Blast from the Past

84123-retro-dance-partty-lunch-napkinsThis past weekend, we had one of the Regional Segment tournaments in Atlanta.  My son didn’t play, but one of his good friends from North Carolina did.  And we invited him and his dad to stay with us.

My son met Danny (and I met Danny’s mom) about 3 years ago when they were both playing a tournament in Augusta.  The boys hit it off right away and have stayed friends ever since.  While they don’t get to see each other as often as they would like, they communicate daily and are a strong presence in each other’s lives.

I swear, having Danny and his dad, Steve, at our house made me feel like I had gone back in time to when I was playing tournaments as a kid!  My family always had kids staying with us during tournaments, and my favorite events to play were the ones where I could go stay at a friend’s house instead of cramming into a hotel room with 4 or 5 other kids and parents.  My son was so excited to have Danny staying here, especially since he could now, under Georgia driving laws, take Danny in his car and show him around town.

On Thursday night, after Danny arrived, the boys hung out and did schoolwork together (sadly for him, my son had to go to school the next morning!).  On Friday afternoon, they hit for a while then started making the rounds to their Atlanta-based tennis buddies’ houses.  After a nice dinner at home, they hit the road again, visiting with friends and doing whatever it is teenage boys do (and, no, I really don’t want to know the details here!).  Early the next morning, they warmed up together for Danny’s first match, then my son hung out at the tournament site and watched his friends play.  That night, it was more riding around and hanging out with tennis friends before settling back at home to sleep and prepare for the next day’s matches.  Sunday was more of the same.

In between all that, Steve and I had lots of time to visit.  We talked about Tennis Stuff – sure! – but we also talked about Life Stuff.  We talked about the challenges of raising teenagers.  We talked about the challenges of parenting in general.  We talked about travel and food and marriage and Modern Family.  It was really fun to get to know each other and to plan future weekends where our boys will be together and where we, as couples, can spend time together, too.

I know I’ve written about this a lot, but this is what junior tennis is about, and this is where our focus, as Tennis Parents, should be: on building relationships, on supporting friends, on having fun.  Yes, it’s important for our kids to understand and do the hard work necessary to reach their tennis goals.  Yes, it’s important to win matches.  Yes, it’s important to eat healthy meals and snacks and to get enough sleep, especially during tournaments.  But, it’s equally important to balance all those things and to – sometimes – let go and Just. Have. Fun.

You should see the amount of junk food that made its way into my pantry in just 3 days – chips, candy, sodas, packaged cookies, Krispy Kremes – I hardly ever buy that stuff!  But, it was all part of what made the weekend special, what made it fun.  And, no one is any worse for the wear.  It was just 3 days, after all!

I hope we get lots more chances to have Danny and his parents stay with us for tournaments.  Or to travel to Charlotte and stay with them.  Or to plan the boys’ tournament schedules so they intersect somewhere fun like Hilton Head.  This is one of my favorite parts of the journey!

Social Media In Action

Tom Walker (you’ll recognize his name as the one who wrote the Call to Action on the Junior Competition changes in March 2012) has created a Facebook page entitled USTA – Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes (click here to see it).  His mission is reprinted in its entirety below.  I encourage you to visit the page, “like” it, then share it with your tennis friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other means you have available.  There is definitely strength in numbers, and Tom’s goal is to show USTA in no uncertain terms that a critical mass of its constituents are opposed to these changes and want to see the Junior Competition Committee go back to the drawing board:

This page is dedicated to spotlighting the insane 2014 changes to the USTA National Junior Tournament Calendar and hopefully to motivate Dave Haggerty, Kurt Kamperman, the new Junior Tournament Competition Committee, the 17 Sections and the new USTA Board of Directors to permanently pause these changes and devise a new plan that is thoroughly vetted, transparent, and agreed upon by the tennis industry at large.

Background:

Last year the USTA sections passed a sweeping new National Junior Tournament Plan that was to take effect in 2013 and 2014. This plan involved shrinking the opportunities to play National tournaments for US juniors by a significant margin.

The goal of the changes as stated by the USTA was to address three major concerns:

• The rising costs of competing at the national level for juniors and their families;
• The desire to reduce the amount of time juniors would be absent from school;
• The creation of a logical progression of earned advancement from local play to sectionals to nationals to ensure that the best players move on to nationals (the best have earned the right to play) – not the players from families with more economic flexibility.

While those stated goals are noble on the surface, many in the industry question if those were the actual goals and anyone with the slightest knowledge of junior tournament tennis quickly realized that the 2014 plan did exactly opposite of these stated goals for the overwhelming majority of players.

Cost – under the 2014 plan, players will have 9 chances to play National tournaments during the course of the year. If a player was going to play 9 national events in the year, they would now be completely wed to this schedule. You could likely poll first graders and realize that if a player had 9 chances to 9 events, it is going to cost more than if they had 30 or 40 chances to play 9 events.

School – school breaks and testing schedules have never been more fragmented. Again when choice is taken away, the homeschooled kids with flexible schedules or the lucky kids whose breaks and test schedules match up with the USTA schedule will be fine while the rest of the kids will be left missing more school and will have more balancing of tests and tournaments.

Earned Advancement – this is nothing more than propaganda to pretend like there are a bunch of rich kids flying around in private jets chasing points and unfairly advantaging themselves against the kids of lesser financial means. There has always been earned advancement. The 2014 plan doesn’t change any of the earned advancement for the rank and file junior tennis player, but it does give the USTA more wild cards so that their own players are not subject to have to play in their sections. So this plan of earned advancement not only doesn’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist, it creates a pathway for a few of the chosen ones to completely avoid earning their advancement.

So on all three stated goals, these changes completely fail any reasonable smell test.

The 2014 plan has been universally panned by an overwhelming majority of parents, coaches, junior players, college players, professional players, famous ex-pro players and virtually every person of significance in the tennis industry.

To the credit of some of the USTA brass in October of 2012, a group: Jon Vegosen (past USTA President,) Kurt Kamperman (USTA CEO of Community Tennis,) Dave Haggerty (USTA President,) Gordon Smith (USTA GM) and Bill Mountford (USTA rep) met with a resistance group of tennis parents and industry figures including: Antonio Mora (father of a junior,) Robert Sasseville (tournament director,) Steve Bellamy (father of 4 juniors and founder of Tennis Channel,) Sean Hannity (father of 2 juniors) and Kevin Kempin (father of 2 juniors and the CEO of Head.) From that meeting, the USTA agreed to “pause” the 2013 changes and have a “listening tour” in various parts of the country.

Right now as stated by the USTA President Dave Haggerty in the Atlanta meeting, “the 2014 changes will not go forward as they are now and there will likely be some sort of a compromise that puts some opportunity back on the table.”

The history of the changes are that Jon Vegosen (former President) enlisted Tim Russell (music professor no longer involved with the junior comp committee) and his committee of 20 (of whom virtually none were parents or coaches of junior players and 1/2 of whom are no longer on the committee) to come up with a new plan. That plan was then given to player development (which is no longer involved in the process) who supposedly were the ones who cut all the opportunity and gave themselves more wildcards.

This plan was then pushed around the USTA sections under the guise of cutting costs, upping school attendance, criminalizing the supposed points chasers and giving the sections back all their talent who were now playing Nationally. Although the plan was passed by a margin of 16 to 1, rampant were reports of anyone speaking out against the changes being ostracized, bullied to get on board and even fired. Many section leaders who voted for the changes now say that they would not have voted the way they did had they understood what they were voting for. Others have said they received substantial political pressure to vote for the changes. Basically an election in a country with a dictator took place to slam the changes through while Vegosen’s administration was in place.

Virtually no parent, coach, college coach or person in tennis was apprised of these changes prior to them being passed and there were specific directives from USTA managers not to let the tennis industry know about the changes until after they had passed.

Additionally, little foresight was given to the impact of the changes to college coaches. The changes will directly push a large portion of college coaches out of using their recruiting travel budgets for USTA events and move them to ITF events, therefore creating even fewer US players getting seen by college coaches which is the driving reason that many US kids play junior tennis.

We believe that these changes are going to be some of the most detrimental in the history of the sport and will basically do the following:

· Make junior tennis cost more

· Significantly detract from some kids’ school

· Overly benefit kids who can get wildcarded in

· Push more foreign players into college tennis by more exposure to college coaches

· Make kids quit tennis because so many kids will be playing the same kids week after week in their same section

There are many other negatives as well.

The goal of this page is to mobilize the tennis industry to push the USTA to get this process permanently paused and a new plan put in place that is transparent, smart and vetted by all the parties impacted in junior tennis.

In lay terms, WE DON’T WANT A COMPROMISE BY ADDING BACK OPPORTUNITY TO AN UNVETTED, BROKEN PLAN. WE WANT A NEW PLAN AND THE ABILITY TO WORK WITH THE USTA TO GET THE PLAN THAT IS BEST FOR U.S. JUNIOR TENNIS.

I again urge everyone to attend one of the remaining “listening” meetings and/or to email LetUsKnow@usta.com with your thoughts regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes.  If you need a refresher on the exact changes or dates of the meetings, please click on the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.

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.