Is this a done deal?
By a quick glance at the United States Tennis Association's website their mission is clear.
“To promote and develop the growth of tennis”
It's with that in mind that the USTA is in the midst a series of town hall meetings, dubbed a "listening tour" to discuss not only changes to its junior competition calendar, but a change in structure and philosophy that they hope will pay off on many fronts. They are inviting all concerned parties to attend and ask questions.
"The USTA realizes that change is difficult," admits Jon Vegosen, Chairman of the Board and President of the USTA. "When you look at how our competitive system is faring and when you look at the numbers, and the numbers don't lie-- and they tell an interesting story."
That story is one where tennis is often left out and forgotten.
Vegosen went on:
"In this country (we have) 40 million registered youth sports participants, and over 99% of them do not play tennis, so we have a huge market we could and should be growing if we are to fulfill our mission."
I was able to talk with Vegosen, and Kurt Kampermann, USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis about the "listening tour" as a couple of the dates are now in the books and about how the proposed changes will change the face of junior tennis in America.
The consensus is this that the town hall meetings are great, but some are wondering if what's being discussed is falling on deaf ears, or are questions being answered and alternatives being considered.
"We are happy to answer any questions that come up in town hall meetings," offered up Kampermann. "I can tell you in the first two, we didn't have as many questions as we had opinions."
The USTA said these meeting are about giving people the opportunity to "weigh in."
One things all parties involved can agree on is the junior tennis competitive structure in the is country is very complicated.
Kampermann said these meetings will explain the changes and rationale. From the change in draw sizes, to putting an emphasis on play at the local and sectional levels.
"It's been a challenge to make sure people understand the whole picture," said Kampermann. "We really are taking their feedback to heart, and our goal is not be be right, but to get it right."
Vegosen says the new structure creates more opportunities and that means more numbers.
"We need a bigger pool of kids that are actually competing at tennis," explains Kampermann, who has taught juniors, and has witnessed how other countries are going about developing junior tennis players.
"We want kids to reach their full potential," echoed Vegosen.
Only 20,000 kids under the age of 10 are playing junior competitive tennis in the country, the USTA is trying to get the world out about how they want to change that.
The 10 & Under Tennis and Quickstart programs are already out there, and data is being collected.
Vegosen said he expects it to be successful, and the national tournament structure and ranking system they are proposing to compliment and accommodate all the tennis players that will be in the system.
Whether it will pass, and then work, remains to be seen. The USTA knows they can't please everyone, but they are trying... and listening.
Remaining meetings are as follows:
Dec. 16: ITA Convention (for convention attendees only), Naples, Fla.
Dec. 26: 16s & 18s Winter Nationals, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Dec. 27: 12s & 14s Winter Nationals, Tucson
Jan. 10-13: Southern Section annual meeting, Atlanta
Feb. 15-17: Texas Section annual meeting, Grapevine, Texas