When I first started blogging a little over a year ago, it was with the intention of sharing my son’s and my experiences in junior tennis with those coming up behind us. I had been so frustrated trying to navigate the tournament structure and ranking structure that I figured maybe I could save others from going through that same frustration.
For the first few months, I wrote about our personal journey and the roadblocks we encountered. Some of my posts generated feedback from readers, but, mostly, I was writing from the heart thinking it might be nice for my son to one day go back and read how his tennis truly impacted his mom. Some of my posts were how-tos and were more fact-based than feeling-based, but overall I tried to keep it personal because I felt that would be the most useful to other tennis parents.
Now, one year three weeks and five days after my first post, I find myself embroiled in a heated debate over the USTA’s changes to the 2014 junior competition schedule. I’m getting emails and phone calls from people I had only read about or seen on tv. I’m also getting emails and phone calls from people who are just like me . . . concerned parents looking out for their child’s best interests. Some of the communication is very positive and encouraging, thanking me for speaking out and informing others, offering their experience in hopes of convincing USTA to put the changes on hold. Some of the communication, though, is not so nice, filled with accusations and other negative words.
When I told one fellow tennis cohort about all the negative stuff and how it was impacting me, she said, “Get your armor on girl. We are in a battle!” That was never my intention. I never wanted to engage in a fight. I never wanted to see the soft underbelly of junior tennis. I never wanted to get involved in the politics of junior tennis. I never thought my little blog would be on USTA’s radar even. But, I’ve now seen the little man behind the curtain, and I have learned a very valuable lesson here (Tennis Life Lesson #387) – no matter how much thought you put into an action before you take it, there are bound to be unintended consequences.
I can’t help but think that USTA is learning the same Lesson #387 right now. When it proposed the changes, I don’t think the USTA board or volunteers or staff had any idea they would generate this type of public outcry. And, when the USTA Junior Competition Committee created the changes, I don’t think the members thought through the unintended consequences of reducing opportunities for our kids. I don’t think they considered that many kids choose to learn the game of tennis because they want a chance to compete at the highest levels against their most accomplished peers. I don’t think they considered that they shouldn’t cut national opportunities without putting policies into place to ensure that the sections would pick up the slack. I don’t think they considered that eliminating a 128-draw event held when most kids are on Winter Break and replacing it with two 32-draw team events would leave out half, HALF!, of the juniors who want to play while they’re out of school.
Those are just a few of the outcomes of these changes. There are more. My hope is that USTA will do the right thing by its members, its constituents, us, and go back to the drawing board to see how the committee can make junior tennis more inclusive, not less. More accessible, not less. More transparent, not less.
If incoming president, Dave Haggerty, and his Board and his Junior Competition Committee (and affiliated staff) will commit to keep that pause button pushed until they can fully evaluate the unintended consequences of these changes, I think two very major intended consequences will emerge – growth in junior participation and growth in member trust and satisfaction. Please, USTA, do the right thing here – the future of our sport depends on you.