Unintended Consequences

When I first started blogging a little over a year ago, it was with the intention of sharing my son’s and my experiences in junior tennis with those coming up behind us.  I had been so frustrated trying to navigate the tournament structure and ranking structure that I figured maybe I could save others from going through that same frustration.

For the first few months, I wrote about our personal journey and the roadblocks we encountered.  Some of my posts generated feedback from readers, but, mostly, I was writing from the heart thinking it might be nice for my son to one day go back and read how his tennis truly impacted his mom.  Some of my posts were how-tos and were more fact-based than feeling-based, but overall I tried to keep it personal because I felt that would be the most useful to other tennis parents.

Now, one year three weeks and five days after my first post, I find myself embroiled in a heated debate over the USTA’s changes to the 2014 junior competition schedule.  I’m getting emails and phone calls from people I had only read about or seen on tv.  I’m also getting emails and phone calls from people who are just like me . . . concerned parents looking out for their child’s best interests.  Some of the communication is very positive and encouraging, thanking me for speaking out and informing others, offering their experience in hopes of convincing USTA to put the changes on hold.  Some of the communication, though, is not so nice, filled with accusations and other negative words.

When I told one fellow tennis cohort about all the negative stuff and how it was impacting me, she said, “Get your armor on girl.  We are in a battle!”  That was never my intention.  I never wanted to engage in a fight.  I never wanted to see the soft underbelly of junior tennis.  I never wanted to get involved in the politics of junior tennis.  I never thought my little blog would be on USTA’s radar even.  But, I’ve now seen the little man behind the curtain, and I have learned a very valuable  lesson here (Tennis Life Lesson #387) – no matter how much thought you put into an action before you take it, there are bound to be unintended consequences.

I can’t help but think that USTA is learning the same Lesson #387 right now.  When it proposed the changes, I don’t think the USTA board or volunteers or staff had any idea they would generate this type of public outcry.  And, when the USTA Junior Competition Committee created the changes, I don’t think the members thought through the unintended consequences of reducing opportunities for our kids.  I don’t think they considered that many kids choose to learn the game of tennis because they want a chance to compete at the highest levels against their most accomplished peers.  I don’t think they considered that they shouldn’t cut national opportunities without putting policies into place to ensure that the sections would pick up the slack.  I don’t think they considered that eliminating a 128-draw event held when most kids are on Winter Break and replacing it with two 32-draw team events would leave out half, HALF!, of the juniors who want to play while they’re out of school.

Those are just a few of the outcomes of these changes.  There are more.  My hope is that USTA will do the right thing by its members, its constituents, us, and go back to the drawing board to see how the committee can make junior tennis more inclusive, not less.  More accessible, not less.  More transparent, not less.

If incoming president, Dave Haggerty, and his Board and his Junior Competition Committee (and affiliated staff) will commit to keep that pause button pushed until they can fully evaluate the unintended consequences of these changes, I think two very major intended consequences will emerge – growth in junior participation and growth in member trust and satisfaction.  Please, USTA, do the right thing here – the future of our sport depends on you.

Community

The tennis community is truly something special.  If you haven’t experienced it yet, just wait . . . you will.  Whether it’s a coach inviting your child to join his academy’s warmup at a tournament or a parent offering a protein bar to your child when he forgot to pack one or a child comforting your child after a tough loss, the community is there and it’s there en force.

And, when a challenge or a tragedy strikes our tennis community, we rally.  We speak out.  We show up.  We stand together in support.

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the support coming out for one of our top junior players, Sean Karl.  I wrote about Sean‘s recent diagnosis of Ewings Sarcoma a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, the Facebook group created by a group of his tennis friends has grown to over 1500 members posting daily words of support.  A couple of tennis parents joined forces to create a logo, merchandise, and website to raise money to help offset Sean’s medical expenses. Roger Federer posted a video on YouTube encouraging Sean to keep fighting.  Babolat sent Sean a racquet autographed by Rafael Nadal.  The tennis teams at several universities have written Sean’s initials on the backs of their shoes, showing their support for his battle.

And, this is only one example of our amazing community.  If you think it ends when your child is done with junior tennis, you’d be wrong!  A new-found adult tennis friend of mine lost his father suddenly to leukemia last week.  His local – and global – tennis community showed its support by sending emails, cards, phone calls, Facebook posts, and, most importantly, by coming to his father’s funeral.  One attendee called the funeral a “virtual who’s who” of local tennis coming out to pay their last respects.  They were all people that my friend had met through his years of playing and coaching tennis.  He is now an adult.  His tennis community is still there for him and will be probably forever.

Now I’m seeing my son create his own tennis community.  Thanks to the Maccabi Games, ITF, USTA, and summer tennis camps, his community extends around the world.  And thanks to Facebook and Twitter and FaceTime, my son and his community can stay in touch anytime, anywhere.  And, they do!  These kids are learning incredibly valuable lessons about friendship and healthy competition and what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself.

The amazing thing to me about this community is that you may lose track of it for a while – even a long while, as I did – but it will still be there when you want or need it.  After 30+ years away from my tennis community, I reconnected thanks to my son.  I have re-established friendships with my former tennis buddies whose kids are also now playing and traveling to tournaments.  We ask each other for help with warm-up courts, or local restaurants, or a place to stay.  We check in with each other to see how the latest tournament went.  We keep up with each other’s non-tennis lives, too, also thanks to Facebook and Twitter, and support each other when needed.

If you think tennis is just about what happens between the lines, think again.  The relationships your child – and YOU – is forging now will be there for years to come.  The tennis community is truly something special.

Hug Your Kids

In the past week, I have learned of two families dealing with devastating issues involving their teenage sons:  one a tennis family, the other a football family.  In both cases, the issue surfaced seemingly from nowhere to turn the families upside down and inside out.  The road to recovery will be long for both of them.  It will involve anger, frustration, perseverance, and, above all, belief.  My heart is breaking for both of them.

First the football story . . . At a prominent private school here in Atlanta, a 17-year-old member of the high school’s varsity football team was arrested and is being held without bail for sexually assaulting a classmate in the gym shower.  He is from a “good” family.  I have friends who are friends with his parents – they are just like the rest of us, doing the best job they can at this parenting thing.  Their son, in the company of some teammates, made a grave – GRAVE – error in judgement.  The victim is going to be okay physically, but may never recover emotionally.  According to our local newspaper, the charge against this young man is one of the more serious criminal offenses under Georgia law, one of the so-called “seven deadly sins” for which there is no parole unless the sentence is life.  A conviction carries a punishment of 25 years to life in prison.  In other words, if convicted – and even if NOT convicted – this young man’s life as he knows it is over.  This incident will follow him and his family the rest of their lives.

And the tennis story . . . In Tennessee, a 17-year-old 5-Star high school senior who had recently committed to play at the University of Tennessee next year was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.  He had been complaining of back pain, and once it got too severe to tolerate, was admitted to the hospital for testing.  Sadly, the tests confirmed that he had cancer.  His first course of chemotherapy is underway and will last 29 weeks.  Thanks to the power of social media, his story has been shared and his family is receiving support from all over the world.  His mom reported that he got a signed autographed picture of Andy Roddick from Babolat that is hanging above his bed, reminding him of how important the “grind game” will be.  He is literally now fighting for his life.

I share these stories with you not because I’m trying to scare you but because sometimes we all need a reminder to hug our kids.  To appreciate them.  To shower them with love.  To support their goals and dreams.  To laugh with them.  To cry with them.  To tell them how much we love them.

Life is short.  Tragedy can strike at any time.  We have to savor our time with our children, giving them a foundation of strength.  Just.  In.  Case.

As the mother of the Tennessee boy shared on the family’s CaringBridge page, “Even though I have moaned and groaned over the years about the time, energy and $ we have spent on junior tennis, Sean will totally reap the rewards of this experience now.   He will have to have goals, overcome adversity, learn to be coached (the Dr.’s), be mentally strong, and fight his pants off…all the while staying positive.  So, I am now totally grateful of our tennis experience and wouldn’t change it for the world.  The life skills learned in junior tennis will prove to be invaluable.”

Please join me in sending prayers, healing thoughts, and positive energy to these two families.  Both are battling.  Both will continue to battle for quite some time.  There, but for the grace of God . . .

Please.  Don’t forget to hug your kids.