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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Revised USTA Proposals for National Junior Competition Structure

During the Wayne Bryan discussion, there have been numerous references to the upcoming changes in the USTA junior tournament structure and schedule. Below is the complete document, which I understand is scheduled for a vote at the USTA annual meeting in Carlsbad, California March 16-19, 2012.

Although I haven't had time to study thoroughly the entire document, my first impression is that it's overly complicated. I support the concept of earned advancement through sectional play, but many of the other initiatives and tournament scheduling, along with the increased number of wild cards, seem either unconnected to this concept or at odds with it.

I do not have a child or a student affected by these changes, so I believe I'm able to look at these proposals without bias, and I hope I am always open to new ideas, but this constant tinkering makes it very difficult for coaches, parents and players to learn the system and pass that knowledge along to those just beginning the process. Compass draws and waterfall draws and other hybrid tournament structures may have their place, but the more the system deviates from the standard tennis draws that are used at the ITF junior and professional levels, the more difficult it becomes to understand for those entering the world of junior tennis.

I am not so naive to think that turning back the clock to the USTA tournament structure and ranking system of the late 1980s will somehow magically restore American tennis and produce another Jim Courier, Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras. But I don't see a compelling reason to reinvent the wheel every five or ten years either. I have no problems with a 128 draw in Kalamazoo, although I do recognize the financial implications of smaller draws to a tournament's bottom line. I would prefer, as is done at the Grand Slams, a qualifier for 16 of those spots, held a few days before the tournament, again, primarily in the interest of fairness and simplicity.

It's possible I'm missing all the benefits that will result from these new tournaments and formats. And I recognize the United States can be viewed as unique in both its geography and its priorities. But what exactly is wrong with the ITF junior tournament system, which has five levels of tournaments, with transparent point tables that haven't changed in many years? The ITF has made major changes regarding doubles rankings and format (neither for the better, in my opinion), but the basic process of getting into tournaments and getting ranked has stayed consistent and understandable for several generations of junior players.

Again, the stated goals of local player development and earned advancement are admirable, but I don't see these proposals as providing "a clearly defined logical progression."

I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section, with the stipulation you select a name. Anonymous comments will be read but not published.

A link to the proposal, which can be downloaded, is available here.

12 comments:

Call out to our college coaches! said...

In light of the USTA-Wayne Bryan conversation and in light of the changing National tournament/points system, the missing voice here for our junior players (and parents) is that of the college coaches. I want to hear from them!
It's obvious there will occasionally be that tiny handful of juniors who rise quickly to the top as potential pros early on (Min, Townsend, McDonald, etc) but the majority of our players will most likely play college tennis -- either "first" or "or". Whether they develop their games in college and turn pro afterwards or not, college tennis is the most logical, all-around sensible place for our juniors to aspire to initially: not only can they become part of a cohesive team and have the kind of intensive training ideal for grooming a player (on-court coaching, daily high-level training, athletic trainers & sports nutritionists, etc), but they can get a college education and develop their minds & characters at the same time.
So what are the college coaches out there thinking? Are they confused about where/how to find the best players for their programs, with rankings & ratings parameters constantly changing, with highly qualified players unable to enter the national tournaments (reduced draw-size fallout) which then makes them even more invisible for these coaches, etc? What do the college coaches want to see from our players? Why are their voices not included in the conversation more?
Personally, I have heard many college coaches repeat "we don't care about the rankings and ratings, we want a player with solid skills, a hungry heart and good work ethics --- a player I can develop! AND, they need to be a good student! They should go to regular high school, learn to balance normal life, play other sports growing up!" What some of (all of?) the college coaches are looking for and what the junior players are hearing through the rumor mill (and from the USTA at times) are very, very different things. Most juniors feel that attending regular high school and playing regionally is NOT going to be enough to "make it", so they sacrifice a balanced life and homeschool instead, often commuting great distances or living in academies away from their families, and they live under constant stress that what they're doing isn't going to be enough. Not to mention the poor parents of these players, desperately trying to navigate the waters and give their children the best options possible.
So this is a call out to our college coaches: can we hear from you all, please??

ross greenstein said...

You are not going to hear from the college coaches because what they have to say will piss off the junior coaches at the USTA and all around the country. They can't piss those people off because they still need to recruit the kids that the junior coaches work with. Nobody in the country speaks to more college coaches in the country than we do and the truth is our junior coaching is a disgrace compared to the amount of money the parents are spending. Of course there are a few good junior coaches around the country but 99% have never been trained on how to develop junior players from age 10-18. Most junior coaches have never worked under great coaches for many years before they are allowed to start working with kids on their own. Most junior coaches have not been trained on how to deal with 10-18 year olds off of the court. Most coaches have not been trained on how to deal with the parents of junior tennis players. Most junior coaches are not doing continuing education and professional development every year to get better at their craft. Business people are doing professional development all of the time, they are constantly getting reviewed, and working on their weaknesses. Our junior coaches don't do any of that. I am not saying the junior coaches are bad people or don't work their butt off what I am saying is the Americans that show up to college are not prepared physically or mentally and every college coach will agree there could be huge improvements. There are many issues that need to be solved but the main one is the total lack of junior coaching. If you look at great high school basketball and football coaches they have been doing it for many years and they all learned from people for many years before they got head coaching jobs. Their athletes are prepared for college sports much more than our tennis players are.

Goodbye Junior Tennis said...

My son is top 25 in Southern California and signed with D1 program ranked in the top 75 and cant get into a natioanl open. The system is broken ...play ITFs.Thank god I dont have to worry about it anymore. In November, my
4th son signed an NLI with a D1 University. Measly scholarships may I add. I am very proud of them all. My point of this post is to say first hand how difficult, expensive, and frustrating the USTA sytem is. I was fortunate to have one of my boys make it to the top 100 ITF. That is a much easier system, and they rarely change it! From my experience,if you are not having considerable success in your section, then study hard, play high school tennis and local sanctioned USTA tournaments...you still may get a small scholarship to play at a nearby state school ,university , or private college. If you winning your sectional tournaments, play as many ITF events as you can. The National Opens are now only 32 draws, So most players have no chance of getting in. ITFs are 64 qualies , 64 main. If you do well, you will get into every big tournament other than Claycourts, Winters, and Mobile. Those 3 tournaments are becoming irrelevant especially now that the Orange Bowl is on clay.

LovetheGame said...

As a former college coach, maybe you'll be interested in my opinion.....college coaches do not care about rankings, they care about results. Most college coaches are checking to see how a player has done relative to his/her head to head record with other players that coach holds in a certain regard. That is why the current USTA system is broken. It encourages players to find wins at all cost. I don't know one college coach who would value the USTA ranking system over tennisrecruiting's system (which is still not perfect). As for the ITF rankings, same thing goes here. Coaches want to know who you've beaten. Not what your ranking is. Tennis is a game of losses. Players ranked in the top 50 in the world in professional tennis might have a winner percentage no better than 60%. But they are certainly beating the cream of the crop. To college coaches, winning isn't everything......just who you win and compete against.

Steve Smith said...

Part I:

The restructuring of junior tournaments would be an easier task than regulating coaching. Methodology to have more matches and better matches is a much easier task than to regulate how to have players play better.

Here are ten points for consideration:

(1) Drop NTRP tournaments. Keep the NTRP in place for adult social leagues. Go back to having plenty of A&B tournaments. Adults and juniors all play these local events. It will bring back more match play and most will want to progress out of the B levels. Yes, competition for adults needs to be altered to improve tennis for all parties, especially juniors. Juniors currently do not play NTRP events.

(2) By dropping the NTRP tournaments the age group events will be boosted. The national senior events used to demand qualifying through your section which created more local play. Now seniors can just sign up for national events. Just like in the juniors, some adults cannot afford to travel nationally to play. Age group qualifying used to promote local play. Just like juniors, years ago one had to play a certain number of sectional events to qualify.

(3) Drop level 2&3 nationals. Ask someone from the Midwest how tough it was to win their sectional tournament years ago? Now the best players are not playing their own sectionals. Players should, for example, not be able to play Kalamazoo or San Jose (national 18's) if they have not played either their sectional or a set number of sectional events. The wealthy are leaving their section to acquire national points. Your game will get you points but points will not get you game. Jimmy Connors is right, "Play where the pressure is." (at home in your own age group) It should be outstanding results that allows a player to play up, not the parents or the player making an of the wall decision. Kids should not be leaving their section to play national events when they could not win a 'B' tournament. Also, most level 2&3 nationals are in conflict with the sectional events. The national office and the sectional offices have to get together. Easy solution, go back to having less national events. I am tired of seeing some rich kid walking around with a t-shirt that has the word national on it when he can't beat Mickey Mouse.

(4) In most areas, especially the areas where one can play outdoors year round, there are too many tournaments. In greater Tampa on any given weekend there are two tournaments within three counties. Coaches can make more money running a tournament than coaching. The current system is to geared to points opposed to the number of matches played. We need to get back to larger draws with fourteen year olds playing the forty year olds.

(5) Here is an interesting thought, you never hear the term ' Tom boy' any more. Why? Now girls have a fair shake at playing sports. People forget that Billie Jean King used to fight the battle to have boys and girls play in the same event until the 14's. Hey, if a gal wants to sign up to play a guy in the early age groups or the lower adult tournaments why not. Connors and Lendl as well as the Bryans had a tough time beating their Mothers when they were coming up the ranks. Sampras lost to his sister a bunch.
Cont'd

Steve Smith said...

Part II:
(6) The USTA membership fee should be increased slightly. The difference should go to the ITA.( Intercollegiate Tennis Association) The USTA needs to partner with the ITA to have junior events on their facilities. The format is all ready in place. One day events with a lot of one set matches being played. American kids need to get on American college campuses long before their college visits at age seventeen. They need to watch matches, see the facilities and realize that there is a bench in college tennis. In junior tennis you lose and your parents just write out a check for the next event. My guess is the ITA needs money. Their major event does not make the money that the US open does. With title IX, we cannot have anymore programs dropped. With budget cuts we have roster numbers cut. These two organizations need to get the calendar out and plan set weekends per year for major local events and ways to promote the connection between American juniors and college tennis.

(7) Whose on the tournament committees? The USTA should ask people like Jim Refklin who has put so much thought and energy into creative tournament programming or Dave Howell who has put so much thought and energy into a rating system to help them out. Yes, we thank the volunteers for their efforts but we are not letting them make the decisions. Are we? Kalamazoo used to be on red clay, best of five and open to foreigners. Rod Laver won Kalamazoo. Let's not make it easy for our kids. Bill Cosby, " I do not know the key to success but I know the key to failure, make everybody happy." Winston Churchill was right when he said that a democracy is the best form of government but it is not perfect. Who voted on changes in the past and who is voting now? Get the right people in the room and fix the problem. Typically too many people spend too much time in meetings to be sure that they are invited to the next meeting. Get the right people to restructure the current system to form a solid one that does not have to be changed again. It worked in 1776.

(8) Definitely add new programming and definitely go back to old programming. A vast majority would agree that USTA spending could be reviewed. The USTA should rent college dorms across the country in the summer. Create a format that allows kids to spend at least three weeks in a dorm with other kids. Play two singles and two doubles everyday. Let the parent stay at home and go to work. There will be kids that are there because now there are no rental car and no hotel fees as well as no restaurant tabs. There will be a cost but it will be affordable. Still have the national events. Still have national championships but just at the end of the day and at the end of the year ask how many matches were played.

cont'd

Steve Smith said...

Part III:
(9) Adapt. Use the energy devoted to QST/10S over the last couple of years and add FORM tournaments with prizes for the six year olds. Sure the pros have different styles but they don't violate physical laws. Show the players at the impact point. Post the photos. Get the ' Simon Says' game going. Give out prizes for kids who can look like Roger on the forehand volley. Catch Andy Roddick's power line on the serve and not all his pre-serve movements. Freeze, play statue, hold your balance, say one Mississippi, look like a champ not a chump.

(10) Use technology to track a match count and a rating. Reward people for winning but also reward people for playing. Stay within the rules of remaining an amateur but allow expense money and minimal prize money for those participants that have used their NCAA eligibility. Find ways to have our former college players continue to play and not grow away from their lifetime sport.
The Tennis Recruiting Network has made a mark on tennis. Their service is now common everyday lingo among everybody connected with American junior tennis. Maybe they should get in the tournament business. Parents and kids know their level by the network's terms. But by the world's terms our kids need to get better. Sure there were some standouts at the recent Aussie Open but that is not the only way to measure our success. Go watch a local high school match. The energy and enthusiasm is great but overall the level of play is extremely low.

This was written in a hurry and probably will only be read by a small group of people in a hurry. Hurry up and fix the problems with the current tournament structure. But on the other hand, take enough time to get it right. Thank you!

junior parent said...

The USTA is clearly trying to make junior tennis a big minor league system for developing pro players, and not for what it should be -- to encourage lots of kids to play, and make the system as open as possible and recognize the fact that 99.9% of the kids will not or don't want to be pros. This is evident by the fact that they are adding lots of tournaments for the very highly ranked players. In fact, they make no bones about it -- here is what they say:

"Several new events have been included on the schedule to meet the evolving needs of America's junior tennis players in a changing world -- including events which support the new national USTA development philosophy (and the new culture created by the USTA's Regional Training Center Program)"

Lisa S said...

"The USTA should rent college dorms across the country in the summer. Create a format that allows kids to spend at least three weeks in a dorm with other kids. Play two singles and two doubles everyday. Let the parent stay at home and go to work. There will be kids that are there because now there are no rental car and no hotel fees as well as no restaurant tabs."

Steve Smith, i LOVE this idea! please, use your influence and make this a reality for our kids!!!!

Sectional Tennis said...

Steve

I 100000% agree with your Number 3 comment. You should have to qualify from your section in order to play Nationals. There should be no wildcards and only sectional endorsed.

The ITF system crushed American tennis because it took the better players from playing their Section tournaments, which weakened the fields and lowered the standard.

Now players are chasing ITF points.

Winter Nationals and Clay Court are so weak because the top players are not playing them - they are playing ITF's. It is a shame and if American wants to get back to being the best - we need a system to raise the standard of American Tennis - which is going back to the old system of only qualifying for Nationals in your Section.

Bob said...

I love Steve Smith's suggestions.

I have played and coached junior tennis, high school tennis and college tennis. I quit playing tennis for ten years after college so I skipped the professional tennis experience.

My opinion is that we should be doing everything we can to make the junior tennis experience better for kids. I understand that junior (and sometimes high school) tennis are prerequisites for college and professional tennis. But the priority should not be on how junior tennis prepares players for college or professional tennis. The priority should be how well junior tennis serves junior players. Not parents, not tournament directors, not coaches. Junior players. I think we're falling far short in that regard now.

I know tons of junior players and I think they're missing out on most of what I loved about my junior tennis experience, that is traveling and hanging out with the guys I played junior tennis with. I don't recall any parents being part of the fun. This was the 1970s, but by the time I was 14-yrs-old, my friends and I were staying in hotels alone and being driven to tournaments by older friends and so forth. Other than the occasional national tournament (which were VERY hard to qualify for) where I was accompanied by my dad until I was eighteen, I traveled with my friends the few hours it took to drive to the tournaments in my section.

I guess you can't turn back the clock, but those were experiences that I would never want to have missed. Junior tennis today seems like an expensive grind. If it's working and kids are playing and having a good time, then fine. If not, then let's see if we can't find a way to improve it. I think Steve Smith's suggestions move us in the right direction.

Chris Tucker said...

Colette is right about this new tournament schedule proposal, They are trying to re-invent the wheel and making it impossible for most juniors ever to play national events.

By making the draw sizes smaller, the tournaments become exclusive and less competitive. There will only be a small, select group of people that will play each other over and over again. The tournaments are there not only for the convenience of organizers but also for the enjoyment and experience of junior players. The main reason juniors play tennis is different than most organizers coaches and parents think. It is to hang out with their friends and to compete at the same time. The fact that there are many kids present at the same event attaches importance to the event in their minds. Yes, it is important to create quality matches for each level, but especially in the younger age groups, the levels are much closer together.

The development of top players are not always the ones winning the junior event, but participating and growing with passion in the lower ranks. You need larger draw sizes to keep those guys stimulated and growing their game against everyone else.

The smaller the draw size, the less importance it will start to have in the eyes of the junior players as well.
Everyone who has ever played or visited the large national events as a player, parent or coach knows what I am talking about. Those large events in the past were remembered as major victories!
It developed our junior players with grit and toughness. It was one of the major reasons we had much more international juniors.

The college coaches would like to see larger draw sizes as well so they can make better choices and get to compare more kids rather than less.

But the most important point of all is that the USTA should be thinking on how to make junior tennis cheaper! The travel across the US is sometimes as much as traveling internationally and hotel and food can add for those weeks. Not everyone can afford that any more in this economic climate. The national events are not becoming more expensive because the players have to stay longer at the events (not all can win and stay till the end), but because the USTA has not taken steps to even think about this. There are many more ways they can make this happen. National events should be sponsored by the USTA.
Entry fees for the major events should be minimal!
Sponsors should be attracted not so that organizers can make extra money. These events should be special and treated as such. I have visited many international junior events where they do a much better job of facilitating the players and making it very special for them to be there.
In the past, parents with less financial ability were able to apply for a grant. These have disappeared completely. Just like pro events, they can help out with making deals with airlines, hotels and such to get special rates. Tennis is becoming more of an elitist and exclusive sport that is not affordable in the US any more. If the USTA is thinking of growing the game, they should seriously reconsider this new tournament system and schedule.
And most of all, do a questionnaire with the kids, coaches and parents! Ask them what they want, instead of everyone else.........