These are a few letters between Wayne Bryan, Steve Bellamy and Geoff Grant. I love this exchange of ideas coming from some of the sharpest idea guys out there! And a plan! Wayne Bryan is in Blue, Steve Bellamy is in Orange, Geoff Grant is in Purple and Kevin Kempin is in Green! I personally like Steve Bellamy’s idea for competition centers on both coasts. That is where we should be heading!
I am very encouraged by Dave Haggerty and the USTA Listening Tour. Lots of experienced coaches, parents and tennis minds are turning out and the solid ideas are flowing. Good will come of this. No doubt.
Thanks for all you are doing and when you drive through Camarillo, get off the 101 Fwy and let’s have breakfast or lunch and chat about these issues in person.
I think we need a little ol’ school, new school and some no school in our approach. And I like the Star Computer System with tweaks and certain minimums. Need an eye toward a great WEB Site with bells and whistles and fast results and rankings updates and mega promo and upcoming events and we need doubles rankings like the pros – - – team and individual. And our rankings need to be tight and dead on accurate so that college coaches and everyone involved can rely on them – - – most of all, just out of basic competitive fairness to the kids.
And hey, when we get together – - – I’ll buy as I know you are out of work . . . thanks for your wonderful support of tennis in Santa Barbara and throughout SoCal. And thanks for thinking big . . . and congrats on the roaring success of your children . . .
My pal, Steve Bellamy, got lucky and made some good strong points in his letter below as well, but even a blind dog finds a bone . . .
Best to you and your family for a wonderful 2013,
Well said Steve although I take issue with your claim that the Bellamy family is the best customer of junior tennis – with 5 kids I think I may just beat you to the punch there! – It is encouraging to see that the top USTA brass are leading and attending these meetings and seem to be getting a clear picture regarding the level of opposition to the changes. A couple of things seem clear to me at this point…
- Opposition to the changes is almost universal. Does anyone disagree with this?
- A major rewrite is needed.
- There is not time for a major re-write before 2014.
- A broken system that is tweaked is still going to be broken.
- I don’t see any alternative to a permanent pause and a completely fresh look.
The 2014 changes were driven by the admirable goal of reducing the cost of national junior tennis. That goal should remain alongside other equally important goals. Some of you have heard this from me before but junior tennis must be underpinned by the following principles in this order…
- FUN FUN FUN – Ask any kid who played Copper Bowl , Quicksilver , the Southern or Texas Open, St Louis Gateway and they will all tell you the same thing – they loved those events – ask the same kids about the new regional segments and the new national open and they will tell you the same thing – soulless events , up to 10 matches in 4 days leaving the kids drained, no time to socialize, different age groups often at different locations, boys and girls often at different locations. Gordon – you asked in Atlanta why junior competition is not growing – this is the answer – there has not been enough focus on making competitive tennis fun. God knows its a tough sport – the kids are out there on their own – if it’s not fun they are not going to come. This should be the starting point for any revamp of junior competition. I am passionate about this.
2. K.I.S.S – keep it simple stupid – this served me well for a lot of years – any competitive structure needs to be simple, easy to understand and easy to navigate. The 2014 changes fail on a lot of levels but they really fail on this metric.
3. RANKINGS – rankings are the backbone of competitive tennis and tournament selection must be driven by single unified and accurate rankings structure. The beauty of linking rankings to tournament selection is that it motivates across a wide range of players. Kids ranked 400 are trying to the get to 300 to get into a higher level event. The kid ranked 20 is trying to get into the top 10 and the kid ranked 2 is trying to get to 1. Any competitive structure should embrace this as a powerful motivator to keep kids in the game.
4. OPPORTUNITY and CHOICE– The USTA should be in the business of providing opportunity and choice – as much opportunity and as much choice as the market can bear. This is the holy grail of cost – more opportunity and more choice will result in lower cost – there just can’t be much argument over this. If the cost of more choice and opportunity is a few kids chasing points who cares. The reality of points chasing, and believe me I am a student of it , is that it can maybe give you a foot on the ladder but it won’t keep you there – so who cares? – as someone commented to me recently you don’t get points for showing up you still have to win a match.
Anyway – the feedback seems encouraging – as Steve said let’s get this right for the kids – why rush into something that has so little support at this point – and what a powerful lesson for our kids who are all watching this debate and reading the blogs – the willingness to admit a mistake – and start over.
Of the (7) kids that would be considered “competitive” for Robbie Bellamy…Nikko is now living in the Bay area and hasn’t played tournament tennis for the better part of a year. Joe DiGuilio spent the last 4 years in Boca as opposed to So Cal and George Goldoff transferred in from Texas last year and wasn’t in So Cal for nearly all of the juniors. Robbie trains nearly daily with Garrett Auproux and TJ Pura. So even in So Cal that (7) number is inflated….the competition just isn’t as deep as we should have and the current competition has likely already been forced to play with each other during all the time between tournaments.
The OC tournament which Geoff uses as the benchmark is the absolute apex of high So Cal level. Outside of Sectionals, the OC event has been the crème de la crème and where you find the most competition. So the other sectional events are worse from a competitive standpoint than his example. Tim Russell just put me through a whole summary of how critical it was to have competitive matches and why that was the reason that it was imperitive to shrink Kalamazoo by 33% (professor somebody told him)….yet with the 2014 changes, the industry is handed a new plan that categorically slaughters the percentage of competitive matches juniors will play the majority of the time.
One of the best parts of junior tennis is getting to meet all kinds of new kids and developing extended family gatherings. On the West Coast, it is been so reasonable from a time and money perspective to do that. When the Fiesta, Copper, et al got killed…..our paradigm was tremendously hurt.
As an FYI: Robbie played Winter Nationals last month and of his (5) singles matches….he had never played (3) of the kids, hadn’t played one of the others for (4) years and had never heard of (2) of the kids. He played (10) total matches with doubles and the majority of the (15) kids on the other side of the net…..were new opponents for him. That was a wonderful experience even including the most heinous officiating situation that flat out robbed him of the singles match he lost. All (5) singles matches and all (5) doubles matches were spectacular experiences.
We were in Hawaii last week, where the local kids here only have a few people to play. The top kids can’t get anything competitive in their junior age group at all and the kids who practice everyday see each other in most of the finals. One Dad told me today that they are likely going to stop letting juniors play in adult tournaments because the adults are complaining and that will be devastating to junior tennis there. So he is super freaking about the 2014 changes as the only way he can get competitive junior matches are fluke situations like us bringing in kids or having a big slate of National opportunities.
The kids coming from Hawaii are 6 hours to the mainland….so the West Coast Nationals work and the East Coast ones don’t. I can get to London from LA in less time than he can get to the East Coast. So his kids experience real jet lag even going to the West Coast, but are zombies going any further. Quicksilver, Fiesta Bowl, Copper Bowl, Easter Bowl, Winter Nats, Irvine were the only things that really worked for him.
I am not blind-copying to anyone….but I hope we can take another crack at this.
We have a new President, Jr. Comp now has new senior management, there is a new committee with more parents and coaches on it, we have all this listening tour data, we all this industry reaction in print, all the smart Geoff Grant people have spilled their genius, numerous people who voted for it have now candidly admitted that they were pressured to vote for it and many have said they didn’t understand what they were voting for, many of those voters agree that it should be scraped…..and we have a definitive 95% + of the industry completely against these changes.
Lets put a junior schedule together that the players, parents, coaches and tennis industry wants. We can use any data from the last group, so their work was not in vein.
But lets get this right for the kids. My children probably play more matches than any other family in junior tennis….so I am one of if not the best junior tennis’ customer. I am a lightning rod for every parent to talk to….every week at tournaments. They are our best customers. The industry is truly on the brink of civil war right now…over this and so many other things. I am not remotely saying that this be the sacrificial lamb for all the other problems, but this is the one issue that is near 100% by the tennis industry. Good one to give the industry some respect on.
- Build East and West Coast 100+ court competition centers
- Make cities bid for them and donate land
- Donate land and some rent to hotels, restaurants, pro shops, etc…in exchange for deep tennis player discounts & free for a % of players
- Do sponsorship deals with airlines that discounts, de-restricts and free for % of players
Then you program the bejeezus out of it with no significant financial burden at all:
- Flights – discounted and free for those in need
- Car Rental – gone, as everything is on site
- Hotel – discounted and free for those in need
- Food – cheaper than if they were eating at home
- Stringing – same deal for discounting
- Court Time – free
Now you get all the competition you can handle, it is cheap as can be, people have choice to work with their school and you can have all the age groups and genders in one place at the same time.
And this is not to mention all the other synergies and opportunities like sports science that could evolve.
Geoff, we have not had the pleasure of meeting yet. I must say of the thousands of notes (from both sides of the fence) I’ve read on the subject of junior comp this was one of the most well thought out and insightful notes I’ve read. The points were very clear, well thought out, and most importantly relevant to the topics. Very well said. I will be printing this one and insuring that everyone in our first junior comp meeting hears it, and more importantly really tries to internalize it before we move forward.
Dave et al:
Below is an email from Geoff Grant who most of you know is an incredibly successful financial player and parent of (5) USTA Tournament Players….all (4) kids old enough are playing for Columbia, USC or graduated out of college teams. He is certainly one of the most knowledgable and prolific customers of junior tennis. And he has personally had junior tennis players live out his house, financed their tennis and done amazing things for the sport.
Where virtually all parents of talented players are complaining about lack of sectional and regional competition in smaller sections, I had not thought the impact of the 2014 changes would be as acute in sections like So Cal, Florida, Georgia, etc. Geoff cherry picked a few kids (including some of mine) from those three sections and the results are even untenable for the top sections.
As an aside, we are on a business trip right now in Hawaii and brought some of the top US playing kids to play tennis. Just putting 2 and 2 together, I’m realizing that the only way we could get competition for all the kids was to use the entire country to pick from. This dovetails with Geoff’s findings below.
Hope you guys had a good time in Hawaii – while you were sunning yourself I was back here at the coalface! One of the advantages of retirement is that I have too much time on my hands and now that you are on the JCC I intend to become public nuisance number one. I spent some time thinking about the upcoming changes and the desire to have more kids play sectionally and came up with a couple of interesting conclusions.
The transition to a PPR system gave rise to an explosion in demand for National play and a relevant national ranking system for the USTA. That demand was met by a proliferation of national events around the country like the Copper Bowl, Southern Open , Quicksilver etc. National rankings were not particularly accurate but they were relevant as they drove tournament selection. The 2014 changes will reverse that process. Demand for national events will collapse, national rankings will once again become irrelevant and simultaneously demand for sectional play will explode. The proponents of the changes will argue that that is exactly what they want but the problem ( and its a big problem) is that the supply of sectional play is woefully inadequate to meet that demand. It’s inadequate because even in the strong sections like Florida and So Cal there is not a critical mass of competitive players and even the top sectional tournaments are not particularly competitive. To demonstrate that point I did an admittedly unscientific survey involving William Grant, Roscoe and Robbie Bellamy, Antonio Mora and Morgan Stone. I chose those players as I know all the parents. Using the TRN rankings and making the assumption that a competitive match (one in which the outcome is in reasonable doubt) occurs between two players ranked within 40 places of each other nationally according to TRN you arrive at the following result.
William Grant – ranked 4 in So Cal in the 6th grade class – there are 6 kids in So Cal competitive with him.
Roscoe Bellamy – ranked 2 in So Cal in the 7th grade class – there are 3 kids in So Cal competitive with him.
Robbie Bellamy – ranked 3 in So Cal in the Senior class – there are 7 kids in So Cal competitive with him.
Antonio Mora – ranked 5 in Florida in the 7th grade class – there are 9 kids in Florida competitive with him.
Morgan Stone – ranked 7 in Georgia in the sophomore class – there are 6 kids in Georgia competitive with him.
Maybe my number are off by a player or two but the point is that even in the hotbeds of tennis there is not enough competition for the kids. In William’s case he has been playing 4 of the 6 kids since Little Mo 8’s – They are all buddies and its not a real competitive environment. Forcing him to play exclusively in section would be a disaster for his tennis.
I then went at looked at how competitive sectional events are compared to the National Championship. Remember that one of the drivers of the changes is supposed to be all the uncompetitive matches at the nationals. I created a somewhat arbitrary definition of a competitive match as one in which the losing player gets 6 games or more and looked at the results from the OC junior championships in SO Cal and Kalamazoo. As you know the OC junior Open is probably the toughest tournament in the SO Cal after sectionals. Results were pretty interesting. In the OC events only 5% of the matches went to 3 sets and only 20% of the matches were competitive. Using the same benchmark at Kalamazoo almost 60% of the total matches were competitive and 21% went to 3 sets.
The bottom line is that even in the toughest section there is not a critical mass of competitive players. Maybe in 5 or 6 years if Quickstart is wildly successful there might be enough competition to keep play local but right now there most certainly is not.
One more point Steve – if you are reading the blogs , parentingaces, zootennis, tennisinsiders etc you will see that the rhetoric particularly from the pro change people is becoming increasingly nasty. I’ve been called worse names and I’m sure you have to and I have a thick skin but this is not a good thing – when this war is over the tennis community will need to heal itself – there is not going to be a eureka moment at one of these final listening meetings. The verdict is pretty much in, the changes have been almost universally condemned. I would urge the powers that be, try and put a stop to this now – announce a permanent pause and go back to the drawing board. It seems clear and I’m sure Lisa could confirm as she sees the emails that some of the more vindictive anonymous posters are in fact people from the old JCC. It’s pretty distasteful especially since some of them are singling out kids result by name to make their point which is pretty awful.
Anyway lets touch base before the So Cal listening meeting. I can’t wait to hear Ellen justify her vote which cut national opportunities for So Cal kids by 40% even though we dramatically outperform at every level.
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