Junior 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. Provide 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.