Join Date: Jun 2010
The following is an outline of the USTA’s own rationale for proposing these changes, all of which – and more – can be found on its website.
The USTA’s stated goal is to “prepare an appropriate national tournament structure and rating/ranking system for the future which:
is affordable and will ensure that competitive tennis opportunities are available for all American juniors regardless of their economic circumstances and where they reside.
supports the importance of a traditional American education and does not require students to short-change their academic careers.
creates an environment to generate a base of more and better American junior players to fill the ranks of collegiate programs and, for the most outstanding of these, become potential future American professional champions.”
USTA’s 2010 schedule allowed juniors the opportunity to play against a wider variety of playing styles and gave players greater flexibility in scheduling their national play. In the new schedule, however, if a player misses the July-August competitive period, he or she is basically going to be eliminated from national ranking contention for that year.
This slashing of the number of competitive opportunities is troubling. But there is more: The USTA will be re-instituting the “Good Birthday/Bad Birthday” dilemma for national level juniors. A player born in July will always be the youngest player in the national rankings and national tournaments. Without full-sized national championships at times other than the July-August window, the USTA is retreating to the problems associated with “birth year” age control dates. Beginning in 2014, a September birthday will be treasured, while players born in July and August will pick another sport. Has anybody at the USTA ever read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell?
It is difficult to justify corralling all players within their regions – and then only allowing the very best players in the nation the opportunity to compete against out-of-region opponents. Reducing out-of-region playing opportunities by at least 75 percent makes no sense from a developmental standpoint, to say nothing of how it will affect the players motivationally. All players should have the chance to be exposed to as many different opponents as possible within a framework that meets their personal schedule, and not be limited to the very rigid July-August time frame.
There is no justification to reduce the number of competitive opportunities or to require regionalized play just to reduce travel for players and avoid missing school. Because of the reduction in the number of event dates, players will have FEWER choices to make about having to travel and when to play, regardless of how it affects their personal schedules. In fact, reducing the number of national event dates and sites will force players to travel to wherever the tournament is being held! Believing that it will be cheaper for a player to travel to one of four tournament sites across the U.S. would somehow be cheaper than traveling to one of eight sites defies all logic. While some players will by necessity be forced to stay close to home in regional play, those who are admitted to the reduced number of national events being offered will by necessity have to travel farther!
When you have an expanded menu of tournament choices, those choices allow certain events to work into your personal world very well. More tournaments mean – more chances that you have cheaper airfares to a particular city, more drives instead of flies, more chances to stay at a friend's house, more chances to combine a tennis trip with a vacation, etc. When you don’t have these choices, you are left to do the best you can with what is offered.
The result is this: Strong players will have to travel farther at greater costs. Good players will be restricted to play the same players over and over again in their regionally mandated events. Lower ranked players will not get to play national events at all and, in all likelihood, will understandably lose interest in pursuing the game.
This is basic economics. When products are in short supply, one of two things must happen: The price will increase, or the demand will drop. In the case of junior tennis, because of the USTA’s proposals for 2014, both will happen. Some players will have to spend more; others will simply drop out.
It is nearly impossible, especially when you consider their rationale in light of the proposed changes, to reconcile how the USTA’s “ends” justifies its “means.” In fact, retaining the current level of national competitive opportunities will hurt no one. Restricting opportunities, whether in numbers of players admitted, or by geographical location, or calendar date, will hurt every player, and specifically:
Those players who are marginally ranked because of birth date or the radical skewing of the new point tables.
Those players who are members of smaller sections and have to play the same opponents tournament after tournament.
Players whose development is stunted by a lack of exposure to a variety of playing experiences, styles and weather conditions.
Players who will never reap the benefits of being exposed to the top players in the U.S.
Players who get hurt and miss the national tournament season, which is in July and August.
Players who are motivated by the invisible badge they get for playing in a "national" event.
Therefore, the USTA’s newly adopted and now pending changes for 2013-2014 are short-sighted at best and, at worse, could be the death knell for junior tennis in the U.S. Reducing the opportunities to compete in new environments against new and different players will hinder development and hasten a child's boredom with the sport. This will also result in reducing the possibilities of finding and developing future stars, both for college and the professional levels.
It should also be noted that where tennis competition in the U.S. is concerned, the USTA operates as a monopoly. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is basically the United Nations of tennis. The ITF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have declared the USTA the governing body of tennis for the United States
Because the USTA owns the U.S. Open, which purportedly generates over $250 million gross revenue annually, it does not have to share its authority over youth competition as does Little League Baseball or Pop Warner Football within their sports. Ideally, I would prefer free market competition, but with a $100 million dollar net annual advantage, the likelihood of this is remote. Therefore, since the USTA occupies this unique "bureaucratic" position in the sport, changes must come from within.
Fortunately, the USTA is governed by its 17 volunteer sections. It is through these sections that meaningful changes must take place in regard to the direction of youth tennis, specifically with this issue of the reduction of national level competition for players ranked below the top 30 or so in the U.S.
In fact, the largest sectional association, USTA Southern, voted against the proposal. This section's officials painstakingly analyzed it and were unwaveringly against it. They came to understand how detrimental this really is to junior tennis. Southern section officials voted against it, despite the possible political consequences from USTA higher-ups
Speaking of organizational politics, I would urge each of you, especially those who are now working in or with the USTA, to look at this issue ONLY through the eyes of someone who desperately wants what is best for the long-term health of the sport and its players, present and future. It is admirable to work for or serve the USTA, whether as an official employee or as a volunteer. But this is NOT a reason to support a proposal you know will be detrimental to the sport of tennis – and this proposal certainly will be that.