Mike Dowse Letter
USTA Player Dev.
Tennis + Pickleball
Michael Dowse's Letter to all USTA National Staff and Sections
Hello Team and Happy New Year,
I hope everyone had a chance to spend some time with family and friends over the holidays and that you’re all re-energized and ready for 2020! This is an exciting and important time for the sport of tennis and for the USTA, and I couldn’t be more thrilled than I am to be assuming my new role as CEO and Executive Director. I look forward to meeting each and every one of you soon.
Before jumping into some of my thoughts and plans, I would like to first recognize Gordon Smith for his years of service and contributions to the USTA. Under Gordon’s leadership, this association—and the sport of tennis in the U.S.—have realized a true transformation. The complete reinvention of the US Open and the incredible reworking of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are nothing short of remarkable. Those things, along with the creation of the USTA National Campus in Orlando, are integral to our continuing efforts to accelerate our mission to promote and develop the growth of tennis. Thank you, Gordon!
Although my official start date at the USTA was just last week, I have spent the last 45 days listening and learning, sitting down and talking with more than 100 different people within the USTA and the broader tennis ecosystem to get a better and more tangible feel for the important issues and concerns that we’ll need to address if we are to continue to write success stories for our sport and achieve our mission goals. I wanted to know what people feel that we do right, and I wanted to know where they felt we might improve. These talks have been both enlightening and enriching, and have provided me with valuable insights as I begin my work here at the USTA.
As you will quickly learn, I like to drill down on thoughts and concepts and put the best of those into actionable initiatives. The feedback from my listening tour appears to fall into three buckets:
1. One Team: As the USTA, it’s imperative that we embrace a service culture and the philosophy that all of us involved in this great sport are One Team. As you all are no doubt aware, tennis has a particularly complex structure of various stakeholders including volunteers, districts, sections, national staff, USPTA, PTR, TIA, ITA, WTA, ATP, ITF, parks, club owners, and many more. Indeed, there are more initials in this sport than you’ll find in a bowl of alphabet soup. However, this complexity can truly be a strength if we all operate as One Team. Yes, that’s a challenge—a longstanding challenge in our sport, but our different organizations each have very specific strengths and areas of expertise, and as different as we are, we share a similar aim—to make tennis more fun and more accessible for more people. Every one of these entities adds its own special ingredient in achieving that aim. So let’s use all of those ingredients to our advantage to deliver our core strategy of: Attract, engage, and retain new generations of diverse tennis participants. One team, one aim.
2. Simplify and Go: We do a lot here at the USTA, and as a result of our complexity and the passion we all share, we have created a structure that’s often much too complex to effectively and efficiently pursue our mission. We dilute our strengths when we scatter our efforts toward so many different initiatives. One of my chief goals will be to take a “Less is Better” approach to all that we do, and reducing complexity is something that I’ll be asking you all to play a part it. All that we do needs to be mission-focused; otherwise, we lose focus. If it doesn’t support the mission, it doesn’t merit your time and talents.
3. Fact-Based Decision Making: I have been overwhelmed to witness the passion that you all bring to the sport, but it’s especially important that that passion be focused on our priorities as an association and that we make our decisions based not on passion but on hard data and facts. Through this lens, we will be better able to invest in proven winning programs, fix programs that are underperforming, and divest out of areas that are not working. This will allow us to move faster and more efficiently pursue our mission.
These thoughts and ideas should serve as a good starting point in allowing us to work collaboratively. I will continue my listening tour as I look to spend significant time in our sections and districts in the coming months, and I look forward to listening and learning from all of you as well as the year progresses. I’m confident that together, we can lift this association—and the sport that we all love—to exciting new heights.
Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director
United States Tennis Association
USTA National Campus
10000 USTA Blvd., Orlando, Florida 32827
O 407 675-2610
Re: Michael Dowse's Letter
Everyone is given a certain amount of energy to create change. It can be used in a positive way or be used to destruct the opposing view. American tennis has a chance to “rally the troops” with the new appointment of the USTA Executive Director. Our sport is in decline along with many other sports in this country. That statement alone is difficult for me to state publicly having spent the last 40 years trying to keep tennis relevant in my community. With that being said I also realize the bigger picture in that every tentacle of the tennis world is intertwined and dependent on each other to survive. I agree with Michael Dowse...let’s work together instead of living in our own silos and get our sport growing again. What alternative do we have?
USPTA Master Professional
General Manager/Director of Tennis
Decatur Athletic Club in Decatur, Illinois
1) Not One Team, Nor should it be:
From my many years and service in tennis, it alludes me to write about topics such as these. The USTA is under-performing as the structure does not support both the High Performance nor the Recreational side of the sport. I have an MPA in objective research analysis as I have written many times to the USTA about the failed direction of the sport. I even used the logic of mathematics and science to draw the dots of why the Men's Tennis program is getting beat every year at the slams. I have out written the USPTA as the logical fallacies in their teaching create problematic teaching methods for their students. I do not believe they should all on the same team because it will lead to stagnation within the governing body.
2) Simply and Go: Doesn't really explain much of anything as I do not understand what they are simplifying. Just because they will take less of an approach tells me that they possibly do not know what they are doing which is very similar to the status quo of what is going on now.
3) Objective Decision Making: I hope their fact objective analysis is always good to me (As I am an expert in the field). Hopefully, they know what to do with the given information because the factual analysis is only as good as the person that understands how to use and develop the data. I am not a big fan of subjective analysis, but there is a difference between passion and emotional thoughts so hopefully people with a passion for the game come from the angle of being objective.
From the USTA to the ATP, there is a lot of work to be done and hopefully, they will have the right people to do it, otherwise, I could do it better myself.
All the Best,
I hope the new USTA CEO Michael Dowse will be able to truly help the USTA grow the game. I applaud his initial efforts with his listening tour to get a feel for the issues and concerns of people from the organization and tennis in general. But I wonder about the feasibility of making major changes and attitudes in the USTA that have been the mainstay of the organization for years. His idea of One Team is ideal. But, will that ever happen? Each organization has their own agenda, goals, and mission statement. Could they all get on the same page to help the USTA accomplish our mission? It would be nice but why haven’t they done this before? I guess I am a bit skeptical about the actual forming of the One Team.
I did like his comment “we dilute our strengths when we scatter our efforts toward so many different initiatives”. So true. I would include in that the frequent name changes. My guess is that the majority of teaching pros can’t come up with a complete list of offerings. The easiest one to pick on is the 36-60, no, I mean 10 and Under, no Quickstart, whoops that’s Red, Orange, Green or ROGY or now it can be also called either Red Ball, Orange Ball, Green Ball or simply Net Generation Red Ball, Net Gen Orange, and Net Gen Green Ball. Some USTA entities call it Transition equipment. Why not just call it tennis? It was designed for youth 10 and Under, after a number of years it was decided that adults and seniors could use it too, as they should, just like the rest of the world. A beginner is a beginner no matter what age. Pretty simple huh?
His third comment under Fact-Based Decision Making is also spot on. The only problem is that the typical Facts collected are actual numbers per a section’s Dashboard. This doesn’t tell the whole story. Why can’t we retain league players? This leaky bucket seems to roughly gain as many new players as we lose. So much energy and time are spent trying to redesign our junior competition structure. But the key fact is that participation in tournaments is down as well as the downhill slide of the number of events played. The fact that we lose almost a third of our juniors from the first tournament played to the second is disturbing. This trend continues as more tournaments are played. The Fact is to find out WHY? Is it simply a bad experience? Do we need better tournament directors, a different format, or what? The individual teaching pro continues to be frustrated by the frequent changing of rules and programs. I read a Net’s Tournament guide, you know the fun non-elimination event for beginning tournament players and learning tournament directors. Six pages worth of rules!! Who wants to run one of those?
The bottom line is that I think Michael’s biggest challenge is corralling the 800-pound gorilla that thinks all of tennis must be USTA tennis.
I wish him success.
Anonymous Tennis Professional
There are many people who are not good people in charge. They are there to take advantage of the USTA's largess and because they are not able to make it on their own. Pure and simple. A few others revel in the power. So when you see what is now happening it is troublesome, to say the least. This is not negative or jaded. It is how things work.
Mike Dowse wrote: Attract, engage, and retain new generations of diverse tennis participants.
From my perspective, this is seeming to involve more "nationalism or centralism" so to speak. If anything is clear to me it is the USTA's effort should be toward encouraging the organization's efforts to occur organically from the ground up. What I believe the rhetoric refers to here is the opposite of that.
Mike Dowse wrote: ...we make our decisions based not on passion but on hard data and facts. Through this lens, we will be better able to invest in proven winning programs, fix programs that are underperforming, and divest out of areas that are not working.
It really depends on a couple of things with this statement. 1. Who holds the information and facts? Nobody is willing to share the facts in an open manner. Nobody. The only organization I know of willing to show their hand and info is KOURTS.com. They are willing but all else is held close and secret. So when one group holds the facts and data the interpretation of the facts can be skewed. Surely, no one doubts this. 2. The fact is there is no one perfect solution. What works in Atlanta does not work in Albuquerque and what works in Hawaii does not work in Florida. And yet with this known fact, we are heading down a path very different from n
This is my quick knee jerk reaction to what is going on now. The idea that tournament tennis should be the same in Atlanta as it is in Portland is as wrong as it is for "league tennis" in Atlanta to cost the same as it does in NYC.
I think in the end it was a fatal mistake some 20 plus years ago when the USTA put on it's Board of Directors people who came from the industry side. Those people in my opinion - no facts- are destroying the sport - even more quickly.
The Dowse letter had merit, one team (not capitalized); less is better - be strategic; use data to make decisions. This is what he had to say. The test begins, how will he put his money where his mouth is?
There was fluff
"alphabet soup" - the reference to alphabet soup reminds me of the 1994 TIA Initiative. Every time I think of the alphabet soup analogy, I envision a bowl of sup where the letters say, "It's the USTA way or the highway."
"continue to write success stories". I would be interested in hearing what Dowse thinks the success stories are.
"put thoughts and concepts into actionable initiatives" - I interpret that as more of the same. More programs and more initiatives that don't accomplish anything
"One Team" - does He think He is the Deity?
"focused on our priorities as an association" - More of the same.
I hope for the best, but I'm cynical.
I raise the following question, "Why is the focus on building One Team?" Is it His goal to say that He brought the industry together before parting the sea.
Could we just focus on one goal - promote tennis! The TIA was supposed to be a team effort. The USPTA has focused on building partnerships. Has that focus prevented them from the core mission? If Mr. Dowse wants the gang to rally around the campfire and sing Kumbaya, what "actionable initiative" is he going to come up with to bring the troops together. What measures is he going to put in place to show success? How is he going to be held accountable for developing relevant actionable initiatives and making them happen?
Simplify - less is better. Mr. Dowse is correct, The USTA often has good intentions, but at times they often look like their implementation process was designed by Rube Goldberg. Does this mean he is going to cut the monuments that USTA is building to itself - such as Lake Nona, other centers, Player Development, and Net Generation? What "actionable initiatives" is Mr. Dowse going to put in place to streamline the USTA? How will he measure whether his actionable initiatives had an impact on participation? For example, how is Lake Nona being used to promote tennis? How are they measuring the true impact of NG on tennis?
Make decisions based on data - not egos or passion. What "actionable initiatives" is Mr. Dowse going to put in place to improve the decision-making process of the USTA? How is he going to measure the effectiveness of those initiatives?
Having said this, I sincerely, hope Dowse is successful at the USTA. He deserves a fair chance, although I wonder if his well-intended letter started him on the path to success. His actions will speak louder than his words.
The tennis industry was asleep at the wheel during the last decade. The USPTA was focused on getting rid of Heckler and the nasty infighting that went along with that, then their focus changed to hiring a new ED, trying to eliminate the Heckler legacy, kissing the USTA's ass, trying to merge or take over the PTR, trying to get their members to take continuing education classes, and regrouping in Lake Nona. They were too busy to do their job.
The USTA has had a focus on everything but growing the game - stirring up stink with the USPTA, and the PTR, pitting the two against each other, a change in high performance to Blackman, moving to Lake Nona, making way too much money at the US Open and having to find ways to spend it. Then there is accreditation and the roll-out of Net Generations and the lack of support from the industry, and the downturn in the USTA league participation. The USTA can't even manage their own house, they need to keep their nose out of everyone else's business. As an NGB they are worse than any helicopter parent.
Ten Questions Regarding the Recent Letter by Michael Dowse.
Thanks to Tennis Club Business for posting the letter by Mr. Dowse.
Mission The USTA mission statement is unclear. (“Promote and develop the growth of tennis”) How is the USTA supposed to promote the growth of tennis when the TIA data shows the industry has declined during the “Lost Decade of the 2010s?” How do you develop growth?
Name When is the USTA going to fall in line with other NGBs and change its name to USA Tennis?
One Team During the 1980s and 1990s, the USTA tried to control rather than support and unify the industry. The TIA had limited success bringing the industry together during the 2000s and 2010s because the industry lacked focus and the USTA had its own agenda. Given this background, what is the USTA going to do differently in 2020 to unify the industry as One Team?
Data Effective business leaders rely on credible data to make informed business decisions. Can the USTA allocate resources to collect and compile tennis and racquet sports industry data that would be published in the public domain to help tennis-related businesses make more informed business decisions?
Special Ingredients vs. Control The actions of the USTA indicate it wants to take over all aspects of instruction. The words of USTA save it wants to benefit from the “special ingredients” of the teaching associations. Rather than controlling the teaching organizations, wouldn’t the USTA and industry benefit more by financially investing in the teaching organizations, empowering the professionals and coaches, and benefitting from the “special ingredients” these individuals and organizations bring to the sport?
Infrastructure vs. Balance Sheet Does the USTA feel it is more important to invest in the infrastructure of the industry or the balance sheet of the USTA? For example, should the USTA provide grants or financial support that result in the construction of $100 million in publicly owned facilities or should it invest in the USTA balance sheet by building a $100 million mega-facility? Should the USTA invest $10 million into independent tennis-related research or Net Generation?
Stimulative Efforts Dating back to the beginning of the Open Era, what are the three most effective things the industry has done to stimulate measurable growth in long term participation and industry sales? Can any of those efforts be replicated or extended today? What are the top three things the industry needs to do to foster measurable growth in industry sales and participation during the next decade?
Lean and Agile How is the USTA going to be transformed into a leaner, more agile, forward-thinking organization that better meets the needs of the tennis industry? How will the USTA evaluate programs and initiatives, such as Net Generation, and determine whether they are worthy of further investment?
UTR The UTR is a tool that can be used to create and retain interest in the sport. How is the USTA going to do to promote the use of the UTR, even if the USTA didn’t develop it?
Tennis vs. USTA Tennis There are about 700,000 tennis players who are truly interested in USTA tennis. The other 17+million players just want to play tennis. How can the USTA create value for the 17+million tennis players who are not invested in the USTA?
USPTA Master Professional
Gary Horvath & Associates
Denver, Colorado area
USTA Tennis Service Representatives (TSRs) - regarding last month's anonymous letter "How To Grow Tennis"
I found the article submitted / written by the “anonymous” Tennis Professional extremely biased and inaccurate.
I can speak for the TSR Positions at the Southern Section Level and the jobs we all do. Five of us are the original TSR’s hired since the start of the position. The backgrounds, years of experience, and professionalism of my fellow TSR’s are some of the best I have ever known and worked with.
Many of us hold certifications with USPTA and/or PTR, assist and work extremely closely with our state offices with reaching yearly goals, help facilitate events, meet with Tennis Professionals, also Community Tennis Associations & Local League Coordinators, Physical Education Teachers and host Professional Development Trainings, assist with the services related to Grants and grant processes (Facility Assistance Grant, Special Programming Grants, Special Populations Grants, NJTL’s, etc.), assist with marketing ideas, are heavily involved with social media to help advocate tennis, meet with Park and Recreation Departments, meet with Providers regarding the USTA Adult League Program, Junior Team Tennis, Sanctioned Events, work closely with Providers who service youth with Special Neds, etc.
Not sure who the “anonymous” writer was or his/her experience working with their TSR but I’d suggest really researching what it is a TSR does on a daily basis and the work many of us do in our field of expertise.
USTA Southern/TSR for Arkansas
Dear Rich, I enjoy your newsletter/magazine because it is thought-provoking. You are the Gene Scott of this era. You cover many parts of the tennis and pickleball sports that other people don't. I have been in the Tennis Industry for 50 years as a Teaching Professional, Director of Tennis, Tennis Equipment Business(Prince, Wilson, & Dunlop. After I retired, I was lucky enough to become the TSR in South Carolina. A job I thought I would take for 1 or 2 years and stayed 9. It was an opportunity to make a difference in the sport I love. As a USPTA(#465) and PTR (#17082) pro I passed this love of the game to my three daughters who played Division I tennis.
In January you had a letter to the editor from an Anonymous Tennis Pro. I wish to leave a few comments about this letter concerning the TSR's. The writer probably doesn't live in the Southern /section of the USTA. The southern has 24% of the tennis membership in the USTA. Under the leadership of John Callen, Bill Ozaki(recently retired), and Bill Dopp, the Southern Section has made an important effort to hire experienced tennis pros who have a love of the game. The TSRs in the South in many instances act as an ombudsman between the USTA and the clubs. They break down the silos. This group of 10 TSR's are driven to grow the game of tennis in the South. With an average service of 8 1/2 years, this group of dedicated individuals works in many instances seven days a week to grow tennis in their state. I felt I had to write this to set the record straight.
Rich, You must never lose the "Eye of The Tiger" vision you have for growing the game of tennis in America.
USPTA Elite Professional
USTA Player Development
Rich: for 100 years the US has produced champion male tennis players until Andy Roddick. Now the USTA has had no further success. I agree something is drastically wrong here. If I were in charge I would every male copy Roger Federer's playing style and strokes. He is the best. Let's imitate him and see if we produce champions again. I believe in volleying more and a one-handed backhand.
Tennis and Pickleball
Thanks for including me in the Letters to the Editor January Issue. Your publication is really growing in pieces that are interesting.
I’ve been playing both Tennis at the club and Pickleball at the park. My takeaway from sports is that PB will become more mainstream than Tennis in just a few years.
I had an interesting observation at our Wichita “Chicken n Pickle” that the Tennis Industry needs to react to for future participation. I know I’m preaching to the choir but it’s a shame that tennis will be outplayed by PB someday…