New Coke & 2014

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Today’s post courtesy of Antonio Mora . . .

In 1985, before all our junior players were born and when many of their parents were young enough to be junior players themselves, the Coca-Cola Company took what has been referred to as the greatest marketing risk in consumer goods history.  The company changed the formula for Coca-Cola, the world’s most popular soft drink, the first significant change in its formula in 99 years.

The development of what everyone ended up calling “New Coke” was a long and secret process that even had a code name, “Project Kansas.”  The company’s most senior executives launched the effort, hoping to find a new “champion” for the company and reverse years of decline in Coke’s market share.  By the early 1980s, Pepsi had become the best-selling soft drink among young Americans and Coke found itself suddenly in the unfamiliar position of not comfortably dominating the soft drink market.

“Project Kansas” and Coke executives chose to compete with Pepsi by drastically changing what was arguably the world’s greatest brand.  Their huge mistake?  They failed to consider their customers and Coke drinkers’ loyalty to the “real thing.”  The outcry from Coca-Cola’s customers and its bottlers was immediate and “New Coke” turned into a marketing disaster amid public protests and boycotts.  At first, Coke executives considered slightly “tweaking” the formula of their new drink, to make it more similar to traditional Coke.  Cooler heads prevailed and, only 79 days after “New Coke’s” debut, the company reintroduced the old formula and started selling it as “Coca-Cola Classic.”  It was the most spectacular about-face in American corporate history, bigger than Ford turning its back on the Edsel.  My old boss, Peter Jennings, interrupted regular programming on ABC to report the breaking news.  On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Democratic Senator David Pryor of Arkansas called Coke’s reversal a “meaningful moment in the history of America.”  Trust me, I’m not making this up.

It was certainly a meaningful moment in Coca-Cola’s history.  The company’s sales numbers soared, “New Coke” soon disappeared and “Coca-Cola Classic” went back to being plain “Coca-Cola.”  Within a few years, Pepsi became an also-ran in the soft drink wars, and today, both Coke and Diet Coke outsell Pepsi.

The parallels between “New Coke” and the USTA’s 2014 changes to the junior competitive schedule are pretty obvious.  Well-intentioned USTA executives launched the effort, trying to find a new “formula” to develop American champions and reverse years of decline in US tennis fortunes on the world stage.  The USTA’s effort may not have had a code name, but the process was long, a lot of hard work was involved, and it was secret.  Like Coca-Cola, the USTA didn’t fully consider the reaction of its customers and faces a huge public outcry.  As Coca-Cola executives did at first, USTA officials are considering just “tweaking” their new “formula,” instead of fully reconsidering their decision.  The big question, of course, is whether USTA officials will learn from the past, acknowledge the overwhelming opposition to their new “formula,” have the courage to stand up to internal pressure and reverse course, starting a new process that will be more inclusive of its customers’ wishes.

Notes From 9th and Final Listening Meeting in Texas

USTA Folks in Attendance:
  • Bill Mountford
  • Dave Haggerty
  • Lew Brewer, though he arrived a bit late and stayed mostly at the back of the room.

The following information is a conglomeration of several emails that I received after the meeting. If you were there and have something to add, please do so in the Comments below.

Sadly, attendance was rather small, but those in attendance seemed to be fully aware of the changes and were fully engaged in the discussion.

The initial issue that came up was in regards to why the USTA is reducing the number of national tournaments. The conversation started with traditional schooling and the desire to try and reduce the number of days players will miss. A few of the parents voiced their disagreement with the USTA focusing so much on this. These parents felt it was not as big of a deal as the USTA was making it – and that it should be the parents’ responsibility to manage this, not the USTA. Several USTA people disagreed and backed the new rule changes.

The conversation then turned to the draw sizes. It felt like quite a bit of the conversation revolved around this topic. A few of the parents focused on the decrease in opportunities for kids that don’t fall into the 32/64/128 draw sizes. There was a concern for the kids that will just miss the cut or would have otherwise been able to make it into a national tournament. Even if they weren’t the “high quality” players, the experience could be enough to motivate and incentivize these players to work harder and grow their game. In addition, a few parents mentioned that the kids that aren’t among the top 128 could potentially have fewer chances to be seen by college coaches. The USTA response was that these coaches would see them at the regional tournaments (of which the parents were skeptical). The USTA and coaches tried to focus the discussion on the quality of the draw for the players, saying smaller draws will drive stronger competition.

Dave Haggerty once again brought up that USTA is discussing a 64 player draw qualifier for the national tournaments that are reducing from 192 to 128. The thinking is that this would give the lower ranked kids a chance to play for a berth in the main draw and keep similarly ranked kids playing together. Of interest was how the USTA would deal with the qualifier and wild card issue. Suggestions were made to have 0 wildcards from the USTA and also having 7 to 8 wildcards allocated to the USTA with 8-9 spots coming out of the qualifier.

I saw the following posted on the USTA-Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes Facebook page: There are a number of people who think that the 128 draw is ample for Level 1 tournaments. What those people usually don’t understand is that entry into those draws are not on a child’s National ranking but on sectional quota’s. So technically a kid from the Caribbean could be ranked 1400 in the US and get in a 128 draw while a kid who is ranked 50 in Southern California would not get it. Usually when people find that out, they have a greater understanding of why the 192 is more fair to the stronger sections. Additionally, these events have become showcases. There are many colleges who recruit kids at that level and the change from 128 to 192 has caused a tremendous amount of introductions of college coaches to US kids. Countless US kids are playing college tennis because of the move to 192.

There was emphasis placed on 12 and unders – having 128 draws and including 12s in the team competition in the winter. Foreign scholarships were addressed, and the USTA folks indicated they are talking with other sports to address this issue as they feel that making this a tennis only issue would not work with the NCAA. It was reiterated that the USTA has no jurisdiction in regards to this issue.

One parent shared with me that, overall, it was a civil meeting, with no fireworks – they just didn’t have enough parents show up. That being said, the vibe (in his opinion) was that the USTA attendees in the audience have already made up their mind to back the changes. It was obvious in their body language in reaction to parent and coaches comments, as well as under-the-breath comments and side bar conversations.

Overall, those in attendance believe Bill and Dave were engaged. Whether that leads to committee action remains to be seen.

All Sections Are NOT Created Equal

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Voting within USTA is much like the Electoral College system in the US federal government.  All USTA sections are not created equal.  Apparently, size DOES matter.

That said, and as was suggested by Scott Schultz at the listening meeting in Los Angeles, it is still crucial that we all continue to reach out to our Section Presidents (click here for a list of Sections, 2013 Presidents, and contact info where available) and ask them to vote for a pause on the 2014 changes to the junior competition calendar.  It is our best hope for getting the result that many of us have been working toward for the past year or so – to see the USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee take the 2014 plan, push the pause button, seek input from those in the trenches day in and day out, use it as a base to create something that serves the greatest number of junior players, vet it properly among its constituents, then move forward in hopes of providing a clear pathway for our kids to make the most of their junior tennis years.

Here’s what I sent to Bud Spencer, the Southern Section President: “Mr. Spencer, please vote to PAUSE the 2014 schedule at the next USTA meeting!  The proposed changes will have a significant negative impact on junior tennis.  Why not just take one more look at this whole proposal and re-evaluate?  What is the harm?  What is the rush?  Isn’t it better to do things right instead of doing them right now?  Please listen to the concerns of so many of the coaches and parents and players involved and vote NO on moving forward with these changes in 2014.  Thank you.”

Please note that the next (and final!) listening meeting is Friday, February 15th at 4:30pm at the DFW Airport Hilton in Grapevine, Texas.  Dave Haggerty, Bill Mountford, and Lew Brewer are scheduled to be the USTA representatives there.   You folks in Texas are up against it, though.  A parent posted the following on the ParentingAces Facebook page:  “Just got an email from Ken McAllister, Director over the Texas Section, they will continue to support the changes to the jr. tournament schedule and do so more strongly than before.”  This, despite the fact that many parents have reached out to Mr. McAllister asking him to vote for a pause.  This, despite the fact that the listening meeting in his section hasn’t even happened yet.

If you are planning to attend the Texas meeting and are willing to share your thoughts with me, please contact me at fitmom@bellsouth.net.

And, don’t forget to keep sharing your thoughts with LetUsKnow@usta.com.

By the way, Monday’s ParentingAces radio show will continue with last week’s discussion on the 2014 changes and how they will impact players and families.  My guests will include Antonio Mora, Geoff Grant, Sol Schwartz, and Martyn Collins.  I hope others of you will call in and share your questions and concerns.  The show airs at Noon ET – please click the Radio Show tab above for details.

Notes From 8th Listening Meeting in Los Angeles

USTA Folks in Attendance:
  • Scott Schultz
  • Bill Mountford
  • Lew Brewer
  • Ellen Ehlers
  • Greg Hickey – SoCal President
  • Michael Cooke – NorCal President

I’m happy to report that I have heard from several folks who attended last night’s meeting in Los Angeles, and that there was once again overwhelming opposition to the 2014 changes.

There were 61 attendees including several parents, coaches, USTA representatives, and even a tennis journalist.   Some people who had planned to be there didn’t make it because they thought it was at UCLA (I’m not sure how or why they had incorrect information regarding the meeting location).  School-night traffic on the LA freeways made it impossible for some parents to get there, but, still, 61 people came.

During the meeting, there was a constant barrage of passionate parent after passionate parent making very poignant statements about how these changes were “ill-conceived”.  People attacked the fact that only one person on the 2011-2012 Junior Competition Committee (the one that is responsible for the changes) had children currently playing competitive tennis, and said that no one can understand what goes on in tournament tennis unless they are living it everyday.  The point was made over and over that, at the tournaments, everyone is against these changes.

While there was one parent who said that he thinks a system where kids can play in their backyard is better, that was quickly refuted by nearly everyone in the room who simply said, “There aren’t enough kids to make that a reality right now.”  Parent after parent kept saying how the experience of these National events and the friendships that kids make are the things that keep them in the sport.

One mother said, “My daughter is a very talented athlete, and every other sport is courting her.  I can write a check for $400 for the year, and volleyball will handle everything else.  She wants to play tennis, and I want to provide that for her.  But it seems like you guys are doing everything in your power to push her out of it.  At every turn, you just make it more and more difficult.  Do you not understand what goes on at these tournaments with every single parent complaining about these changes?  All of your customers do not want any part of these changes.  So why are you continuing to push them?”

That drew a large ovation from the crowd.

UCLA assistant coach Grant Chen was there and said how hard they were trying to recruit local kids.  Apparently, UCLA head coach Billy Martin is strongly against the changes.

Another parent said, “Your entire customer base has been complaining for a year straight, and right now we are all tired of saying the same things over and over.  What do we have to do to get these changes stopped?”

USTA representative Scott Schultz then gave the most optimistic answer heard at any of the listening meetings when he said, “The USTA is a political organization.  You guys need to rally all the sections and get the sections to vote this down.  We just implement what they tell us. So you guys really need to talk to Section Presidents [click here for a list of Section Presidents and their contact information] and Section Junior Comp Committees and get them to stop them.”

While some in the room were angry and felt that Mr. Schultz’s statement was just a way to shift the blame and responsibility, others were encouraged and invigorated to have a concrete pathway to pause the 2014 changes that had not ever been disclosed before.

One parent said, “To me, when Mr. Schultz said his thing about getting the sections to overturn this, that made my day.  I have been involved with this for 9 months and have never heard any tangible way to get this fixed.  Now we know there is a way.  We just need to get the sections to vote it down.”

One well-spoken, passionate father gave a speech about how all the changes were taking the fun out of tennis and the soul out of the tournaments, that he drove all the way from Santa Barbara to speak up for the future generations as his kid was only 7 and already losing interest.  At the end of the speech, Lew Brewer’s response was,  “We have a plate of cookies back there.  Feel free to take your kid one.  Maybe it’ll make him feel better.”  The whole room just sat there with their mouths open, not believing what they had just heard.  I also heard from parent Gordon Bellis (who traveled to LA from Northern California for the meeting) that Lew Brewer would evade any tough direct question and respond that all of the changes were justified and fully supported.

Brad Sraberg, the parent of two SoCal junior players, said, “I want my kids playing tennis so that they can have a tool to get into college.  If these changes are implemented, it will be an absolute tragedy to so many kids at Adam’s level.  Maybe the Bellamys, Bellises and Gealers will be fine, but so many US kids will be pushed out of college tennis because of a policy change.  I pray that these changes get overturned.”

The bright spot of the night was near the end of the meeting when SoCal President Greg Hickey polled the attendees and said, “I’m listening and so I get this clear, you guys are against the loss of opportunity?”  A chorus of “YES” rang out. Then Mr. Hickey brought up the point about entry into tournaments which led to the evening’s most contentious moments as a couple of people, including USTA SoCal Manager of High Performance Darren Potkey, chimed in about “points chasers”.  The whole point-chasing argument was refuted by many who said that, really, there aren’t that many points chasers out there.  One person said that points chasers are actually a net positive for the sport because the wealthy pay for the travel to disperse the talent. He said, rightfully, “You still have to win the matches.”

In the end, those in the room said that the main focus is on not losing any opportunities and gaining back the Bowls.  They wanted to make it clear to USTA that 99.9% of parents are against these changes.

Dennis Rizza, the father of an ATP player and the Kramer Club Director (Pete Sampras, Lindsey Davenport, Tracy Austin have all come through his program), said, “We fought for 5 years to get the 192 draws.  I can’t believe that we are now fighting to hold onto them after we spent so much time fighting for them.  A 128 is simply not fair for kids in SoCal.”

Geoff Grant echoed, “If you want the best 128 kids in America on the court, and you want to have quotas, then you have to have larger draws.”

One parent who asked to remain nameless said, “Over and over, I just kept hearing the words ‘USTA Politics’.  Not one time during the 2.5 hours did I hear a USTA official say a single thing about doing what is right for the kids.  For all of you people within this USTA volunteer system, for all of you people who voted for this politically derived mess – shame on you! Shame on you people for not having any real concern for the kids and only caring about the politics.  And shame on you Ellen Ehlers for sitting there shaking your head and having a face filled with disdain at every comment from every heartfelt parent who actually attends these tournaments and actually knows these children who are impacted.  While I still hold hope that good prevails over evil in this situation, what last night meant for me is that the USTA politics are more pervasive and onerous than I ever would have been led to have believed.  If the sport wasn’t so beneficial, my kids would be playing another because of the USTA’s involvement.”

Chris Boyer emailed, “While I greatly appreciate the USTA finally coming around to the strong suggestions of ‘listening’ to its constituency, which after all is the very fabric of the organization, I was at the same time frankly shocked at the number of times the USTA executives mentioned the word ‘politics’.  From what I heard, much of the rationale that was given for these ill-conceived changes had more to do with ‘politics’, than logical business reasoning.  Since when do politics preside over what’s best for the kids?  As a businessman, and looking at this purely from an organizational standpoint, it appears that the root cause of this issue and so many others that seem to be permeating the USTA lately, is about the organization’s structure, and how it fosters the allowance of politics and incompetencies to come into play so frequently.  Just the mere fact that the these ‘town hall meetings’ need to take place – and when they do are so cantankerous – is an indictment of the organization itself and way of doing business, in my opinion. There are clearly a lot of people very upset with the USTA.”

I got a call this morning from parent Bob Cummins who wanted to share his thoughts on the meeting and the 2014 changes.  He told me that he realized after sitting through the meeting that the thing that’s really bothersome to him is that the Points-Per-Round system has created a “feeding frenzy” of people playing so many tournaments and just going a couple of rounds to earn points.  Some people can’t afford to travel to so many tournaments, and so they’re “locked out” of the system.  SoCal got the PPR system a couple of years ago – before that, they used the STAR system which focused on who you beat rather than how many tournaments you played.  Bob is all for getting more people involved in the sport, getting more people traveling and enjoying the big events like Copper Bowl and the team events.  He thinks USTA’s intention is to keep families out of the tennis “rat race” by eliminating a number of national tournaments so kids don’t have to travel so much and suggested that maybe those big events need to be kept separate from the national schedule so players aren’t locked out because of a tie-in to the national points system. That’s certainly an interesting proposal to consider, and I hope USTA takes note of it.

One parent who had planned to attend the meeting emailed me, saying, “I didn’t go to the meeting because they have worn me down and they just don’t listen or care.” That was disappointing to read. I hope it’s not a pervasive attitude among tennis parents because I do think we need to continue fighting for our kids and their tennis opportunities while there’s still a chance to get USTA to put a pause on the 2014 changes.

When is USTA going to listen – REALLY LISTEN – to its constituents and pause these changes until they can be properly vetted?  When is USTA going to engage the people who are in the trenches, spending several weeks each year at these junior tournaments, to create a schedule that makes sense?  The 2014 schedule was created by – and is being defended by – people like Scott Schultz, Ellen Ehlers, Andrea Norman, and Lew Brewer, who, by the way, have NO CHILDREN PLAYING JUNIOR TENNIS either at a competitive level or at all.  They are NOT the ones who should be determining the fate of junior tennis in the U.S.  What’s it going to take for USTA to push the pause button?

Please note that the next (and final!) listening meeting is Friday, February 15th at 4:30pm at the DFW Airport Hilton in Grapevine, Texas.  Dave Haggerty, Bill Mountford, and Lew Brewer are scheduled to be the USTA representatives there.

Notes From 7th Listening Meeting in Troy, Michigan

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to report from last night’s “listening” meeting in Troy.  The only word I’ve gotten is that there were only a small handful of people there, and that everyone stayed cool, calm, and collected.

Paul McDonald and Mark Bey were the USTA representatives leading the meeting.  Apparently, Scott Schultz was also supposed to be there but got delayed by the weather.  The parents in attendance who did speak were against the 2014 changes to the junior competition schedule, but the opposition was voiced in a very factual rather than impassioned manner.  From the emails I received, it seems that the overall feeling was one of resignation – one attendee reported that it just felt “flat out terrible for the sport more so than terrible for the cause.”

To me, this just underlines the sentiment that we in the tennis community need to find a resolution – and fast! – to this latest rift between USTA and its constituents.  The longer this goes on, the more harm will result.  Parents are talking to each other at tournaments and on social media outlets, and the frustration we feel has gone beyond idle chatter.  I think (I hope!) USTA realizes that it needs to seriously reconsider these changes and to, at the very least, put them on hold until more work can be done.

If any of you were among the 25 or so attendees at the Troy meeting, please add your insights in the Comments below.  Monday’s ParentingAces radio show will be dedicated to a discussion of the 2014 changes and their potential impact on players and families – I hope you’ll join in by calling the show at 714-583-6853 and sharing your thoughts and questions!

Please note that the next meeting is Monday, February 11th at 7:00pm at the Mountaingate Country Club in Los Angeles – click here for a link to the flyer.  Scott Schultz is scheduled to be the USTA representative there.

The Things That Really Matter


The following was emailed to me by Tom Walker.  . .

Changes were passed by a small number of misguided bureaucrats to the National Junior Tournament schedule. Unchallenged these will go into effect in 2014. Developmental coaches predict that these measures will negatively diminish junior tennis. Why are we so enlightened? What do we understand that they do not? Today, I was reminded in the briefest of moments why reversing this course is so imperative. Please indulge me and read on….

I was out on a marathon training run. Dusk was bleak and the temperature was a bone chilling 18 degrees. My course skirted by the local university. Wearily on mile twelve I fought with myself whether to push and continue onward. It was at that moment a simple yet extraordinary event occurred. Passing me in the opposite direction were two young college athletes. On my approach… one of two fist bumped the other and then unexpectedly reached up to offer me their hand as we passed. The gesture was a clear act of admiration and encouragement between athletes. It did not matter that I was easily 25 years their senior, nor that they did not know me. In that moment we shared a common bond. As our hands slapped in passing, I marveled at the unplanned and uplifting nature of this gesture. As the next six miles flew by I vividly recalled all the junior events I had coached at over the years. The lessons learned by so many athletes over time were once again brought into the sharpest of focus.

Magic or inspirational moments occur in the blink of an eye. As a son of a teacher I grew to understanding this. Such things are unscripted. Regrettably, those that seek to change our current tennis system fail to understand this. Their actions will reduce the environment that these moments live within. If more developmental coaches had been part of the process a different direction would have been pursued.

Youth tournaments are not really about who won and who lost. They are instead opportunities for players, coaches and parents to spend time learning and growing from each other. Competition of course …but also to lift one another beyond what the individual is singularly capable of. Whether on the courts, or simply spending time together the ability to inspire or learn is ever present. The size and level of the event increases the number of players who these gifts are bestowed upon.

Our decision makers are disturbingly unaware of these occurrences. They are neither teachers nor developers. The desire to share a common interest or bond is unmistakably the same force that drives millions of people each year to attend conventions. The powers that be have forgotten this. So has the national coach that bemoans an extra day away. Each no longer sees extra matches or obtainable goals as instruments of inspiration. Rather, they view them as a waste of time and money. Such is a selfish and narcissistic attitude and not a value I teach my athletes. Such attitudes have the power to destroy USA junior tennis. It is incumbent upon us to always extend a hand up. Players must be taught to appreciate assistance by freely willing to offer it.

Those that voted on these changes simply did not understand sharing and transmittal of hopes and dreams. The misguided desire to reduce these occurrences destroys the light and joy of youth involved in tennis. Why is it so hard to find the real value the players receive from these gatherings? Doesn’t the bureaucrat enjoy their time together at the US Open? Yes, unfortunately there is a financial cost in all things. While not everyone can afford each and every national junior tennis tournament, our goal must still be to allow as many as possible to share these wonderful moments…eliminating them serves no one.

In closing, I submit that we use the remaining time this year to develop and revamp the junior system. The 2014 changes should never be implemented! They were put together with a faulty premise by a group that was not representative of the junior tennis community. Simply putting events back will not fix the overall problems. Please contact your tennis representatives to demand that a new council is formed to undertake these issues correctly and together.

Tom Walker
Kalamazoo, Michigan

I’ll Be Your Messenger

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I have heard from several parents and coaches who are concerned about speaking out regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes for fear of retaliation from USTA. While I truly believe those concerns are unfounded, I do understand them.

So, as a way to help USTA gather as much input as possible before the 2013 Annual Meeting and the 2013-2014 Junior Competition Committee meeting in March, here’s my offer to all of you:

Email me at fitmom@bellsouth.net. Share your thoughts on the 2014 changes with me – what you like and what you’d like to see changed. I will remove all of your identifying data then forward your email to the LetUsKnow@usta.com address. Once I get a reply from Bill Mountford at USTA, I will forward it to you so you can decide how to proceed from there.

It’s crunch time on this thing! USTA is paying attention to the various blogs, Facebook groups, and tweets. They are reading our emails and taking the time to reply to most of them. If you are truly committed to convincing USTA to go back to the drawing board on the junior competition structure, or if you are in favor of the new calendar, then you need to speak up now. If you don’t feel comfortable putting your name on it, take me up on my offer to be the Messenger.

And, be sure to “like” the new Facebook page dedicated to this effort then share it with everyone you know. Ask your junior player to do the same. Encourage your kid(s) to share the link on Twitter and whatever other social media they use.

Let me repeat . . . it’s Crunch Time!