Tennis Parent Re-Education

Tennis Parents

Navigating the world of junior tennis is tough – we can all agree on that, I think. And, once we Tennis Parents figure out a system that works for us, we tend to get comfortable and poo-poo any suggestions to change how we’re doing things.

I’m here to tell you, though, that the world of junior tennis is changing, and we Tennis Parents have to change, too, if we hope to keep up. There are a couple of specific changes that I want to address in this article in hopes of helping you shift your mindset just a teeny tiny bit.

The first thing is the way you search for tournaments for your junior player(s). Most parents start with TennisLink to find tournaments of a certain level or in a certain time period or area of the country. You go to the Find A Tournament page, select the gender, age group, USTA section, and date then click the Search button to see what comes up.

Others of you may also use the ITF Juniors website to search for events. You may use the UTR Events site, too. And these are all great resources to find junior tournaments. But, I’m sure you see that this is a bit problematic in that you have to go to all these different websites to find the available events for your players. What if you could find every single junior tournament in one place?

Well, good news! You can!

The Match!Tennis app (click here to listen to my podcast with its creators) now contains not only every USTA tournament but also all ITF (coming soon!) and UTR events, including the ITA Summer Circuit. You can go to one place and search for tournaments to your heart’s content. You can search by type of tournament, age group, geographic area, and date. You can flag the tournaments to add them to your personal calendar and to send you an email reminder when the entry deadline is approaching. You can also use the app to find a doubles partner which definitely makes life easier. And, bonus: the ParentingAces community gets a free 30-day trial plus a 20% discount if you sign up by July 15th. Just click here to try it out for FREE.

The second change I’d love to see Tennis Parents make is the way you sign up for tournaments.

The typical MO is to decide you want your child to play in a specific tournament then go to the Applicants list to see who has already entered, do a little mental rankings calculation, then wait until one minute before the entry deadline to sign up your player. Hey, I’m not judging – I did the exact same thing when my son was in the Juniors. I wanted to see who else was signed up so I could figure out if he would make it into the tournament or have any opportunity to go far enough in the draw to impact his USTA ranking.

Now, with UTR making such big inroads into the junior tournament landscape, and with more and more college coaches explicitly saying they rely on UTR for recruiting purposes, the most important thing you can do for your child is simply to make sure he or she is playing matches on a regular basis, whether it’s tournament matches, high school matches, or league matches. They all count equally toward a player’s UTR.

So, once you decide a tournament is a good fit for your player and your family in terms of level, date, and location, just go ahead and register.

With UTR Events and many other events using UTR for selection and seeding there is no need to shop for tournaments looking for a strong draw, weak draw, points per round considerations, etc. There is no rationale in waiting to sign up and find out who else may decide to play. Your placement in a level-based draw will be based on your UTR. You will get a set number of matches in a draw that will increase the likelihood that you have matches both good for your development and good for your opportunity to improve your UTR. In the event that there are not enough players within a near enough UTR range for this to be possible, then the Tournament Director will not place you in a draw that isn’t good for you. If it’s a UTR event, your fees will be refunded. If everyone is waiting on the sideline to see who else enters then nobody ends up entering.

I know. This is a new way of thinking.

If you want your junior to play in a specific tournament, then register with confidence and without regard for who else is playing. Again, the Tournament Director – if he/she follows the guidelines suggested by UTR – will not allow players to be placed in draws that are not beneficial for the player.

So, Tennis Parents, let’s practice what we preach to our kids. Let’s have a growth mindset when it comes to our kids’ competition.

For years our only choice for junior competition was USTA tournaments but now there are several options available. Let’s embrace a new way of doing business now that we have the option to do so. Our children will benefit and so will we.

 

#TheSol

14115070_331410673860060_7610644223125533679_oI don’t even know where to begin in writing about this past weekend’s Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In tournament . . . aka #TheSol. I find myself at a loss for words as I attempt to describe exactly what transpired in Pikesville, MD at the Suburban Club. It was a junior tennis tournament, yes, but I feel as though we experienced something way beyond your typical weekend of matches.

I’m not going to re-tell my Sol stories here – y’all can read my previous posts and listen to my podcasts to get a feel for who Sol Schwartz was and why we wanted to create a tournament in his honor. I guess the best thing to do is simply to recount the weekend to the best of my ability and hope that those who were present will chime in with Comments to add depth of meaning to what was surely the most special tournament I’ve ever attended.

I arrived in Baltimore on Friday afternoon, and Melanie Rubin, who was part of the planning committee, picked me up on her drive in from Long Island, NY. We went directly to the Suburban Club to check out the space and figure out how best to set up for the weekend. After hanging our tournament and sponsor banners, we grabbed a quick (albeit very late!) lunch at Panera (how appropriate given the hundreds if not thousands of meals I ate there during my son’s junior tennis years!) before meeting Sol’s sisters-in-law, Laurie and Sherri, back at Suburban to complete the player goody bags and figure out our strategy for the next morning’s tournament check-in. player tableMelanie and I had our stuff spread out all over the pro shop but finally got organized to the point where we felt comfortable leaving for the night. We stopped by our hotel to check in and unpack, grabbed dinner at a local sushi spot, then both fell asleep to the sights and sounds of the Olympics on tv.

The next morning we got up early to dress, eat breakfast in the hotel lobby, and get to Suburban before the players started to arrive. When we got to the club, there were already a few players warming up on the courts, and Sol’s mother-in-law, Ina, was waiting for us outside the pro shop. Once Eric, the staffer on duty, arrived to open up, we got to work with tournament director Salman Bader from UTR organizing the draws, player credentials, goody bags, t-shirts, and check indrinks. As each player checked in, Ina was in charge of handing out their credentials, I checked them off the player list, and Melanie handed them their goody bag and tournament shirt. They were then free to go warm up or just hang out and wait to be called for their first match.

Let me talk about the player goody bags for a moment . . .

These were NOT your usual junior tournament player gift! Here’s what every player got – inside of a racket-sized nylon backpack from Holabird Sports:14067925_331410630526731_5562744538765482222_o

  • Full-color player book
  • Under Armour socks
  • $10 Holabird gift card
  • Packet of Genesis string
  • ArrowBar
  • Bryan Brothers poster
  • Autographed photo of Noah Rubin
  • Travel umbrella
  • Player patch from 10sBalls.com
  • Magnets from Holabird and Kassimir Physical Therapy
  • Miscellaneous other items such as pens and stickers

At promptly 9am, the first matches were sent on court amid blue cloudless skies. The weather couldn’t have been any more perfect. Sol was working his magic from above! With 32 players, we had 12 matches at 9, another 4 at 10:30, and then a nice break to enjoy the delicious lunch provided by Steve’s Deli. lunch

During lunch, it was amazing to walk around the club and see kids sitting together, parents sitting together, and Sol’s friends and family taking it all in. In most tournaments once your child’s match is finished, you’re rushing off to find them something to eat so you can get them back for the next round. Not so at #TheSol! We wanted to honor Sol’s commitment to creating a sense of community around junior tennis, and providing lunch on site was just one way we accomplished that goal.

Round 2 took place in 2 shifts after lunch, and Day 1 finished around 2:30. Many of the players hung around to hit a little more, but most went their separate ways as Melanie, Salman, and I cleaned up and got everything ready for Day 2. That included going back to the hotel (and my laptop!) to set up a Facebook page (click here) for the event and get the gazillion photos (click here and here) Melanie had taken uploaded! That night, Sol’s wife, Ilene, and her sister, Sherri, took us to dinner at one of their favorite Italian restaurants. Let me just say that the wine and brownie sundae were especially delicious!

We didn’t have to get quite as early a start for Day 2 since matches weren’t scheduled to begin until 9am. That said, when we arrived at Suburban, the courts were filled with players warming up, and the grounds were filled with parents, coaches, and spectators out to support this amazing event.

The weather forecast for Sunday was pretty iffy, but we got the matches started on time. Unfortunately, the rain came in right in the middle of our final round of singles, so we brought all the Facetiming with Noahkids into the pro shop for a special surprise: a FaceTime Q&A with Noah Rubin! He was gracious enough to take a little time away from his US Open Qualies preparation to chat with the players and answer their questions about how he trains, what he eats, what’s in his tennis bag, and balancing all the demands of a professional tennis player. The kids (and parents!) loved having the chance to talk with him!

As soon as the Q&A finished, Steve arrived with the day’s lunches, so we encouraged everyone tolunches go ahead and eat while we waited for the rain to clear out. The staff at Suburban went to work helping get the courts playable, and by 11:45 we had the kids back out there.

It didn’t take long to crown our first winner: Kaitlyn Chalker from Marietta, GA! She was smiling from ear to ear as she heard about her girls winnersprize from Wilson: 2 rackets, a pair of shoes, 6 sets of string, a 12-pack of overgrip, a racket bag, and 2 outfits of her choosing.

A bit later, the boys winner was decided: Ramanaidu Kotnana from Ellicott City, MD. Ram also got the same Wilson prize package and was so excited!Boys winners

But, we had 5 separate draws in this tournament, and the winner and runner-up for each draw received a prize. Our main draw runners-up got a $50 gift card from Holabird Sports (in addition to the $10 card in their goody bags). The winners of the other 3 draws each received a $20 Holabird gift card plus an additional small gift, and the runners-up received packets of string, hats, and socks. All of the awards were made possible through the sponsors we secured for the event.

We got a second bout of rain before the rest of the singles matches could finish. Thankfully, Suburban has a bubble with 4 courts, so we moved the rest of the matches indoors. By that point, the outdoor courts were sufficiently soaked, and we made the unfortunate decision to forego the afternoon’s doubles exhibition matches. The weather continued to worsen throughout the afternoon, so in retrospect it was a very good call.

All that was left was to clean up and get to the airport for my flight back to Atlanta. Sol’s family and the club staff helped out, and we left Suburban looking as though it had never been invaded by 32 players, their coaches and parents, and about 50 additional volunteers and spectators!

As I said, it’s difficult to put into words how this event felt. Even so, here are a few short (unedited – editing is outside my skillset!) interviews with some of the parents and players – as well as Sol’s wife, Ilene – to give you a better idea:

With massive amounts of help from Universal Tennis, I’m really hoping to make #TheSol into an annual event as well as to take it to other cities around the US. I think we have found a tournament formula that works! In all my years of schlepping to junior tournaments, I’ve never seen one where everyone just seemed happy to be there throughout the entire weekend. People were even smiling during the repeated rain delays. I’m not sure if it was allowing on-court coaching, the compass draw format, the player badges and goody bags, or what, but these kids had a great time and exhibited impeccable sportsmanship. And guess what? We had no officials other than our tournament director . . . nor did we need them!

A huge thank you to everyone involved! To our planning committee – Melanie Rubin (Tennis Parent), David Hirshfeld (Holabird Sports), Randy Jenks (Universal Tennis), and Rob Hubbard (Sam Houston State University Head Coach). To our sponsors – Presenting Sponsor Holabird Sports; Division I Sponsor Wilson Tennis; Division II Sponsors 10sBalls.com, Universal Tennis, Kassimir Physical Therapy, ParentingAces, Judie Schwartz, Rob & Robin Hubbard; Division III Sponsors Melanie Rubin & Family, Ilene Schwartz & Family, Michael Sellman & Family, Jason & Laurie Sklar & Family, Lisa & Matthew Stone & Family; In-Kind Sponsors ArrowBar, Genesis String, Lucy Prendeville, The Bryan Brothers, Steve’s Deli. To the staff at the Suburban Club – Ross Coleman, Jim, Brad, and Eric. To Sol’s family – Ilene Schwartz, Dori Schwartz, Evan Schwartz (thanks for Sol's familythe crabcakes!), Judie Schwartz, Cyndy Schwartz, Steve & Lisa Schwartz, Jake Schwartz, Josh Schwartz, Ina and Jeffrey Legum, Sherri & Gary Kassimir, Ali Kassimir, Laurie & Jason Sklar,  Skylar Sklar, Landon Sklar, and Dari Jo Sklar. To Sol’s friends who came out to support the tournament. And, most of all, to Sol for inspiring us to do better.

Finals match results (Name followed by Universal Tennis Rating):

Wilson-Williams Draw (8-player compass draw)

Kaitlyn Chalker (6.17) def Caroline Askew (5.39) 6-1 6-2

Wilson-Federer Draw (8-player compass draw)

Ramanaidu Kotnana (11.18) def Bear Lee (10.13) 7-5 6-3

Holabird Draw (8-player compass draw)

Tyler Mast (6.59) def Maxim Khurgel (6.46) 6-2 6-4

10sBalls.com Draw (4-player round robin draw)

Dessian Oula (4.00) overall winner

Daniel Polsky (4.00) runner-up

UTR Draw (4-player round robin draw)

Paige Sawyer (2.00) overall winner

Aleyah Abdullah (1.00) runner-up

 

Maximizing Your Tournament Budget

Image courtesy of www.brm.ucsf.edu
Image courtesy of www.brm.ucsf.edu

Today’s guest post is courtesy of Todd Widom, a junior coach in South Florida. Todd competed in USTA junior tennis and reached a #5 ranking in US Boys 16s and held the # 1 ranking in US Boys 18s. That success earned him a full athletic scholarship from the University of Miami. After reaching the semifinals of the NCAA tournament in 2003, he decided to test himself on the pro tour. Due to multiple injuries, Todd’s career was cut short, and he retired from the tour following the 2010 Australian Open. He has been coaching ever since.

Junior tennis travel and playing in tournaments are very costly and everyone’s financial situation is different, which is why implementing a strategy for your child to play competitive tournaments without spending an exorbitant amount of money is imperative for many families. One aspect that surprised me when I started coaching was the amount of tournaments the juniors players were playing. Some of the juniors were playing as many tournaments as I did when I was a professional. This is detrimental to the player.

A junior tennis player is much different than a professional player because a junior is still developing many skills in their game. If the player is competing in tournaments too often, their development as a tennis player will come to a screeching halt. Improvements happen in a highly disciplined training environment, not in tournaments. Your child may become more confident winning matches, but the real and lasting improvements happen in practice. Training sessions are your homework and tournaments are your test. Without proper preparation and guidance your test results will be lacking. Every tournament you play is another examination to where you are as a player. You should always know what to work on when the exam is over and when you come back to training. I would hope that your child would not walk into an SAT test without proper preparation and this is the same concept.

Some of the most frequently asked questions are what tournaments should I play? Where should I play? Should I play a sectional, regional, super national, or ITF tournament? If a player is a serious player and would like to play college tennis or even has professional aspirations, the number one goal for every junior is to try to improve their skills on a daily basis and try to become the best player they can. In the United States, there are many tournaments to choose from, so having someone guide you through this process is very important to assure that time and money are not wasted.

From my vast experience, I believe, that if possible, the junior tennis player should stay local and play all their sectional and regional tournaments. If your child is struggling to beat certain players or a certain type of player, then train harder; train more consistently and in a disciplined manner and get better. Dodging your competition is not going to get you to a higher level of tennis or to a higher level college because every coach knows the level of their player and every school knows what they are recruiting. Chasing points around the country is not going to be that beneficial, because when the junior goes and plays higher level tournaments, there is nowhere to hide anymore. If your child is so dominant in their section, then you should look at other options. But until then, stay put.

Another option I hear about is that my child needs to play in ITF tournaments. They do not need to play these tournaments and especially on the parents dime if it is going to be a big expense. If the federations would like to pay for the player to play these tournaments, then that’s great, but other than that, I do not see a need to play in them. I constantly see and hear about kids chasing points in the Caribbean and other parts of the world to get ITF rankings and it just boggles my mind as to why they would do this. There are local tournaments in your area that have better competition where you do not have to spend thousands of dollars traveling. One parent once told me that there was no way their child could go to a high level college because they did not have a high ITF ranking. College coaches are going to watch your child play and look at their results and know if their level is a good fit for their program. In other words, it does not matter the type of tournaments you play in, it matters how good you are and there is no one right way to get to a high level.

Please understand that I am not saying that playing ITF tournaments is bad for the juniors. I am saying that it is not the most economical way to become the best you can be if it’s on the parent’s dime. If an ITF tournament is in the area or not too far away, then it is good to play if the expense is not too high. Playing enough ITF tournaments to be able to qualify to play in grand slams is very expensive, and if the parents have the funds to do it or the federations have the funds to pay for it, then that’s fantastic.

If money is not in abundance, and you have proven yourself at the national level in 16’s and 18’s, then I think the best way to learn as a young person is to start playing higher-level tournaments, which are professional Futures events. Play the qualifying and see if you can qualify, and if you can qualify, now see if you can win main draw matches. This is one of the best investments you can make in your child because you are now investing in your child playing against hungry adults or college players trying to get their feet wet in professional tennis. There is a big difference in maturity and professionalism at professional tournaments compared to national junior or sectional events. Junior tennis is one thing and playing against men or women is another ballgame. What the juniors are going to soon understand is that the professional tour is very serious, even at this low level of professional tennis. This level also shows the player, coach, and parents what level the player is at, because the Futures level is a very similar level to the level of top college tennis, so the results of the player is going to give a lot of feedback to the coach as to where the player is in terms of their development.

For example, my ITF junior career consisted of three tournaments because funds were limited. I drove to a low level tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina and I played the U.S. Open and Orange Bowl. I received wildcards into the junior U.S. Open and Orange Bowl for winning a super national in my last year of junior tennis. At the U.S. Open, I ended up losing to the number three player in the world, Brian Dabul of Argentina in three sets in the second round in a very tough highly competitive match. A couple of months later I played the Orange Bowl and was able to defeat the number two player in the world Janko Tipsarevic in three sets in the second round. The moral of the story is that after these results, it proved to me that I could play with, and beat the best juniors in the world, without having to spend exorbitant sums of money to travel all around the world chasing points. I played locally and across the U.S. and when I proved that I could play a high level in 16’s and 18’s nationally, I spent my money on playing adults and not juniors. When I had played Janko, he was seventeen and was ranked somewhere in the 300’s or so on the ATP Tour, which meant that he had plenty of pro experience at a young age.

In conclusion, there are many ways to achieve your goals and dreams, and if you are like I was, come up with a plan with your coach on how to maximize your funds. Unfortunately, I have seen many kids poorly guided, and it is crucially important to manage the players smartly so that their tennis development continues in a positive direction. There is no one right way to achieve your goals other than to try to get better each and every day you get to play this great game.

Winter Nats Final Analysis

UTR-1.0-logoAs I mentioned in my previous post, the folks at Universal Tennis Ratings did some extensive pre- and post-event analysis of this year’s Boys and Girls 16s and 18s Winter Nationals draws and outcomes (click here for their online work).

In addition to the numbers, UTR co-creator Dave Howell provided the following in-depth analysis:

Upsets abound . . . or maybe not so much!

Scrutinizing the main draw of the Winter Nationals B18s, you can find 17 matches which went against the seedings. Seems like a lot, but on closer inspection only 5 of those matches were contested by players whose ratings (UTR) were farther apart than 1.0. And even among those, some were mere hundredths of a point outside the 1.0 UTR standard. It’s fun to look for these things, but is there anything to be ascertained from all this that can lead to improving player experience? What are your thoughts?

One more thought . . . about 1/3 of main draw matches were played by opponents whose ratings were farther than 1.0 apart. Another way of putting that is 2/3 of match opponents were within 1.0 of one another. That sounds pretty good.

The upset trend continues in G18s, but not really.

Again, if you look strictly at lower seeds and unseeded players knocking off higher seeds, you come away thinking there are a high number of upsets, 16. But the UTR summary only found one upset. Which means over 98% of the time the higher-rated player won when the match-up showed players to be more than 1.0 UTR apart.

Another look at total matches inside vs. outside 1.0 shows almost half the matches (48%) were outside 1.0. This indicates a pretty wide range of levels for this event. On top of that 61% of those matches outside 1.0 were Decisive*.

Only 43% of matches inside 1.0 were Competitive*. We’d like to see better than 50%, but this percentage is almost 3 times better than competitive matches outside 1.0, 15.25%. I’m pretty sure these players can do better.

 

*Competitive, Routine, and Decisive Matches: A match is considered Competitive when the losing player wins more than 50% of the minimum number of games needed to win the match. Similarly, a match is considered Routine if the losing player is only able to win between 34% and 50% of the minimum number of games needed to win the match. Lastly, a match is considered Decisive if the losing player is only able to win less than 1/3 of the minimum number of games needed to win the match.

 

2014 Little Mo Internationals

Little Mo 2014

Today’s guest post is from Louisiana Tennis Parent, Ashley Hancock. Her daughter played in the Little Mo International tournament in Florida earlier this month. Ashley shares their experience below . . .

Our first Little Mo tournament was an incredible experience!  My daughter asked me a year ago if this tournament could be on our calendar.  She had a friend who played the International tournament in Florida last year, and had a blast.  So, early this fall I signed her up since entry was limited to the first 32 who sign up.  She is twelve years old so this would be her only chance left to play Little Mo.

I was extremely nervous when I saw the competitor list.  I think there were only five Americans and the rest were International.  Most had played Eddie Herr and also were going to be playing the Orange Bowl the following week.  This was going to be my daughter’s first taste of international competition.  I was just hoping she wouldn’t get completely rounded!!

My husband took her down for the first couple of days because I had a prior commitment with my youngest daughter.  He was completely amazed at how organized the check in and opening ceremony was.  Each player carried their country’s flag and marched around the tennis court just like they do in the Olympics.  Maureen Connelly’s daughter spoke to the players after the ceremony and stressed the importance of sportsmanship.  Draws were posted that night and we found out she was going to play the fourth seed from South Africa.

Prior to her first match, she exchanged a small gift with her first round opponent.  She gave her player a Mardi Gras mug and ornament.  She received a scarf with the colors of South Africa and a small stuffed animal resembling their country’s animal.  She played a great match but unfortunately lost 6-2, 6-0.

I flew in on Sunday after she had won two rounds of consolation beating girls from California and Peru.  She started doubles that afternoon with a girl she was paired with from NC.  We were so lucky to have such a great partner! They got along well and were evenly matched.  They gave the two seeds a battle but came up short 8-6.

In singles, she ended up losing in the finals of consolation to a girl from Austria.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching the international players and their style of play.   She came off the court happy because she knew she was going to get a nice, big trophy!!! Carol Weyman had a special trophy presentation for each player.

Her favorite part of the tournament was getting to play Mixed Doubles.  She played with a boy from Arkansas who we met for the first time when we got down there.  A friend of ours recommended that we play together.  They won their first two rounds and lost in the quarterfinals.

I was very impressed with how the tournament officials stressed the importance of sportsmanship.  The officials would walk around and hand out “Mo Money” to those exhibiting good sportsmanship on and off the court.  My daughter saved all her coins and then went shopping at the Little Mo table of goodies which consisted of t-shirts, towels, pens, books, candy, etc.

The Little Mo tournament was a memorable experience for us and I am so glad that my daughter played in it.  The PGA resort was phenomenal.  Our room was spacious and right across from the tennis courts.  The restaurants were convenient and had good food. They even offered a discount to the players and families. She did play at two other sites but they were only a 5 minute drive from PGA.

It was nice playing a high quality tennis tournament without the pressure of worrying about points, win/losses, and not knowing who your opponent is!! I would highly recommend this to those 12 and under!!

The Future of Junior Tournament Tennis in America

TDW_Subheader_620x55_711_Blank2222-H
Image provided by USTA

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a very interesting session of USTA’s annual Tennis Development Workshop being held in Atlanta. The session was titled “The Future of Junior Tournament Tennis in America” and was led by Bill Mountford, USTA’s Director of Junior Tournaments. The format was more of a roundtable discussion with short breakout sessions between Bill’s presentation of information regarding the current state of the junior tournament landscape. About 50% of those in the room had run junior tournaments, so it was interesting to hear their take on things. Here are a few things that I noted during the 70-minute session . . .

  • When Bill asked the current tournament directors (TDs) why they run tournaments, their answers included providing accessibility to tennis to their community, tournaments are a revenue-builder for the club, they have a passion for tennis and want to share it with others, they want to be the one controlling the quality of junior competition, filling a need in their community, providing a fun environment for juniors to enjoy tennis.
  • When Bill asked the others in the room why they don’t run tournaments, their answers included it’s too time consuming, it’s cost-ineffective, and they don’t want to deal with the parents.

Next, Bill presented some statistics and the results of a survey that was sent to parents earlier this year. Here are some interesting points that came to light:

  • In 2013 97,999 juniors played 1 tournament but the attrition rate was alarming. Out of those kids, 38% didn’t play another tournament that year, another 58% dropped out after 2 tournaments, yet another 64% dropped out after 4 tournaments, and 71% dropped out after 5 tournaments, leaving only 23,128 who played 6 or more tournaments that year. That same year, only 2068 US juniors played 20 or more tournaments.
  • Of the 1.8 million kids who play tennis more than once per week, half are ages 11 and under and half are ages 12-18.
  • In 2013, 2147 TDs ran at least one tournament that year.
  • For 2014 YTD (January-October), we have 6.1% fewer juniors playing tournaments along with 1.3% fewer tournaments being held.
  • From January-October 2013, there were a total of 22,313 tournaments held across all 17 USTA sections; in 2014, that number dropped to 22,021. Nine of the USTA sections had fewer tournaments in 2014 than 2013 while 8 sections had a higher number of tournaments.
  • The only age group that showed in increase in the number of tournament oportunities was the U10 which increased 3.99% from 2013 to 2014. All other age groups saw a decrease in opportunity.
  • In YTD 2014, we have 129,348 total junior tournament players. In that same period in 2013, we had 137.697 (a 6.1% decrease as stated above).
  • The survey results showed that for those juniors who participated in only one tournament, the most important thing to them was to have fun, and the least important thing was the availability of ranking points.
  • Not surprisingly, the TDs rated the quality of tournaments higher than the participants did.
  • Survey results showed that for those juniors who play 12 or more tournaments a year, they found the tournament structure to be too confusing, and sportsmanship was rated as the worst aspect of their most recent tournament experience.
  • Regarding officiating at junior tournaments, the survey showed availability of officials to be poor while the friendliness of the officials who are present was rated as high.

Bill then asked the room several questions and left each table to come up with answers/suggestions.

The first question was: “What do parents want from a junior tournament experience?” Answers included (1) well-organized events where the wellness of the child is the main priority; (2) Consistent officiating; (3) Good viewing areas; (4) Consistency in the pathway from section to section; and (5) TDs to use email to update participants on any changes.

The next question was: “What makes a great tournament?” Answers included (1) Communication from the start about sportsmanship expectations; (2) A back-up plan in case of bad weather; (3) Consistency in match scoring meaning that each round of the tournament uses the same scoring format; (4) Good communication from the TD to the participating families; (5) Good budgeting; (6) Affordability; (7) Educated officials; (8) Off-court activities for participants; (9) Food/refreshments available on site; (10) Timely updates to the tournament website; and (11) Timely updates to the online and on-site draws.

The third question was: “How do we recruit more TDs?” Answers included (1) Sell tournaments to prospective TDs as a money maker for their facility; (2) Sell tournaments to prospective TDs as great exposure for their facility; (3) Have the local USTA office (also known as a Community Tennis Association or CTA) incentivize TDs by underwriting some of the costs of running tournaments; (4) Empower assistant TDs to learn how to run tournaments efficiently; (5) Established a tiered structure of sanctioning fees wherein entry-level tournaments cost less to run than larger national events; and (6) Make the tournament software easier to use and clean up the glitches.

The final question was: “What should we do about ratings and rankings?” Overwhelmingly, the room felt that ratings-based play was the way to go, maybe combining 2 age groups together per rating range. One problem that was mentioned with this method, however, was the historical occurrence of “ducking” when a highly-ranked played didn’t want to face an equally- or higher-ranked opponent for fear of dropping in the rankings with a loss.

Luckily for me, I was sitting at the table with Andrew Walker who is the new manager of the USTA Officiating Department. He is in charge of officials from the most entry-level junior tournaments all the way up to the US Open. He assured me that the training for officials is being overhauled and improved though he wasn’t sure when that would take effect. I shared with him that ParentingAces readers overwhelmingly supported having more and better-trained officials at our kid’s events, and that our recent poll showed that parents are willing to pay a little more in fees to that end. I will be sending Andrew your comments and the poll results so he has a better feel of what’s needed in the junior tournament arena.

Overall, I was encouraged by what I heard in the room. I had a chance to speak privately with Bill Mountford for a few minutes after the session, and he assured me that USTA is taking a very close look at the junior competition and ranking structure. He wasn’t sure when the 2015 calendar would be completed and online, but you know I’ll post the link as soon as I have any further information.

My Wish List for Junior Tournaments

wish-list

It’s the Friday morning before a Saturday-Monday junior tournament, and my son’s first match times still haven’t been posted. He can’t plan his morning warm-up because he doesn’t know what time he’ll play tomorrow, and the tournament site will only have 2 available warm-up courts after 8am, likely necessitating an alternative practice site if he plays later than 8. Hence, this Wish List for Junior Tournaments . . .

Dear Tournament Directors,

Given that we Tennis Parents are typically spending 1-2 weekends each month at your events, and given that the cost to travel to these events is continuing to increase, I would like to suggest that you offer the following:

  • Post the list of selected players at least one week prior to the first day of the tournament so we can make travel plans (if necessary) and take advantage of any discounts.
  • If you’re using a tournament hotel that provides complimentary breakfast, alert the manager that players will need to have breakfast available by 6:30am each morning during the tournament to accommodate warm-up and early match times.
  • Post the first match times at least 2 days ahead of time so our player can arrange warm-up courts and practice partners.
  • Post the seeding at least 3 days ahead of time.
  • Have a certified medical trainer on site, at every site.
  • Forego tournament check-in the day before play. Let players check into their 1st match site one hour ahead of time.
  • Conduct a meeting with all tournament officials so that they’re all on the same page as to how rules will be enforced. Will players get a warning before a code violation is issued (Friend at Court says no warnings but some officials still warn players anyway – what’s this tournament’s stance on that?)? How are “ball abuse” and “racquet abuse” defined – be specific! Will point penalties be issued for multiple overrules on line calls (Friend at Court leaves that to the discretion of the tournament referee)? Will the 12-hour rule be observed? How will medical timeouts be handled? Once these issues are decided, post them on the tournament website so players, parents, and coaches know exactly how your officials will operate.
  • Have ice and water available at all sites to players.
  • If you use multiple sites, make sure each site director has access to you and the tournament referee throughout the tournament.
  • Do some little things to make your tournament special. Here are a few ideas: get local restaurants to sponsor your event then set up a booth on-site to provide discounted meals to participants; personalize t-shirts for each tournament; if there’s space, set up a ping-pong or Foosball table for players to let off steam before and after their matches. Take a look at Help Wanted: Director of Fun for more suggestions.

Happy players lead to happy parents and coaches which leads to a successful tournament all around. Here’s to more successful tournaments!

Signed,

A Very (Overly?) Involved Tennis Parent