Hope you are having a nice Fall Season.
As you probably know, there was a very positive and productive meeting on Sunday, October 21, with Steve Bellamy and his concerned group with the USTA officials in Chicago about the state of our National ‘n Sectional Junior Schedule and Rankings that led to a pause on the new changes and a listening tour to be held across the country to make revisions that will be fair for all our juniors and that will hopefully bring a smile to everyone’s’ face.
I then met on the evening of Oct. 24 in Malibu and the early morning of Oct. 25 with incoming USTA President, Dave Haggerty, and USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis, Kurt Kamperman. We met for a total of 7 1/2 hours and the discussions on my outline of American Tennis Concerns were fair and frank and sometimes hard hitting and a lot was learned on all sides of the issues.
Although we share many experiences in common with our sport, we come from different vantages and viewpoints – - – Dave, as the newly elected President, has served on several national committees and has been a very successful CEO of major tennis companies; while Kurt is employed by the USTA and was the former CEO of the Tennis Industry Assn. and knows Community Tennis in all sections of this country; and Wayne, who spends a good part of the year on the road emceeing ATP events and doing clinics on the tour and at clubs and schools and who coaches World Team Tennis and speaks to coaches and parents frequently.
All of us are passionate about the game and its health and future. Although the meetings were rigorous, they were at the same time cordial.
The issues discussed included:
1. The general disgust and mistrust with the USTA. It is palpable and it is pervasive.
2. USTA Governance and the feeling that the USTA is dictating from on high in an authoritarian manner from White Plains and they are not listening to Main Street.
3. The National and Sectional Tournament Schedules are ruined and right along with it the Rankings – - – it is a sad state of affairs, indeed, when our college coaches no longer rely on our USTA rankings for recruiting.. But we are all so encouraged by the Chicago Meeting and the positive new direction that came out of those talks. There has got to be complete transparency in this process as it will impact thousands of junior players. I know the last competition committee put a lot of time and energy into this past process. But “getting it right” is far more important than “being right” in this situation. The listening tour is a great idea. But the USTA and the Committee must REALLY listen and act accordingly. And we need a blue ribbon Committee with our best and most experienced tennis coaches and veteran parents from all sections of the country, chaired by a well-known tennis leader that has no ties to USTA PD. And let’s study the history of our National Schedules and Ranking systems, even taking another look at the Star Computer System.
4. For too long, the USTA turns a blind eye to the foreign player glut in American college tennis. They even have issued a White Paper saying there is no problem? College tennis should be for our US kids and not be a world class sport. Pro tennis, yes, college tennis, no! One player for international good will and understanding is fine, and even two if we must, but six overseas players on so many colleges across this country is so unfair and harmful to American tennis families.
5. The alarming fact is that we have lost some 400 college tennis programs over the past few decades. Right now Athletic Directors are experiencing enormous pressure to cut expenses. Tennis, and especially men’s tennis, needs protection and they need our national governing body fighting for them. There are currently 4.5 men’s scholarships and teams average about 10-12 players. Of those 4.5 scholarships, a good 70% of the money goes to foreign players. This just leaves nothing for the American juniors whose taxpaying parents are footing the overwhelming majority of that bill.
6. Similarly, we have lost so many ATP and WTA Tournaments over the past 40 years. In 1974 the US had 45 Men’s Pro Tournaments and in 2013 there is going to only be 11 Men’s Pro Events. The Women’s apex was 29 events and now it is down to 9. We are headed in the wrong direction.
7. USTA PD is a long time problem area and many feel that it is the biggest obstacle to the growth of tennis in this country. It is not the administrator or the coaches – - – it is the system that: hires so many foreign coaches when we have thousands of great US coaches; a system that dictates the way coaches must coach; the number of harmful and ill-conceived Mandates they have issued through the years – - – each one overturned when the next USTA PD regime comes to power; they say they will work close with local coaches and parents of top players but they never do; they say they do not “cherry pick”, but they do; the fact that so many juniors have gone to USTA Centers like Key Biscayne or Carson or now Boca Raton and their rankings drop precipitously during their time there; and many other sad tales through the past 23 years. I say again, leave coaching to the private sector and not to our National Governing Body. It has never worked. It will not ever work.
8. U10 Mandate set off a firestorm across the US. The harsh and legalistic letter to and the treatment of the Little Mo Tournaments was disgusting. We all certainly want to increase the number of juniors playing the great game in this country, but we must also take care of and treat fairly the juniors that are passionate about the game and who have been playing since they were little tykes and who now want a shot at competing against their peers with regular tennis balls when they are 8, 9 and 10. We cannot just say that we know these players will be harmed – - – we must allow them to compete and not just be told to play up in the 12s. We are all for graduated learning and using the various colored balls and racket and court lengths as an option in tournaments and as a teaching tool, but there are a great many kids who want the right to be able to play with regular yellow tennis balls in U10 competition. This U10 Mandate must be removed or at least tweaked. Parents and coaches across the country are saying have all the nerf ball and soft colored ball tournaments you want, just allow regular tournaments for juniors that want to play them in the U10s.
9. Restore doubles rankings and have more doubles programming.
10. Improve JTT by looking again at the SoCal system before National took it over. Team Tennis is a great way to get started in the game. It is a self-running program. Free entry. National and Regional Championships ending up at the second week of the US Open. More team events in general – - – zonals, intersectional.
11. More support for HS Tennis! State Championships and National Championships at the US Open.
12. More support for the Tennis Channel to get in more homes across the USA. So goes the Tennis Channel, so goes tennis. It is the most powerful force for tennis since the BJK vs. Bobby Riggs Match at the Houston Astrodome in 1973.
13. More Futures and Challengers in the US.
14. Do a better job getting out the vote for college and pro tennis matches. Have the USTA use their good offices to help fill stadiums for college and pro matches. And even HS Matches. Very powerful tool for so, so many reasons!!
15. Return Senior Doubles to the US Open – - – similar to other Grand Slams.
16. Have a first class and powerful National/Sectional Junior WEB Site with results reported every Monday along with ranking updates – - – both singles and doubles.
We drilled down on these issues from our various positions.
I cannot say these areas of concern will be resolved like turning on a light switch. The USTA has its governance and by laws and committee system. It has thousands of hard working volunteers who love our sport and work hard for it in so many ways. By no means are we trying to step on toes and there is tremendous admiration and appreciation for what these volunteers do. But there is just such an overwhelming opposition to so many things right now, that I believe it is in the best interest of tennis to have a more transparent procedural process. And it is time that the sport at large was consulted more on changes that impact it so greatly.
I do, however, think there is a fresh wind blowing in tennis. Club pros and college coaches and high school coaches and concerned parents and tennis leaders are getting involved and speaking out. They are no longer afraid of USTA backlash, either real or imagined.
I am heartened by the inclusive leadership of Dave Haggerty. He said that we have an 800 pound Gorilla in our American tennis living room and he wants to reduce it to a 400 pound Gorilla during his term. With his determination and skill set and wisdom, I think he has a good chance of turning that Gorilla into a slender little 20 pound Gibbon Monkey.
Kurt was very gracious to meet with me after my harsh criticisms of USTA policies in recent years. Steve Bellamy also took time out of his busy schedule to sit in and contribute at our early morning meeting in Camarillo even though he had just flown in from New York and had slept very little after a week on the road.
To complete the record, it must be reported that we closed down Coogie’s Restaurant in Malibu late on Wednesday Night and we were the first ones to arrive at Eggs ‘n Things in Camarillo on Thursday morning at the crack of dawn. It also must be disclosed that I paid for both meals and that Dave and Kurt shared a rental car – - – it was not a Limo and it was not a Lincoln Towncar – - – it was a American made small Chevy midsize.
I did my best to represent the views of the parents and coaches that I speak with in my travels across the US, while Dave must work within the strictures and by laws and mission statement of the USTA when he takes office in January. And Kurt has his duties to fulfill as well, but I can attest to the fact that these two men are very talented and bright and dedicated and caring and passionate about our game and they traveled a long way to chop some wood for American tennis.
I am enthused and upbeat about the future of the great game and I will remain vigilant and I hope to meet with them again at the US Davis Cup match vs. Brazil in Jacksonville in early February. As always, I sure welcome your input by e mail . . . and I will continue to speak out when I see USTA institutional programs that are harmful to our American juniors and the great game itself.
Best and thanks for all you do for tennis each day,
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