Help Wanted: Director of Fun

funJunior tennis desperately needs a Director of Fun.

I reached this startling conclusion after several recent conversations with tournament directors, parents, and players. All were sharing their experiences within the current tournament structure. All were discussing the problems with the current system. All were complaining about the others. It became abundantly clear that what’s missing – what’s desperately missing – is FUN.

When I was talking with one tournament director who also happens to be the parent of a young player, he was shocked to hear that many of the older kids hate going to tournaments. I’ve overheard kids say they can’t stand the monotony of these events. They dread the stress that being away on the weekend causes in terms of their schoolwork. They don’t like worrying if their parents are going to be mad if they have an off day on the court. I’m even starting to hear from several of the boys my son competes with that they’re choosing NOT to play tennis in college – they’ve had enough and just want a “normal” college experience.

Junior tennis needs a fix, and it can’t come soon enough.

The tournament directors are unhappy because they are restricted by the confines of a sanctioning body that sets strict rules on how things must be done.

The parents are unhappy because they feel the tournament directors do the bare minimum in terms of being creative within those confines.

The players are unhappy because, let’s face it, when you play the same kids week in and week out, see the same uninspired officials, the same chain hotels and chain restaurants, the same plastic awards and blah t-shirts . . . well, what kid gets excited over that?

It’s all a vicious cycle: unhappy TDs lead to unhappy players who lead to unhappy parents who lead to unhappy TDs. And around and around we go . . .

What if, instead, we created a competitive environment that offered more? What if there were someone in charge of Fun?

Here are just a few ideas of what the job description would include:

1. Develop relationships with businesses committed to giving back to youth sports. Invite them to sponsor tournaments, to have a real presence at the events by setting up a booth and doing giveaways for the players, to mingle with the juniors and talk with them about career options in their industry.

2. Develop relationships with local restaurants and ask them to be a Food Sponsor for the event, providing a taste of the area cuisine to players and parents. What a nice change of pace from processed turkey subs and mass-produced pasta!

3. Create a festive atmosphere at the tournaments. Have balloons and streamers and colorful signage to get the players excited to be there. Make it LOOK LIKE fun and maybe it will actually BE fun.

4. Set up a ping-pong table, board games, cards, Frisbees, Hula-Hoops – anything to get the kids interacting in a friendly way with each other between matches. It’s a lot tougher to make intentionally bad calls against a buddy.

5.┬áProvide a non-alcoholic Happy Hour each evening for the parents. Give them a chance to get to know each other away from the courts. It’s a lot tougher to be one of “those” parents when you’ve become friends with the “enemy”.

Please add to this list. I know y’all have some great ideas to share. If we parents start asking for change and start spreading the word about those events that are already going above and beyond, maybe we can bring the fun back to junior tennis. It’s certainly worth a try.

 

 

30 thoughts on “Help Wanted: Director of Fun

  1. Why does it have to be non-alcoholic?

    By the way, the TDs have a lot more latitude than they would lead you to believe. For example, it is up to the TD’s discretion to keep the tournament open for late entries. All this does is make for draws that are too large (thus requiring matches that start at 8:00 a.m. & 6:00 p.m.), and encourages cherry-picking by players (or more likely their parents) who wait to see who has entered a tournament.

  2. Lisa, this is really good… If we could put you in charge of the USTA, I am sure we would have a different culture in this country for tennis.

    My observations:

    Not at first, but after a couple of years, the kids hate playing the sectionals.
    Boring.

    As the kids get older and become teenagers, they start to have their own ideas and sense of independence. And after a while of playing at the same places, the same kids, the same nonsense, they question why?

    Now, the problem around the corner is that burnout will happen even faster in the future for the little ones as they now have to play more sectional events…

    And with this incredibly stupid sectional ranking needed for L1’s
    and the national ranking needed for L2 and seeding for L1,

    you will have kids playing more tournaments ( sectionals and nationals) then is appropriate for a growing body. INJURIES galore in the off the charts point chase that is beginning.

    I think that instead of a team event for 32 kids DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR OF MARCH, you make Winter Nationals a huge team event of 200 kids during Xmas.

    Ten teams of 20, invite college coaches with free hotels and airfare.
    ( $ from the USTA).

    Tennis in the am, and relay races, soccer matches etc in the afternoon
    ( that counts for points too).

    The point is to get these kids together and let them get to know each other.

    Honestly, how many will be pros in life ( top 200 making a living),
    maybe 1, maybe zero……….

    But, the relationships they COULD DEVELOP could last them a lifetime and provide friendships, business contacts and maybe a guy to hit with when you are 45 years old.

  3. Hi Lisa, Great article! Thanks for shining a light on the need to make our sport fun. The “Little Mo” tournaments have ‘fun’ as a top priority for players. The “Little Mo” offesr player parties, opening ceremonies with player parade with country flags, “mo money” given by umpires for good sportsmanship to cash in for prizes at the “Little Mo” booth, goody bags, player gift exchange with first round opponent with a gift representing their hometown or country, giving out large trophies, etc. We welcome any other ideas. Please email cartennis@aol.com. http://www.mcbtennis.org

  4. Lynn Jaimes in SoFla runs GREAT events. They have had Muffin contest, She ran a “What makes you smile” campaign she gives out refreshments all the things that my kid loves. We love her events. Last my daughter won the most PINK award (frankly liked that more then the tennis) We also have a few others that run very professional events BUT Tennis Centric. Yes we llok for her events, I know what to expect.

    I’m all for Festivals (Miami Team Tennis) like when we did Team Tennis good plain fun they had a few extra curricular activities @ the courts.

    I’ve said and continue to say with all the $$$$ it cost to participate in the sport I’m SUPRISED you don’t see Sponsors comming out with Booths/Displays etc. So I SAY there MUST BE A REASON??? I don’t know but seems odd that @ a National Level event (Arizona) only Athletic DNA had a presence. Where is Prince/Wilson/Head/Addidas/Nike etc…..

    Look @ the Jr. Orange Bowl Registration – I wouldn’t call that a robust showing.

    Tells me that the consumer base in Jr. Tennis either isn’t worth it or it is DISCOURAGED?

    Something as simple as Gourmet Food Trucks! How may times can we run to SUBWAY!

    I figured it was me, and I asked the Babolat rep, they do make rounds but if you don’t know them or aren’t on the COMP Team you’d never know they were there.

    As for Happy Hour – I’ve got mine always arms reach into the Cooler. Without it how could you take this Crazy Jr Tennis WORLD!!!

  5. LiL Mo is a great event. My daughter got autographed book for getting most names a few years back. Very Social kid, I just wish they wouldn’t schedule them same weekend as Level 1-2-3 events.

  6. Very interesting topic with many comments on target. However, is having more “fun” just treating the symptoms and not the issue, which is traditional rules and regulations of junior tournaments.

    Here’s some food for thought.

    Question: Why do juniors travel all over the country to play tournaments and put up with all the inconveniences? Answer: To pursue the elusive junior age division rankings that is supposed to be a summary of the results.

    Question: Why are rankings important? Answer: Because a good ranking insures better placement in future tournaments and helps to get college scholarships.

    Question: Is there a better way? Answer: Yes, the SSV Tennis Rating, which is simple and free, makes it easy to run small one day events by level of play with multiple short matches.

    SSV also shows a more objective indication of tennis ability than a ranking. A ranking only compares those who are active in traveling to far away tournaments. There are a lot of good players that choose not to travel.

    Player improvement, good seeding and consideration for college scholarships should not be limited to those juniors whose parents have the time and can afford to travel to far away tournaments to earn rankings.

    With a SSV Tennis Rating you can disregard age and gender making the pool of players in any level of play greatly increased. The larger the pool of equal ability players provides a wider variety of opponents.

    A junior’s rate of improvement significantly increases with frequent competitive matches. In large age division tournaments, there are many non competitive mismatches that benefit no one and take up a lot of time.

    Today, juniors and their parents have limited time with many responsibilities on their plate.

    Making tennis tournaments more convenient, less costly with more efficient competition would go a long way to improving the experience of tennis competition as compared to adding Disney World or other “fun” to keep the players from being bored.

    The SSV Tennis Rating is way to objectively pre qualify juniors by ability and the place them in small competitive groups that are easily managed and efficiently run in a short period of time. Players can always get retested to move up to stronger competition.

    In San Diego over 200 junior one day tournaments are run with outstanding results in player improvement, focus and enjoyment.

    Even large age division events can benefit by pre testing their players so smaller draws can be made in ability groups.

    For more info, contact info@ssvtennis.com.

  7. Neil, thank you for sharing SSV with us. I still believe that it’s more than simply the ranking structure that is hurting junior tennis, especially in the minds of the juniors themselves. These kids are under so much pressure to perform. With college programs being cut, with the reduction in scholarship opportunities especially on the men’s side, with the world-wide expansion of tennis enticing international players to US college programs – the stress is palpable. A better ranking system might be a step in the right direction, but I don’t think it’s a panacea. That said, I hope others will at least look into the SSV system and how it works. Knowledge is power.

  8. Jaimes does a great job. One of the best in Florida. If only the facility was a little better…

  9. This all sounds good but is not realistic. Junior tennis is simply not like any other sport. Its expensive, it requires lots of hours alone to practice certain skills, 2-3 hours alone in the hot sun every match and everyone goes home a loser except for one kid per age group. Also no teammates. There are no refs so kids have to be ready to either accept being cheated or bullied, or argue for hours back and forth. Your rankings and your losses are yours alone and online for the world to see.

    Please explain to me how it can possibly be made fun? A parent paying $20000/year or more on tennis is supposed to just let the kid have fun like they are playing soccer with all their school friends? A soccer season with the local team costs what, maybe $500 for the entire season? What parent is going to shell out all that money for tennis and just let the kid ‘go have fun’? Should a kid who works very hard but always finishes 6th, 5th, 4th or 3rd think he had fun?

    Carol is correct. Little Mos are fun, we do them. No rankings, no points, plenty of refs, $100-200 entry fee. But lets examine that, is that a realistic model? Are you willing to pay that much and allow kids to just play tennis with no ranking structure? Bet not.

    Really this comes down to individual choice. You can indeed allow your kid to play junior tennis for fun only. Let them just giggle at cheaters and not worry about wins and loses and rankings. Take them to a local attraction in the tournament city. But also accept that they will get smoked by the 10 kids in every tournament that practice 5 hours a day and breathe fire on the court. Its your choice, you treat it as just fun and most kids will too. But there has to be a lot easier and cheaper ways to have fun though!!

  10. Well my kid had a blast @ Level 4 this weekend. Hung with her friends, played a few of them, beat some. Lost to some, Watched her other friends. 7-5pm each day blazing sun no refs until Monday. Got her Dust Bunnies and took her Selfies. If your kid gets no joy, well seems like time for a change.

    So bitter Jim! We practice 3-6pm 4 days a week. 12hrs week. Maybe Top 3-5 fit your analysis.

    BTW Lil Mo everyone but one loses, maybe because the trophies are bigger seems better?? The best most fun event is State DBLS and State Champs. Very competitive one match day kids love it. Why because it’s a finish line, measuring stick.

    And yes, we did Travel Soccer. 2 hr drive for one GAME! Tournaments where everyone plays, even though it’s Travel. Politics Parents. Yea FUN to see the best kids sit the bench for little Suzy cause her moms bitching about playing time. Yea it’s FUN when your kid knows who’s best and you lose because of politics. Take a moment use another analogy like CHEER LEADING. But as my bud says that’s not as much FUN either! Gymnastics, Softball, all fun for some not for others.

  11. Let me clarify seminoleG, for us tennis is nothing but fun. My kid wins a good deal but always comes away from tournaments with some new friends to hit with either way. She loves fitness and gladly will practice 5 hours at a time on her own. No bitterness here as I accept the rankings are utter garbage and meaningless for the most part. Once you know that the rankings are worthless and no indicator of ability, its quite freeing and tennis is a lot more fun. My kid routinely kicks the stuffing out of a girl ranked top 20 in the nation whenever she visits FL. for vacation, so we know how meaningless jr tennis rankings are.

    Little MO does have winners and losers. But magically all the kids are buddy/buddy right afterwards. Gee, wonder why? Their parents and/or they have no points or rankings to worry about. See how it works? For us every tournament is a Little Mo as we accept the rankings are not real anyway.

    My post is simply repeating what I have heard from numerous parents….the cheating, alone time, expense, public rankings makes them take it to seriously for it to be fun for them.

    Lisa, some good things in the junior golf piece but still very hard for tennis to emulate. Junior tennis tournaments have a totally different dynamic that takes the fun out of it for many. Golf has very few opportunities for one to cheat or bully even if they wanted to. A typical hole may take 4-6 shots, the other players in the group know very well how many strokes everyone has. But I watch week after week kids steal entire tennis matches by cheating. Its apples and oranges.

    It comes down to ONE thing and one thing only. When junior tennis starts having adults on every court for every match like every other sport, it then will become a real sport, it then will attract and keep better athletes, the rankings will be real. Fair means more fun. Add in the other stuff like jugglers and family get togethers, thats fine. But make it fair, make it a real sport first.

    1. I agree with Jim K. Having been on many USTA National Ranking committees over the years, with the exception of a few at the top who win all the tournaments, the rankings are always questionable.

      If you want to know how good your junior is, take the free SSV Tennis Rating. Without leaving your home court, you can get a national, state and local ranking in every age division based the your SSV Tennis Rating. It will also show the national average for every age division.

      If you want a college scholarship, then practice at home until you can score SSV 170 or better.

        1. Lisa, this is in response to your interest in more info about SSV.

          SSV has been around for over 40 years. It is the original tennis rating test whose development was funded by the International Tennis Hall of Fame. SSV pre dates the NTRP.
          You haven’t heard of SSV because the USTA chose to adopt the NTRP and therefore spent millions of dollars promoting the NTRP. SSV is a free rating test that does not have a promotional budget. SSV is an objective test that has proven credibility. NTRP is a subjective label, much like A,B,C. Ask your friends what they think of the NTRP.

          Schools and colleges have used SSV over the years to classify, try-out and measure improvement of their players in both PE and varsity tennis programs. Bob Haugen at the University of Texas has tested over 1,000 students. David Dvoak at both The Atlanta Country Club and Dunwoody Country Club has used SSV extensively. Division I colleges such as UCLA, Stanford, Rice, USC, etc. have tested their varsity players. Billy Martin, coach at UCLA, once commented that he’d take the time to look at any player that could score over SSV 170, since his varsity team scored between SSV 170 to 180. No one is promising a college scholarship based purely on SSV, but having a chance for a try-out is a positive step.

          Check out the website, http://www.ssvtennis.com and click on “What is SSV?”

          You have some tennis kids. Give them the SSV test and let me know what you think.

          You’ll have fun and be enlightened.

  12. Jim – K lets add a bit a truth to this conversation. TRN, and Tennis link provide a plethora of stats and NO girl in the TOP 20 Florida is losing to girls from other sections on a regular basis. If you would happen to take a look at the Rankings you PO PO, I see no girls from other sections doing this. Consider all the events are there to see so I gotta admit you need to be a bit more honest.

    Yes the rankings mean ALMOST nothing. I just started looking @ TRN regularly to figure out how it works and I’m dumfounded. I will say that if you had to routinely play a girl in the TOP 20 the losing would get painful that is why a good spread of kids in each event is needed, THUS the need for some Order of players.

    Yes #80 to #130 may not mean much but #3 to #150 I would guess means MORE. Actually we don’t have to GUESS the Level 1-2-3 Events have the data and there is a CLEAN split from number 1-30 or so and then again for those outside of 200.

    You seem to have FUN so why can’t WE? YOU seem to WIN and profess without cheating and applying good sportsmanship WHY CAN’T we. You seem to state that Winners are bullies/cheaters BUT doesn’t apply to you since you guys “regularly beat girls in the Top 20 in the Nation when you come to Florida.” and only YOU can have fun.

    That’s the point to this discussion, FUN. WE all have it, even at National Level events.

    What would really add FUN to these events is a Skill Competition for Prizes. All Kids compete and win something. Shirts/Hats/Visors/ etc.

    Seen that done at a few events was very nice.

    So yea lets make it like a REAL sport like Soccer with HS kids calling lines! Yea like Baseball with HS kids as Umpires! Or more like Football with Old Guys who get yelled @ every play calling games (they do fight @ football games).

    BUT all these REAL sports KIDS having so much FUN!

    Yea Baseball Drafts around the country for Little League SO MUCH FUN!

  13. There has been a lot of discussion about the relative ability of players with wildly disparate USTA rankings. While there will always be players with exceptional ability who (for whatever reason) do not play enough events, or the right events to achieve a high ranking, they are the exception not the rule.

    Players who are willing to put in the time and effort to play at that level typically want to engage in competition with others because they like to compete. They want to see who will come out on top because they have a warrior spirit. Those who could do it and choose not to are a minuscule percentage.

    But regarding the validity of rankings; sure there are anomalies, but since only the top six events count toward national ranking you must be achieving significant wins on a regular basis to get into the top 50, let alone the top 20.

    I will use the 2013 PPR schedule since most of the current standings are comprised of results from 2013. Let’s say a player does the following:

    Semifinal at two L2s – 123 points each = 246 points
    Round or 32 at one L1 = 100 points
    Champion of two L4s – 100 points each = 200 points
    FIC Champion of one L3 – 60
    Grand Total = 606 points

    That will put you at # 180 on the USTA national ranking. Let’s also say you mirrored those results in doubles which adds 91 points for 697 points which will jump you to # 145. For ranking, I’m using the G-18 list as that’s where my player is. You can easily compare against your division.

    I don’t know about your players, but I would think those are good results. Yet they don’t get you close to # 20.

    The top players go much deeper in L1, 2, 3 events than their contemporaries, and do it on a regular basis. And I think that is where the difference lies. On any given day # 200 can beat # 10 if one player is on, while the other is off. The same thing applies to the pros. Think Rosol vs Nadal. The difference between the top players and the rest of the field is consistency. The top players produce excellence on a regular basis, not once in a while.

    I have seen my player produce top 10 play repeatedly. Just not event after event, or even match after match. Tennis players are like a box of chocolates… you never know what you gonna get.

    The new 2014 PPR has much higher points, but you will find that the same players will be in the top 20 because they continue to do what got them there last year: the win…. a lot.

    There are certainly anomalies in the rankings, but to insist that # 250 can regularly beat # 20 is not logical. If that were the case, then # 250 couldn’t help but be ranked much higher, even if she only played in her own section.

    Under the 2014 system, admittance to the L1s is quota based. So you can stay home, kick
    tail, and then just travel to the L1s. Heck, just get 8th place at three L1’s and you have 2,880 national points. Then add the sectional points that accrue toward national ranking and you will easily be top 25-50. The current # 20 has 2,243 points, so even under the 2014 PPR you can’t miss, and I haven’t even considered doubles.

    Regarding cheating and gamesmanship; do you really think it doesn’t go on for the top players as well? Yet they still win. They just think “OK, today I have to play more inside the lines, cause you cheat. It will take a little longer, but I will still win.”

    If you are really that good, it’s easy to prove. Just win… a lot.

  14. I had an interesting conversation this afternoon with a junior coach in my section. He and some of his colleagues have been discussing the “fun” issue for several months now, trying to come up with events that would still be competitive for the higher-level players while providing the fun element for everyone. I put him in touch with a group down in Florida that seems to be on the right track. I’m hoping all of you will tune into Monday’s radio show and learn about the Junior Grand Prix Tennis organization (https://juniorgrandprixtennis.com/). They are completely independent of USTA, ITF, and TRN and have developed a blueprint for tournaments and rankings that is different from anything else currently available. A spokesperson from the group will be on my show Monday at 12ET on http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ur10snetwork. The podcast will be online later that afternoon in case you miss the live broadcast.

  15. Lisa – we will listen, and most likely participate. We don’t aspire or need to be #1 or #20 but have enuff points to get us to the good events for the rest of the year. That said we have the luxury of just playing. I can say several will follow as our group of kids/parents are all looking for something more.

    That said, I don’t think this is unique to tennis, honestly my buds son @ Football, and our old Soccer club the kids are mostly miserable. Brief moments of FUN but don’t see how this is a TENNIS issue.

    Yes Tennis5 I respect what this BLOG provides but to standby and let obvious misstatements go unchallenged would undermine the credibility of every post on every BLOG. Every point has merit as long as we strive to be fair and honest.

    Sarcasm – used to make my point, was well placed. Some folks make it seem like Tennis is this House of Horrors unique to ONLY tennis. When a trip to the Local Ball fields will easily disprove this point.

  16. Lisa – I have really thought about this question lately even before you brought it up and share your concern about the lack of fun.

    Something that makes the recommendations more difficult and where Little Mo has an advantage is that for most tournaments, the kids are spread out among various sites. Little Mo has everyone at one site and so it is easier to plan for fun at the one location. This is not to say that you could not make the effort at several sites, but it does make it more difficult.

    When I go and look at my child, it seems that the most fun is playing team tennis. That enjoyment of playing with others, the enjoyable pressure of understanding that their match means something to others and the enjoyment of supporting others is amazing. If i had to make my child choose between team tennis and regular tournaments, I am fairly confident the choice would be team tennis with no hesitation. One issue with team tennis is the lack of points awarded for matches in team tennis. I wonder if this is one of the reasons that lots of parents do not put their kids in team tennis. If they could get comparable points to a lower SCMZ tournament but higher than an open in Texas I would hope that it might result in more kids and parents seeking out this experience.

    Also, why could sections not formulate a section only team tennis event similar to what is happening over Spring Break in Mobile. Have the kids sign up, and Saturday morning meet with their team and coach and then go play matches. I think this could help the fun.

    Just my two cents.

    But please keep up the fight for fun.

  17. Tennis Dad have you been to ZONAls it is a team event, and YES kids had a BLAST! It was held and will be held this year for Southern/Mid-Atlantic/Florida in Sumpter South Carolina. I believe Mid-Atlantic had a few teams, Florida 6, Southern. July 3-7 2014

    Competition is 4-5 days.

    Section only Event would be great for maybe Southern with folks spread over many states but for Florida don’t think parents want to travel for a Team event playing the same kids. YES during ZONALs the Florida teams did play each other anyway.

    Lots kids here play HS Tennis for that same “Team” feel

  18. SeminoleG – No I have not seen Zonals, but I have heard a lot of good things about it and hope to. The enjoyment of these events by those that have attended them seems to be so much more than a regular SCMZ tournament and the enjoyment that I see in USTA team tennis was the basis for my suggestions. It seems that we have some things that the kids think are really fun, so why not try to work with those things and expand them or make more.

    On one hand, what I was suggesting is that for example Texas as a section put on something similar to Mobile or Zonals for Texas players. Make up teams and have those teams compete against each other. Award enough Texas points for the matches that the kids who do play find it valuable point wise.

    I do understand that other sections are more spread out and maybe this would not work. Just trying to offer ideas.

    Separately I was also saying in that the regular USTA team tennis give more sectional (Texas for my kid) points for wins. Make it enticing for parents to get the kids involved.

    As to playing the same kids, we are already playing them over and over. Just maybe playing that person as part of a team may add something new to that match. You did bring up a point that I reference above, the parents and coaches are deciding which events based mostly on points. Some parents/coaches think if we are going to travel, pay for hotel, miss school etc, then there better be some points to gain. The sections would need to make these events valuable point wise. Without that there will not be the participants. I can tell you that the points in USTA team tennis are silly low. So low, I am not sure why they award them. My kid does it because my kid loves the team atmosphere.

    Again, I understand and agree with the problem, just trying to put something out there to explore. I do not think it is the golden unicorn that will fix everything.

  19. Yes we did Team Tennis and had fun. Not gender or age specific so it was nice to see like skilled kids of all ages and abilities. We wanted to continue but it seems the USTAs system just doesn’t flow to allow Team Tennis participation. At least for Florida.
    Yes we’d play a Section vs Section team event would be great. Like a home n home series. BUT the sections seem to have no interest in it. At least ZONALS used to be only one team 6 kids, last year Florida sent 36 kids southern sent a bunch and so on. So the popularity resulted in including more kids. Coupled with Section and National points it was a good time. Ohh I forgot Puerto Rico sent 2 teams 24 kids. So press your section to increase size of ZONALS and that is a start.

  20. I think the game of tennis itself is fun! The competition is fun! Everyone needs to embrace what a great game tennis is. That is why we are all drawn to it.

    Little Mo is a great, great event with a great track record in regards to producing high quality tennis players. Why? They havent messed with the basic game of tennis and they have focused on the youths. By doing this, Little Mo creates “tennis communities” one by one, generation by generation. Educating parents and players is the key to making tennis fun. It is not who wins or who loses. It is the process that each player will go through and each player and family should focus on the process to really enjoy tennis. The wins will come…..we just dont know when….

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