Saving & Growing College Tennis with Tim Russell

college tennisThis week’s podcast:

Tim Russell, the head honcho at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), discusses how his organization is working with colleges, coaches, and communities to save and grow college tennis across the US.

The ITA has developed a self-assessment tool, the Program Health Index, for college tennis programs to use in order to determine whether their team is “safe” or at risk of being cut. The assessment includes items such as the team GPA, how much community outreach the players do, and how often the college president attends matches. Tim and his staff hope this will help prevent program cuts by helping coaches learn what’s important to university administrators. Tim stresses that the ITA is committed to telling the stories of college tennis, not just to the community, but also to college presidents and other decision-makers at the school. It is a tough sell since tennis is a non-revenue sport, but the Program Health Index and other tools are helping the ITA to make its case effectively.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a college tennis discussion without addressing the subject of international players! Tim and I delve into that topic as well. You can learn more about the ITA and its initiatives at www.itatennis.com.

Just a reminder that entries are still open for the Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In tournament in Baltimore August 12-13. You can enter at http://events.universaltennis.com/tournaments/336/.

Check out our latest podcast!

College Masters Day 1

img_7684I arrived in Los Angeles late Wednesday night (thanks, Southwest, for the delay!) and pretty much crashed as soon as I got to my mother-in-law’s house. Of course, with the 3-hour time difference, I was up super early Thursday morning with plenty of time to get organized before making the drive up to Malibu for the start of the Oracle/ITA Masters.

The ITA is truly committed to producing some out-of-the-box events for college – and junior – players, and this tournament is just one step forward.

For those of you who have visited the Pepperdine campus and seen its tennis facility, you know what a gorgeous setting it is. I wasn’t sad to spend the entire day there!

Yesterday’s action was all about the college players. The day started with mixed doubles, a unique opportunity for these young men and women to pair off with a partner from within their NCAA conference and have some fun on the court. I didn’t make it out in time for the first round matches (they started at 8am), but I did get to see some amazing women’s singles, men’s singles, and the second round of mixed dubs.

I spent a lot of my time speaking with college coaches, from both the Big 5 conferences and from some of the smaller schools, about the challenges they face in terms of funding, recruiting, scheduling, and promoting their teams. I’ll be writing a more in-depth piece on those conversations once this event is done, but suffice it to say that most of the concerns addressed in the last guest post (click here to read it) are on the minds of the coaches, too.

img_7688
Tim Russell, CEO of ITA

I also had the opportunity to speak at length with the CEO of the ITA, Tim Russell, about the challenges college tennis faces and what we can do to overcome them. Tim and his staff have some very creative ideas in the works which I’m also planning to share in a later piece and/or in a podcast.

img_7690
Lisa, Tim Russell, Bob & Sally Grabham, Randy Jenks

One of the ways the ITA is thinking out of the box with this particular event is by hosting a player party. But not your typical player party in a hotel banquet room. No! This one was held atimg_7689 Duke’s Malibu, an ocean-front restaurant down the road from Pepperdine. As the players and other guests arrived, waiters served delicious appetizers while the waves were crashing against the massive windows of the private dining room. It was great to see the athletes interacting with each other and making the effort to meet new people from outside their own conferences. Even the juniors were there, and I think everyone really enjoyed the opportunity to get together in a stress-free environment.

I’m getting ready to head back out for some more college matches as well as Day 1 of the Junior Masters at the Malibu Racquet Club. For yesterday’s complete results, check out this link. To follow along with today’s action, you can watch livescoring here and/or sign up for an account with FloTennis to watch the livestream here.

Tim Russell Named Head of ITA

I received the following announcement from the ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) earlier today. I have a lot of thoughts to share regarding this latest action by the governing body of college tennis, but I’m going to keep them to myself . . . for now. My youngest child is graduating from high school next week, and I want to stay focused on the happy events in front of us. That said, please feel free to discuss your thoughts in the Comments section, and I will chime in as warranted. If you’d like to read my previous articles involving Dr. Russell, click here and here.

Dr. Timothy Russell has been appointed by the ITA Board of Directors as the new CEO of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, with his role set to begin on July 1, 2015. A special appointed ITA Search Committee, chaired by David Benjamin, worked closely with a highly respected executive search firm, GSI Executive Search, to successfully complete an extensive selection process.

“The future of varsity tennis as a significant and forward-thinking college sport is bright, as is that of the ITA as an independent leader in the world of higher education and beyond. I am very excited to start working with the coaches and staff on behalf of the association and our student-athletes.”

Tim Russell

“Tim Russell’s passion, intellect, communication skills and his extensive experience with the ITA and the USTA make him the right choice to lead college tennis,” said Peter Smith, coach of the five-time NCAA Champion men’s tennis team at the University of Southern California. “It was obvious, not only to me, but to everyone involved in the interview process that Tim was the best choice for CEO. I am very excited to have him lead us through these challenging and changing times of the NCAA and college tennis in general.”

Dr. Russell has spent three decades as a distinguished educator at two major Division I schools (presently a Professor at Arizona State University and formerly at The Ohio State University) as well as at the University of Rochester, a leading Division III institution.

Steven Tepper, Dean of the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, and long-time tennis player, remarked, “While ASU is losing an extraordinary member of our faculty, the ITA and college tennis are gaining an incredibly creative person who will advance your cause, build your community and imaginatively address the most pressing challenges facing tennis and other Olympic sports today.”

In addition to his academic achievements, Russell has also been a highly successful entrepreneur, with a leadership role in the development of two renowned American non-profit institutions. “These are unprecedented times for all of college sports. Moving forward will require leaders to think creatively and bring individuals together around a common goal. Tim Russell has excelled in both these areas throughout his career – inside and outside of the tennis world,” said Amy Perko, former member of the USTA’s Presidential Task Force on Tennis and Higher Education.

Sheila McInerney, head women’s tennis coach at Arizona State University and co-chair of the ITA Division I Operating Committee, said, “Tim Russell is an excellent choice as CEO of the ITA. Needless to say, filling David Benjamin’s shoes will be a tall order, but I believe Tim will do a fantastic job in moving the ITA forward. Tim comes in with a very good knowledge of the ITA and collegiate tennis, and he has a strong vision of what needs to be done to grow our product. Tim has a work ethic and passion for tennis, specifically collegiate tennis, second to none. I know he is determined to make sure that collegiate tennis continues to flourish under his leadership. I am excited to have Tim Russell in this leadership role for the ITA.”

Russell is also well known in the tennis world. He served as the USTA Collegiate Varsity Chair from 2007-2010, where he helped senior staff put together a strategic plan for the partnership of the USTA with the ITA and varsity collegiate tennis. From 2011-2012, Russell guided the USTA through major changes in the junior competitive tournament structure as USTA Junior Competition Chair, working to create a model that would lead to more and better American juniors for college coaches to recruit. He also served as a researcher and moderator for last year’s ITA Format Steering Committee.

“Tim knows and understands the ITA and the key issues facing college tennis, and will hit the ground running in providing a seamless transition,” retiring ITA Executive Director David A Benjamin said. “His work with boards of directors, strategic planning, fundraising and expertise in unifying large numbers of people around big causes will all be super assets for the ITA and college tennis. Our sport and coaches association will be in excellent hands moving forward over the years ahead.”

Russell has previously been inducted into the USTA Southwest Hall of Fame (November 2011) and the USTA Central Arizona Hall of Fame (April 2009), and will be inducted into the ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame later this month.

“I am humbled by this opportunity, and feel especially honored to succeed David Benjamin who has served the ITA and college tennis tirelessly throughout his career,” Russell said.

“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.

4th & 5th Listening Meetings at Winter Nationals

Two listening meetings were held over the past two days during the Winter Nationals in Arizona, a tournament that will, ironically, disappear from the schedule if the 2014 changes remain as is.

I received emails from attendees at both meetings, each of which had 40-50 people in attendance.  It seems that the parents, players, and industry folks (Brad Stine, Jack Sharpe, Mark Bey, Steve Bellamy, Kevin Kempin, Gordon Bellis, Timon Corwin, Tim Mayotte, Antonio Mora) who were in attendance were well-versed in the changes and had no qualms about speaking their minds to Tim Russell, Kurt Kamperman, and Dave Haggerty.  Several parents and players spoke out about how they would NOT have gotten a college scholarship under the new system.  One mother told the room that although her first son will be playing Division 1 tennis next year, she has pulled her other two sons out of tennis because she doesn’t subscribe to the format.   Russell responded with a comment that was akin to “OK.”   Kevin Kempin, CEO of Head and a member of the 2013 Junior Competition Committee, said, “I have yet to hear a single compelling argument for any of these changes and I have been listening for a long time.”

The theme of the first meeting on Wednesday night seemed to be parents pleading to not have any cuts.  Those in the know seemed to be preaching a longer pause on the changes and a fresh look at the tournament calendar.  Parents complained of just playing the same kids over and over in their section and made it clear that if that was going to be what tennis was, then they were out.  One parent said “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and if there is anything that is consistent, it is that the USTA is always changing and always frustrating players and parents.”  She continued, “You should do this right and do it once and for all.”

Tennis Channel founder Steve Bellamy and Tim Russell certainly had their issues in the room.  The situation climaxed when Bellamy asked Russell if he thought that 90% or more of the players, parents and coaches were against the changes.  Russell said no, and the room started to get angry.  Then Bellamy asked Russell, “If the majority of the tennis industry were against the changes, would you still be a proponent of keeping them?”  Bellamy repeatedly asked, and it was clear that Russell wasn’t going to answer the question.  One father from NorCal, Gordon Bellis, aggressively challenged Russell to answer and the evening reached a new climax.  When Bellis asked Russell what he was supposed to do with his daughter (she is 13 and won the 18 NorCal Sectionals this year) for competition now that the National schedule was slashed so deeply, Russell responded that maybe she should start playing with adults.   The room went into an uproar.

At Thursday’s meeting, led by Kurt Kamperman and Dave Haggerty, USTA finally acknowledged that parents are overwhelmingly opposed to the changes.  One gentleman who had been at Wednesday’s meeting asked for a show of hands of who was opposed, and every single hand went up.  Kamperman and Haggerty made no attempt to argue otherwise.  The same question was asked the night before in Tempe and every hand went up there as well.

Haggerty and Kamperman made it clear that they were not responsible for the changes and people were respectful, although one exclaimed, to applause and laughter, that they wished Patrick McEnroe and the people who were responsible could be there to face the fire.

Antonio Mora asked Haggerty, who was once CEO of Head, Inc., what he would do if 90% of his best customers hated a new line of products.  At that point, another  parent spoke out and said that she wanted them to say they were committed to fully restarting the process. Haggerty then said there would be substantial changes. Kamperman tried to back away from that a bit, saying that the sections needed to be on board and that we needed to get with our section presidents to vote in favor of what we want. At that point, he was interrupted and and politely told that was a bunch of bologna, that the process of approving the changes had been very political, that arms were twisted (acknowledged by them), that section presidents had ignored their constituents, that the vice-chair of the old committee who is the chair of the new one has said there will only be tweaks, and that they were now in the position to be the arm-twisters and needed to take control.

Those who attended expressed their appreciation to Haggerty and Kamperman for listening and taking the time out of their busy schedules to meet with the parents.  The attendees also made it clear that they hoped the listening would lead to action.

I 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.

If This Doesn’t Convince You . . .

Spreadsheet Links

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -with teams

2014 National comparison with 2009 and 2012 -Individual entries-No Teams

The two spreadsheets above were created by Robert Sasseville, a member of the group that met with the USTA folks in Chicago in October.  Robert has run the Girls 14s Nationals for the past 30 years and has been involved in junior tennis in some way, shape, or form for over 40 years, so he’s seen the evolution of the competition calendar and ranking system over a long enough period of time to understand clearly how the 2014 changes will impact our junior players.

The first link shows a comparison between the 2014 national competition opportunities and those in 2012 and 2009, including the new team events.  The second link shows the same comparison but without including the new team events so there is an “apples to apples, oranges to oranges” comparison.  The spreadsheets are broken down by weeks, so that when viewed, it is obvious how restrictive the current and proposed 2014 schedules are compared to pre-2011.

If, after studying the spreadsheets, you still aren’t convinced that the 2014 calendar will greatly reduce competition opportunities for our juniors, please let me know in the Comments below. I have Robert on stand-by!

The following was written by Robert Sasseville and posted in another article‘s Comments section:

It was today one year ago, December 1, 2011, that I first received a copy of the proposed changes to the National Junior Competition Structure.  It was that night that I composed my first “comparison” of competitive opportunity reductions.  That night I compared 2014 with 2011, 2010, and the 1980’s, our recent “golden age” of junior tennis.  I compared only Level 1 and Level 2 changes.

In the original proposal the Winter and Spring Nationals were eliminated.  Both remaining Level 2 Nationals were reduced to 64 draws, while The Nationals (Hard Courts) were reduced to 128 draws and the National Clay Courts were moved to Memorial Day weekend and reduced to 64 Draws.  Depending on age group the Level 1 reductions from 2010 were 75% for 12’s, 60% for 14’s,  59% for 16’s, and 58% for 18’s.  Sweet Sixteen’s weren’t counted because they were automatically entered into the succeeding Level 1 National.

The Level 2 events were all reduced from 16 events with 64 players each in 2010 to 6 events with 32 players each in 2014.  That was a reduction for all age groups of 81.25%.

The National Junior Competition Schedule that passed in March had some changes, like not moving the Clay Courts to May and adding a 32-draw Spring event for 12’s, 14’s, and 16’s, so our updated numbers have changed as modifications occurred.

To get a picture of how the schedule changes will affect playing opportunities for juniors, I put together a spreadsheet comparing 2009 with 2012 and 2014.  It was not only designed to show percentage decrease in opportunity, but also the event distribution.   Because it was laid out in a 52-week format, the flexibility inherent in the 2009 schedule contrasted with the rigidity of the 2014 schedule was readily apparent.

The original comparisons were based on National “developmental” opportunities, which meant that a single player could enter a  tournament with the opportunity to play another player from anywhere in the United States.  (A player from College Park, Maryland could possibly have opponents from Spokane, WA, Houston, TX, and San Juan, PR, or any other location within the United States.)  In our original computation we included the proposed 2014 Winter Team Championships, although they are really not individual events.

We did not include 2014 Regionals in the computation, because they are “National” in respect to “point opportunities” only, as opposed to the current events labeled “Regional” which currently have no geographic restrictions, and are truly “National”.

In this document we expanded the spreadsheets and looked at both the individual events, the team events, as well as the new ‘Regional’ events and computed percentages based on individual and team events, separately and together, as well as, including the new  “Regionals”.

It all depends on one’s definition of “National”.

If “National” means you have the possibility of playing anyone from anywhere …..

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 82.47% to 86.75%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 71.00% to 80.75%.

If “National” means the tournament has “National” or “Regional” in the title, and you will receive National points  …….

  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual events is 60.73% to 65.90%.
  • The range of reduction percentages from 2009 to 2014 for Individual and team events combined is 51.24% to 61.65%.

Another reduction, for those defining “National” opportunities using the criteria that National Points are available, is the fact that the number of Sectional events offering “National” points has been reduced by 50%.   Each section’s number of events carrying National points has been reduced from 12 to 6.  Even though the events eliminated were Level 5, elimination of 6 events spread throughout the year reduces opportunities for players whose schedules are restricted by school or other commitments.

If you are defining “National” by the opportunity to acquire National Points, you might want to consider exactly what National Points and National Rankings will do for you in 2014.

Already, National Rankings are basically a tool used by the USTA online entry system for player selection and seeding.   Having a “National” ranking has devolved to the point where its only real value is in the selection process for “National” events.

Seldom does one hear people talk about National ranking, particularly as a player reaches college age.  Now people mention, or aspire to be, “Blue Chips”, “5 Stars”, “4 Stars”, etc.  USTA Rankings have become irrelevant for college recruiting purposes because they don’t take into account the quality of play.    Once USTA moved away from a merit-based head-to-head ranking system, the value of the ranking secured by point acquisition is merely the value granted to it by USTA.  The value is that if you have more points, you will be admitted ahead of someone who has fewer.

Additionally, the number of events accepting entrants based on a player’s National ranking shows a staggering decrease. The events per age group admitting players via National ranking in 2014 compared to 2009 and 2013 are:

  • 12’s    28 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    •  [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each) and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)
  • 14’s    29 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]   Reduction: 79.3% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 16’s    31 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 6 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), 2 Sweet 16 (16 players each), Winter Team event (64 players), and the Spring National event (32 players)]  Reduction: 80.6% (2009); 50% (2013)
  • 18’s    32 in  2009  vs. 12 in 2013 and 3 in 2014
    • [2 National Selection tournaments (96 players each), Winter Team event (64 players)]  Reduction: 89.3% (2009); 75% (2013)

Imagine being a rising 17- or 18-year-old and having your National Ranking used for admittance to only 3 National level events for all of 2014, when in 2013 there had been 12 events played in 10 different months that admitted you via your National Ranking.

So, one thing is certain.  National individual opportunities for all will be reduced anywhere from 51% to 86%, depending on your age group and your definition of “National”.

The numbers of events where your National Ranking will have any significance at all will drop by 79.3% to 89.3%, or 50% to 75%, depending on which year you choose as a comparison.

Severely reducing the number of events making selections based on USTA National standing serves to diminish the value of a USTA National ranking, and therefore the value of events that carry National points, but no National developmental opportunities (e.g., 2014 Level 3 and Level 4 Regionals).

While there may be argument over the exact percentages, there is no argument that the operative word for 2014 is REDUCTION.

Notes from 2nd USTA Town Hall Listening Meeting Nov 24, 2012

The following information was emailed to me by Jason Lampione – tennis coach, mentor, and writer – who was in attendance at the Rocky Hill, CT, “listening” meeting held by USTA.  These are simply Jason’s notes taken during the meeting – he will be compiling his own analysis of them over the next day or so which I will then post on ParentingAces for you to read.  

This second meeting was led by incoming USTA President Dave Haggerty and USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis Kurt Kamperman and was attended by 30-40 (exact number unknown) parents and coaches.  I have inserted my comments in italics at the end of certain bullet points below.  

USTA released a statement via email to some key people after the meeting – that statement is posted in its entirety on the ParentingAces Facebook page.  Please read and share all of this information with other tennis parents and coaches so our voices will be heard.  Thank you.

NOTE:  I have edited the article based on comments shared by Bill Mountford of USTA – my edits are in ALL CAPS below.

  • In two years, we would like to see the USTA go from an 800 pound gorilla to a more balanced 400 pounds.  (D. Haggerty)
  • Communication and structure are problematic within the USTA.  (parent)  This is an issue that I’ve been discussing with various USTA committee members and staff.  They have to do a better job of communicating with the membership.  USTA has a Facebook page, is on Twitter, and sends out regular emails – the tools are in place.  There is no excuse for the lack of communication on these proposed changes and other relevant issues.
  • We’re going to reduce the cost of travel within each section of the USTA.  (D. Haggerty) How is USTA going to accomplish this feat?  They’re proposing to CREATE REGIONS now, potentially increasing the cost of travelling to tournaments.  Is USTA going to develop relationships with gasoline companies and airlines and hotel chains to give discounts to members?  If so, I’m in full support!
  • Kids at every level have better competition through earned attainment.  (K. Kamperman) I agree with this statement as it applies WITHIN sections.  However, we all realize that the strength between sections varies enormously, so if a player emerges as the best in a weak section then goes to a national event to compete against the best player in a strong section, I’m not sure how that’s better competition for the strong-section player. 
  • Our children are playing each other at least 5, 6 and even 7 times within the tournament format within our section.  (parent) That’s why it’s good to have the option to play OUTSIDE your section.  Why would USTA want to limit or eliminate that option?  I still don’t understand the reasoning here.
  • The regional format is pretty good.  (parent) I would question whether or not this parent has looked at the new region map and how much travel it could potentially involve.
  • Playing other regions gives better competition.  (parent) I agree.  Kids love the chance to play against new opponents.  That’s why we need to increase the opportunities to play nationally and increase the draws at those national events. 
  • Playing within only one region doesn’t allow for proper player development.  (parent) I think it depends upon the region.  But, generally speaking, yes, I would agree with this statement.  Playing a wider variety of opponents gives a developing player the opportunity to learn how to deal with a variety of tactics, making him/her into a more complete player.
  • The consensus is that variety is good!  (K. Kamperman) Yes, it is!
  • It is terrible that players cannot get on-court coaching.  (parent) That’s an issue for another day.
  • I spend all this money, and our players have very limited options.  (parent)
  • The pressure to perform and accumulate points in each round is incredible and very costly to us parents.  (parent) Pressure to perform is a big part of tennis, of any sport really.  If that pressure is harming your child, then maybe it’s time to find a different activity that is better-suited to the child’s temperament.  High-level competition is NOT for everybody!
  • You cannot limit a player’s potential just by their ranking or age.  (parent) I’m not exactly sure what this parent is saying.  I think we all agree that the current PPR ranking system could use some work.
  • Distance and travel, financially, is troublesome for certain parents, especially outside our region!  (parent)
  • In the Eastern section, I am being charged 25 dollars per each tournament main draw entry along with traveling expenses.  This is becoming too much for me and my husband to handle, financially speaking!  (parent) I think we can all agree that tennis is an expensive sport, especially if you’re trying to develop a player to the top echelons.  However, I must say I’m surprised by the $25 entry fee – we pay much higher fees ($45 and up) in our section, even at local tournaments.
  • International players are heavily marketed here in the United States, and our American counterparts are being singled out!  (parent) I’m not sure I understand this statement.  If someone could clarify for me, that would be helpful.
  • From experience, most USTA coaches only support players here in the United States who are highly ranked!  (parent) That’s a problem inherent in the Player ID and Player Development departments of USTA.  Those departments are charged with identifying players who have the potential to become our next American champions.  The question becomes: would the dollars allocated to paying the salaries of those coaches be better spent supporting local coaches who are developing top-level players in their own backyards?
  • The entire ‘talent id’ for pre-adolescents is a complete crap shoot.  (K. Kamperman) Amen, Mr. Kamperman!  I’m hoping to see USTA do away with this piece of the puzzle entirely and paint with a broader brush when using its financial resources for player development.
  • The Mid-Atlantic region converts every parent into a cash machine and is ultra selective as per the ability of the player they choose to work with.  (parent)
  • I feel that I should homeschool my child just so he/she can get ahead and attend a better school!  (parent) I still don’t understand how the proposed changes are going to reduce missed school days.  Can someone please explain that one to me?  Is homeschooling going to become the necessary norm for those wanting to achieve the highest levels in junior tennis?  Is it already the norm?
  • By expanding the participation base here in the United States, we have a wider audience to draw from, player-wise!  (K. Kamperman) Agree.
  • When my child is being coached at a club, I have no idea how to measure the quality of the program with regard to the training environment!  (parent) This is where USTA could really step in and prove to be a valuable resource to parents.  I hope the parent quoted here finds my blog and reads my series on Choosing A Coach!
  • I am in favor of increased draw sizes at the national level, tournament wise!  (parent) Me, too!
  • You [the USTA] need to make the draws more backended!  (parent) What does that mean?
  • We have to look at the structure, with regard to the rankings.  (K. Kamperman) I’m not sure what Mr. Kamperman is saying here.  Is he concerned about the current PPR ranking system?  If so, I’m very glad to hear that and hope that it is re-evaluated to include head-to-head competition.
  • There isn’t any other ranking system in any other sport that doesn’t come under heavy scrutiny!  (K. Kamperman)
  • I’d like to see more American players get more scholarships.  (D. Haggerty) Me, too, Mr. Haggerty!  How is USTA going to make that happen?  Is it going to take a firmer stand with NCAA and college coaches and athletic directors?  We need USTA to advocate for our kids in this regard.
  • I think it is good for both the American and International players to compete with one another.  (D. Haggerty) That is why the ITF circuit is such a great option for many players.
  • The USTA is not in the driver’s seat for college scholarships.  (K. Kamperman) Right.  Those rules are established by NCAA.  USTA could, however, take a stronger position and advocate for increased scholarships on the men’s side and for limiting the number of scholarships that go to international players.  The NJCAA has already paved the way.
  • The parents’ feedback and recommendations have no value with regard to influencing change within the USTA.  (parent) I think these listening meetings prove otherwise.  At the very least, USTA is making an effort to get feedback directly from those of us affected by these proposed changes.  Whether or not it acts on that feedback is yet to be seen.  I’m trying to remain hopeful.
  • The players from Florida and California are complaining that other sections have weaker competition.  (parent) The statistics confirm that fact.  I looked at the November 2012 National Standing List for the Boys 18s – the sections with the most players in the top 100 are (in order) Southern California (17), Texas & Southern (tied with 12), Florida & Eastern (tied with 10), and Midwest (9).
  • If I was running the USTA like a business, I don’t know why I would limit American players’ options!  (parent)
  • I think it is good business if the USTA supports the passion of players here in the US.  (parent)
  • The emotional rollercoaster that my child suffers, because of the extreme pressure in performing, is hampering his passion to wanna compete.  (parent) High-level competition isn’t for everyone.  Parents have to look at each child to determine what’s in his/her best interest.  One thing I will say is that, at least in the Southern section, there are many levels of competition from which to choose.  For a player who doesn’t thrive under the pressure of high-level play, there are other options to still compete but at a lower stress level.
  • Parents aren’t seeing developmental plans from USTA coaches.  (parent) Again, I feel like USTA could really be a positive force if it would become more of a guide for parents trying to navigate the complicated tournament and development system.
  • We’re gonna look at all recommended proposals and pass them on to section leaders.  (K. Kamperman) A question that was posed on the ParentingAces Facebook page: “What will compel USTA to change anything as a result of holding these ‘listening’ meetings?”  I would really like to hear USTA’s answer to this question as I think it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle.
  • A VOTE FROM THE USTA BOARD OF DIRECTORS REGARDING A PAUSE TO THE CHANGES FOR 2013 WILL TAKE PLACE IN DECEMBER 2012.  USTA LEADERSHIP WILL REVIEW FEEDBACK FROM THESE “LISTENING” MEETINGS DURING THE ANNUAL MEETING IN MARCH AFTER WHICH A VOTE WILL BE TAKEN ON HOW TO PROCEED IN 2014.   (K. Kamperman) This is why we need to communicate NOW with our section presidents and let them know our thoughts on these proposed changes.  Time is of the essence.
  • Currently, 88,000 kids play at all levels here in the US.  (K. Kamperman)
  • Increasing participation at the high school level will help increase the USTA bottom line, player-wise!  (coach) I have to disagree with this statement, at least insofar as high school tennis in Georgia is currently structured.  Our state high school association has passed an eligibility rule which will effectively eliminate all high-performance players from their high school teams.  The level of competition in our state’s high schools has become on par with recreational league tennis.
  • I travel from Rochester to NYC seven times a year and it is VERY costly and time-consuming.  (parent)
  • I wonder if the USTA is willing to pick up the traveling expenses for players who travel outside of their respective region.  (parent) I know my section (Southern) does have need-based scholarship funds available to help offset some of the costs of junior tennis.  I’m guessing other sections have something similar.
  • I’m on the board of player development for the New England section and am concerned about these new rule changes.  (coach)
  • There is no guarantee for our children, especially when we have to spend so much money for travel and tournament fees that I am beginning to think the investment isn’t worth it anymore!  (parent) That is a decision each family has to make for itself.  With my three kids, only one of whom is a tennis player, I’ve found that pursuing an interest to the point of mastery is expensive, whether it’s a sport or an art form.

The proposed dates for the remaining “listening” meetings are as follows:

December 16: ITA Convention (for convention attendees only), Naples FL
December 26: 16s & 18s Winter Nationals, Scottsdale, AZ
December 27: 12s & 14s Winter Nationals, Tucson, AZ
Jan. 10-13: Southern Section annual meeting, Atlanta, GA
Feb. 15-17: Texas Section annual meeting, Grapevine, TX

Let me say again that it is crucial that parents and coaches take the time to educate themselves on the issues and attend these meetings.  To read the proposed changes, click here.  If you can’t attend a meeting, then please use the new email address, letusknow@usta.com, to communicate your concerns to USTA.