013;

6.  Was pushed through via the most non-transparent process USTA could’ve possibly utilized.

Never once was the membership polled or asked for its opinion in a meaningful way.  Geoff Grant, a fellow tennis parent, offered to fund a study or any type of mechanism in order to “get it right” – USTA did not take him up on his offer.  And, even though the listening tour comments, Facebook posts, and (admitted by President Dave Haggerty, himself) the majority of consumers were against them, the changes with some opportunity added back were passed.

So, I have to ask USTA one more time:  If the overwhelming majority of your customers, the overwhelming majority of tennis pros, all industry dignitaries who have spoken out (Robert Landsdorp, Wayne Bryan, Jack Sharpe, among others), the brands themselves (Head, Inc. published a letter on its website, and Athletic DNA provided the video footage posted on the USTA-Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes Facebook page), the college coaches who have commented – with all of the opposition, why would you go forward with these changes?

The only group of people who are in favor of them are the USTA folks themselves, most of whom are NOT parents of current national junior players.

The US tennis community has spoken.  We do not want any of these changes.  We want the 2010 system back in place.  We want experts – not volunteers – to make these decisions on behalf of our junior players, and we want them to make the decisions via a transparent process.

Update on 2014 Junior Comp Structure

I know I said you probably wouldn’t be hearing from me this week – I’m still at the beach on Spring Break, luckily – but I wanted to pass along the latest news from USTA’s Board of Directors meeting.

I received an email this morning from USTA’s Bill Mountford, letting me know that the changes to the previously approved Junior Competition Structure were unanimously approved by the Board last night.  That means, as predicted, that the changes will go into effect January 1 of next year.

It’s time to take a serious look at your child’s current schedule and the tweaks that you’ll need to make for next year.  Alternatives to USTA tournaments are popping up around the country, and I’ll continue to post them here as I get word.

Time to move on . . .

Tweet

New Rules in GA for U10s & U12s

gasquetaschild

Why, you might ask, is there a French magazine cover pictured at the top of this post?  Well, 2 reasons . . . first of all, because I want everyone to notice that it features French pro, Richard Gasquet, at the age of 9, playing tennis using a yellow ball.  Second of all, because in just a few weeks I’ll be at Roland Garros watching a couple of days of phenomenal tennis at the French Open and am pretty darn excited!  (P.S. Anyone who wants to hook me up with courtside seats, you know how to reach me!)

Some of you may have gotten wind of the changes happening across the country with 10-and-under tennis and the mandated use of the ROG balls in tournament play.  What you may not know is that ROG is now infiltrating the 12s, too.

The state of Georgia implemented a new competition structure for the 12-and-under crowd this year, and more changes are coming in 2014.  I spent some time on the phone with Rick Davison, USTA Georgia’s Director of Junior & Adult Competition, to find out what’s new, what’s coming, and the reason behind the changes.

As of today, all Georgia sanctioned 10-and-under tournaments use an orange ball on a 60 foot court.  For the 12s, in local Georgia sanctioned tournament levels 4 and 5 only, players use the Stage 1 green ball on a full-size court; at the higher level local tournaments, the 12s use a yellow ball.

What does that mean?  It means that a child who is under the age of 13 who wants to compete in a local tournament on a full-size court with yellow balls must play in the 14-and-under age division.  So, if your child is 9 years old (or 10 or 11 or 12), practicing each day with a yellow ball on a regular court because you and the coach feel the child is ready, and wants to compete under those same conditions, you must put him or her in the 14s in order to play a local event.

Take a close look at this photo:

IMG_0026

The player on the left is my son, age 11, playing at a local Georgia tournament in the 12-and-under division.  The player on the right is his opponent, also age 11.  Please note the physical size difference between the 2 boys.  Now, imagine that, in order to play with regular balls on a regular court, my son had to play in the 14s . . . and my son was already 11 in this picture!  He would’ve gotten crushed!

I asked Rick why Georgia decided to implement these new rules for the 12s.  He told me that the talented 12-and-under players have historically always played up in the 14s anyway at the local events, so this change won’t impact them.  The target audience for this change is the 10-and-under player who is transitioning from the orange ball.  Georgia felt that it would make an easier transition for the players if they have a stint with the green ball on the way to the yellow ball.  So far, Rick says, the Georgia kids are transitioning well in the Southern section, and the level of play in the 12s is getting better.

One other change that happened in the 10s this year was the shift to 4-game sets.  Rick says that he was initially opposed to this change but quickly realized that the parents were in favor due to the much longer rallies with the orange balls – matches that were 2 out of 3 6-game sets were lasting much too long.

For 2014, Georgia is making some additional changes in terms of the match and tournament format.  For the 10-and-unders only, since matches are the best of 3 4-game sets, tournament fees will be reduced and tournaments will most likely be compressed into one-day events.  Rick acknowledged the fact that parents are unhappy about traveling to a tournament, having to spend money on a hotel and restaurant meals, for their child to play these short sets.  Georgia’s answer is to shorten the tournament for these young players so parents can avoid most of the travel expenses.

In case you were wondering, Georgia isn’t the only place seeing these types of changes.  Texas has been under an even more-complicated system for the last year with more changes going into effect this month (click here to read the new rules).  The NorCal section recently introduced its Junior Development Pathway illustrating the progression of a young player from the red to the orange to the green and, finally, to the yellow ball.  Please note that in both Texas and NorCal, progression from one level to the next is absolutely mandated by the section itself – a player may not jump to the appropriate level based on their own personal development but rather must go through each painstaking step in order to move to the yellow ball in competition.  I’ve recently heard that the Midwest section is looking to adopt similar mandates for its 10s and 12s, too.  To hear more about what’s going on around the US, listen to the podcast of my radio show with Lawrence Roddick and others by clicking on this link: ParentingAces Radio Show

If your child is ready to move on, developmentally-speaking, be assured that alternative opportunities are popping up across the country.  Take a look at the events I have listed on our 10-and-Under Tourneys page above – I will continue to add to the list as more events are created so please check back regularly for updates.

I also want to direct you to the complaint that Ray Brown filed with the US Olympic Committee regarding the 10-and-under initiative.  You can click here to read the complaint and all subsequent responses on Ray’s website.

And for those who missed my recent Facebook post/Tweet, proof positive that kids younger than 13 can train and play with a yellow ball:

Pete Sampras Age 10

 

Tweet