I’m guessing you’ve all read Sean Hannity’s blog post regarding the changes to the national junior comp schedule that will become effective in 2014. I’m guessing you’ve all read Patrick McEnroe’s and Tim Russell’s replies, too, as well as Mr. Hannity’s rebuttal. I’ve read endless commentary on this heated debate on the various blogs and Facebook groups and message boards I frequent and tried to process everything written – it’s a lot to take in!
Given that my son isn’t yet playing at the national level and, therefore, isn’t immediately affected by these changes, I’m not sure anyone really cares what I have to say on the subject. However, in the name of research, I did have two rather lengthy phone conversations with Tim Russell and also reached out to Sean Hannity via a comment on his blog that included my contact information – I haven’t gotten a response from him yet.
Here are some of my thoughts – take them for what they’re worth!
- I do feel that USTA is trying to grow the game of tennis via its 10-and-Under initiative. While I don’t agree with the mandated tournament rules for this age group, I do think it’s a great learning tool for beginning players of any age.
- I think there’s a big difference between “growing the game” and “developing world champions” and one may have very little to do with the other. Finding another Agassi or Capriati or Sampras or Williams is one of those things that will (or will not) just happen – I don’t believe it’s system-related. Yes, I agree that introducing more kids to tennis is a key to identifying champion-caliber players, but if you look at the paths that the players mentioned above took to reach #1, you’ll see that they’re all very different. That’s the thing about tennis – there are so many options available and so many ways to find success in the game that it’s difficult to say that one system is better than another.
- Not every child needs to play top-level national tournaments. I whole-heartedly agree with Tim Russell when he says that players need to work and earn their way into the Easter Bowl or Kalamazoo or the National Clay Court Championships. Just because your child wants to play at that level – and just because you can afford to travel all over the place – doesn’t mean he or she necessarily deserves to. The top tournaments should be reserved for the top players. If a kid wants to play in them, then he needs to work hard to develop his game to a point where he can play with the Big Boys. Talk to your child’s coach. Take Tim Russell up on his offer to speak with him (I have, twice!). Call your section’s head of junior competition. If your child truly wants to get to the top level, then work with his coach and your section to help him devise a plan to get there. There are incredible resources available to all of us tennis parents – my advice is to use as many of them as it takes to help your child reach his goals.
- When I spoke with Tim Russell, I told him that I’ve heard lots of grumbling among tournament parents about the fact that USTA doesn’t seem to reach out to those of us in the trenches before it makes sweeping changes that affect our kids. I also told him that USTA does a very poor job of communicating those changes to its constituency and that there’s no excuse for poor communication in this age of email, texting, Twitter, and Facebook. He agreed. He said they need to do better and will do better. Let’s hold them accountable for that statement. If you feel that you’re not being informed in a timely manner about changes that affect your child, contact your section head and/or Tim – his email address is Timothy.Russell@asu.edu.
- I also suggested that USTA include a sampling of parents on the panel of its national meeting next month during the US Open. I think it’s important that the higher-ups at USTA hear directly from us regarding our concerns and past experiences. We need to have a voice at the national level. We need to be included in the discussions of policies that will impact our children. USTA needs to know, first-hand, what’s happening at the grassroots level from those of us who live and breathe there. Tim agreed and said he’d pass along my suggestion. I’ll keep you posted!