USTA 2014 Jr Comp Update, Part 2

ZooTennis.com posted the following email sent from the outgoing and incoming USTA presidents to Tim Russell and others involved in the Junior Competition Committee and Player Development – it confirms my wariness (click here for the link to the full email):

USTA 2014 Jr Comp Update

Yesterday afternoon, I received a link from the folks at TennisRecruiting.net to the following article on their website:

This week, a group of people concerned with junior tennis – Steve Bellamy, Robert Sasseville and Kevin Kempin – were able to spend several hours speaking with USTA leadership (i.e., Dave Haggerty, Gordon Smith, Kurt Kamperman) about the planned upcoming changes to USTA Junior Competition. That group is pleased to say that there was a very open and candid exchange of ideas.

The group shared many, if not all, of its concerns about the proposed new competitive structure, and the USTA definitely listened. The group also got a better understanding of the USTA’s long-term objectives for making these changes. Long story short, the group requested that the USTA hit the “pause button” for the 2013-2014 junior comp changes before instituting them. That approach would obviously come with some procedural challenges for the USTA, but the USTA was open to the recommendation and said they will discuss it internally and give it full consideration.

In addition, the USTA acknowledged that, moving forward, they wanted to seek input from a broader group of constituents, i.e. parents, college coaches, and tournament directors. To that end, the USTA will be getting back to the group with some suggestions. All in all, the feeling is that the meetings with the USTA were very productive, and the group believes that everyone should hit the “pause button” for a short time to allow the USTA to come back with their plans for moving forward. Recognizing that time is of the essence, the group expects to hear back from the USTA within the next two weeks.

Just so you know who the players are in this saga, Steve Bellamy is the creator of the Tennis Channel and the father of high-performance tennis playing sons, one of whom is under the watchful eye of USTA Player Development.  He also created the interactive website, TennisInsiders, for tennis coaches, parents, and others to voice and share opinions and information.  Robert Sasseville is a long-time tournament director and USTA referee in Georgia.  Kevin Kempin is the CEO of Head, Inc.  Dave Haggerty is the First Vice President and incoming President of USTA.  Gordon Smith is the Executive Director and CEO of USTA.  Kurt Kamperman is USTA’s Chief Executive of Community Tennis.

While I am hopeful that USTA will, indeed, hit the “pause button” and seek input from those directly affected by the upcoming changes to the junior competition schedule, I am a bit wary since Lew Brewer, USTA’s Director of Junior Competition for USTA Player Development, told me a few weeks ago that this is a “done deal” and that no further changes to the plan will be considered before 2014.  Maybe Lew and his cohorts have reconsidered their position and have realized it may be in the best interest of US tennis to seek input from the players, parents, and coaches?  Maybe.  I urge all of you concerned to keep an eye on things and to talk to your section heads to see how you might become one of those whose input is sought after by USTA.  I also urge you to read today’s ZooTennis posting regarding how the national tournament climate has changed in very recent years – it is eye-opening.

Stay tuned . . .

USTA Follow-Up

The rules have changed all right, and it’s not just for the 10-and-under crowd.  I recently reported on the Q&A sessions that USTA hosted at various national hardcourt championships earlier this month.  As promised in that piece, I reached out to Tim Russell, Patrick McEnroe, Lew Brewer, and others to get a better understanding of what USTA is trying to accomplish with its changes to the 2014 Junior Competition schedule.  I emailed them the link to my article along with some specific follow-up questions.  While Patrick did reply that he would call me to discuss my questions, I haven’t yet heard from him.  However, I did have multiple lengthy phone conversations with both Tim Russell and Lew Brewer – a big thank you to both gentlemen for taking the time to talk with me – and here’s what I found out during those calls:

  • First of all, parents, coaches, and players need to read the New USTA Junior Competition Structure FAQ – click here – several of your questions are probably answered within it.  Why did the USTA make these changes?  According to page 9 of the FAQ, among the goals is to “prepare an appropriate national tournament structure and rating/ranking system for the future which is affordable [emphasis added] and will ensure that competitive tennis opportunities are available for all American juniors regardless of their economic circumstances and where they reside; and supports the importance of a traditional American education [emphasis added] and does not require students to short-change their academic careers.”  Please keep those 2 things in mind as you continue reading.
  • Regarding the Regional Tournaments and Sectional Ranking Tournaments, they are explained on page 6 of the FAQ.  It is interesting to note how the regions are arranged.  When I asked Lew Brewer how this will reduce costs and missed school days, he told me that juniors will be able to stay closer to home and still get good competition.  However, when I look at my new region (comprised of the Southern, Florida, and Caribbean sections), I’m hard-pressed to understand how a junior from the Virgin Islands is better served traveling to Lexington, Kentucky (for example) for a tournament rather than staying closer to home to compete.
  • Tim conceded that USTA does a poor job of communicating with its membership, and Lew said they do need to do a better job.  They both told me that they had been advised by the USTA legal department that they were prohibited from emailing junior members since they were under the age of 18.  When I pointed out that USTA could circumnavigate that issue by adding a box on the membership form allowing junior members to enter a parent’s email address and opt-in to an email distribution list or e-newsletter, they agreed to look into it.  I also suggested that USTA use its Facebook and Twitter accounts to do a better job of communicating with both juniors and their parents.  Again, both Tim and Lew agreed that it was a good idea.
  • When I asked why USTA doesn’t have staff or even volunteers who report on top junior and college events, I was not given a clear answer other than “we need to do a better job at that”.
  • When I asked what Patrick meant when he said, “We know at 13 or 14 who the top players are”, Lew responded that every American top 100 professional player in the “Open Era” was ranked in the national top 50 at age 13 or 14 and that there are very few who break through after that age.  He pointed out that Sam Querrey happened to be one of those players, and that Sam was given a USTA wildcard for the Junior US Open (and got to the quarters that year) despite the fact that he had a lower ranking than many others in the draw.  He also told me that the goal of Junior Comp is to cast a wide net for the younger players then funnel it up as the players get older.
  • I asked Lew to explain how the wildcard system will work under the new schedule.  I told him that the word on the street is that the wildcards will be reserved for kids at the USTA Regional Training Centers.  He told me that the number of wildcards will be reduced in 2014 in all age groups except the 18s.  The wildcards will be used, among other reasons, for (1) players whose ranking has dropped due to injury, (2) local players who may not be ranked highly enough but bring local interest to the tournament, and/or (3) players who missed the entry deadline but would have qualified for the tournament by their ranking otherwise.  Lew said that it never hurts to ask for a wildcard into any event – USTA even has an online application to make things simpler – and asked me to remind players and parents that the universal deadline for wildcard applications is always 5 days after the event’s entry deadline.  (Please note: tournament directors have the discretion to accept late entries, but in national championships, all late entries must go to the bottom of the alternate list – that is why a wildcard might be used in that circumstance.)
  • I also spoke with Lew about the aging-up dilemma that we all face.  He recommends players start playing up at least 3-4 months ahead of time.  The rolling ranking and the events that take players based on their younger ranking make things easier, though Lew agreed that it’s still very tough for juniors to transition to the next age group.
  • USTA has stated that it decided to reduce the draw sizes (see page 3 of the FAQ) partially because it wants to reduce costs for families and shorten the tournaments so players miss fewer days of school.  Justifying the 128 draw size in the boys nationals in Kalamazoo, traditionally a great recruiting opportunity for college coaches, Lew said, “Honestly, while there are coaches who are interested in the 129th player to the 192nd player, more are looking at that top 128.”  He told me that there were complaints from coaches and players that too many early-round matches at the national tournaments aren’t competitive, and that there are too many withdrawals from the backdraw.  He shared that there have been several cases of players who lost 0 & 0  or 0 &1 in their first round main draw match, had a similar loss in the first round backdraw match, and another bad loss in the first round doubles match.  Lew’s point was that, obviously, those players didn’t belong at a top national event, that they just weren’t competitive at that level, and that cutting the draw size to 128 would save others from that type of “triple-crown” humiliation.  Lew went on to say that if a player wants the Kalamazoo t-shirt that badly, he (Lew) would send him one.  I pointed out that there is an aura around Kalamazoo and that sometimes simply the experience of being at the tournament is enough for some players.  Why eliminate that experience for someone who is willing to take the risk and travel there?  I think the USTA folks understand that point of view but still feel the smaller draws are the best way to go.  When I suggested USTA hold a qualifying tournament for those on the bubble right before the national events, Lew said that at this point they are not considering any change before 2014.
  • We discussed how the section quotas will change in 2014 (see page 4 of the FAQ).  The biggest change concerns looking at the strength of the section and not just membership numbers when determining quotas.  Beginning in 2014, USTA will base 60% of the quota on the percentage of players in the top 150 nationally and 40% of the quota on traditional membership numbers.  He told me that it’s possible that a strong section like Southern California, Texas, or Southern may actually see its quota increase in 2014.
  • We also discussed how voting works in USTA.  Lew explained that individual members do not have a vote.  Rather, club and organization memberships determine the number of votes each section is allocated.  Apparently, USTA was set up to operate in that manner from the get-go in 1881.
  • Lastly, we discussed the online survey that USTA did a couple of years ago.  Overwhelmingly, those who took the time to answer the survey questions said they would prefer tournaments have smaller draws so they would take fewer days to complete (and, as a result, be less expensive for families and require missing fewer days of school).  I pointed out to Lew that nowhere in the survey was it mentioned that the results would be used to justify the changes that we’re now seeing in the national schedule.  I told him that if USTA had disclosed the fact that they were going to use the survey responses to justify cutting the draws at our country’s top junior events, I was sure parents would have answered differently.  Best case scenario is that this is a case of poor communication on USTA’s part.  Lew Brewer says, “No one expects everyone to agree with the plan for 2014, but it WILL become effective on January 1, 2014.  I think a lot of this mirrors the health-care debate.  There are many who want to appeal the affordable care act.  It is scheduled to become fully effective on January 1, 2014.  Just like our plan, very few Americans have read the affordable health care act and are reacting to what is broadcast on the news or the blogs.  The smart money – the insurance companies and healthcare providers – are preparing for 2014, because they can’t afford to be left behind if the law is not repealed.  I think tennis parents and coaches would be wise to begin preparing for 2014 as well.  I think players, parents, and coaches ought to be focusing on what they can do to help players develop their games so that they are ready for the enhanced competitive environment in 2014.  No player should be left behind because they think something will change with this plan.”
  • Despite Lew’s comment that this is a done deal, some folks have created an online petition in hopes of getting USTA to rethink its stance.  You can find the petition at www.gopetition.com.  Please consider signing and sharing with others in the tennis community.  And, in the meantime, take Lew’s advice and get your junior player ready for the New Normal.

To Sum It All Up . . .

It’s been a crazy week in the world of junior tennis!  In case you’re feeling as overwhelmed as I am, I thought I’d summarize what’s going on and my recommended action items.

  • USTA has adopted changes to its Junior Competition calendar that will become effective in 2014. If you haven’t yet seen it, the new 2014 tournament calendar is here. Some interested parties who feel that the changes should, at the very least, be delayed for further study, have created an online petition and are seeking signatures. If you would like to view and/or sign this petition, click here.
  • NCAA has passed new rules affecting its year-end Championships effective September 1, 2012, for the Spring 2013 tournament.  The rules are purported to be in the interest of bringing additional fans to the sport and garnering tv coverage.  To read the new rules, click here.  To their credit, USTA is partnering with ITA to write a joint opposition letter to the rule changes.
  • A group of current and former collegiate players have formed a Facebook group to try to get NCAA to reconsider the rule changes.  They have created an event to organize a Twitter rampage on Saturday at Noon EDT.  To learn more, click here.  They have also created an online petition to overturn the changes.  To read and/or sign it, click here.
  • Sunday’s ParentingAces radio show will feature a discussion of the NCAA rule changes and what we as tennis parents can do to help preserve the integrity of the college system for our kids.  Tune in live at 6:30pm EDT by clicking here then call in with your questions and/or comments at 714-583-6853.  If you miss the live broadcast, you can hear the podcast by clicking on the Radio Show tab in the menu bar above.

Tennis Parents & Coaches: Please Read!

The following is an email that I received this morning from Robert Sasseville who runs several junior tournaments in the Southern Section.  Please take the appropriate action and feel free to pass along to others who want to be informed.  Thank you!

It was great having you in Rome for the GA Jr. Open.  I hope you had an enjoyable time.

With 650 players, 7 sites, and 4 days to play it, we didn’t get much of a chance to chat.  If we had, I’m sure the 2014 National Tournament Schedule would have been at the top of the list of things to discuss.

Since we had players from 13 sections, 24 states, and the District of Columbia, many of you are interested in play outside of your hometown, home state, and home section.  This aspect of competition is one of the casualties of the 2014 schedule.

Since USTA Southern voted AGAINST the new National Junior Competition Structure, it should be no surprise to you  that I concur with our section in opposition.

Patrick McEnroe and other USTA staff members held Parent/Coach meetings pertaining to the 2014 National Competition changes last week at the at the National Championships.  If the comments at all sites were like those at the 12’s and 14’s, it was pretty obvious that there is not a lot of support for the upcoming changes, if they are actually implemented.

If you haven’t yet seen it, the 2014 tournament calendar is here.

A petition has been constructed by interested parties who feel that the changes should, at the very least, be delayed for further study.

If you would like to view this petition, click the link below:

http://www.gopetition.com/     

If the link doesn’t work, just cut and paste the address into your browser.  In the “Search” box in the upper right corner type “AMEND 2014 USTA JR RULES”

We hope to see you next year at the GA Open.

What’s Really Going On?

Patrick McEnroe (General Manager of Player Development) – along with both Lew Brewer (Director of Junior Competition) and Kent Kinnear (Director of Player ID & Development) – has been at both the Boys and Girls 12-and-Under National Hardcourt tournaments this week holding Q&A sessions with parents and coaches.  The main purpose of these sessions was to discuss the 2014 changes coming to the national junior competition schedule.  Click here to listen to the session held in Atlanta recorded by our friends at High-Tech Tennis (Julie & Danny do apologize for the poor audio – the tournament site was bustling with players, parents, and tourney officials!).

I’ve listened to the session, read lots of comments from other parents and coaches, and tried to figure out what’s really going on here.  I’m totally confused.

First of all, the fact that the USTA chose the 12-and-under events as their forum for these Q&As underlines the fact that, if your child hasn’t been cherry-picked by USTA by age 12, then your child will continue to go unnoticed by our governing body throughout his/her junior career.  Patrick McEnroe even says during the Q&A, “We know at 13 or 14 who the top players are.”  Why doesn’t USTA take into account that many children are late bloomers?  That they could come into their own as late as 16 or 17?  That they are writing off several years’ worth of potentially top players?  My own son is a clear example of that.  At age 12, he was struggling just to win matches at local tournaments.  Now, at age 16, he is finally starting to win not only matches but tournaments, and not just at the local level but also at the sectional and even national level.  From last year to this year, he went from being a 2-star player to earning his 4-star status during this current rating period on TennisRecruiting.net.  What that means in real terms is that he went from being ranked 527 to being ranked within the top 200 in his high school graduating class.  And, there are several boys who train with him who fit a similar profile.

One parent asked where the top American professional players are coming from.  Patrick’s response:  “Where the top pro players are coming from has nothing to do with Junior Comp in a way.”  I thought that was the charge of the Junior Competition committee, to develop top players?  Isn’t it relevant to track where and how and with whom the current American pros developed in order for USTA to replicate a winning formula?  Patrick’s answer to that question doesn’t make any sense to me.

I haven’t had a chance to reach out to Patrick or Lew or Kent yet, but I plan to.  I simply don’t understand what’s going on with USTA and its leadership.  I don’t understand the basis for these major decisions being made on behalf of our children, and, even after spending over an hour listening to the Q&A, I don’t understand how Patrick McEnroe and the others think that these changes are in the best interest of developing top American players.  They really didn’t explain anything.

So, I will continue reaching out to USTA for clarification.  I will continue to support our governing organization in terms of volunteering and entering my kid in USTA tournaments.  But, I will also look for alternatives to the status quo, which is why I’m spending the time and the money to take my son up to Maryland later this month to play in an event that will have absolutely no impact on his ranking or star rating but could have a major impact on his development as a tennis player.  I encourage the rest of you to consider doing the same.