How do you introduce a man with a distinguished, 40-year career in tennis? Rather than posting a short summary here, we decided to show you David Smith's entire Bio at the end of his article. We reviewed two of David's books in September of 2018 and posted his article "An Objective Perspective of Tennis in the U.S." in August of that year.

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Can the USTA Reinvent Themselves?

By David W. Smith

One thing I’ve noticed during the lockdown of 2020 is the communication tennis pros, players, coaches, parents and other tennis enthusiasts created within various social media markets.

As an objective and interested tennis professional and coach, I began to recognize many concerns people of all these previously mentioned tennis walks issued regarding the USTA’s performance, decision making, transparency, usefulness, and a myriad of other concerns. Many of those concerns were indeed trivialized whining, while others were qualitative and quantitatively valid.

Before one can make objective and logical conclusions and opinions about the validity and value of any entity, you must first understand the mission statement that the organization uses to tie-in their goals, processes, and activities. The mission statement of the USTA is: “The USTA is a progressive and diverse not-for-profit organization whose volunteers, professional staff and financial resources support a single mission: to promote and develop the growth of tennis.” (USTA Web Site)

By their own stated goal, it would be a fairly safe general conclusion that the USTA has failed pretty miserably over the last ten years or more. From 2009 – 2018 tennis participation, according to a reasonably objective source, (Tennis Industry Association, TIA), is down 15% of core participation. Of general tennis participation, the numbers aren’t as bad…NEGATIVE 0.4% growth in that same period. That number demonstrates that while many may be picking up the sport, many more have left it.

This is perhaps just one of many snapshots that capture what interested people have articulated in terms of disappointment, frustration, and literally distrust, in our one-and-only national governing board.

Building a $60 million dollar, 100-court monstrosity, in one little corner of the country, (Lake Nona, Florida), raises not just eyebrows, but questions. According to Forbes magazine, the 2019 USTA Chief Executive Officer of the National USTA Campus at Lake Nona stated, “More than 300,000 people have moved through the site…” While this sounds like a relatively large number, (and, certainly, the CEO will want to tout their monster in glowing terms), of the more than 17.9 million tennis players in the US, that figure means that ONLY .016% of the tennis-playing population of the US has ever set foot there. Less than 2/100th of one percent. This, of course, raises the question in many pros and tennis player’s minds: “could the $60+ million spent on one location, (not even centrally located), be better utilized to grow the game?”

I’ll leave that question there.

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Before I go on, I want to express one very critical point: I would LOVE for the USTA to be successful. By successful, I mean; a) they indeed use their enormous funds in optimal ways; b) they establish themselves as being truly interested in their mission statement; c) they create a responsible, reliable, and a transparent governing board that we as tennis professionals and players alike, can look up to; d) they move away from their ‘good ol’ boy’ internal network to learn and implement new ideas; e) they actually listen to successful and proven individuals who have created sustained success that could have application in the USTA. In addition, I’d love to see overall lower costs for juniors to participate in USTA sanctioned events. (Right now, as an average, it costs over $100 for a player to play two events in any given USTA tournament. That doesn’t count cost of travel, housing, food, etc.)

I don’t bash the USTA for their numerous failings that I’ve concluded my own observations; on the contrary, I want to help initiate change that is positive, objective, and especially, helps the USTA reinvent themselves so that they are truly a non-profit organization that is indeed looking to grow the game on ALL LEVELS.

As a high school coach, (in addition to being a retired tennis professional, academy owner, tennis club manager, and tennis director), one thing that so many high school coaches have pointed out: The USTA is nearly completely ‘hands-off’ the high school tennis environment. One of the statements that I tend to agree with, which I’ve heard, is that “If the program doesn’t benefit the USTA directly, the USTA has virtually no interest in it.” While high school tennis isn’t directly tied financially into the USTA, (there are no USTA memberships, tournament entry fees, or any direct income to the USTA from high school tennis), one only needs to look at the numbers of HS tennis participation in the US to see that it is by far the number one developer of junior tennis players in the US outside of the USTA. In 2017-18 there were 348,919 high school tennis participants (boys and girls), in the US. A high percentage of these players take lessons, play USTA tournaments, (paying fees, membership dues, etc.), and become life-long players. So, I’d say, at the very least, HS tennis is a major contributor to the USTA.

Now, imagine if the USTA got behind high school tennis, teaching coaches how to attract more players, how they can effectively train more players, how to run a no-cut program, and provide actual resources that are not impossible to obtain. Yes, there are grants and other resourced help that you can obtain through not only a lot of paperwork but also, most coaches have NO IDEA that such programs are available! I’ve coached in three states and not once have I actually been approached by a USTA resource person to inform me of any of these items. I’m pretty involved within the industry, (having spoken at dozens of conferences, written over 300 tennis articles, and have written three well-received books on tennis.) It's not that these resources aren’t out there, its letting coaches know how to go about getting them if they truly are in need.

As a ‘non-profit’ organization, there are over $8 million dollars annually that go out to administrative individuals as salaries. (Someone is going home with a lot of money!) The average salary in 2018 was $81,364 based on 741 USTA salary profiles. (Paysa.com figures) That is a lot of overhead for a group of people who have not been very successful in achieving their mission statement in the last few decades. Something seems amiss.

The main issue I have personally about those involved in the USTA is their lack of listening. If I had countless individuals within a culture that I represent, who are consistently disappointed, frustrated, and flat-out disgusted with my performance, I’d want to know why. With a near flat-line in the growth of the sport for literally 30 years, I’d also take a hard look at our procedures, progress, (or lack of), and our structure. Because, if the USTA were indeed a business whose outcome was truly based on their mission statement, they would have gone belly up decades ago. Yet, the typical response I’ve seen over and over by USTA board members and affiliates is, “Quit your complaining and get involved.” Funny, most of the coaches I know who are questioning the USTA are VERY involved.

I’ve spoken to many USTA division board members who have said without question they are frustrated. However, they also, usually in the same breath, tell me they don’t dare say anything negative or that goes against the status quo of the national board in fear of their jobs being at state. I certainly understand this. And, it is one more reason I’d love the USTA to take a hard look at why their own paid members operate in fear of suggesting changes.

As I mentioned, I want to have a USTA I can be proud of, who I feel is indeed improving, who is thinking outside the box, so-to-speak, who isn’t so entrenched in its own size and dimension that they can’t see the forest from the tree…or, in this case, the lack of potential that our sport should be enjoying. I would love a USTA that truly is responsible to its members…ALL of its members.

If this were to occur, we would certainly see a resurgence of support, participation, and of amazing cooperation among all who play, teach, coach and are involved in tennis and in its industry.

David W. Smith

 

Diverse and successful, David W. Smith has been involved in the tennis industry for over 40 years. He has been a USPTA Elite P-1 teaching professionally for over 15 years and has spoken at numerous USPTA divisional and world conventions. He has been awarded “Speaker of the Year” for both Southern California and Intermountain USPTA divisions. He has also been a Keynote speaker for The National Honor Society, The National Dentist Tennis Player’s Association, and numerous tennis clubs, book clubs and schools.

As a writer, Smith has penned two highly acclaimed tennis books, “Coaching Mastery” and “Tennis Mastery”. In addition, he served as the Senior Editor for the long-time highly-rated web site, TennisOne.com and has written over 300 articles that have appeared in ADDvantage Magazine, Tennis & Coach, (Belgium), and a host of tennis web sites including TennisPlayer.net.

As a writer, Smith has penned two highly acclaimed tennis books, “Coaching Mastery” and “Tennis Mastery”. In addition, he served as the Senior Editor for the long-time highly-rated web site, TennisOne.com and has written over 300 articles that have appeared in ADDvantage Magazine, Tennis & Coach, (Belgium), and a host of tennis web sites including TennisPlayer.net.

In addition to written publications, David as produced many DVD’s and on-line teaching programs including, “Building a World-Class Volley”, “The Ultimate Serve DVD”, “Coaching Unlimited”, and “Building a World-Class Tennis Program.”

Dave has been one of the most successful high school tennis coaches in the US, developing top teams and highly-ranked individuals in California, Arizona, and Utah. He has a team win-loss record of over 1000 wins against fewer than 25 losses. His teams have won numerous state and region titles; over 25 Region championships and 6 state championships or runner-up finishes. In 2019, after two consecutive state runner-up finishes in Utah, his girls took home the top honors, winning the state by the largest margin in the last six years.

Dave has been a tennis club head professional, director, academy owner, and general manager of several nationally recognized resorts and clubs including TennisLand in Anaheim, California, the Wigwam Resort in Arizona, the Green Valley Spa and Tennis Resort in Utah, and the Summit Athletic Club in Utah.

Growing tennis has been a passion for Smith. He has conducted group lessons with over 70 players in one clinic, directed large tennis events such as the Green Valley Marathon Tennis Tournament, the “Celebrity Classic” tennis camp, the Huntington Beach Open tennis tournament, and the Stephen Wade Invitational events in Utah. His no-cut tennis program attracts on average over 45 players to his high school girls and boys teams, and he has built tennis dynasties in all three states he has coached in.

In 2019, Dave was inducted into the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame.

David Smith is also the creator and author of the popular Disney Mysteries, “Hidden Mickey” as well as 7 other published books including “The Power of Passion” and “The Midnight Zone”. He owns Synergy Books Publishing and represents over 40 authors and 60 different titles.

In addition to tennis and writing, Smith is a professional musician who plays bass and guitar in various bands. He also is a professional magician and has used magic to teach, entertain, and inspire both players and those who train or teach tennis. He is the three-time defending World Senior Games Doubles champion in the 50 – 60 age groups, and ranked number one in Utah the last two years in doubles.

Dave’s wife is Dr. Kerri Smith, a Pediatrician. He has a daughter, Kyla, who is one of the top-ranked female golfers in Utah and plays for the Division 1 college, Southern Utah University. Kyla reached a world-ranking in 2019 in Golf She is also a skilled tennis player and has been featured in many tennis articles and videos. Dave also has a 17-year-old son who is into exotic cars and racing.

He can be reached at acrpres1@msn.com or (435) 680-3250

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