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Sunday, December 16, 2012

USTA Town Hall Meeting at ITA Convention

I drove across the state and back today to attend the USTA luncheon and Town Hall meeting at the ITA Coaches Convention in Naples, FL.  I was invited to attend by the USTA's Bill Mountford, who had initially signed on to present to the college coaches about the 10-and-under tennis initiative, but when the October Tennis Industry meeting in Chicago resulted in the scheduling of Town Hall meetings and a listening tour to discuss the upcoming Junior Competition changes, that presentation was truncated, with more time allotted for questions for about junior competition changes.

In attendance for the USTA were Mountford and outgoing president Jon Vegosen, who were on the podium, and Junior Competition committee member and now chairperson Andrea Norman and USTA Junior Competition Director Lew Brewer at a front table, who were available for questions.

Vegosen explained the philosophy behind the changes, emphasizing the need to have more local tennis opportunities for young people when they begin exploring all the youth sports available to them.

The coaches received a one-page "CliffNotes" version of the document, with the 2014 schedule as proposed, but there was definitely a wide range of awareness and understanding of the new structure.  Several coaches voiced support of the concept of returning to sectional play, saying the value of those tournaments to them has decreased with some of the best players not playing in them.  There was a comment about the size of the four regions for the new regionals and the travel required (Minnesota to Texas in this particular case), but I didn't detect from Norman any sense this might be altered.

As those of you who read zootennis regularly know, I have been studying the changes as they've been presented in the nine-page document the USTA has released for many months, and have followed many of the blogs and forums that have delved into the issue. I don't claim to understand how it will all work, but I do find the notion that every player(save wild cards) who qualify for the two gold ball Nationals remaining--the Clays and Hard Courts--must come from sectional endorsements.  There is no other way in. It may result in the best players in the United States playing sectionals again, or it may result in the best players skipping the nationals, playing ITFs instead.

I made only two comments during the meeting, the first to point out that as long as the ITF path exists in the United States (and every other country in the world, more or less) and it potentially leads to the US Open Junior Championships, some players will take that option, rather than the one the USTA provides. As USC coach Peter Smith said about this, "the cat's out of the bag," and no structure the USTA sets up can reverse that change in junior tennis.

David Roditi of TCU, who was a National Coach for the USTA before he returned to coach the men's team at his alma mater, asked if these changes may mean two separate paths: one to the US Open Juniors and one to the USTA Nationals.  He mentioned that good players skip the national tournaments in Mexico, opting instead for ITF events, and while there are obviously big differences in the two countries and their federations, it is a point worth considering. Now players can do both, but will the elimination of the national standing list force them to choose one or the other?

This led to a wild card discussion, and 16 wild cards is the number set aside for the 128 draws in the boys and girls 18s. Peter Wright of Cal asked if those might be tied to some sort of qualification system, as the ITA does for its wild cards or at-large selections.

As for the 128 draws themselves, a few coaches were for them, seeing in the 192-draws a number of players not of college quality; a few agreed that a qualifying event prior to the two remaining nationals would be a good solution, and Vegosen said that is being considered.

I've always thought qualifiers a dependable and easy-to-understand part of tennis, so I am hopeful this will happen, but that brings me to my second comment at the luncheon.

It wasn't really a comment, but a question. I wanted to know how the coaches felt about the demise of the Winter Nationals, or rather, the metamorphosis of it to a team event. I'm not sure how many coaches had absorbed this change prior to the luncheon, but Shelia McInerney of Arizona State said she liked team events, citing the August 18s Team championships and their format.  Peter Smith suggested the 64 players involved in the Winter Nationals (with the "waterfalls") were too few to justify the expense of a recruiting trip and suggested more team events in the younger age divisions, saying the 12s zonals always are at the top of his college players' favorite tournaments list.

Mountford made sure that those coaches who didn't speak to the issues raised during the 90-minute meeting (and I just touched on a few) had an option to contact him privately later, and he also encouraged everyone to use the email account letusknow@usta.com for further, private feedback and suggestions. The ITA will be sending links to the USTA's one-page and nine-page documents to its members following the meeting to help raise awareness among the coaches.

It's my perception that he monitors this account himself and will use it to help quantify the support for the tweaks being considered.  I do not think the plan, voted and approved in March of this year, will be scrapped. The USTA appears to be committed to its philosophy and its implementation, and that includes the sections (save Southern, perhaps). But I think if enough people take the time to understand the new structure and comment on what they would like to see changed in it, the USTA will take those emails seriously.  If they don't hear from those affected, they will presume agreement with the changes that will be implemented in 2014.

The next Town Hall listening meetings are at the Winter Nationals:

December 26: 16s & 18s Winter Nationals, Scottsdale, AZ
December 27: 12s & 14s Winter Nationals, Tucson, AZ

Please attend if you can.

Lisa Stone's Parenting Aces blog is a great resource for finding out more about the changes. She has a recent recap of her conversation with Bill Mountford as well as other information on the reduction of national opportunities this month. See her 2014 junior comp info page for all of the articles she has posted on the subject.


Tennis5 said...


Thank you for your recap of the Town Hall Meeting at ITA Convention.
Whenever you cover an event, either a tournament or a meeting, I feel that I got an accurate view of what transpired that day.

I do wish though that the question was raised of how the smaller draws or for some tournament players, the actual elimination of two Super national tournaments ( winter team event will be a small draw and Easter Bowl is gone) will affect those juniors from being considered by college coaches?

Surely, it can't just be the blue chips or top 5 stars that are being recruited for college tennis in America?
And as college coaches have limited budgets, does the elimination of the tournaments lessen the likelihood of players being seen by the coaches?

Is this the next nail in the coffin for Americans to play college tennis?
And will parents in the future support such an expensive sport for their sons if the chance of playing for a college team is so doubtful?

turtle said...

first, thanks go to Colette for her great work.

second, coaches do not go to Easter Bowl as it almost always falls during a dead period of recruiting (spring signing date). so that isn't a big deal. coaches do go to Winter Natls although not nearly as many that attend Clays or Hard Courts. Winter Natls is tough to recruit/evaluate at (for coaches) because you have freezing weather, a little altitude, and a lot of kids who have been playing indoors trying to play outdoors without much preparation. And its during the holidays right before their busy part of the year.

I am fairly certain that coaches at lower ranked schools will now attend sectional events; as a result perhaps even MORE kids will now be seen by college coaches. why wouldnt they attend these events, especially now because these events will be so much stronger due to players needing to qualify thru the section. you will certainly also see the bigger schools at these events too.

coaches of smaller, lower ranked schools break the budget and pinch pennies to go to Kalamazoo. and then leave after two days because they have no shot at the kids still in the tournament after that point. its a way better use of their $$ to attend more sectional events that are closer to them (if they are at all motivated or industrious).

this is not as gloom and doom as people want to make it.

if you want to play college tennis then work hard, study hard, and get good. if you are good there is a spot for you.

Sam said...

At the listening meeting in Naples it became clear that what many of the college coaches are saying is quite different than what parents and others are saying that they are saying on this and the parenting aces website. In some ways it is refreshing to hear from them directly. As to the interesting question of the role of the USTA in showcasing players to the college coaches that is indeed an interesting one. I have never heard a President of the USTA issue such a directive to those responsible for such implementation and I am not aware that this is considered in any decision making process. I would suggest that those interested in such a request make that to the President of the USTA so he can consider it.

Not a troll said...

Think sM and turtle usta trolls

Unknown said...

My opinion is that a draw over 128 is too much. What I am proposing is to have a 128 main draw and a qualifying tournament prior to the national tournament with the top 8 advancing to the main draw. A qualifying draw format is what is in place for junior ITF tournaments, ATP tournaments, WTA tournaments etc….why isn’t this format implemented in USTA national tournament events? Not having winter nationals is a mistake in my opinion. These are fun tournaments which my family and I enjoyed attending.

Unknown said...

The ITF route at this point seems to be the better route due to USTA policies. The ITF route is how my brother made his way around the USTA.

John said...

Roddick - the ITF route is essentially only available for juniors that are home or "virtual" schooled.....neither of which am I a fan.

Jon King said...

John, too bad you are not a 'fan' of homeschooling. It produces some of the greatest kids on the planet who are not programmed to think, dress, act all alike and think the prom is the highlight of their entire lives.

what...not again said...

fyi, usta....Kozlov is from Skopje, Macedonia

John said...

Jon - I would agree there are examples where homeschooling was a success but would say it is very dependent on the circumstances and has a tremendous downside if not managed carefully. It takes the right parent....and the right child. Your glib and stereotypical comment about traditionally schooled kids being programmed is pretty well, glib and stereotypical :-).

Jim Kap said...

John....all types of schooling is situational as to success rates. Homeschool or traditional, some kids do well afterwards, others not. You began the stereotyping, I merely provided some of my own. We have all seen many 45 year olds still wearing their prom hair styles and talking about their high school glory days. Homeschool has high or higher a success rate as traditional schooling.

Daniel said...

To Jim Kap,

Hope you are kidding that traditional kids are talking about the prom........

Please talk about substantial issues, like lack of real LABS in chemistry, biology or physics........

Or AP classes being taught in a meaningful way, not just memorizing a bunch of facts online.