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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Top Junior Development Coaches Look for Changes in USTA Player Development, Junior Competition

Chris Clarey has written an article in today's New York Times focusing on the challenges facing Patrick McEnroe's successor as head of player development.  Clarey's primary theme centers on how little McEnroe knew about the demands and requirements of the position when he took it, and advocates for someone who won't need to go through such a steep learning curve.  Clarey does not touch on what I think may be the most significant obstacle to an effective General Manager of Player Development, the governing structure of the USTA itself.  With he or she reporting to not only the USTA chairman, CEO and president, a volunteer who serves one two-year term, as well as the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, currently Gordon Smith, and the volunteer board of directors, the ability to actual implement a long term plan over a reasonable amount of time seems impossible.  And it may be why many of those most qualified for the position are not interested in taking it.

 Craig Tiley, now the Tournament Director of the Australian Open, was a vice chairman of the USTA's High Performance committee before he took the position of Director of Player Development at Tennis Australia in 2005 and was in the running for a similar position then at the USTA. But, as he told me in 2005, its structure was not conducive to actually implementing a comprehensive plan.

"One thing we’ve done in Australia is abolishing all the committees. In the USTA, everyone has to have a voice and there’s such an incredible amount of committees, and reporting to committees, you get inhibited by having to constantly justify what you’re doing or report on what you’re doing. I think it would be much more appropriate to have action the whole time on what you’re doing. That wasn’t the reason I came to Australia, but it’s a significant opportunity that Australia has in comparison to the USTA."

That's an old quote, and maybe there are committees at Tennis Australia now, but, as anyone who lived through the recent junior competition restructuring can tell you, nothing has changed at the USTA, with committees still having a major influence on any policy change advocated by the chairman/president.

For some historical context, here is the article Doug Robson wrote for USA Today about the USTA's change in player development direction, with its own academy and private coaching, when Patrick McEnroe took the job back in 2008.

I am still working on my assessment of the past years in Player Development and what can be improved, but several prominent player development coaches have already done that.

Parenting Aces has posted a Craig Cignarelli article that previously appeared on 10sBalls.com, focusing on the kind of person needed in that job. I can't speak for Craig, but I don't think he'd be happy with a Craig Tiley type, who is definitely a "leader", not a "representative." But after seeing the USTA's role in the college format changes, the junior competition structure changes and the 10-and-under-tennis rollout, it's certainly understandable to want a person who listens first and takes action later.

And Tom Walker, who is a top junior development coach from here in Kalamazoo (now in Lansing) and has been vocal in his opposition to the junior competition changes since their inception, has provided a specific blueprint for what needs to happen to restore a viable USTA junior competition structure.  That too can be found Parenting Aces.

I received an email last night from a junior development coach that he has given me permission to use. I welcome any other accounts or suggestions, which can be sent to clewis[at]zootennis.com or posted in the comments section below.

An open letter from a private tennis coach regarding USTA Player Development

Yesterday, it was announced that Patrick McEnroe will leave his position as General Manager of USTA Player Development. While there has been much discussion over the past years about what role USTA player development should have in the tennis world in the US, I thought it timely to share my thoughts with regard to this matter.

I only address the issue of player development from my own perspective as a junior coach for the last 25 years.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have some very talented juniors that I’ve been able to work with over the years.  I’ve dealt with every age group from ten year old boys to 18 year old girls. Some good sectional USTA players, to top Junior ITF players and everything in between.  Since I’ve always worked as a private coach, never in an academy setting, and usually with only one player at a time, I’ve always had to partner with other coaches, academies, and other organizations that could provide practice environments.

Perfection is an elusive goal and I’m not perfect, I’ve made my share of mistakes in my coaching as does every coach and every organization.  But the USTA PD has been an organization that has never welcomed me and my players no matter which door I’ve knocked on.  So at some point, I simply gave up. And I know a lot of coaches who have experienced exactly the same thing.  So I didn’t feel as though I was the only one.  It is interesting that, as a private coach from the US, with talented players, I have had better access to training with other countries PD federations than with our own.  Over the past year, the young man I coach and I have been invited to train with the Canadian, Danish, French, Spanish and Colombian Tennis Federations, some of which we were able to take advantage of, some invitations just couldn’t be coordinated with our schedule.  On the occassions when I asked the USTA for such access, we received emails saying, 

“yes absolutely”, 


“well, we are very full around that time, but we will work something out”, 


“we are court constrained, there will be some time, but limited”, 

then when the time came
radio silence.  

And this to a player who is a top 20 US Player based on ITF ranking, a Blue Chip (top 25) based on tennis recruiting ranking, but a player who has not played significantly in the USTA juniors over the past year, but has been as high as top 15 in USTA National Rankings.  What on earth happens to those up and coming kids who want to take the next step and do not have a high ranking?

What could I envision as a supportive PD environment? And it’s worth repeating that I’m only talking about developing the skills of relatively elite players—not what do we do to get more kids to play.  I’ll leave that to people who know more than I about getting parents to see the benefits of tennis over other sports options they may have available to them. 

My PD wish list is relatively straightforward.
·               Support the coaches in the private sector, don’t compete with them.
·               Create an open environment for players at various levels to come practice with each other.
·               Provide more financial assistance for players at a certain level to travel to tournaments around the world and play and practice with the best. This is now a global sport.
·               Provide support for ancilary services such as physical training, nutrition education, sports psychology, etc.
·               Provide a better junior tournament environment that encourages more players and encourages the best players to play. 
 But be reasonable, unless they are from a section/region where there is appropriate competition, it’s not reasonable to expect a player that is pursuing ITF level competition to compete in a sectional tournament in order to obtain a ranking to play in National level events.
 ·               A coordination service run by the USTA that tracks where players are at any given time and tries to put players of similar levels in touch with each other so that they might practice together.
 ·               Provide help in a consulting fashion from specialized coaches.  A great example is some court time with Jose Higueras (one of the best clay court coaches) before the clay season.  (Todd Martin, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, etc. all sought out that kind of help from him.)
·               Facilitate a mentoring environment among our junior players.

Just these basic services, were they available to all who meet some defined, established criteria would be very useful.  One might see private coaches seeking out these services and as a result one might see private coaches broadening their views and making use of these various tools provided by our PD federation.

While I do NOT hold Patrick McEnroe responsible for all the shortcomings of USTA PD and while I don’t believe his departure will remedy or change everything, it is a good time to throw the various views of what our federation could do into the mix.  Maybe we can come up with some new answers, or make use of some tried and true solutions, or maybe just examine things from the perspective of “the way it is now” and not try to apply old rules that worked in the past, but don’t really apply to our sport today.

 I will throw this letter out to various people who might want to raise these types of possibilities as the dialogue develops as to who will take over player development for the USTA.  Perhaps some of these ideas may become discussion points.

Thom Billadeau


NYT missed the boat said...

Colette, the NY Times article really doesn't have a handle or even an inkling of how incredibly unhappy the juniors, coaches and parents are with the USTA.
The USTA in destroying the national junior tournament
structure by cutting opportunities is driving juniors out of tennis. Juniors faced with playing the same kids from their section over and over again, just gave up and quit.
Another large percentage of juniors and parents who paid to travel to tournaments just got fed up with all the cheating and quit!
The USTA is doing a fantastic job of pushing their own athletes into team sports as frustrations mount and the USTA doesn't want to listen.


As a video services business focused exclusively on helping junior tennis players achieve their training & recruiting goals, we have traveled to approx. 30 tourneys each year for almost the past 10 years. The previous post is 100% true but those 2 reasons are just a drop in the bucket of the zillion problems w/ junior tennis. It is such a shame... Everyone has the answers, which probably means no one has the answers... We hear this ALL the time: "If we knew then what we know now, we would never have put our child in tennis." Bye-bye PMAC but don't look for much to change...yada.

Blue Devil said...

What is the status of Michael Redlicki. He is not on Duke's 2014-2015 roster.

Colette Lewis said...

I believe he is still at Duke, but will not be playing for the team.

SeminoleG said...

Well I just called several offices to explain how this National Selection for Oct Tournaments work. Multiple Sites/2 Age divisions, Regional vs National. I must admit I entered them all and have NO IDEA what I'm doing. I have no Idea what she will get selected to play. Tried to craft an email to send to Junior Comp and it was a mess, made no sense and even I could not understand what I was asking. So I deleted it, and will sit and wait.

I've got a Masters in Engineering and 24yr Plus Military Career and I CANNOT figure this out.

I guess I'm not smart enough and that may be the problem only idiots like me are investing in Jr Tennis.

I have no idea what changes will occur, BUT if I cannot plan a Local,Sectional,Regional,National tournament schedule without referencing document upon document that has me send emails, withdraw, choose...Then nothing really changes.


Unknown said...

As the father and coach of a current junior player I have seen many of the USTA junior changes over the last 8 years. Before the latest restructuring of national and regional tournaments, we would pick and choose the ones(National Open or Regional Segment) we could do and we were happy for those who could travel more and play many national tournaments. The current system actually rewards those who play in section and do well with a golden ticket to Kalamazoo. This same system of National tournaments might reward you with a seeding at Kalamazoo if your results merit but this current system is not as rewarding to the family who could travel from the Midwest to FL to TX to CA just to play someone out of section for the sake of playing out of section. This current system will prove itself if someone who does not regularly play nationals but who does well in his section and advances far at their respective national championship. USTA has relieved many parents of the need to travel huge distances and spend lots of dollars in national or regional tournaments and it will be up to us parents to put new challenges in front of our kids if they win at too high a percentage of matches in the section by playing the same kids over and over. These other challenges could be in the form of ITF tournaments.

Russ said...

Great suggestions from Thom Billadeau!!!!

Ben said...

SeminoleG -

Priceless comment, sadly very true!!

Playing the same kids = Boredom = quitting said...

Steve, you might think the new system is great, but for those in a small section, it's the death of junior tennis. Many boys quit this year and went off to team sports. Boredom factor made it unfun. And this is not a job for juniors, no one pays them a salary for doing this. So, if the USTA makes it unfun, they quit.

It shouldn't be this hard to figure out junior tournaments said...

Seminole, same problem with trying to figure out the selection tournaments, and of course my sectional office can't be bothered to actually return an email.
I need a job like that where I don't respond to my customers and yet get to keep my job.

Article was a joke said...

NY Times missed the boat because they didn't speak to juniors, coaches, or parents. It's hard to write an intelligent article about how unhappy everyone is with the new junior tennis structure in this country if you don't actually speak to them.

Maybe they should give participation ribbons too? said...

Yes Steve, it relieves families of the need to travel and makes it rec level tennis all around. That is the problem. A solution for the masses and the average player and uncommitted tennis families who think they are, I would expect general Q public tennis player to be happy with that, because they don't understand tennis at the higher levels.

Thanks coach, we feel your pain.. said...

Appreciate the letter from the coach and want him/her to know we were in the exact same situation I know others dealing with the same thing with their top 10 blue chips being totally disregarded for a 12-14 year old that will end up burned out or injured or never be the player they wanted and tossed aside as well. If you aren't buds (sucking up constantly) with Berger and Brewer you are locked outside the gate. The worst thing they did was making incredibly talented players and their fabulous coaches feel unworthy while they promoted only their chosen ones whether in juniors or in the pro circuit by giving 20 WCs to just one player in a year rather than helping move several along. The karma is seeing how this has worked out for them. Fortunately, our player has had great success in spite of the USTA. But would we do it again? What do you think? That is the real problem - where tennis will be 10 years from now as even the best tennis families choose not to let/make/want their kids to choose tennis.

What is tragic is they will never ask people like us for opinions and suggestions even though we have lived the junior pathway for years from bottom to top and everything in between. Thanks for putting it out there best you can, Zoo Tennis is a start.

Put sensible people in charge said...

Last time I checked, USTA stood for UnIted States Tennis Association..how bout hiring American tennis coaches to run it...what a novel idea...you wanna do what's right for AMERICAN tennis? Hire the American coaches who have trained and brought up kids through the Junior ranks all the way to the PROS..they clearly would have the best understanding of what that takes every step of the way..Start with Pat Harrison and Wayne Bryan..who is gonna know more about Development and Professional tennis than these two.. We need to use our best resources..

This is how the USTA succeeds.... said...

To Steve Bousson, You are the USTA's dream parent! Congratulations! A parent who doesn't remember that the old system of 2013 allowed sectional players to get to Kalamazoo, just National players to get to Kalamazoo, ITF players to get to Kalamazoo, and ATP Players to get to Kalamazoo. Wow, more than one way to get to Kalamazoo in 2013 doesn't force all players to stay in their section AND YET ALLOWS SECTIONAL PLAYERS TO COME THAT WAY TOO. But, that's how the USTA works... hoping that parents don't know there was another way. Congrats, they would probably hand you one of those worthless team gold balls if they could ( and you wouldn't even have to win, just be on the winning team - IMAGINE THAT!)

It's Who You Know at the USTA that gets you in the club said...

To get a job at the USTA, you have to be part of the network of the good old boys. Talent, experience, coaching American players is not part of the consideration of who they hire. It's who you know...

TennisDad said...

Steve says - "USTA has relieved many parents of the need to travel huge distances and spend lots of dollars in national or regional tournaments".

Ok, but why does everyone have to do it the same cookie cutter way? Last I checked, it's my money that I am spending, not the USTA's

My daughter is in a small section, she dislikes playing the same few girls over and over again, Lord of the Flies with better clothing..

She likes to play regionals and nationals and ITFs.The old way allowed multiple entry points into Kalamazoo as the draw was big enough for everyone.

I know that is a foreign concept to the USTA to actually be inclusive to American junior tennis players, but it worked and there were no complaints.

Steve, you are the first person that is happy that you are locked into one way. Well, now it is 99.99998 % who are unhappy with the USTA, I am glad they could satisfy one dad.

Frustrated said...

The current regime shoved through changes that everyone protested against..
Coaches and parents were ignored and belittled. Since Patrick's regime was a disaster, do you think we will go back to pre-2014 system? Why should it stay the same when everyone is so opposed to it?

Great ideas - hope the new head reads it! said...

Excellent letter Thom! If we could put you in charge, more than just a few players would benefit. I hope the new administration takes the time to read such a thoughtful proposal.

Unknown said...

I wanted to address that we, as a team of player and coach understand how to get to the National Championship(Kalamazoo) in our case and that is to be ranked high enough in the section. This is a known factor under the current regime. We are happy and always have been for those people spending their own money travelling to National and Regional tourneys. If you believe your child merits those kind of tournaments then go for it. This is still America and I am a capitalist to the core. We should spend our money the way we want. Let me say again that as results warrant, we will also play ITF tournaments if we get tired of playing in section. I would not say I am the model USTA parent as we have seen and experienced the quantity of National Open and regional segment tournaments shrink in amount in our section and nationwide. The shrinkage has been in draw size and amount of tournaments. One answer is to most of these questions is just win at your local and section level at a rate that dictates that you should have your kid playing at a higher level.

Richard said...

Steve, I appreciate your articulation. However, many juniors did not play Kalamazoo this year as they didn't want to stay in their section the entire year.

Unless you live in Florida or California, it is quite underwhelming to play the same 4 kids every other weekend. Colette, spoke about the importance of cross play in terms of development and how it would be gone for many kids who had to stay in their section for most of the year.

I can't stress this enough, but for a kid
(unless you have some crazy person as a parent and I see these unhappy kids all the time, unfortunately), then tennis is a sport that you initially play for fun, like soccer or softball or volleyball. All sports that my daughter's friends don't pay a fortune for either btw.

Junior Tennis is not a job. The kids don't have to get on the court to pay the mortgage or keep their health insurance. So, for many juniors in this country, the reason why there has been such a backlash against the USTA is because in the listening meetings, 100% of the folks were against the changes as they don't want their kids to quit the sport because it is not fun anymore.

You made an interesting remark about being a capitalist and this being America. "This is still America and I am a capitalist to the core. We should spend our money the way we want".

That's sorta of the problem in a nutshell. If the USTA was run as a real business, they would have gone the way of the horse and buggy a long time ago as they are not meeting their customer needs. They are ignoring their customers, except for you that is. The old system worked well where people had choices where/how they spent their money.

You state, "We are happy and always have been for those people spending their own money travelling to National and Regional tourneys. If you believe your child merits those kind of tournaments then go for it."

Well, I guess you missed the fine print somewhere in the new changes to the National tournament system, that the Level 2 National Opens lead to nowhere.... Those points do not help get you into Kalamazoo, the only way to Kalamazoo in 2014 is through the sectional ranking.

So, while we were all happy to travel to a national open in the past for our daughter to get some cross play, and use those points to get her into Kalamazoo, the USTA in their own brilliance made their own National Open irrelevant .

Your off to play ITF's... "we will also play ITF tournaments if we get tired of playing in section." Good luck when you get to Easter Bowl. We had to pull out last year, and our daughter was pretty upset about it, but $500 dollars a night for a hotel because the USTA planned it the same time as the biggest musical festival in the country? When I complained about the timing, it was met with deaf ears.

Of course, they didn't care... their staff and PD players had their rooms paid by the USTA PD. Only the little people had to pay for their rooms.

Igor said...

Colette, it was an interesting open letter from the private coach, but I wonder if he realizes that his player is in direct competition with the USTA PD player? He spoke about getting help from foreign tennis federations when his own American tennis federation won't help his player.
I think if an outside American player beat the PD player, then the PD coach ends up looking bad and eventually loses their job. It's all about the money, and the USTA keeping their jobs with the $$$.

Great one... said...

This is how the USTA succeeds....I loved your post lol! I have always said this, they screw things up but that generation of player ages out and the next mindless generation moves in, by the time they figure out the problems their kids have also aged up - it is a cycle USTA counts has counted on at least in this past decade.

Players without much talent are usually the ones happy with whatever is thrown at them and lack understanding of the tier above them.

Unknown said...

I am glad Richard spoke up about the National Opens. I also figured out that they might be nice to play but they do not help you get to Kalamazoo. Either do the regional open or closed tourneys or do those team events. They will help with seeding but they have been rendered irrelevant by USTA for the National Championships.

Unknown said...

Maybe they should give participation ribbons too? said... This public court tennis parent understands both approaches to YSTA tournament play very well. I wholeheartedly agree with the yardstick parameters set by Mr. Boussom as a means of judging the efficacy of the structural changes emphasising sectional advancement. Your so called high level fellow king parents seem more interested in burnishing college resumes with national player designation vis a vis a bloated 256 Kalamazoo draw. High level USTA players of traditional character and in form play were not unceremonially left adrift this year. If you won sectionally you could feast on all national play frequent flier miles accommodate.