Unintended Consequences

When I first started blogging a little over a year ago, it was with the intention of sharing my son’s and my experiences in junior tennis with those coming up behind us.  I had been so frustrated trying to navigate the tournament structure and ranking structure that I figured maybe I could save others from going through that same frustration.

For the first few months, I wrote about our personal journey and the roadblocks we encountered.  Some of my posts generated feedback from readers, but, mostly, I was writing from the heart thinking it might be nice for my son to one day go back and read how his tennis truly impacted his mom.  Some of my posts were how-tos and were more fact-based than feeling-based, but overall I tried to keep it personal because I felt that would be the most useful to other tennis parents.

Now, one year three weeks and five days after my first post, I find myself embroiled in a heated debate over the USTA’s changes to the 2014 junior competition schedule.  I’m getting emails and phone calls from people I had only read about or seen on tv.  I’m also getting emails and phone calls from people who are just like me . . . concerned parents looking out for their child’s best interests.  Some of the communication is very positive and encouraging, thanking me for speaking out and informing others, offering their experience in hopes of convincing USTA to put the changes on hold.  Some of the communication, though, is not so nice, filled with accusations and other negative words.

When I told one fellow tennis cohort about all the negative stuff and how it was impacting me, she said, “Get your armor on girl.  We are in a battle!”  That was never my intention.  I never wanted to engage in a fight.  I never wanted to see the soft underbelly of junior tennis.  I never wanted to get involved in the politics of junior tennis.  I never thought my little blog would be on USTA’s radar even.  But, I’ve now seen the little man behind the curtain, and I have learned a very valuable  lesson here (Tennis Life Lesson #387) – no matter how much thought you put into an action before you take it, there are bound to be unintended consequences.

I can’t help but think that USTA is learning the same Lesson #387 right now.  When it proposed the changes, I don’t think the USTA board or volunteers or staff had any idea they would generate this type of public outcry.  And, when the USTA Junior Competition Committee created the changes, I don’t think the members thought through the unintended consequences of reducing opportunities for our kids.  I don’t think they considered that many kids choose to learn the game of tennis because they want a chance to compete at the highest levels against their most accomplished peers.  I don’t think they considered that they shouldn’t cut national opportunities without putting policies into place to ensure that the sections would pick up the slack.  I don’t think they considered that eliminating a 128-draw event held when most kids are on Winter Break and replacing it with two 32-draw team events would leave out half, HALF!, of the juniors who want to play while they’re out of school.

Those are just a few of the outcomes of these changes.  There are more.  My hope is that USTA will do the right thing by its members, its constituents, us, and go back to the drawing board to see how the committee can make junior tennis more inclusive, not less.  More accessible, not less.  More transparent, not less.

If incoming president, Dave Haggerty, and his Board and his Junior Competition Committee (and affiliated staff) will commit to keep that pause button pushed until they can fully evaluate the unintended consequences of these changes, I think two very major intended consequences will emerge – growth in junior participation and growth in member trust and satisfaction.  Please, USTA, do the right thing here – the future of our sport depends on you.

39 Comments on “Unintended Consequences”

  1. Very well thought out and written. I agree whole-heartedly and continue to discuss with other parents the ramifications of these proposed changes.

  2. I just want to play devils advocate for one min. As someone who went through the old junior tennis structure and someone who has a few kids now in the system, what you and these very few upset individuals fail to realize time an time again is all of these draws used to be 128. We had a great system before the optimum schedule was put into place. What this new system does is merely take us back to the way things used to be pre-1999.

    Our kids were recruited to play college tennis and we were in the heyday of American dominance on the world scene. This new structure has had it’s un-intended consequences as you so call it. We all know what these are. Does someone who is 20 in any section really deserve to play Kalamazoo? I don’t think so….

    Lets go back to a system that has proven itself to develop great junior, collegiate, and professional players as well as keep people playing tennis for their entire lifetime.

    1. Get Better, you are incorrect in saying that this new system takes us back to pre-1999. The 2014 changes reduce national competition opportunities by over 80% (62% if you include Regionals) from just 5 years ago, probably more from pre-1999. We’ve lost the Copper Bowl, the Gator Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, and the California Bowl among others. The 2014 proposal does nothing to reinstate those traditionally great events. I still fail to understand how cutting opportunities to compete helps our junior players. Please, explain it to me.

      And, why doesn’t someone ranked 20 in his section deserve to play Kalamazoo? Maybe he just aged up and hasn’t had the opportunity to build up his new age group ranking? Maybe he was injured for a good part of the year? Maybe the 19 kids ahead of him are just that good?

    2. Dear Get Better,

      Ok, I am an old timer too……… So, let’s compare apples to apples.

      “All these draws used to be 128”

      Well, some of these draws don’t even exist anymore and some will be cut in 2014.

      Copper Bowl was one of the most favorite tournaments out there, with a larger draw to benefit kids aging up, and it is gone.

      Winter Nationals for the Boys 16’s is 128……….. and it is on the chopping block for 2014, to be cut down to two team events where most of the players will be wild card in and get to stay after to work with the PD coaches.

      HOW IN THE WORLD IS THIS SIMILAR TO WHEN WE GREW UP?

      AND OUR KIDS WERE RECRUITED BY COLLEGE BACK THEN AND NOT FOREIGNERS……. PERHAPS THAT HAS TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT MORE FOREIGNERS PLAY TENNIS TODAY…………………………….

    3. Get Better,

      I noticed you didn’t mention USTA Player Develpoment in your comments… As I recall they didnt have anywhere close to the budget they have today and the little they had they assisted local programs and coaches making a difference in the community, not pulling them away from their homes and shipping them to Carson and Boca. I recall when they wanted to change the star ranking system they tested it in a few sections before implementing across the country… basically they took information from the sections and did rule from their golden tower, but instead worked with the sections…

      1. Njck Maybe you haven’t seen what Player Development is doing with Young players, Investing in programs and running a ton Of camps for a lot of young players. The whole goal behind their program is to keep you g kids playing locally. I have kids in the RTC program and they are trying to invest in local programs. Nick, don’t speak on issues you don’t know anything about. Player Development has had problems in the past but they are actually trying to do what is right the last couple of years. If you need me to start rattling off some of the things Player Development is helping with I can or the players they are directly coaching and/or helping out. You bloggers are such hatters and are mean spirited people. Read my name, and why don’t our kids just “get better”!

  3. Excellent piece. Obviously you are speaking for many parents.
    Thanks for all your hard work, it is greatly appreciated.

  4. As the father of a competitive eight year old who has been held back by USTA, I understand unintended consequences. I don’t have a dog in the schedule fight yet, but I applaud anyone who stands up for their child. The USTA competitive department needs to not cram things down the throats of its members. If they truly sought input and didn’t just give lip service to our opinions, it would be a start. I’m glad you are on their radar. Keep in up.

  5. Lisa,

    Obviously you have your ideas and I have mine. I don’t deal in the emotions I deal in the facts. I will do my best to help educate, and answer your questions above:

    1. Whoever published that 80 percent number is flat out wrong. This is the problem with today. Just because some says something doesn’t make it true. If you add up all of the level 1, 2, 3 opportunities it doesn’t come close to 80 percent. I would urge you to calculate and publish your findings.

    2. The old events: they are still there but in a more organized form just without the names. Look at the new segment of L2 tournaments as those old events but more organized on the schedule.

    3. Cutting draws: even one of your biggest advocates Chuck Kriese stood up and said this was just too much. If it worked for 80 years in the past why isn’t it good enough to go back to? I will give you my opinion why it is good at 128, it creates competition. It starts to do away with entitlements. By reducing the number of spots by 64 , the feeling of accomplishment a child will get by making his nations national championship will be amazing. He/she will have to work his/her tail off to get rewarded. It will drive the comp back down to the section where players experience the most pressure to win and have te most pressure to perform(when their spot to compete at Kzoo is on the line)

    4. Back in my day Todd Martin didnt qualify out of the Midwest section his first year. What he did was use this as motivation to get better. Since you are so passionate, why don’t you reach out to some of our past champions and see how they felt about the old system. I bet you twy would say it made them better players as well as better competitors and people.

    I think there are a lot of people that have a lot of misinformation out in the field. We should all do our part in making sure the right information is being presented, not just these bad facts that are filled with haste and emotion.

    Thanks for all you do in helping make tennis relevant. I think it is time we all try to come together for what is best for tennis. We need each other because we are fighting a big battle against the rest of the world and we can’t afford to be waisting all of this energy fighting with ourselves.

    1. Get Better, thank you for taking time to elaborate. For the record, that 80% number is accurate, and, yes, I do have the facts and figures to back it up as soon as I can figure out how to upload an Excel file to my blog (!). Also, these new changes do NOT take us back to the “old system” – they eliminate opportunities to compete instead of embracing the idea of including more, not fewer, kids. Regarding your #4, I think it’s great that Todd Martin was able to muster the incentive to improve after missing the qualifying cut-off – I’m sure that had a lot to do with his eventual success as a professional. And, I would hope (no, I am confident) that we have a crop of juniors out there now who would do the exact same thing. But, whether the cut-off is 2 or it’s 20, there’s still going to be THAT KID who just misses the mark and will have that same opportunity to step up his game or decide he’s satisfied to stay and play locally instead. I agree with you that we do need to come together. I am hopeful that USTA will take the necessary steps to make that happen.

      1. I look forward to seeing your numbers. If you can show us that it truly 80 percent I will take back comment 1. I believe this chart has already been posted on some other blog and they left out the level 3 tournaments which isn’t accurate. L3 tournaments are part of the national schedule so you can’t spin the numbers. Please add back in the L3 numbers and post. Lets see what the true percentages are not the manufactured.

        I guess we will just have a disagreement with regards to what constitutes a national championship. Could you research the other federations draw sizes for their national championships? It would be interesting to see what our competitors use for draw sizes.

        1. i would hope that USTA already has the information regarding draw sizes in other countries. honestly, i don’t have time to reinvent the wheel if that data is already available elsewhere (please remember this blog is a VOLUNTEER project!) – maybe one of the USTA folks reading can share the info with the rest of us. and, yes, i will make sure the L3 events are included on the information i post.

      2. Looking at other federations or other European countries in isolation is a meaningless task. Please keep in mind that the southern section alone has a population roughly equivalent to the population of France, and the US is better compared to the EU as a whole rather than any specific country. We forget about the scale some time. The fact is TennisEurope has an order of magnitude more playing opportunities across Europe and they are not trying to shrink their way to greatness, they are increasing. We may be emulating the Spanish Style with regards to PD training, but as far as tournaments, scheduling, etc, there is no European equivalent to the USTA changes

    2. You state – “I will give you my opinion why it is good at 128, it creates competition. It starts to do away with entitlements.”

      For the 12’s, the tournaments will be cut down to 64……
      How is that “128”

      Each age division is different, perhaps you should check your facts before you write on a board and try to paint everything with the same brush and provide inaccurate information.

      You state – “The old events: they are still there but in a more organized form just without the names. Look at the new segment of L2 tournaments as those old events but more organized on the schedule.”

      Southern Open and Texas Open are gone.

      In 2014, the L3 in July that kids had used to age up in will be cut to 32.

      1. Please keep in mind that the 12’s and 14’s are compass draws. Nobody goes home on the second day. Even the small number of kids who lose all four of their matches get four matches. For the kids that get in, this is a huge learning experience that most of them cannot get at home, and that’s what it should be at this age, not crowning the #1 12 year old national champion. Sorry, Brewer is dead wrong of he thinks that what these tournaments are about. Maybe the BG18’s, but not the 12’s or even the 14’s. What’s more valuable for developing players, a week of intense competition, or a week at a high priced tennis academy ? The 64 kids who don’t get in probably won’t be as good as the 64 that do, but the simple fact is that at that age with limited inter-sectional play you just don’t know. That’s why you play the tournament. At the end everybody has learned something, even if all they learned, via losing, it what it is going to take for them too win. Eliminating 64 players so the so top players aren’t inconvenienced by having to play an additional round is a travesty.

  6. Lisa – thank you, thank you for bringing these issues to the attention of others and for being willing to state your feelings. You echo the sentiments of so many junior players including my son. These players want the opportunity to play against the best not only to try to win but to just engage in a sport they love. Yes they are willing to earn their way but they may not be number 1 in the Section for many reasons – aging up, injury or many other reasons. There are many opportunities to play tennis thorughout life and let’s not discourage the passion. Limiting the draw sizes in the National Opens and Regionals has already diminshed the opportunities for many kids. Let’s not cut these opportuniteis even further.

    Finally, there are already unintended consquences on limiting draw sizes – the revenue that tennis clubs and the tourist industry in those towns receeived from the tournaments has been cut in half and I have heard that many clubs no longer want to hold these tournaments.

  7. Thanks again. A’s I’ve said before, almost none of these kids are going to be pros, most college players.

    The intangibles are enormous.

    Get better…. Perhaps your intentions are different, but we are growing some well rounded kids and these opportunities provide for growth. It’s not just about winning and losing, for us.

    1. Well rounded kids that are being denied tennis spots at state universities now that are all foreign teams. That is the real shame.

    2. Your statement is one of the main problems with US Tennis. The USTA wants and needs to provide a platform to develop tennis talent to compete on the world stage. USTA is not responsible for providing a platform to help parents develop “well rounded kids”. Take your kids to the country club or local rec tennis court for grooming.

      1. New 10’s Parent, given that, by your username, you indicate you are new to tennis, I am going to cut you a little slack, but if you think it’s not USTA’s job to provide tennis opportunities to ALL who wish to play in this country, you are mistaken. That is exactly USTA’s job. USTA is not responsible ONLY for developing world-class players – it is responsible for developing ALL players. USTA Player ID and Player Development are charged with finding the next great American champions – those are departments within USTA. USTA Junior Competition is charged with providing competition opportunities for all junior players at all levels. Given that a minuscule percentage of junior players will go on to find success at the professional level, creating a tennis environment wherein young players can strike a balance between training and playing their sport AND going to school and participating in other activities such as music (or other interests) is what USTA should be doing and has traditionally striven to do.

  8. Lisa,
    I’ve been following your blog for a month or two now and you’re doing a great job of sharing information and asking people to learn more and then advocate. That is an amazing thing – taking your time to inspire others to act. Keep up the good work.

  9. Beautifully written and thought-out post, Lisa. It is a massive slashing of opportunities.

    Also, the L2 tournaments (which, by the way, will be slashed from 16 to 6 in 2014), did not take the place of the “bowls,” the L3 tournaments did. Those will go from 32 now to 12 in 2014 (and the summer L3 draws will be cut from 64 to 32).

    The great advantage of the “bowls” was that they were spread throughout the calendar and the country with 128 draws. They gave parents and kids tremendous flexibility and terrific competition, far better than having regionals all stacked on one weekend as they are now.

  10. Folks,

    Spread the word for the Town meetings, this is official.

    The draw for the L3 for July 2013 has been cut from 64 to 32.

    If you all recall, this was the only tournament for aging up and it is now gone.

    1. “official” from whom? the 2013 changes are supposed to be paused and will be reviewed next month, at least that’s my understanding. if someone has better information, please share!

      1. This may be an artifact of the fact that, per Bill Mountefords comments, that the “pause” is not official yet, until voted on at December board meeting. I believe technically the 2014(and 2013) changes are the current law of the land, although the official vote on the pause should be just a technicality.

    2. just saw the following on another website regarding reduced draw size for July L3 (hope USTA reads this):

      “I hate to see this go. I can speak from the perspective of one of the kids who was given the opportunity to play in the Florida regional because of the 64 draw.

      I am only a 2 star junior (11th grade). I haven’t been playing tennis for more than 3 or 4 years, and that tournament this summer was my first chance to play in a national tournament. Let me tell you, it was a great experience. I got the chance to go down there with my girlfriend who also plays and spend the weekend in Fort Myers with my academy. I even won a match in the back draw. To get that chance to play really gave me motivation to work harder to get better. It gave me the desire to want to play in college, and now I am looking at schools to play tennis at.

      I am disappointed for the kids who may never get a chance to play in a national tournament and get to experience the thrill like I did. It is bad for the game of tennis to not give kids the chance to play in tournaments like these.”

  11. 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 12 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 depend 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 it’s 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 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 players 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
    o [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
    o [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
    o [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
    o [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.

    * If you would like to receive a copy of the latest spreadsheets, email goodsports@goodsports.us.

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