February 6, 2014

8 Proposals for the Future of American Junior Tennis

 8 Proposals for the Future of American Junior Tennis by Chuck Kriese
  •  "Comfort bares no Fruit" when it comes to preparing our youngsters for excellence.
  • We cannot EVER be Excellent as long as we continue to remove (or Dumb-Down) those very necessary 'Rights-of-Passage' benchmarks that it takes to be excellent.
  • We need to speak to the 'King' and the 'Queen' in our youngsters, not the little boy or girl.
  • We need to call upon their potential greatness.
  • Abbreviated Scoring and soft training will never produce champions.
These 8 Proposals are needed for US tennis to Rise to Prominence once again:
Proposal I: In the construction of USTA National, Regional and State Jr. Competition, consideration should be given for the goals and objectives of 12 and 14 age groups to be different than those given for the 16 and 18 age groups. The priority for 12 and 14 year old age groups should be participation centered with an avenue for ranked advancement for best players; whereas, priority for 16 and 18 year old age groups should have performance priorities with avenues for participation objectives for those players who would require that avenue.
Rationale: The goals and objectives for participation versus performance differ for each age-group (maturity level) of competition. These considerations take on greater and lesser importance at different stages of each player’s physical/mental/emotional careers. In general, younger age groups can usually orient toward participation with avenues to break out to higher levels when ready to do so. Older age groups require a much higher level of importance and urgency placed on performance objectives. Although each and every case is unique, the general base of development should range from younger to older with participation being more important when young and performance being more important when older. Readiness can be age-related, but should not be age-determined. These factors are of high significance and importance when consideration for various match/tournament formats, consolation events, Full doubles matches, and scoring systems are being used.

Proposal II: 
Part A - Use of Traditional Scoring System (2-out-of-3 complete sets) exclusively for All Matches in 16 and 18 Age-groups as these are: (Performance Priority age-groups) of Boys and Girls Divisions.
Part B - Use of Traditional Scoring Systems whenever possible in 12 and 14 age divisions (Participation Priority age-groups) (When there are extreme situations such as rain postponements etc. only abbreviated systems that closely follow traditional scoring systems should be used. (example: 1st set starting at 2-2 and use full sets for deciding 2nd and/or 3rd sets. A second option when rain is a problem could be to start at 3-3 for third set instead of a TB.) There are multiple options that can be used for closest uniformity to actual match play, but 3rd set 10pt. TB should not be used as the player’s learning is diminished and skill advantages of the best players are compromised greatly with TB for 3rd set.))
Rationale: The most impactful learning process takes place in the third set of a match. Breakthroughs to new levels of play and advancement to new player-pecking-orders also take place through the process of the winning (and the losing) of tough 3 set matches. The use of Tie-breakers for deciding third-set matches prohibit necessary mental/emotional/physical learning skills that are paramount for junior tennis players to advance through pecking orders and skill sets. The lessons learned by both the winning and the losing of hybrid matches do not advance maximum confidence and match-momentum skills and often dumb players down to a medium level of performance.

Proposal III: Full doubles matches (2-out-of-3 sets) should be played at 16 and 18 year old age group events instead of pro-sets. Full doubles matches should take a higher priority than consolation events in performance-objective events.
Rationale: In Performance-objective events (16 and 18s), player development and best-team advancement should be a priority. Player development for transition skills, volleys, serves, returns, momentum-management and teamwork are developed most accurately by the use of two-out-of-three set matches instead of pro-sets. Full Doubles matches have always been one of main catalyst for players to advance in pecking orders first as they would quickly gain confidence for advancement to higher levels in singles from successes to late rounds. Pro-sets do not have this impact for player development. If time is a problem with the play of doubles matches, first and second rounds can be played with pro-sets as first events of tournaments with two-of-three set matches being played after these opening two rounds.

Proposal IV: No-Ad scoring should not be used for Junior Tennis Competition.
Rationale: The base of traditional scoring in tennis is that it is necessary to win 3 points in a row to be successful at any level. (for example, if a player does not win the first point of the game, he/she must always win 3 in a row or win 4 or the next 5 to win the game.) No-ad scoring slows the learning process of players as it allows players to have success by winning only one point at a time in, sometimes in alternate sequence. This hybrid scoring system favors an under-dog player as it does not allow the better player to work through performance pressures of long games and to use his/her small skill-set advantages that become big differences late in a match.

Proposal V: In the 18 year-old division, play should be continuous after the 2nd set of a two-out-of-three set match. Extended breaks that also cause a loss of momentum should not be used.
Rationale: Momentum is a critical component involved with the winning or the losing of a tennis match. Momentum gained in the second-set of a match is disturbed, and often eliminated, when a rest-period is given at the end of the second set. Conditioning should also be a factor of consideration in higher age-groups where performance and player development start taking priority. 

The Remaining Three Proposals are made Primarily for National Junior Competition Committee, but can be made for regional and state junior competition committees as well. 

Proposal VI : Return to the Head to Head System for the evaluation of tournament performance and rankings.
Rationale: There are unintended consequences in having established a Point-per-round system instead of the traditional head-to-head system for rankings and scoring results at tournaments. Although the premise of points-per-rounds system initially appeared to be logical and potentially energizing for the play of more matches, there are three adverse effects to player development and growth of junior tennis.
#1. The Point System has encouraged top-down management for the growth and management of events; therefore, it has indirectly caused diminished incentive for local entrepreneurial action. This further harms enthusiasm of long-established events that are historical and provide heritage for the game.
#2. Because there is no penalty or negative impact to a players ranking for a loss in head-to-head matchups, the maximum motivation that comes from dislike of losing has had a lesser impact for growth; and therefore, maximum learning opportunities are being lost in player development. This has been shown in serious form in back-draw events as the number of withdrawals and walk-overs have been numerous.
 #3. Those players with the resources to play multiple events have great advantage over those youngsters who have limited funding or are challenged by location.

Proposal VII: When an injury time-out or a Bathroom Break interrupts the flow of a match, the player that asks for the break in play shall award a one-game courtesy to his/her opponent for the breaking momentum of the match.
Rationale: Gamesmanship has been the predominate motive behind taking bathroom breaks and injury timeouts. Chronic (non-acute) injuries that a player has consented to take the court with, and retreating to the restroom to urinate are constant abuses of sportsmanship. Chronic injuries should never be considered as injuries while acute injuries can be. Dehydration is a much more of an issue than over-hydration. Match Momentum should be protected by rules in these situations. A interruption caused by both actual and not-actual circumstances are a great unfairness to that player that has worked hard to achieve momentum and also prevents players from learning important skills needed for higher performance.  

Proposal VIII : To have Rankings for players in the Performance ages (16s and 18 year old age groups) Grand Slam Players (Gold Group) Approx. 1-75 top ranked players would be Grand-slam players. To have Players between 76 and 400 be identified in a Rating group (Silver Group) and to have players below 400 to be (Bronze Group). Bronze group would be local, High School or state ranked players having events to earn points that help them work toward advancement to Silver etc. (high school competition, Local competition).
Rationale: Earned advancement and rankings must be identified at different levels in different ways that identify and spell out the different needs of each particular skill group. Top players need head to head results and need to be identified and separated distinctively by head to head results. Therefore rankings serve this purpose best for top players. The middle group must be mobile and be able to achieve movement to higher or fall to lower groups based on individual initiative with clearly defined goals and objectives. Entry level players must have initiatives that encourage youngsters through participation and through their own work to be able to see where they are and to see the journey ahead.

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