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USTA Is Trying

Earlier this month, several higher-ups from USTA met in Atlanta along with many proven junior development coaches from around the US to discuss how USTA can do a better job of utilizing and supporting the talent of local coaches. The specific context of the meeting as stated in the post-meeting notes from USTA was “to create a culture of inclusiveness where personal coaches, USTA Sections, and USTA Player Development work together to be part of a national movement to create the next wave of world-class American players. This structure could include adjustments in the allocation of resources to be aligned with the top personal coaches, top junior developmental programs, and provide more training and developmental opportunities for the top players who are currently hitting benchmarks that are in line with the top 100 pathway. We want to work together with the private sector in an even more systematic, inclusive way and continue to look for ways to do it even better.”

The Stakeholder Groups as defined by USTA were as follows:

 Developmental Coaches
o Mark Bey
o Sly Black
o Sue Burke
o Lawrence Kleger
o Chuck Kriese
o Jack Sharpe
o Brad Stine
o Joe Gilbert
o Facilitator: Fred Allemann

 USTA Section Leadership
o John Callen
o Michael Cooke
o Angela Emery
o Bruce Hunt
o Facilitator: Elizabeth Diaz

 Section Organizers and RTC Coaches
o Steve Cobb
o Robert Gomez
o Dave Licker
o Vesa Ponkka
o Facilitator: Kent Kinnear

 USTA National Leadership (Board)
o Katrina Adams
o Dave Haggerty
o Chanda Rubin
o Brian Vahaly
o Facilitator: Tom Jacobs

 USTA National Leadership (Staff)
o Jose Higueras
o Paul Lubbers
o Patrick McEnroe
o Gordon Smith
o Bill Mountford
o Geoff Russell
o Scott Schultz
o Facilitator: Andrea Hirsch

The group worked to identify the challenges tennis faces in this country, ranging from competition from other youth sports to lack of a clear career path for tennis to the structure of USTA itself. They divided into sub-groups to discuss the various issues and to brainstorm some possible solutions to overcoming them.

The developmental coaches expressed their desire to work with the national coaches in order to provide the best training modalities to juniors, modalities that might not be available at the local level. These local coaches want the chance to network with other coaches around the country and to share best practices. They want access to resources such as tennis-specific strength and conditioning methods that may not be available locally. They want to see the sense of honor among coaches and players that seems to have disappeared in recent years.

Section leaders would like to set clearer outcomes and goals. They want better education, training, and communication (that’s a Big One for me!). And they, too, want to share best practices so everyone can do a better job.

Section organizers and Regional Training Center leaders shared in the desire for collaboration but also pointed out the need to do a better job PR-wise. They would like to have more support from USTA leadership to grow the game.

The Board and National Leadership feel there is currently an “us vs. them” mentality in the tennis community. I think that’s a very accurate assessment and am happy to hear they recognize it as a problem. They would like to see a more cohesive effort in building the USTA brand and building Team USA through increased collaboration, increased transparency, and increased fun in the game. Amen!

Those in attendance do recognize that they will be giving up some control by collaborating with developmental coaches, but they seem to feel it’s worth loosening the reins a bit in order to help grow the sport.

After reading through the meeting notes, I received an email from Wayne Bryan directed to USTA President Dave Haggerty expressing his thoughts and ideas on what was discussed in Atlanta. Those of you who follow tennis have likely read many of Coach Bryan’s “essays” on how to improve tennis in the US, so I won’t repeat all of what he said in this latest iteration. However, a couple of things jumped out at me, and I’d like to get your input on them.

First, Coach Bryan addressed the issue of the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff tournament, an event I’ve enjoyed attending each of the last few years. His point was, if Australia is giving the US a wildcard into the main draw, why shouldn’t it automatically go to the highest-ranked American player who missed the cut off for direct entry? Why should USTA spend presumably tens of thousands of dollars putting on this event when that money could go directly to the players to help fund their travel Down Under?

He also says that USTA should let coaches and parents and players do things their way. USTA should be in the business of vibrant programming and fair and accurate rankings, not coaching. Maybe USTA can take a closer look at junior golf (see my earlier article) and use that as a model?

The final idea that hit home for me was that local developmental coaches should receive financial rewards/stipends from USTA once they have proven their success with young players. Quoting Coach Bryan: “And hey, coach, we see you have 85 kids in your program and you have produced 15 national caliber players and 10 D1 college players and you have two players that are #1 in their age group.  Here’s $10,000: please add 5 deserving little 6 year-olds to your program and take them to the top.  We’ll check back in a few years and see how it’s going.”

What do you think of all this? I’d love your input in the Comments below. To me, this meeting shows that USTA recognizes it needs to make some fundamental changes in order to stay relevant. There is still a long way to go to get US tennis back on track, but we have to start somewhere, and admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?




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