I hate saying it about a sport that I care deeply about that is in my blood, but I’ll say it anyway. The tournament setting for a 12 & Under or a 10 & Under child can be cold, freezing, unattractive and downright unappealing. I have long maintained that the lobby of a 10 & Under and 12 & Under tournament has so much more tension to it than that of the older age groups.
By the time one gets to the 18 and 16 Divisions, many of the players and parents know each other. At the higher Sectional Level, families pretty much all know each other and have probably even spent time together on the road at Nationals where families from the same Section usually socialize with one another. There’s this feeling in the lobbies of the clubs at 18 and 16 Division events that “we are all in this together.” Yes, everyone is competing with one another, but there is a feeling that “I know what you are going through as a tennis family. I’m going through it too.”
At the 10s and 12s level, there isn’t this familiarity between the kids on-the-court and families in the lobby. There is a general distrust of one another. Nobody really knows one another. People are insecure about whether are they falling behind and everyone is trying to gain an edge. At this age group, line calls truthfully aren’t so great either. I think there are two reasons for this. First, younger kids, maturity-wise, don’t feel as guilty making a poor call. Second, and there is no doubt in my mind about this, younger kids, as well as inexperienced adult players, are just not as “practiced” in making a close call. If my eyesight is 20/20 and I’ve been involved heavily in tennis for 30 years, I’m going to have 30 times the experience or practice at making a correct close call than a child playing their first year of junior tournaments. I simply think a lot of kids make poor calls for and against themselves accidentally.
I have had numerous experiences with students of mine and other children who don’t play tournaments any more. Many of them are good athletes who play other sports. When I ask why they stopped, the answer often is, “I couldn’t take the cheating.” Whether the bad calls were intentional or not, families starting in tournaments that I have spoken to really gravitated to sports that had officials.
I have two ideas that could bridge this gap between tournament tennis and a good experience. First, the USTA should provide two or three extra officials for every 10 & Under and 12 & Under tournament on the USTA calendar. The individual tournaments simply do not bring in enough revenue to pay for more than one. The purpose of these officials, obviously isn’t that the 12s and 10s are more important. They aren’t to the kids who continue through the pathway. The purpose of these officials is to ensure that fair play is being exhibited. Hopefully, having more officials on hand could breed players who are sportsmanlike and fair as they get older. Yes, this would be expensive, but consider that the USTA built a $60 million complex in Florida to grow the game. I think this would be a drop in the bucket expense-wise and would be able to serve people all across the country, not just those who drop by the beautiful complex in Lake Nona, Fla.
Second, maybe each district of USTA Eastern can have a one-hour seminar to new tennis families about starting USTA tournaments. What does each level mean? How early should you get to the club for a match? What should you bring? What if we forget the score? Is it appropriate for parents to clap … and anything else people need to know. I still remember Annalies Karp gathering the top eight kids from USTA Eastern at a now-defunct racquet club in Freeport to tell us the ins-and-outs of playing Nationals and what we needed to know (such as never say “Oh my G-D” in the South or you will get a point penalty). It was a great experience seeing my normal competitors in regular clothes in a non-competitive setting and feeling like we are all in this together. It made Nationals more fun. This can be done on the Sectional level as well.
As tennis people, we have more in common with one another than we often do with our next door neighbor. We are all in this together.
<p>Ricky Becker is director of tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club and independently coaches high-performance juniors year-round at Bethpage State Park and Jericho/Westbury Tennis where he is the junior tournament director. He can be reached by phone at (516) 605-0420, e-mail <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a> or visit <a href="http://JuniorTennisConsulting.com" onclick="window.open(this.href, 'JuniorTennisConsultingcom', 'resizable=no,status=no,location=no,toolbar=no,menubar=no,fullscreen=no,scrollbars=no,dependent=no'); return false;">JuniorTennisConsulting.com</a>.</p>