Larry Haugness is a USPTA , PTR pro and long time USTA volunteer. He is the only person to have been President of two USTA Sections and four Districts. His accomplishments have been recognized by the USPTA, PTR, USTA, and TIA. He has worked in just about every area of tennis. Larry has coached all skill levels from red ball to touring professionals. His experience owning a club, running a foundation, working at a member owned club, and running a public facility has given him the experience for his tennis articles and presentations. He is President of Larry’s Racquet.
Reset and Get Back to Local Play
By Larry Haugness
The COVID-19 virus has had a tragic and devastating impact on our lives. The stay at home government policies combined with the social distancing recommendations have affected the way we interact and attend group events. As a result, the organized tennis world has come to a screeching halt. The ITF canceled 900 events worldwide. The USTA infrastructure has canceled numerous events throughout the country. Some say the end result will see tennis just fade away. From my perspective, this situation may have a silver lining for tennis. From the world stage, recent headlines include Federer says “now’s the time to merge the ATP and WTA”. BJK says “the merger should have happened 50 years ago.” Djokovic predicts the “season will restart with regional events.” This coming together idea is to consolidate the tennis world to create a more efficient and better product. We are seeing is a paradigm shift in our thinking. In the US the pandemic is responsible for the USTA, USPTA, PTR, TIA, and ITA getting together for the first time to form the Tennis Industry United group. Their mission is to analyze the needs and concerns of all and work together to provide immediate and long-term support created by this situation. One would hope that this group would continue after this crisis and work together for the benefit of the game. The upper levels of the sport are changing their way of thinking.
Around 2001 the USTA rolled out its’ junior National Open structure of events, offering four simultaneous tournaments scattered throughout the US four times a year. The theory was to get more players competing at the national level, to raise the bar of competition in the country. This was great for the people who could afford to travel. It also made it easier to achieve a national ranking. The big downside was this pretty much killed local play and decreased the importance of sectional play. Since then the USTA has been changing the junior process with the results being essentially the same. Currently, tennis is struggling. During the tennis boom in the 70’s and mid 80’s local play and events were the game with the sectional championships as the peak. Fewer national events were offered and were for those that truly excelled and were serious about competing at the top level.
So what works? According to some statistics we have around 370,000 kids playing high school tennis and growing. Our junior tournament participation is around 100,000. As our juniors’ experience tournament play they quit playing these events. Why? In his book Positioning Youth Tennis For Success, Dr. Hainline shows the top reason kids participate in non-school sports is to have fun. During the tennis boom, local tournaments had large draws. Currently, our junior participation is down and in some areas non-existent. The reasons and solutions can be discussed later but for now the point it is high school tennis is successful while USTA junior events are not. Some could argue that they are team events, which softens the pressure and situation. The degree of which may or may not be true with more parents, friends watching combined with the school pride involved. Also, there are many non-team personality players playing high school tennis. But the issue is are they having a good time? The bottom line is high school competition is fun. They also typically play in their local area which is less stressful than traveling. All the above could be said for the successful USTA Adult League program.
Players play tennis for several reasons, fun, exercise, social, and/or competition. Pick one or a combination of several. Local tournament play needs to be emphasized and offered for those wanting a challenge and the thrill of competition. For many this is where the fun comes in, from competing. For others, the fun is in the social aspects. Many play for the exercise and the fun feeling of having the endorphins kick in. The common denominator is fun. Let’s face it the real deal with tennis is competing against yourself, in whatever situation they like. People need to take from tennis what they want.
This is an opportunity to reset and get back to local play. We need to get back to the fun and enjoyment of play. No, I didn’t say winning but play and competing for the sheer joy of it. I would hope that local areas that have seen their tennis club (not the brick and mortar) die off get re-energized and organized again. The paradigm shift needs to be play locally. Let’s emphasize the fun and healthy benefits of tennis. Who knows we might even grow tennis again?