More Slashing of Opportunities

slashing swordIn case you haven’t heard (!), USTA changed the national junior competition schedule, effective January 1, 2014.  A big reason for the change, according to USTA, is to drive competition back to the sections instead of having so many big national tournaments requiring travel all over the country.

Those opposed to the changes, including Yours Truly, kept asking USTA what it was doing to ensure the sections would step up and fill in the gaps.  We never got a clear answer.

And, now, that which we feared – that sections would not take on that task but would actually slash competitive opportunities instead – has come to fruition.

I found out this week that the Southern California section is taking a big step in that direction (click here to read the information posted on its website which includes a link to a Comment form where you can share your opinion before the plan is finalized).  Traditionally, all SoCal “designated” tournaments (comparable to our Bullfrogs in the Southern section) have had open draws.  That is, any player who signed up got to play.  And many of the age groups wound up with 128 or 256 draws played over two consecutive weekends.  However, beginning January 1, 2014, Southern Cal will limit its designated draws to either 96 or 64 players (I’m still not clear on how they’ll make that decision for each event), in essence eliminating the opportunity to compete at that level for hundreds of juniors.

The reasons SCTA gives for the reduction in draw size have to do with weather delays (it rains, on average, 16 days a year in Southern California), lack of enough large facilities, and difficulty in completing the large draws over two weekends – all valid reasons. However, the fact that these reductions come at the very same time as the reduction in national play opportunities under the 2014 changes seems short-sighted.  Isn’t this the time that sections should be increasing opportunities to compensate for what’s happening at the national level?

Interesting to note is the fact that a member of the 2013-2014 National Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee (the one responsible for passing the new 2014 national schedule) also chairs the committee in the SoCal section responsible for these designated tournament draw reductions.  She obviously understands that the sections are supposed to be picking up the slack left by the national reductions; however, instead of making sure her section added competitive opportunities for its players, she pushed through this major slashing of opportunities in her own backyard.  I just don’t get it!

To put things in perspective, at this year’s Southern California Anaheim Designated, 166 boys and 105 girls would not have gotten to play if the SCTA had limited the tournament to a 64 draw.  And the Boys 16s are going to be hit the hardest since that is typically the group with the largest number of players. The 16s is usually the first age group where college coaches are watching players to scout out future recruits. What will these reductions do to the chances for the kids “on the bubble” in terms of being seen by these coaches?

Let’s also consider the issue of players who are trying to prepare for aging up to the next division.  I’ve been told that the SoCal section is trying to figure out how to accommodate juniors who are in that situation, but, for now, there is nothing on the SCTA website to indicate there will be spots in the draws for these players.  I hope that changes before the smaller draws take effect.

2 Comments on “More Slashing of Opportunities”

  1. This is absolutely ridicules on so many levels. Is this committee living in a cave in Tibet? Would it be possible to be more out of touch with tennis? We have just had a year long battle over cutting opportunity in junior tennis? Coaches, parents and players hate and want no part of it at all. They want more opportunity as opposed to less. And they certainly don’t want cuts with the promise of adding other events. We have enough of that already. We have novice and satellite circuits that every kid who doesn’t want to play the designateds.

    If this sport doesn’t start getting more inclusive as opposed to exclusive, it is going to implode on itself. I would like to know how many parents of junior players are on this committee making this decision? I bet it is not a high number. Because no one who is at these tournaments, regularly engaging with these kids would every remotely suggest that this is a smart change. Were the draws too big for Pete Sampras, Lindsey Davenport or the Bryan Brothers? Were they too big for Tracy Austin, Steve Johnson or Nicole Gibbs?

    Please SCTA do not do this! Tennis is already hard enough on kids and every month it seems like there are a few kids who aren’t playing the tournaments anymore. The names and players just sort of disappear. My child started way, way at the back of the pack. It was large designated tournaments that kept the interest there.

  2. I am somewhat pulled in both directions by this situation. My child is a highly-ranked player in one age division and is currently playing up (she has not played in her natural age division in nearly four months). I believe that the weather is a legitimate issue, even for Southern California. The rainy season (December-April) overlaps with several designated tournaments and we have seen first-hand each year the chaos that ensues when rain comes and you are trying to fit in seven rounds of a tournament (times two genders times five age groups times doubles) into two weekends.

    How good is the tennis when players are getting up before 5:00 a.m. to drive to make an 8:00 a.m. start time? How good is the tennis when players are asked to play four matches (two singles and two doubles) in one day? How good is the tennis when you are driving between three sites (in Southern California traffic) in one day? In these large draw designated tournaments (and I include USTA regional and national tournaments here) there are way too many 6-1, 6-0 blow-outs. Having attended nationals in 2012 I was stunned at the poor quality of at least 25% of the players – they had no business playing in a national tournament.

    In the case of the Southern California designated tournaments there is typically at least one other ‘open’ tournament scheduled on that weekend(s). Do well in the ‘lesser’ tournaments and you will earn the points that will get you into the designated tournaments.

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