Wednesday's response by Patrick McEnroe produced the following rebuttal from Wayne Bryan:
PMc: It’s easy—and frankly, it’s long been fashionable—to cast a blanket indictment against the USTA. Coach B: "Well, let me say right here at the top of the show, that it is not at all easy to criticize the USTA! Ask thousands of parents and coaches out there in the real world about their fear of speaking out to the USTA. It is palpable and it is pervasive. You play ball you get this, you don't play ball and there will be negative consequences - - - real or perceived, it is out there." PMc: That’s neither new nor notable. Coach B: "I've been in tennis for a dadgum long time now and I have never heard more negative criticism toward the USTA than I hear right now. This level of criticism is, in fact, new."
PMc: Let me first say that the USTA has a clearly-defined mission—to promote and develop the growth of tennis. The USTA wants more people on more courts in more places; that is our charge as an association. As General Manager of Player Development, my specific charge is to help produce more Top 100 players Coach B: "Right there from Jump Street is where I have my biggest disagreement with you and the USTA. The USTA first mission is right on the nose and is achievable. They should provide a fair and level playing field and great and exicitng programming. That's whatAYSO Soccer does. What Little League Baseball does. The USTA should not be repsonsible for producing the proverbial Top 100 players by coaching. Programming yes, coaching no."
Chris Boyer: "And, I will add one last comment to this thought about the USTA trying to control/be involved with tennis player development: NO OTHER SPORT DOES THIS! AYSO soccer doesn't try to govern how soccer coaches develop in the private sector; Football – NO, Baseball – NO, Basketball – NO. Not even FIFA, which could be considered one of the most powerful sport organizations in the world doesn't get involved in player development – they let the professional soccer clubs develop their own talent from age 4 on up to pro level in each clubs own system."
PMc: Tennis has often been criticized for being too expensive and inaccessible. Those criticisms have truth to them; they are challenges that all of us involved in the sport face. And these are specific issues that the 10 and Under Tennis initiative addresses. When Mr. Bryan says that tennis, “grows from Main Street,” and from “solid, fun, dynamic programming,” he’s absolutely right. Coach B: "Ha. Ha. 100% agree, of course." PMc: Tennis is indeed a sport that grows upward from its grass roots, and by making the sport easier for kids to play and enjoy, they’re much more likely to get involved in it and stick to it. Yes. That’s exactly the idea behind 10 and Under Tennis, and for any sport, that’s step one.
In terms of 10-and-under competition, the rule change adopted by the ITF and the USTA has, in fact, opened the door for more kids to get involved in junior competition. Coach B: "Well, hold on here a second. This is where the rubber hits the road. No one is against graduated learning in sports or music or anything really. I have used it with all my players in tennis, or music for that matter, for a long, long time, but what we are allspecifically against is tearing down regular tennis for 10s. We say, have all the green ball or Nerf ball tournaments you want for U6, U8 or U10, just don't eliminate regular tennis for those that want to play it. Create, don'e eliminate!!"
PMc: The idea that the more-talented or more-accomplished kids are somehow being held back or hampered by the rule changes that include shorter courts, properly-sized racquets and slower-bouncing balls is absurd. Mr. Bryan says he can produce, “all kinds of kids around the country at 8, 9, 10 who can flat out nail the ball.” I’m sure that’s true, and in fact, I’ve seen plenty of them at our Regional Training Centers and our three USTA training centers. But I’m equally sure that there’s not a single sport that makes its rules for the one-half of one percent of the kids who play it. For the kids who truly are that good, they can—and should—do what the best kids in tennis and all sports have been doing for years: play up at the next level. Coach B: "Wow. I and so, so many other coaches in the country 1000% disagree with that assertion right there. Have you spent time coaching 10s, Patrick? I say juniors should never play up unless they are dominating a division and not getting challenged - - - and the absolute worst time to be forced to play up is from the 10s to the 12s!!!" PMc: It’s important to emphasize that this rule change applies only to tournament play for kids 10-and-younger. Coach B: But, my friend, Patrick, that is test tube time. That is Jump Street. That is the most important time in the tennis journey!!
PMc: It’s equally important to note that the ability to “flat-out nail the ball” doesn’t exactly translate into a bright future as a player. Coach B: "Of course, not." PMc: We’ve all seen examples of that time and again. Coach B: Look, let's call a spade a spade, you have a much better chance of getting hit by lightening and killed than ever being in the top 100 on the pro tour. To me, what the USTA Mission should only be about getting more kids playing and deriving the wonderful benefits of this magical sport." PMc: Indeed, by playing with properly-sized equipment and a softer ball that allows for longer rallies, we will be much more likely to develop smarter players who understand how to construct points; not just those who can smash a yellow ball through the back wall. In doing that, we’ll have more players who understand how to compete—and are better-prepared to do so. Coach B: "That is your take and your opinion and that opinion is being rammed down our throats. I and so, so many other coaches respectfully disagree.
PMc: Jose Higueras, USTA Player Development’s outstanding Director of Coaching, often has said that this country has produced plenty of players who can hit the ball, but far fewer who understand how to play tennis. We believe that the new 10 and Under competitive structure can go a long way to developing smarter players, providing them with a more solid foundation and understanding of the sport, so that by the time they progress to the next level, they’ll be able to do more than “nail” the ball. Coach B: "Have you seen green balls played with in the wind, in the cold, and on clay courts? Have you seen all the drop shotting going on all the time. Have you seen really good junnior players being dumbed down and playing with green balls? Have you worked with players since they were 4 or 5 or 6 and see what they are capable of on the tennis court? Can you imagine how they or their parents or their coaches would feel when they are ready to do well in the 10s when they are 9 or 10 and then they are smacked with this Mandate?"
PMc: Mr. Bryan likes to point out that the USTA has never developed a Top 10 player. I would ask him, “Who has, from start-to-finish?” Coach B: "Where do you want me to start and stop. I can give lots of examples." PMc: The USTA has, for years, played a vital role Coach B: "Again, this is one of those points where we massively disagree. Rather than "Vital" I would simply insert the world "Small". Do exit interviews with players that the USTA has so called played a "vital role" with. We must be living in a different world." PMc: in the development of many top professionals, but the idea that any one person is responsible for the development of any individual player is ludicrous. Coach B: "Bam. That is again where we diverge. No Peter Graf, no Steffi. No Stefano and Denise, no Jennifer. No Jimmy Evert, no Chris. No, Gloria Connors, no Jimmy. No Richard and Oracene, no Venus 'n Serena. No Blanche and Jerry, no Andy. No Tom and Sally, no Mardy."
PMc: But contrary to what Mr. Bryan believes, USTA Player Development isn’t in the “cherry-picking” business. We’re in the business of helping the best young players get better by providing a controlled environment in which they will have the best chance of developing. Coach B: Yeah, yeah. I've been hearing that for a real long time now. You are, in fact, in the cherry pickin' business. Why not just go out and create players from age 4 and 5 and run e'm on up the flag pole then? No, you all want to take the cream of the crop and only work with them in the proverbial eleventh hour."
Bob Hochstadter: "One of the things I haven’t read in the last few emails, is the relationship with a private coach. It takes years to build that trust between coach and player, it takes years for a good coach to not only impart wisdom, but to truly make their student believe in themselves. Admittedly I might not be the best or most technical coach out there, but given time, I can make a player believe they can be a world beater. To me the heart and soul is what’s missing in the PD program, not the expertise. Being one of those coaches who has had “promising juniors” swept away from them I have seen that over and over through the years. Often, the players do not improve much and some go the other direction. This is something that most of us just shake our heads at."
PMc: Mr. Bryan suggests that the USTA’s thrust is to "get rid of the influence of parents and local coaches. Again, that’s absolutely absurd. We are well aware that all of the kids who come into our program get their start in other places, and we applaud the parents and coaches who get these kids involved in tennis and nurture their development. Coach B: "Then why not say their names on National TV telecasts. Still waiting for that to happen. And, again, that is the essence of it all. The USTA PD program always says that, but they do not truly believe that. That want the credit. It's human nature. Its the way with bureaucracies. You have no idea how many times I have heard national coaches and administrators say the key is getting rid of all the influence of parents and local coaches. Again, see the Hochstadter quote above. I hear this kinda thing every day."
Paul McNamee: "The lack of top players was in part due to administrators micro-managing the talent by assigning coaches to players rather than letting them choose their own development paths. There’s no evidence that more dollars are going to help the game anyway, otherwise Great Britain would have many more players than they have. You’ve got a situation here where coaches are assigned to players and that’s not an ideal scenario. I just believe in a different philosophy where the player gets to choose their own coach and that builds the trust and respect and that should be supported financially and in non-financial ways. I think a much more decentralized system and a system that has more freedom in it is the sort ofenvironment where talent and creativity can flourish. I think the model we have now suppresses creativity, which you need to produce players.”
PMc: As in most criticism aimed at the USTA, Mr. Bryan is fond of citing the “massive staff expenditures” of this association. Yes, we’re extremely fortunate to have the revenues generated by the US Open Coach B: "Yep." PMc: to help us fund our programs and hire talented people, but to hear Mr. Bryan tell it, you’d think our water coolers were filled with Dom Perignon. Coach B: "I will not set forth all the things I have seen re the way money is spent in the PD world, but if you want to push me on it, I will be happy to reveal that kinda thing and also what American pro playersnow and through the years truly think about USTA PD."
PMc: I make a very nice living—I don’t apologize for that either. Coach B: "I'll just pull my punches here and make only a few comments about that - - - I do not think anyone that works for the non profit USTA should make three or four times what the President of the United States makes. I say publish all salaries of USTA PD National Coaches and Administrative staff at once. And then compare it to the private sector.
PMc: But the truth is that a lot of my very talented staff take less money to work for USTA Player Development than they could make if they took their talents elsewhere. Coach B: "Wow! I just disagree with that. I know what USTA PD coaches made when they were on the inside with theUSTA and I know what they make when they go back to the real world. Again, may I disagree on this point?! PMc: "They choose to be with us because they have a genuine passion and they want to play a part in our mission." Coach B: "Hmmm."
PMc: And in fact, it’s important to note that the majority of the revenues that are generated by the US Open aren’t directed toward Player Development, but go back into the game’s grass roots Coach B: "That is just fine.", PMc: allowing more people of every age to get involved in the sport of tennis. All of us at the USTA feel that’s a good way to invest that money. Coach B: You haven't read any missives from me about that.
PMc: Some six years ago, the USTA Board of Directors felt it was important to get more players involved in Player Development because they believed it was important for American players to be competitive at the US Open in order to ensure the long-term health of that event. The impetus for me to come on board was that the USTA said it would be fully-responsible for the development of those players who chose to be with us; that we would have our own training centers where the best players could come together to get better. I was hired, not as a coach, but as a General Manager, charged to put the best people in place to help achieve that goal and come up with an overall direction for the program. In the four years I’ve been on the job, that’s what I’ve worked hard to achieve, and that’s what I’ll continue to do. Coach B: "I have no doubt of your passion and that you believe you are doing the right thing for American tennis. I disagree with a National approach to coaching and think it is fraught with danger and harm for the sport in this country. For the past 23 years, USTA PD has been the biggest impediment to the growth of tennis in this country. Each regime that comes to power says they will be better than the last. They are the ones that will lead us to the Promised Land."
Brian Parrott: "Patrick McEnroe, while assumably good intentioned, has close to no idea how this puzzle of using the legion of good coaches throughout the USA needs to be refined to efficiently develop players."
PMc: Mr. Bryan bemoans the fact that I’ve hired some foreign coaches . Coach Bryan: Yes! I feel we have more than enough great coaches in this country! Maria Sharpapova grew up here working with American coaches. So did Tommy Haas. Anna Kournikova. Dmitry Tursunov. I am not against foreign coaches per se, I am just against them being hired by the USTA. I think US Open WCs should go to US kids. I'm also againstAmerican college scholarships going to foreign players, whose parents do not pay dollar one in US taxes for educaiton in our country! Especially in this very rough economy!! I think Miss America should be from the US. I think to be President of these United States you should be an American citizen and be born in the USA. PMc: he decries the fact that none of my coaches have children that are champion players. Frankly, I’m offended by the former and amused by the latter. I still recall the best coaching advice my father ever gave me as a junior—after splitting the first two sets of my match, he told me prior to the third set to, “do what you did in the set that you won.” Coach B: I like that! Smart guy that, JP.
PMc: Where a coach is born or what their kids excel at is not my concern. I’ve tried to hire the best and the most passionate; I’ve tried to hire those who excel at—and enjoy—working with and developing kids. Our Director of Coaching, Jose Higueras, has coached some of the greatest ever to play the game, but his real passion is working with kids, and his understanding of the sport is second-to-none. Coach B: "I also have a very high opionion of Jose and consider him a friend. Great player, great coach, great and positive guy." PMc: Are we always trying to get better? Are we always looking to improve? Absolutely. But let’s just say I’m extremely comfortable with everybody’s resume and their proven passion for the sport. Wonderful and dedicated and caring coaches one and all.
Chuck Kriese: "There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great coaches and people out there teaching tennis that really want to do the right thing. We need always to keep the coaches empowered and believing that their own ideas and initiative are embraced."
PMc: When I took this job, I knew there would be rewards and I knew there would be challenges. I knew that every decision we made would have its supporters and its detractors. I really do appreciate the passion that those involved in tennis have for our sport; I think that the people who put a face on our sport are second-to-none in that regard. I understand a lot of the criticism and I’m happy to take most of it—where it’s constructive and where it’s deserved. The buck stops here. Certainly, when Americans don’t fare well on our sport’s biggest stages, nobody is calling the local pros—they’re calling the USTA. And they should. Coach B: "I like this well written and reasoned paragraph. The higher up you go, the more you have to help people. Not about yourself. About others.
PMc: Because of that, our charge is to do what we can to make our sport—and our players—better and more competitive in this highly-competitive global environment. That’s what we’re working on every day and that’s what we’ll continue to do. We are prepared to address any and every short-term concern with an eye toward long-term benefits. We can’t—and we won’t—allow short-sightedness to interfere with long-term vision. Coach B: Does this final sentence mean that you think that I and those that disagree with you are short-sighted?