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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Response to Wayne Bryan's Letter to the USTA

A couple of weeks ago, an undated letter by Wayne Bryan found its way to Facebook and then out to the Tennis-Prose website, generating a lot of attention in the junior and college tennis communities. At the time, I sent out the link via twitter, promising a response, but I needed time to think about it and then time to write about it, which I didn’t have with the Plaza Cup, Australian Open, Les Petits As and ITA Kickoff Weekend the past couple of weeks.

Because Bryan’s letter is very long and tends to go off in several directions at once (there are multiple 1)s, 2)s etc. rather than consecutively numbered items), it’s difficult to know where to begin my comments, but I’ll start at the top, after a couple of disclosures.

I know Wayne Bryan better than he knows me, having covered many of his clinics, demonstrations, and presentations at junior tournaments and conferences over the past eight years. He loves tennis and is a lot of fun to be around at these events, and his humor comes through in this letter as well. I have no knowledge of his private coaching background and whether he still is involved in developing young players.

In the past year, I’ve had assignments for usta.com, covering both the NCAA and Kalamazoo tournaments for them. That doesn’t make me an employee, but I suppose it could be seen as a conflict. More important in the context of this response is that I know many people on the current USTA Player Development staff and consider several of them friends, not just sources or contacts. Much of what Bryan advocates, especially the “Get rid of USTA Player Development altogether,” is not just unrealistic but inflammatory. It minimizes the passion, work ethic and dedication of these USTA employees, who, after all, want the same thing Wayne Bryan wants: American tennis players at the sport’s highest level. That said, the USTA is for all intents and purposes a monopoly—the equivalent of the US Postal Service before UPS and Federal Express (and email) began competing with it. Monopolies are usually big, sprawling organizations with little incentive to listen, although the volunteer nature of the USTA board of directors does add an unusual twist to this analogy. Most coaches and parents feel unable to voice their opinions to the USTA, no doubt feeling such candor may cost their child a grant, a wild card or a camp invitation. Or, they simply don't know who in the organization would be appropriate to contact with their concerns.

Wayne Bryan doesn’t have to worry about the ramifications of his opinions and by speaking his mind has given everyone who cares about American tennis a catalyst to explore ways to improve it, and the questions he poses at the end are a very good place to start.

I suggest you open the letter in a separate browser window, so my comments can be seen and followed in the context of what he’s written.

Beginning where he begins, with 10-and-under tennis, I can’t say I disagree with his objection to the unilateral, top-down, this-is-the-way-it-will-be approach. One solution I heard that I think would have been more palatable would be one, just one, national 10-and-under tournament with full court and regular balls, with the remainder the new format.

Bryan later suggests a free market approach to all the 10-and-under events, which is intriguing, if a little optimistic in its projections, but initially he goes on and on about starting kids earlier than 10, which isn’t an issue. No one is advocating having kids wait until they are 8 or 10 before they pick up a racquet, although there is almost universal agreement that other sports should be part of a child’s recreation options until they are at least 12, a balance he, more than anyone, would be expected to advocate.

As far as ad campaigns, I’m always interested in seeing the visibility of the sport increased, and if Bryan has studies and numbers showing advertising isn’t effective for sports and entertainment, tennis wouldn’t be the only entity eager to see them.

I agree it would be ideal if all the USTA Player Development coaches had children who excelled at tennis the way his sons have. But if those children have other interests, I don’t see how that makes their parents incapable of being good tennis coaches.

I’m no fan of committees, or even chain-of-command, which is why owning and operating my own website is a perfect second career for me. Craig Tiley, now tournament director of the Australian Open, didn’t take the USTA Player Development position that eventually went to Patrick McEnroe partly because he felt the USTA committee structure made decision-making too cumbersome. But what is the alternative to a committee? Is it a vote of every USTA member? The Board of Directors? Every section’s employees? A poll? A focus group? One strong voice of authority? If this is a structural problem with the USTA, how do we fix it?

I’m sorry I can’t feel Bryan’s outrage for the little boy who now can’t reach his goal of being No. 1 in the South in the 10s. I guess I’ve been brainwashed by all the coaches who have told me the goal is to keep improving, that rankings are irrelevant in the younger age divisions.

But if playing up isn’t truly viable, there’s always an alternative. Bryan mentions a new circuit for 10-and-under players with full courts and regulation balls, which, as a true believer in competition, I applaud. There is also the Little Mo circuit, which even has an 11-and-under division, and it offers the standard equipment and courts.

If I were the USTA, I would take Bryan up on his bet of 100 kids with vs. 100 kids without 10-and-under. It’s an experiment worth doing if he’s serious.

Those who know me won’t be surprised to hear my biggest disagreement with Bryan is about college tennis’s international component. He flat out says, “College tennis should not be a world class sport.”

I would have no interest in college tennis if it were not, and I suspect very few of the elite juniors in this country would either. As I’ve said many times, there is no college coach in the country who would choose an international player over an American, all things being equal. Bryan’s talk of quotas smacks of the entitlement attitude many believe bears some responsibility for the decline of tennis in this country.

Competition is global now, whether in business or sports, and protectionism will create more problems than it will solve. I wrote about this several years ago in more detail, and that column, written for Racquet Sports Industry magazine, can be found here.

Bryan’s failure to mention the College Showdowns, the Campus Kids Days and the College Showcases the USTA has organized over the past three years suggests he is either a) out-of-touch or b) willfully ignoring the strides the USTA has made in connecting American juniors to college campuses despite the draconian NCAA rules.

Bryan mentions that the Level 1 National draw sizes were increased “a couple of years ago.” It was actually in 1997, and it has been a source of contention in USTA junior competition ever since. Now many of the proposals for 2014 look to introduce smaller draw sizes for the truly elite events and restore the importance of sectional play, which seems to be exactly what Bryan is advocating. But if those steps are taken, I guarantee there will be backlash, just as there has been since the National Open draw sizes were reduced.

As I’ve said before, I’ve never been convinced the USTA needed to get in the Academy business. I believe devoting so many resources to so few players is poor asset allocation, although I think Bryan overestimates their budget if he thinks they could send 1,000 junior players to Davis Cup, Fed Cup and the NCAAs. But I do see the need for a Player Development staff, people who can hold camps, identify talent, travel with young players, confer with Regional Training Centers, interact with junior competition employees in sections, enhance communication with college coaches and players, conduct wild card tournaments, etc. Who will do these things if not Player Development?

Although there is still some resentment by private coaches, I think the Regional Training Centers have helped facilitate more discussions between the USTA and those who are committed and proven junior development coaches.

Yes, it’s annoying when it looks like the USTA is taking credit for developing talent it barely knew existed a few years before. It could do a better job of publicly acknowledging the private coaches who do the bulk of the development work with an outstanding junior or college player and admitting they are not responsible for it.

But when a Christina McHale, or a Grace Min or a Taylor Townsend has a great result, the USTA should get credit for that. (Sloane Stephens also spent several of her formative years at the USTA Player Development program in Carson). Player Development has not been the disaster Bryan claims, and since Patrick McEnroe has taken over the program, it has tried to explain its philosophy, work with other coaches and academies, develop regional alternatives to the National Training Centers, and reestablish its commitment to college tennis.

I know McEnroe and his staff are in complete agreement with Bryan when he says “There is no one way,” which is why they have tried to be more inclusive. But with so many different routes, it can sometimes be overwhelming to choose one direction and begin the trip. USTA Player Development has now done that. I hope they are willing to listen to others outside the organization to anticipate some of the roadblocks and wrong turns that are inevitable in reaching the destination we all want.

Many at the USTA have read Bryan’s letter, and they know there isn’t much to be gained by responding to it. They believe the daily work they do to provide opportunities for American tennis players is making a difference to those individuals, and a public tiff with one of its most famous coaches wouldn’t produce any winners.

But the USTA would be wise not to ignore the resonance the letter has had, and the well of resentment it has tapped with parents and coaches. It needs to recognize the message it wants to convey isn’t being heard, or isn’t being trusted, and that the actions attached to that message are even more important in getting support for its initiatives.

Please feel free to comment on Bryan’s letter or my response below, with a reminder that a name is necessary to post a comment. Anonymous comments will be read, but not posted.

23 comments:

Mark said...

Collette,

I mostly agree with you, so I will go on and on about the area that I disagree.

The one area of Wayne Bryan's letter that resonated with me was the internationalization of college tennis. I have a 16 year old son who is currently lining up college. He was not at the top of the heap by any means in the open tournaments, but is was clear then, and even more so now, that the combination of Title IX and international players means that a US Boy getting a scholarship to play tennis is becoming rare. Take a look at the rosters of the large schools tennis websites - even the ones that are far from tennis powerhouses. Teams with 50% - 75% foreign players are common.

Was the fact that you get to watch a more entertaining NCAA match between a "22" year old brazilian player and a "21" year old german player THAT important. Really?

For those who do not understand the quotes, there are a lot of identity and age irregularities for foreign players.

Please understand that the internationalization means that many of the US kids that you watch play in the 12s, 14, and 16s will not have college scholarship opportunities. Would it be that bad for your entertainment value if the NCAA made a rule that said no more that 25% scholarships to foreign players?

LoveTheGame said...

As a former college tennis player and coach (and an American), I understand everyone's pain and intrigue regarding international players in college tennis.

As Collette said before, every single college coach would take an equally skilled and talented American player over their international counterparts. The issue is, college coaches are competitive and in most cases, their jobs are evaluated almost exclusively on their teams results on the tennis court. Similar to how jobs are being outsourced, if we are being judged on the bottom line, we have to take every step to be successful. If you're at Stanford you can pick and choose the top American players and field a very successful team. If you're at Iowa, it won't happen. You have to get creative and think outside the box to field a nationally competitive team.

The recent 6 month rule change regarding high school graduates will help the American high school athlete, but coaches will still find ways to attract the best talent to their schools.

We all should come to the realization that just being a good tennis player shouldn't guarantee a college scholarship. It's not a right. And with Division 1, 2, and 3 tennis, there are many avenues to play college tennis and often times, receive aid.

We also hear all the time that we are paying tax dollars for foreign athletes to play at our colleges. I cannot speak for every school, but most athletic scholarships in sports such as tennis are funded by private endowments, not state funding. Tennis does not produce any revenue for any University. If they want to lose money by supporting a sport like tennis, that's fantastic for those who have the opportunity.

Many coaches are pushed to recruit American only. If that's what the school wants, fine, but in most cases the athletic department wants to field a winning team. Sometimes, that means going outside of the USA to find talent to compete.

Lastly, the foreign athlete in college tennis is only an issue because tennis is now a truly global sport. If basketball and football coaches would and could benefit from bringing in an international player to compete at the highest level, we would see those sports expanding their recruiting bases as well.

We all want American tennis to thrive. Of all the countries competing in tennis, we have the most opportunity and avenues to explore. Let's keep supporting the game at the ground level. College tennis and the foreign athlete are not the problem.

Tony in MI. said...

As a college coach I can tell you that I estimate 75% of American tennis kids who we interview have bad attitudes and/or skills. The foreign players are easier to coach and rely upon.

Sorry if this offends but in America, tennis for the most part attracts middle and upper income family kids. With each passing year more of these kids are delusional about their abilities and have no concept of actual hard work. We do not seek foreign players, the majority of the American tennis boys we look at are simply overrated from gaming the ranking system and chasing points or have poor attitudes.

Been there, done that said...

I think part of the problem is that the USTA decides at 12 years old who they are going to support and the rest of the kids are left out in the cold to fend for themselves. The cost of junior tennis is out of control with tournay fees, clinics, privates and travel. No one can deny it is now literally impossible for a middle class family to pay for this without great sacrifice...and then to see any possible schorship going to a foreign player...the whole scenario does not add up anymore!
Our son was always ranked in the top 100 nationally, yearly was part of a CTC team where we had to pay for travel and all the costs, and was never offered anything. We knew he wasn't going pro, he could never beat the top 25, and never really expected much. As I said earlier, those top kids picked at at 12 were the ones getting all the benefits..are we bitter, not all all because my son was lucky enough to get a scholorship and is now receiving an invaluable education. Mind you, it was probably adds up to all the money we spent over the years but we are not complaining. Would we change anything about our choices, no..do I believe the USTA should spread out the $$, yes....some how, some way. And where are all those kids the USTA put all the $$ into, in college, playing at top schools and scholorship most likely...and hopefully now the colleges will truly give them what they need to go out and dominate pro tennis once they graduate. Is the system perfect..not even close and only time will tell.

Agree said...

I agree most with this comment.
I detest that the USTA picks a few kids at 12 and that is, they stick with them all the way thru college and or pro, every year, just picking those next few. France has an open door policy, if you are of medium to high talent (in other words, serious about your game), then you can go to the French Tennis Federation and train. No hand picking a few favorites. The USTA disgusts me how they overlook hundreds and hundreds of talented kids and pick the ones that have the money to fly around the country to get those ranking points. I think they should drop the Player Development as far as trying to hand pick the next pros and spend more time and money holding camps and training clinics across the country. They should hold sectional playoffs for the international trips much like the NJMT.

Pagreen said...

I am the owner of the Adirondack Tennis Blog and we have been doing articles on this subject. This has been a good discussion and we hope that it will continue. I am glad that Zoo Tennis has decided to add to this dialogue. Today we featured the parts of these articles that focus on college tennis.

http://adirondacktennis.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/more-from-wayne-bryan/

http://adirondacktennis.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/zoo-tennis-the-response-part-1/

I hope the articles will result in additional comments on the blog.

Barbara said...

Your wrote a good response to Wayne Bryan's letter. I agree with some of what both of you had to say, and disgaree vehemenently with other parts. The only comment I have is simply a clarification. You made reference to a "national tournament for 10 and under." The USTA DOES NOT sanction any national play for 10s. All that play takes place sectionally and/or is under the auspices of sections.

A little education said...

In response to Toni,

You are definitely a part of the problem in regards to foreign athletes taking "American scholarship money". It is no surprise that foreigners have a better attitude and work ethic when they enroll in our universities just before their 21st birthday. I would hope an athlete with more pro tour/life experience is more mature than an 18 year old kid who is leaving home for the first time in their lives. But to you, it is simply about wins and losses.
College tennis, NCAA athletics, and the normal college academic life is all bundled into what I would call a 4 year maturing process. Coaches should see a young kid and want to build him into a good player and man. Instead, coaches are looking to get older foreign players that are already at that stage. That takes the developmental aspect out of the game and university. It is not a revenue producing sport which means we should take the scholarship allotted and put most of it into building American tennis players into good young men (and maybe a couple champions could rise to the surface as well). It not football or basketball where it is literally a minor league system. We give so many scholarship to foreign kids that arent going pro in tennis...why not give those scholarships to our own kids. At least that way...if some pros do come out of it, they will be American.
One last comment, these foreigners are so good at tennis when they arrive b/c many didnt go to highschool or if they did...it definitely was not as rigorous. Playing D1 tennis myself, I personally know players that have paid highschools in their home countries in order to get their transcript forged.

TexasTennisCoach said...

Another college coach checking in here - one who left Div. I after 11 years to coach in Div. III.

One of our biggest problems in American tennis is that we teach our kids early on that if they can't play pro, then their goal should be to earn a tennis scholarship.

That is wrong. Their goal should be to play college tennis, perhaps. But if you set the scholarship up as the "reward" or ultimate achievement, you create players that are done improving or achieving once they sign scholarship papers. THIS is what leads to the attitude issues of American players that many coaches describe and a lack of desire to improve or work as hard as their international counterparts.

That's why I'm in D-III now. I want to work with players that aren't motivated by a tennis scholarship, but because they love the game and want to keep improving. And, I'm happy to say, that's 100% U.S. players!

The Dude said...

The conundrum and the catch-22: the cost of junior tennis is out of control. To defray the cost and garner USTA support, a family has to spend ridiculous amounts of money to rack up points to qualify and win a supernational in the 12s. The prerequisite is that you have to be upper middle class or rich to afford this hoodwink strategy. You don't go for winners in the 12s, you push and grind your way to be noticed and picked by the USTA. Now that you're in their system, they support you financially and with wildcards and you are entitled. As a kid with your ego stroked, you become arrogant and act entitled which exasperates the resentment from families shelling out ridiculoue money in the hopes of getting a college scholarship. Then you find out that you are not good enough when you compete against the 22 year old foreign freshmen for college spots. Your family is still paying ridiculous amounts of money to get you to play tennis in college. The USTA high performance kids never make a dent to play as a pro because they don't have a hard work ethic. They didn't have to work hard, they were picked in the 12s and never had to work hard or prove themselves again. They coast through juniors and get the coveted college scholarships. The conundrum is that you need to be somewhat wealthy to afford this sham but if you are, you probably lived an entitled life but you could never have the work ethic to succeed as a pro!

The smart players and their families know that the odds are stacked against them. They will use their tennis as a card to get into a great academic institution, play the sport they love and have a great experience. They are smart enough to know that the odds of making it in finance is a million times the odds of making it as a tennis pro.

For every Christina McHale and Ryan Harrison who both have talent and the irrepressable work ethic, there are thousands of frustrated stories asking why not them.

Toni in MI. said...

To the poster, A little education.....notice how tennis coaches and tennis parents have polar opposite views on this. Believe me, I am the biggest patriot in America but US tennis boys are very hard to deal with.

Like I said, 75% of the ones good enough to consider for college have arrogant attitudes. It is what it is, they grow up feeling entitled and are much harder to coach than the foreign guys, no matter at age 18 or age 21.

Mark said...

Toni,

I believe tennis is a different beast when it comes to NCAA sports. The players have been doing it as individuals ever since they picked up the sport. They did not have the experience of a team sport where other players (often) hold each other accountable for their contribution to the team. Additionally, the fact that the kid's family has been able to shell out tons of money over the past years means that if the kid does not excel the first time away from mommy and daddy, his family probably has the means to pay for his education. Many kids in the other sports, the athletic scholarship is their ONLY ticket. They are more motivated to not screw it up.

Foreign players LOVE the US. They are highly motivated to not screw up, and WILL listen to the coach that holds their scholarship, ther therefore their destiny, in his hands.

I know a local kid who got a tennis scholarship to a fairly big school, and he has turned into a partier his first year in college. He may lose his scholarship. Tough to say, but if his parents are wise, they should not provide a safety net.

So Toni - what is your role. Coaches in different sports have different factors that they deal with. To be successful today, it seems a Div 1 tennis coach needs to be able to recruit older, self motivated, foreign players to bring the best possible team to the court. What if the rules were different, and foreign recruiting was rendered unimportant by a new rule that said no more than 1 foreign player on a team. Then, the coaches that would excel would be the ones that would teach, lead, and inspire those spoiled brat US kids into becoming mature and successful individuals. Wouldn't that be a better alternate universe to be in?

Basically, at this point my son is following the path that The Dude described. He puts his effort into academics, and tennis is something that is filler material for the college applications to show broad interests. Plus, we get to have a bit of fun in Father-Son tournaments.

Clark Coleman said...

The talk about 22 year old foreign freshmen is obsolete. The new NCAA rules are eliminating that problem. Time to come up with a new whine.

Clark Coleman said...

" ... he goes on and on about starting kids earlier than 10, which isn’t an issue. No one is advocating having kids wait until they are 8 or 10 before they pick up a racquet, ..."

I think Wayne's point is being missed here. He is saying that QuickStart was designed to accommodate the late starter, which is why it mandates the funny balls through age 10. A good athlete who starts at age 7 cannot stay on the foam balls through age 10, but might not be ready to play up. Wayne's point is that you don't create tomorrow's champion by tailoring your programs to players who don't pick up your sport early, because the champions in every sport picked it up early.

QuickStart (sorry, USTA, I don't like name changes) could have mandated foam balls only through age 8. They were obviously worried about 9-10 year olds picking up a racket for the first time and not having QuickStart. But these players are not the next Connors, Sampras, or McEnroe. So, tailoring the program to them means it is just a program to expand recreational membership, in which case the USTA can drop the "developing tomorrow's champions" advertising slogans.

Mark said...

Clark Coleman said...

The talk about 22 year old foreign freshmen is obsolete. The new NCAA rules are eliminating that problem. Time to come up with a new whine.


Clark - I have used my powers of Google (which are usually quite good) and have not found any reference to new NCAA rules that solve this issue. College coach Toni in MI never mentioned it. I have found a rule that says that the number of months a player can be a professional and NOT lose eligibility was reduces from 12 months to 6 months. Was that it?

Far from seeing rule change that point to resolving the problem, what I see on this thread are coaches such as Toni who opine that those of us who believe there is a problem, are wrong.

Can you point to any NCAA rules that work to limit foreign players in tennis?

I have seen reference that the National Junior College Athletic Administration (NJCAA) made a rule of no more that %25 foreign players (if I read it right). But nothing like that for NCAA.

I took a step back to try to understand why it is that people that support the status quo do not see this as a problem, and how they honestly do not get why others do. We are just talking right past each other. I think they see thge other side as frustrated parents trying to stick up for their spoiled kids. There is some truth to that, because those are the ones that are driven to speak.

Do you truly understand why we think this is a problem?

I took a step back and tried to understand where both sides were coming from. I am now thinking there is a different divide. I think it may be the difference between the "common" man, and the people (including coaches) who live in academia. In college faculties, there is more of a "we are all world citizens" approach, as opposed to a US first approach.

Test yourself. John McCain (who I held my nose and voted for) had a campaign slogan - America First. Does this send a twinge up your spine?

The academic view is that a 21 year old Argentine man has just as much right to a tennis scholarship as the 18 year old kid from Nebraska. A border is just a line on a map. Heck, some College professors think an slug has just as much right to life as that Nebraska kid.

I think that the NCAA will never change because too many think that the call to have American kids preferred in American Universities is just the babbling of provincial rubes, that can safely be ignored. In California, illegal aliens get in-state tuition rates. They think that their model of bringing foreign players to the team is superior - it increases DIVERSITY. Ooooooh, ahhhhh.

Tennis, being such an international sport, is probably a worse case scenario in growing this problem.

Note that I absolutely believe that the quality of the NCAA tennis is better with the foreign players. But, was that the point?

Bill said...

Just weighing in here as a former junior player, now playing in college (I won't say where) who experienced the USTA system...I completely agree with Mr. Bryan on one main point: the USTA absolutely needs to drop the PD program.

So, this could be me playing devil's advocate here (and I fully realize my lack of experience as a coach or tennis administrator of any sort), but what would be wrong with the USTA supporting regional academies? There are some fantastic academies out there (esp. in Cali, TX, FL, NY)...why doesn't the USTA simply support players at these academies? Divide the country into regions, have a couple USTA-supported academies per region with high-level coaching. That way, kids don't have to leave far from home, the USTA doesn't have to maintain massive sites that they currently have (i.e. Carson/Boca/JTCC) but still gets to watch over player development in some way. In fact, the USTA PD coaches (who are quite excellent coaches) would likely get to work with a larger number of top players at these academies.

The new regional system (which I fortunately only experienced half a year of) was absolutely terrible. Maybe it's better now, I don't know, but you're basically playing the same people over and over. The new point system, which I have heard bad things about, also sounds like a fundamentally unsound idea.

Vis-a-vis college tennis...I can see it both ways. Obviously, tennis isn't a taxpayer-funded sport, it's usually funded by alumni donations and the college actually loses money on it, so maybe the big State U should be allowed to recruit whomever it wants, int'l or otherwise just to keep the program viable. At the same time, it does seem wrong when publicly-funded university A is ranked inside the top 25 and has hardly anything to give to top U.S. juniors who don't even play.

I think the fundamental question at the heart of the college debate has to be "Which makes our U.S. players better?" As WB says in his 2/3 response, it is the NCAA, not the ICAA. Does it make our players better to actually play on a higher number of D1 teams, and have worse competition, or is it better to have worldwide competition and have the majority of our players play at Ivies or D3 or lesser D1?

My personal opinion is that college tennis is in a transformation. We are seeing the talent spread over a number of schools, which I think is fantastic. Look at a D3 school like Amherst, which, it can be argued, could successfully compete with quite a few solid D1 teams. The pro tennis game is also changing; college tennis is being relied upon by a greater number of potential pros. So maybe, in ten years, D1 will be solely top U.S. juniors and internationals, and D3/lower level D1s will have more top U.S. kids.

One other suggestion about collegiate tennis: why not increase the number of players? Instead of six singles spots, why not 8/9, and maybe an extra doubles point? There are a number of players sitting on the bench anyways. This would increase the number of U.S. kids who get a chance to play, as well as make the dreams of playing college tennis higher for many juniors. I suppose the problem of 4.5 scholarships split over an entire team remains....hmmm. I feel like at all levels, tennis simply doesn't have enough money. Maybe that will come if the sport truly grows in popularity.

Anyways, there's my .02

Clark Coleman said...

Mark: Brief answers on two questions. First, the new NCAA rules say that when you graduate high school, the clock starts ticking on your college eligibility. If you take two years off to play Futures tourneys, decide to use USA college tennis as your back up plan, you have used up two years of your eligibility. So, the business about "22 year old foreign freshmen" is obsolete. We used to have guys come here from Europe who really were freshmen in eligibility at age 21, and were competing in college tennis at 25. The rules were tightened several years ago, and then tightened again effective August, 2011. But people continue the obsolete whine about it.

As for your speculations about my feelings towards immigrants, my political beliefs are classified as traditionalist conservative and about 90% of current immigration to this country would be eliminated if I were in charge, so I think you are pretty off target there. Foreign college students (athletes or not), however, are not a target for the immigration reforms I would favor.

Steve Smith said...

Wayne Bryan's letter, your response and his response to yours should be a mandatory read for all parents of goal oriented players in the US. When it comes to Wayne Bryan...he and his wife were everything from the architect with the plan to the carpenter pounding the nails. The USTA PD has its funds and it has its place. But here is the question, who develops a player, a family or a federation?

Like Colette, I really don’t know Wayne Bryan personally. His book is great, his talks are greater and the story of his sons is among the greatest.

I took my son to Portland to watch the US win the Davis Cup. The highlight of the long weekend for me was watching Wayne coach a large group of kids on how to watch practice. Wayne is a world class Pied Piper and he organized what seemed like a hundred kids to just look forward and not even make a beep for the entire practice.

He has earned the highest level of credibility through his sons accomplishments. The way his sons practice, deal with people and give back to the game is even greater then all the records they own.

The biblical thought of teaching one to fish opposed to giving one a fish applies here. For example, it is great that the USTA PD has Andy Brandi on staff. My advice, give Andy a raise and have him lead adding the Welby Van Horn balance method to, yes, instruction for six year olds. Andy was taught by Welby. Sure the game has evolved but compare the ball-striking base of a Charlie Pasarell to Roger Federer. There are a few differences but the similarities are plentiful. It is all about educating the masses and not hand picking a few. That is not fair and it is not American.

Take Wayne's approach of making it fun. Also add Don Leary's word picture method with Vic Braden's scientific method. Have six year olds getting prizes for performing in a 'form tournament.' Have them copy the pros not by misinterpreting what they see on youtube but by demonstrating fundamentals. Federer's Mother said about his first lessons with the Czechoslovakian, Adolph(Seppli) Kacovsky," I remember him standing in one spot for long periods of time, on balance with long follow throughs."

In my opinion, Wayne's letter is not radical or rebellious. It just seems that way because he is so honest. Maybe not for world peace but in player development, diplomacy kills time. He has stepped up to the plate and hit a home run, a grand slam!

Although, I think he is too positive when he speaks so highly of the private sector. Obviously when he speaks to coaches he is addressing a motivated group or they would not be there. He also has a long history of being at events, whether that be juniors, colleges or pro, that are levels away from the incompetent instruction that a vast majority of kids receive.

The only head of USTA PD that I have not known personally is Pat McEnroe. Yet we all feel like we know Patrick because he comes into our living room via television. All critics should read his book. All critics should realize his title is general manager. He is quick to inform people that he is not a teacher or a developmental coach. He has the skill set and the savvy to be selecting the Wayne Bryans and the Andy Brandis of the world (of the US) and assign them titles and job descriptions. Number one on the list is training the coaches across America.

I have been a member of both the PTR and the USPTA for over 30 years and have tested for both. I encourage all incoming coaches to join both organizations. Neither organization has a system to check their coaches work. The USTA has a system to evaluate the competencies of their umpires. The judges on the court have a judge in the stands. Wayne Bryan should be the head sheriff to deal with high school coaches allowing their kids to play one up one back doubles.

Steve Smith said...

PART 2:

In one way the Quick Start, 10s Initiative was an insult to experienced coaches. Mini-tennis and GLM methodology have been around since Sir Walter Clapton Wingfield. Sure the 36 foot court is a great tool for indoor tennis and the soft balls and short courts are great tools for both indoor and outdoor tennis. Wayne Bryan is spot on when he says QST is a tool and not a program. Did we really need to spend so much money on this program when courts are empty? People make programs. Peter Burwash is right, it is the personality of the coach that makes things go. I think it is a safe bet that Wayne Bryan got his troops pumped to play mini tennis with real balls.

I understand that one has to be a team player. I initiated having twelve 36 foot courts built in Tampa. Unfortunately, the courts are empty. Hey if ten million dollars is going to be spent on QST/10s tennis then let's make it work and make it work with kids being taught how to hit the ball. For sure Wayne is right. Many of the leaders teaching QST/10s have something in common with some of the national coaches. They have never taken a kid from a beginning level to an advanced level.

Wayne's time in the trenches allows him to speak from the heart, the gut and the mind. I love his term, 'cherry picking.' I sum it up this way, using a baseball term, we have too many third base coaches in America. They want to coach someone who is about to score. We need to do a better job with the beginners. We need more first base coaches. And the USTA PD hand picking a small percentage of the kids on third, taking them away from the coach that got them on third and then, often, having them with a coach who has the plus of having been a respectable player and the minus of having no background working under veteran coaches is a gross mistake.

Patrick McEnroe has been successful with every facet of his life. Back in the day, his parents thought he might not get a chance to play Davis Cup for the US. So they thought of plan B. Patrick was sent to Dublin and he won the Irish Junior National Championship. He never had to play Davis Cup for the Irish because he ended up being good enough to play in the US. The famous McEnroe family had a plan. The Bryans had a plan.


Where should the money go? It should go to help all tennis families with a plan. The next 200+million should be spent differently. Fifteen years ago I had a student win his second doubles title at Kalamazoo (16's twice) and because he was only ranked #13 nationally he was split from his partner because his partner was 'cherry picked' by the USTA PD. Take the expense out of team of national coaches (flights to Europe, rental cars, hotels, restaurants) and give it to the families. Then the doubles champions could have gone to Europe together. Then more American players will have more opportunities.

Mark Twain was right, common sense is not common. We should think about the word, nonsense, long and hard with this subject. Obviously Wayne Bryan has. Thank you for your words of wisdom!

Pagreen said...

I am also following this subject on my tennis blog and I am hoping to get a good discussion going there too.
Adirondack Tennis Blog

Hixson Tennis Coach said...

I did not see Wayne Bryan's letter until a couple of days ago. I found myself nodding in agreement all the way through. I immediately sent it to a few of my friends in my local CTA, and we've had a good time discussing the issues raised by Mr. Bryan. Some of them we’ve discussed before, while others we had no idea.

As a teaching pro and High School Coach, there are two things that were not really mentioned in the letter, that I think need to be addressed. The state of High School and Middle School Tennis and the number of FREE public courts.

First, high school/middle school tennis. I'm not sure what is happening elsewhere in the country, but here in my home state of Tennessee, tennis is treated as a fringe sport at best. In my county (Hamilton), the schools only pay for one coach. This coach is in charge of both the boys' and girls' teams-- including JV! In Tennessee the boys and girls seasons run concurrently. You would probably not be surprised to learn that the extra salary given to the tennis coach is less than the assistant coach on most of the major sports teams.

Why aren't ex-tennis players flocking to coach tennis at their alma maters as do players from other sports? Well, if they are talented enough to coach, they know that they can make much more money in the private sector. There is no incentive for them to do so. If there was a system in place to pay actual teaching pros for their time working with middle/high school teams, we would increase the level of play and we would increase the level of participation.

Although the season is short, it affords many players the opportunity to practice five days a week. At the private club where I also teach, a 90-minute clinic costs $20. I coach my kids for two hours M-F, and usually have some kind of extra practice on the weekend too. If they had to pay for that, it would cost them well over $100 a week—a price even the most affluent among them would probably balk at. In addition to practice, the schedule allows for 16 matches during the regular season, and every team in the district qualifies to play at the district tourney. A match consists of singles and doubles, so that is a lot of quality playing time—again, pretty much for free.

In my area it seems that one of two things happens to the best players. Either they go to one of the elite private schools in the area (where, by the way, they can practice year around—TSSAA rules or not) or they decide to Home School. What if I’m a parent that can’t afford to do either of these for my child? I’m probably going to push my child to play some other sport or focus on academics. Either way, tennis loses.

Now, on to the lack of courts: My greatest gripe about the USTA’s current push for 10U’s, is that they aren’t doing a darn thing about creating new courts for these players to use. Oh, they will tell you that they have set aside money to help pay to paint new lines on existing courts. Have you played on a full size court that had the smaller dimensions painted on them? I have, and I can tell you most adults don’t want to. You want the 10s and 8s playing on smaller courts? Then build them! How many courts could the USTA have built with the money they have invested to promote the program? As it is, they are promoting a program and the infrastructure is not here to support it—at least not in my area.

That is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. As I drive around town, I see dozens of run down courts. There are four unplayable courts at the High School where I coach. Why? Because no one can afford to fix them. Not the schools, not the county, not the Parks and Rec departments.

I also suggest that they do everything in their power to keep these courts completely FREE. I’m no superstar when it comes to tennis, but I have been playing virtually my entire life. I can tell you without any equivocation, that if I had to pay for court time growing up, I never would have picked up a racquet.

In closing, I would just like to say: Thanks Wayne, keep up the good work!

Maggie Hunt said...

Wayne & Collette & many others have great points. Dave Fish of Harvard has a great paper he wrote that says much of what Wayne says but he has really spent some time on this paper & so is written very concisely with many more important specifics used & some great ideas for the USTA to use to improve things. http://www.itatennis.com/Assets/ita_assets/pdf/Coaches+Workspace/Part+I-USTA_ITA_Rating_System.pdf

I don't like the fact that we have such a high % of foriegn students taking so many spots on our tennis teams. But we all have to take responsibility for that so it can be changed-- the parents that allow their kids to have the horrible attitudes, the USTA (who has many wonderful people working there) & maybe some help from the coaches (via input to someone at USTA whose job it would be to listen) to work towards changing things to develop so much talent that is there but gets ignored because so many do not have the money to be seen or even take lessons or who are somewhere in between.

Coaches alone can't solve this. For instance,there is a huge problem in this country with instructors who don't understand technique very thoroughly & so the instruction is not good. There are so many athletes in this country that could be so good if they only had competent tennis instruction. Which is why we need more serious regional training venues. I grew up in Florida, live in an area not densly populated now...not a coach who understands technique very well by competent Florida or USPTA standards within 177 miles (really anything below that standard isn't much good unelss you are going to play recreationally). It takes parents who know nothing about tennis too long to figure that out & even then is so expensive to have to go down there all the time.

USTA needs to change its' ranking system back to something that relies on the quality of player you play LIKE THEIR OWN NTRP SYSTEM! (which is probably not that different than what Tennisrecruiting does.) VS giving points for basically how many rounds played in a year. You can get too many points for beating someone who just travels a lot. And like Fish says college coaches don't look at USTA rankings. They should mean something & there is a definite problem when the system is so screwed up that the number one seed at certain sectional tournaments for an embarrassing time period rarely wins & often looses in the 1st or 2nd round.

Like the young person on this blog says it doesn't help the kids to play the same people over & over again & in my case I have to drive a minimum of 6 hours & an average of 8 or 10 to play in a sectional event. But I am 2 miles away from the border of the next section where I would rarely have to drive more than 3 hours to a sectional event. Could you possibly make it any harder for people?

And yes Coleman we trained at a Russian academy for a while & were one of the few Americans there where we learned that our country is very different from most. In all those countries that used to be the USSR-- you can buy a birth certificate & a high school diploma with any date on it you want! With an authentic signiture from the appropriate official! It seems from my travels to Latin American countries bribery is a way of life there also. Many Americans have been to Mexico enough to witness it there.

Also like another person suggested, the USTA should look at the French model & take some ideas from them. Dave Fish talks quite a bit about what they are doing that is good. We don't have to reinvent the wheel just because we are American. Sometimes we have to admit others are doing some things better & borrow from them.

Enough said- Dave Fish has some outstanding ideas- we need to all work together, & perhaps volunteer some time with some of those outstanding USTA people (because they are out there)and keep writing letters and emails and stuff on venues like this.

Business Owner said...

Hi Collette,

I am a business owner and a big believer in hiring the best people regardless of where they are. 70% of my employees are overseas because in many cases we can get better people there (at lower salaries).

However, this should not be equated with scholarships or admissions to US universities, whose missions are to educate our country's top talent.

When I attended the Wharton School, 1/3 of my class was international - this was great for US students as we got to meet and network with top international talent. However, the 1/3 number was created and maintained primarily to help the US students attending.

The college tennis system is not a free market enterprise, it is part of the university system whose goal is to educate and develop US talent.