Gary Horvath is a USPTA master pro, founder and past president of the USA Professional Platform Tennis Association prior to its merger with USPTA, a certified coach with USA Volleyball and a long-standing member of the Wilson Advisory Staff.
His experience as a tennis pro has covered the entire spectrum from grassroots to college tennis. In addition, Gary Horvath has conducted extensive business and economic research that has largely supported the state of Colorado's economic development efforts.
What is the Purpose of High School Tennis?
Challenging USPTA, PTR, and ITA to take greater responsibility
By Gary Horvath
High school tennis programs are an entry point for many students to learn to play and be with their friends. Some high schools have no-cut programs, which allow players to play the entire season regardless of their ability. The more competitive programs provide a path to college tennis and becoming a playing or teaching professional.
Given these options, what is the purpose of high school tennis programs? Should they focus on elite players, entry-level players, or should they try to be all things to all players? This analysis looks at the competitiveness of matches at the 2021 Colorado girls’ high school state championships to address those questions.
First, some background information. High school tennis has more participants than any other Colorado junior program for 15 years and older players. CHSAA governs high school tennis and other activities (https://chsaanow.com/).
Pre-COVID, there were about 4,000 girls in 185 Colorado high school programs. Most of the players with USTA rankings play on high school teams, but ranked players represent a small percentage of total high school players.
Teams compete in three conferences based on their school’s enrollment: 3A, 4A, and 5A. A typical girls’ season runs from March to early May (about 65 days), when the season culminates with the state tournaments. Practices and matches only occur on about half of these days because of weekends, spring break, other school events, and inclement weather. Teams spend about 12 to 18 days in practice and that same number of days playing dual matches and tournaments. For the season, varsity players spend about 20 to 30 hours in both team practices and competition. Costs for the program may be significant and they vary throughout the state.
A dual match includes three singles players and four doubles teams (11 athletes). Players can only play singles or doubles. This format ensures greater participation, but it also has many drawbacks.
The state championships include individual tournaments for all singles and doubles levels in each conference. In addition, when individuals win a match, they earn points for their team. The team points earned for a win increase as players advance through the bracket.
With that background, the summary of results follows. In 2021, athletes from 88 teams, or about half of the teams in the state, qualified players for the state championships (Table I). That is the good news.
Of these teams, 31 did not score points, i.e., their players did not win a match. Also, 29 teams scored between one and three points. Players from 19 teams scored between 4 and 19 points. As a team, their success was limited. Only nine teams scored more than 20 points.
Given the results in Table I, it stands to reason there is a lack of competition in the individual events (Table II). The most significant findings are:
Most first round and quarterfinal matches were not competitive. In singles, only 18 of 108 were competitive.
About half of the singles finals, 4 of 9, were competitive.
Doubles matches, 68 of 180, were more competitive than singles, 28 of 135, although most doubles finals matches were not competitive, 3 of 12.
Many high schools have value statements that indicate their sports programs are extensions of the classroom to the courts and fields. These programs emphasize values, such as sportsmanship, leadership, camaraderie, life skills, giving your best, learning, and teamwork. Undoubtedly, some of these values are present in many high school tennis programs.
For all intents and purposes, the goal of Colorado high school tennis is to provide programs that include limited instruction and match play that leads to the 3a, 4a, and 5a regional and state tournaments. In the end, 33 individuals and three teams are crowned state champions, but the industry has met the tennis needs of less than 5% of the 4,000 high school Colorado girls.
Moving forward, the USPTA, PTR, and ITA must take greater responsibility for improving the quality of high school coaching. They must also support high school tennis and develop programs that encourage elite and non-elite players to play year-round.
CHSAA and other high school associations must incorporate UTR into high school competitions. They must structure the conferences and post-season tournaments to create more competitive matches. Finally, they should host events for players who did not qualify for the state and regional tournaments.
The list of ideas for keeping the 4,000 Colorado high school girls passionate about tennis could go on ad infinitum. What are your thoughts about how to meaningfully engage elite and non-elite high school players in the sport?
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