Back in January, around the beginning of the Australian Open when those of us on the other side of the international date line began our two weeks of sleep deprivation an email sent by the father of US Doubles Champions Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan made its way to the interwebs. I had meant to post about this earlier but it took Colette Lewis publication of Patrick McEnroe's response to jar my memory.
Wayne Bryan's letter was not meant to be published as a column or blog post and it's long. I think it's worth posting most of it though. I will do the same with Patrick McEnroe's response.
Dear Anonymous USTA Exec,
Again, so very appreciative that you asked my opinion re the U10s Mandate and U10 Initiative.
Let’s chop some wood and this will not be a formal submission and I will just type and roll this stuff out as fast as I possibly can and off the top of my head and hope it is helpful and hope you find yourself nodding in agreement every once in awhile:
1) The USTA has built a half mile bridge over a one mile river. Jump Street is age 6 not 10. Ask AYSO soccer. T Ball. Softball. That’s when kids start skateboarding. Playing computer games. Great rodeo stars and singers and dancers are doing their thing at 6, not getting on that horse at age 10 or singing that first tune for grandma at 10. Inner city kids are doing those amazing dance moves at 6, not 10. Incredible NBA stars are already playing on the asphalt courts at 6, not 10. World famous music teacher Dr. Shinichi Susuki has little children playing amazing orchestral concerts. Can you start tennis at 10? Sure. No prob. Come on in and have a blast playing the great game. But you want the best chance to be successful and play on your HS Team and in collegeand dream the dream of playing in the pro game some day? – - – You better be dragging that little stick around as soon as you can walk. Get a little racket in your hand at age 3, 4, or 5 and start doing little fun games at home and on the driveway and in the backyard and at the club or park. No video games or TV or skateboards at 6, tennis!! Early and often. Making this costly campaign 10 by the USTA was a huge error and waste of funds. 10 is too late. Most kids are already rolling in other sports and other things.
2) Champions are not created by million dollar slick ad campaigns! Tennis will never grow from Madison Avenue! It grows fromMain Street. Local parents. Local groups of kids getting going. Local parks. Local schools. Local clubs. Local coaches. Tennis grows from solid and fun and dynamic programming and charismatic parents and coaches and club pros. It grows with bells and whistles. With energy and enthusiasm. With fun. With laughs. With trips. Hit records are purchased because people love the song. You go to great movies that your friends recommend. Word spreads about a great restaurant – - – good food, good service, good atmosphere. Ad campaigns are overrated for sports or entertainment. People go to the US Open, not because of flyers or posters or ads, they go to see that dazzling tennis at that majestic facility. People might buy Crest rather than Colgate because of an ad campaign. They might drink Coors rather than Bud because of an ad campaign. They might fly Southwest rather thanAmerican because of an ad campaign. They will not go see the Dodgers or the Angels or Lakers or Jets or Giants or Mets orYankees because of an ad campaign. Our current US Davis Cup Team does not sell out 12,000 and 15,000 seat arenas the past few years because of ad campaigns – - – they sell out these stadiums in 11 minutes cause people like this team and want to watch them and root for them.
3) You want to help the environment – - – plant a tree in your yard. Plant two trees and you will provide yourself enough oxygen to breathe for one whole year. You want to help tennis, have your child or your nephew or that girl next door play the great game. Not trying to be negative, but all those USTA PD coaches through the years? Their kids don’t play the game. Those administrators telling us about this wonderful U10 Initiative? Their kids don’t play. If they play at all, they are sure not champions. “So, my humble opinion is that if you are a good junior coach, you will have multiple, great junior players in your program and if you are a great junior coach, some of those players will be your own children!!” Doug Pielet, South Carolina.
4) The USTA crows that it has gone out and gotten input on this U10 Initiative from across the country? No way. It is all fromCommittees. That’s why there is such a huge blow back from the tennis people out in the trenches – - – I have a large e mail list of irate parents and coaches. The coaches that are producing players and parents whose children are passionate about the sport and doing well – - – they don’t have time for Committees, but their opinions were never solicited or considered. My Mom always said that “a Rhinoceros is a Horse that was designed by a committee”. My pal at the SCTA Henry Talbert laughing says, “There is nothing worse than two Generals and a Map.” Massive changes in our tournament structure are coming from top down and not bottom up. That’s no way to run a car company the Japanese have taught the world.
5) Those USTA Staffers that have called me or who I have been on conference calls with have all said three things over and over to support this harmful and ill conceived U10 Mandate that they have seen from 35,000 feet as they said repeatedly (which is their main problem):
1. All 10s dink: As someone who has coached lots of top SCTA 10s through the years, all three of those pillars are erroneous. I can show you all kinds of kids around the country at 8, 9 and 10 that can flat nail the ball and have very complete games. Mike and Bob play short doubles matches with little kids around the country at all their Exos and Charity Events – - – usually the kids are U10s. The points are astonishing and they always use yellow balls. For these kids green balls are a joke.
2. It doesn’t matter how you do in the 10s: Did these USTA staffers ever see Tracy or Andre at 6, or Jenny Cap, orChrissie, or Lindsay, or Michael, or Pete, or Venus, or Serena at 10? Andy, Mardy, Mike, Bob, Sam, Vania, Donnie, or Ryan? Does that mean that every top 10 will be a world class player? Of course not, but every world class player was passionate and getting after tennis as a very little guy or gal. Read the ATP or WTA Media Guides.
3. It doesn’t matter if the top 10s play up: Players should never play up unless they are flat out dominating their division. Oh, play up every once in awhile to see what it’s like or play up in a weaker tournament – - – sure. Actual Story: Joey(named changed) has been playing at his club since he was 4 and 5. Loved the game. Club rat. Dad the head pro. Mom played. Starts playing the 10s when he’s 6. Gets killed. Stay in there and does better as he becomes 7 and is regularly winning matches and even wins some tournaments at 8. At 9 he is in the top 10 in the South. And now finally he is an official second year 10 and is going to give it everything he’s got to be #1 in the South. Oh – - – there is a new slick ad campaign announcing that now all 10s haveto play with these soft green balls. “Huh?”, says Joey. He wants to play with regular tennis balls like he always has. He has a big forehand, solid two handed backhand, crisp volleys, nice serve, nice kicker, sweet slider- – - good doubles player too. His Dad the pro tries to explain it to him. As a top player he is invited to a USTA Camp for the top 10s – - – but, by the way, “We will only be using green balls”. Huh? His Dad, the pro, calls me and ask me what he should do? And should he use the green balls or play up in the 12s. He plays in the 12s and after a good part of the year he gets all the way up to #121 and bless his heart, he is now in the top 100 in the 12s. “Stay in there”, says his Dad, “Hang in there”, says Coach B. How many kids have a pro Dad or people telling the player to stick out this injustice? Other players who play up simply quit and lose interest because they are always losing to older and bigger kids. I bestir myself to battle this harmful Mandate because of Joey and so many others like him.
6) QS is a tool, not a program. Most every top teaching pro I know believes in graduated learning. Works for not only tennis, butdrums, piano, surfing, dancing, speaking – - – all kinds of worthwhile endeavors. Mandating that every tournament for 10s in the US has to be with a green ball is over the top authoritarian and heavy handed and is even seen by many as mean spirited. Why oh why not a dual approach, as JP Weber of Georgia has suggested? Have all the U6 and U8 and U10 tournaments that you want and use all kind of colored and soft and even Nerf balls if you want, just don’t eliminate regular tennis for 10s!! Let kids and parents and coaches decide. This is American for crying out loud – - – let the market place decide. In a typical junior tournament you have some 20 divisions for boys and girls in the 10s, 12, 14s, 16, 18s and singles and doubles. Having some soft ball events in addition would add maybe two to four to six more divisions. If after a year or two no one enters regular 10s tennis, then you don’t need to offer it on the entry blank anymore. If they don’t play the U6 or U10 red or orange or green ball tournament, you could eliminate that after a year or two. If everyone in Virginia loves the green ball tournaments and no one ever enters the regular ball tournaments, they after a good amount of time, don’t offer it. If one county or city has all kinds of regular ball players in the 10s and not one single green baller, go with that. A little autonomy goes a long way.
7) Let’s get some empirical data going. Right now there is not one pro player on the ATP or WTA that grew up playing competitive tennis with green balls in the U10s and the last time I looked there were some pretty dadgum good players out there. And bingo, the USTA is mandating (and the ITF to be fair) that you must do it this way only. Our way uber ales. Bet: You give me 100 kids and let me do my thing from age 6 to 10 and let me do the whole program with JTT and trips to college matches each week andtournaments each weekend and team events against other clubs – - – and you take 100 kids and keep them on the soft colored balls until they are 11 and then track both groups on out until they are all 18 and see who has got the goods. I know where I would put my money . . .
There are “bribes” and “threats” being used to sell this QS and the Mandate in. I have lots of anecdotal evidence of this and put your ear to the ground and you will hear all about it. If the Mandate is so great, why do you have to resort to that?!! So many coaches and parents are afraid to speak out against it. The pros in the South have formed a regular 10s tennis circuit and it has gone very well with a good amount of entries. The green ball tourneys have been small. Now the local USTA staffers are calling the various parents and kids telling them not to play or x, y, z will happen. Various pros have had their jobs threatened for not adhering to the QS line.
Take a deep breath because there's more. Bryan goes on to discuss the rise of foreign born players in US College tennis ranks calling it the elephant in the room. To read his thoughts in detail click the link above.
The biggest bomb tossed into the country club is the following.
Get rid of USTA Player Development altogether.
1) Having observed it up close and personal for the past 23 years, I say USTA PD has been and continues to be the biggest impediment to the growth of tennis in this country and also the creation of champions. Each regime issues one harmful Mandate after another, only to then be overturned by the next regime. Can give example after example:
Example #1: The national tournament schedule. A couple of years ago, the USTA radically increased not only the number of national and regional events, but also draw sizes – - – some up to 256. It was a huge knee jerk and resulted in hurting sectional play. Three years ago only 1 of the top 20 players in the 18s in SoCal even played the Sectional. Back in the day, all 20 of the top 20 always played. Only way you could get to the Zoo. Now this latest regime has radically knee jerked in the other direction and eliminate lots of tournaments and greatly reduced draw sizes. Again, a massive pendulum swing that has so many juniors and parents and coaches totally anger and dejected. Again, no checking with the rank and file players who enjoy going to play nationals. Shhhh . . . the answer lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Ha. Ha. “If you want to know how to do it, just do things the way they were back in 1987 before Player Development came along and messed things up.” Jack Sharpe, Chicago.
Example #2: Getting rid of 12 Nationals and rankings when PD first began. Very, very similar to the Green Ball Mandate. Mikeand Bob were the top two 12s in the country at the time. What did they do? Yep. They played up in the 14s so they could play the Nationals.
Example #3: Their thrust to get rid of the influence of parents and local coaches. That has really always been lurking for the full 23 years. I could write 10 pages on the negative effects of this, just suffice it to say I think that is extremely harmful to the development of a champion and a person.
Example #4: At first Key Biscayne had the magic and the pixie dust and that was where each top junior had to go to train and get the USTA blessings. No. That didn’t work. Let’s move it out to Carson. Woops. No results. Let’s go get the magic from Boca Raton. Woops. No real players coming out of there. Hey, USTA, there is no magic place or magic bullet.
Example #5: Getting rid of junior doubles rankings. Huh? I could write page after page about the harm that has caused.
Example #6: the U10 Mandate. See above.
2) As I am writing this way too long of a piece some 2 e mails have come in from Mike Kernodle and JP Weber:
“Please keep in mind that the USTA does not develop players. They find players that have been developed by grass root coaches, dangle money etc. as a carrot, bring them in to training centers and often watch them digress.” Dr. Mike Kernodle, North Carolina
“The 10 and under stuff is just the tip of the iceberg for the USTA. While we elect a new president to that org every two years there are people who work there all the time and over the years who see opportunity in growing the org even bigger and bigger and securing their jobs for longer and longer (and making higher and higher salaries). That is the number one reason in my opinion they should not be in player development in the US.” JP Weber from Georgia
3) Other recent E Mails from the truckload that I have received on these issues:
“Just a quick note to thank you for your voice and support of individual coaches ideas and efforts. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great coaches and people out there teaching tennis that really want to do the right thing. We need always to keep the coaches empowered and believing that their own ideas and initiative are embraced.” Chuck Kriese, Maryland
“I think over the past 22 years, that is what the various and ever changing USTA Player Development regimes have done in perhaps an unintended – - – or maybe an intended way – - – the have emasculated all the local pros and coaches and parents across the US. They say in one form or fashion, “You can’t coach these kids to the top. Only we can. Send them to us here at Key Biscayne or Carson – - – or now at Boca. We’ll train them and raise them..” Or “Hey, we are taking over now.” It chills the rank and file coaches across this country. And it has never worked as they do not have one single player to show for it. They’ll try like hell to claim or put their USTA stamp on a player, but everyone sees that for what it is.” Wayne Bryan
“The lack of top players was in part due to administrators micro-managing the talent by assigning coaches to players rather than letting them choose their own development paths. There’s no evidence that more dollars are going to help the game anyway, otherwise Great Britain would have many more players than they have. You’ve got a situation here where coaches are assigned to players and that’s not an ideal scenario. I just believe in a different philosophy where the player gets to choose their own coach and that builds the trust and respect and that should be supported financially and in non-financial ways. I think a much moredecentralized system and a system that has more freedom in it is the sort of environment where talent and creativity can flourish. I think the model we have now suppresses creativity, which you need to produce players.” Paul McNamee, Australia
“And, I will add one last comment to this thought about the USTA trying to control/be involved with tennis player development: NO OTHER SPORT DOES THIS! AYSO soccer doesn’t try to govern how soccer coaches develop in the private sector; Football – NO, Baseball – NO, Basketball – NO. Not even FIFA, which could be considered one of the most powerful sport organizations in the world doesn’t get involved in player development – they let the professional soccer clubs develop their own talent from age 4 on up to pro level in each clubs own system.” Chris Boyer, Pasadena
4) They always give lip service to growing the game, but USTA Player Development only thinks about Pro Players. And, truth be told, after 23 years and well north of $200 M dollars and really probably close to $300 M, they do not have one player to show for it. Try that in the private sector.
5) Ask each pro player in the US what they think about PD. Ask the Roddick family for example. Williams sisters. Donnie Young. Most are afraid to speak out. We need more pats on the backs for our juniors and our pros and not so much neg. Note that Alex Bogomolov is ripped for saying “yes” when Russia asks him to play for their Davis Cup Team. The USTA now wants to get their money for their financial support for his tennis. For the thousands of dollars they may have given him in support does not even come close to what USTA staffers make each month. Several make two or three times what the President of the United States makes! And the USTA is a non profit!
6) There is no one way. A national approach to coaching is bound to be a failure. What if they are wrong? Was it Shakespearewho wrote: “Who will watch the watchmen?” It would amaze you the things that I have heard National Coaches say through the years. Coaching is one part technique, one part science, one part art, one part motivation, one part inspiration, one part fun, one part laughing, one part trips to college matches, one part drying tears, one part social – - – it is Mark Bey’s Tie Dyed t shirts, pizza, movies, dinners, dances, talent shows, beach parties, camp outs, and lotsa magic. There is no one way. No one knows what makes a hit record. We know it when we hear it but there is no cookie cutter for music. There was a hit song with just whistling and a refrain repeated over and over. Don’t Worry Be Happy sold millions of copies. No one knows what makes a hit movie. Gone With the Wind was a hit movie but so was Dumb and Dumber. Andre played his way. Pete played his way. Mc played his way. Bjorn played his way. Pat Mc played his way. Jose played his way. No one ever played like Jimmy. No team ever played doubles like McEnroe-Fleming. No one played doubles like the Woodies. No one has ever played doubles like the Bryans. The Beatleswere the best and most creative musicians of all times, but none of them could read a note of music. None of them studied music at a National Academy. They didn’t learn their music from National Coaches. They learned from their ears and listening toChuck Berry records and Little Richard and Elvis. They learned from playing gigs for 4 straight hours and never taking a break. They loved music and taught themselves. I always say Champions take it in through their eyes and not their ears. You have to see it before you can dream it and you must be passionate about it before you can achieve it. Attending one motivational tennis event – - – like an exciting and raucous and well played college match or pro tournament – - – is better than 30 days of practice. Juniors return to their club or park or school more fired up for tennis than ever – - – and somehow magically improved.
7) A national approach stifles creativity. And also enthusiasm. It crushes dreams. I have seen so, so many players harmed by the USTA PD program. Non of those National Coaches that come to positions of power walk on water. When they are finally fired as they all have been, they go back to the real world in the private sector and keep right on coaching. Many advertise to get lessons. Rather than making big six figures they hope to crack a hundred thousand dollars a year, teaching lotsa hours each week.
The USTA should provide the Main Frame Computer and not the Software. They should provide a level playing field for all. Fair rankings. Great programming. Not be in coaching. Coaching bleeds into a rewards system. Go to Boca Raton and wear aUSTA tatoo on your forehead and we’ll get you a WC in this tournament or that. We’ll grant you these dollars and that and take you on these trips and those. If you don’t play ball with us, you will get nothing. We will even sorta root against you. I have seen that repeatedly.
9) Reducing all those coaching salaries and there could and should be a fabulous junior WEB Sites, where you could find any junior singles or doubles rankings for any age group and any sex in any section. It should be a storehouse for records. Articles. Pictures. Upcoming events.
10) Reducing those massive staff expenditures and you could make ever entry fee in America half of what it is today, maybe even free. You could give ever kid who could not afford it a racket. Maybe even a club membership. Lessons. Shoes.
11) Reducing those massive staff expenditures you could send the top 1,000 ranked juniors in the US to the Davis Cup, the Fed Cup, and the NCAAs.
12) If the USTA is in coaching and knows it all and there is one way, then have them answer these simple questions:
1. Semi Western Forehand, Western Forehand, or Extreme Western Forehand? Should you hit the forehand like Rafa or Roger? The backhand like Wawrinka or Del Potro? Serve like Andy or Isner?
2. Two handed backhand or one?
3. Take it back early or take it back with rhythm, the back swing being part of the forward swing?
4. Tell kids to turn to the side and take the racket back early or have them face the net and throw them the ball and have them feel the kinetic chain turn and rhythm of the swing?
5. Bananas before, during or after a match? Vitamins or not? Supplements or not?
6. Gatorade or water? Salt tabs or not?
7. Backhand grip on the serve or continental?
8. Continental grip on the volleys or Eastern grip changes like Todd Woodbridge and Jack Kramer?
9. Private lessons or group workouts?
10. Singles ‘n doubles everyday or private lessons?
11. Tournaments every weekend or periodization schedule?
12. Most important to tennis success: Sports science, Technique; Fun; or Motivation?
13. Who’s at fault if the kids have no enthusiasm at a tennis workout?
14. Nationally, is it better to polish the top of the pole or work the base?
15. Quick Start for a week, a month, a year or four years?
16. Start ‘em in tournament tennis or in Junior Team Tennis? Tennis a good team sport?
17. Singles and a backdraw singles only at each tournament or singles and doubles at each tournament?
18. Should we have more Mixed Doubles tournaments for juniors?
19. Would better programming, promotion and coaching for doubles quadruple the number of kids staying in tennis and coming into tennis?
20. What is the best age to start tennis?
21. Lift weights as a juninor or not? One hour of off court training a day or not? Or more? One hour of tennis a day or two? Or three? Or four?
22. What kind of education do you get at Boca Raton? What kind of values are being imparted by the surrogate parents/coaches/mentors there? How is the behavior?
23. Why has no National Coach ever produced a champion? Why do their own children not excel at tennis?
My computer is running out of ink. I could write for another few hours, but I’ll stop. If you are still reading, you need a psychiatric examination. But, if by chance you are, thanks very much. And this will teach you to never ask my opinion again . . .
Best and hope you just make half of what the President of the United States makes.
For those of us who have been critical of the lack of quality US players the above is devastating. It also provides a new perspective on some of the public spats US players have had with the USTA.
It is also a lot to digest. Tomorrow I'll post PMac's response.