American Tennis Coaches Certification Chaos
Who will solve the puzzle?
By Rich Neher
CONTEXT: Tennis coaches certification used to be a relatively simple process because the USTA was not involved in it. USTA involvement in anything - except for the national adult league program - inevitably leads to confusion, convoluted rules, untested procedures administered by capable staff but ordered by incapable leaders with the backing of a "company men" Board of Directors, and chaos.
The number of unfortunate programs that died and have gone to the graveyard of USTA brilliance is endless and I expect Net Generation and USTA certification involvement to go there, too. The premise for trying to standardize U.S. tennis teaching programs may have been honorable but caught in the middle are USPTA and PTR. Both organizations handled the situation differently.
Last December, after listening to USPTA members expressing concerns about the current chaos in the certification process for new and existing coaches, I wrote an email to John Embree and I also asked Dan Santorum for a statement regarding the PTR's position on the subject.
I'm posting both replies at the beginning of each relevant section below.
"The USTA wants the PTR and USPTA to merge, and if one party doesn't agree,
we can make things difficult for it."
"I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story." That's the famous beginning of Edith Wharton's 1911 book Ethan Frome. But it's also how I felt listening to various tennis professionals last month. Opinions are a dime a dozen in tennis. Everyone thinks they know what's going on but I can't shake the feeling that nobody does. Heck, I'm not even sure anyone at USPTA HQ does.
I want to go back to about 5 or 6 years ago. It's not quite clear when this USPTA meeting took place but a tennis friend who was in the room together with Gordon Smith, Lucy Garvin, Jorge Andrew, Dan Santorum, (and Rodney Harmon or Roy Barth, he wasn't quite sure) told me about an interesting statement Smith made to the USPTA group: "The USTA wants the PTR and USPTA to merge, and if one party doesn't agree, we can make things difficult for it."
Ouch. Shows you again the arrogance of a USTA leader out of control and with an agenda that may not even have been in line with the Board's thinking. Not sure. It was a time of ludicrous ideas and irresponsible spending. Money was growing on trees for the tag team Smith/Kamperman and their bullying attitude.
Apparently, as a result of this meeting, the two teaching organizations reacted quite differently. The PTR must have refused to go along and the USPTA moved to Lake Nona.
Kamperman unleashed the hounds
And now Kamperman unleashed the hounds on the PTR. It is well established that this man, under whose leadership community recreational tennis lost millions of players, had a vindictive vendetta against the PTR. Some say this was a character issue but it resulted in the USPTA being fully accredited and the PTR being completely shut out of that process.
I assume the USPTA headquarters' move to Lake Nona came with some kind of a package deal where they promised to go along with the USTA accreditation and certification strategy in return for letting them take over the USPTA Foundation and possibly also refusing, or at least delaying the accreditation of the PTR.
Now, that sounds a little mean, of course, and I can't prove it, but I think I know how executives like KK operate. And don't get me wrong, I don't blame John Embree for any of this. He is a professional who's looking out for his members and his organization, just like Dan Santorum.
Well, we know that the story had a happy ending for the PTR. It is a mystery to me who eventually reined in Kamperman but soon thereafter he was demoted to CEO National Campus and Craig Morris took over his position as CEO Community Tennis. PTR got back in the good graces of the USTA again after Gordon Smith finally threw the towel. Mike Dowse showed them who is the adult in the room. Under his leadership, they were awarded full accreditation.
The fact that the USTA can order independent third parties to change
their business model makes me feel a little uneasy.
In the following paragraphs, I'm looking at what both organizations have done with the USTA's mandate to change the certification process. Personally, I have to shake my head at such a mandate. The fact that the USTA can order independent third parties to change their business model makes me feel a little uneasy. I'm sure people have looked at the legality of all that. Was that maybe another point of contention between the USTA Board and Mike Dowse who may have indicated they are overstepping their duties and responsibilities? Who knows!
If you ask on what authority Kamperman started those efforts to get his hands in the teaching field, an area his plan of total control of the US tennis market hadn't covered yet, just look at the U.S. Olympic Committee's definition of National Governing Body: "The NGBs are responsible for the training, competition and development of athletes for their sports, as well as nominating athletes to the U.S. Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American and Para-Pan American Teams." There you have it, folks. He found the loophole.
Here's what the official USTA Accreditation Manual says: The guiding principle of the USTA’s plan is a refocus of USTA’s efforts and resources, pivoting from a primarily program-based organization to a service-based organization with new technologies, structures, and services designed to boost the entire U.S. tennis ecosystem. The plan streamlines costs and focuses financial and human capital to support grassroots tennis.
Ha, I'm reading between the lines what Dowse, who signed the Forward, wanted to say: "We're cutting expenses and support grassroots tennis." Bad move. It is likely that his Board was not on the same page with cutting expenses. And more money for grassroots tennis? They'd rather spend more money on their sacred cows US Open and Player Development.
The manual continues: Pursuant to its strategic plan, the USTA has set an objective to increase both the quality and quantity of tennis instructors and professionals throughout the U.S. The USTA has determined that, in order to meet and maintain that goal, the U.S. tennis industry will benefit from a combination of well-trained, part-time or seasonal instructors as well as career-driven and well-rounded professionals committed to the sport. Tennis employers in the U.S. are seeking instructors and professionals with a greater variety of on-court and off-court skills/ qualifications to help grow the game and their business.
Here's for the first time a distinction between "Instructors" and "professionals." Is that the new plan? Create an army of "USTA Instructors" and mandate new rules for certified "professionals." I also found on their "Become a Coach" page the distinction between 'Local Coaches and Tennis Professionals.' In the future, I can see a direct and dangerous conflict created with this strategy that may eventually play those two groups against each other.
If you have the time and patience to read the entire USTA Accreditation Manual, do it. It's the second edition. Since it takes the USTA usually 2-3 years to go through 3 committees to create such a document, it is safe to say that Kamperman started it already 4 to 5 years ago.
The most telling explanation of how the USTA sees their mandate play out with both teaching organizations can be found on the Coaching-Certification page. It appears to me that both organizations reacted quite differently to that mandate: Looks like the USPTA rolled over and the PTR gave them a big, fat finger. Don't you think?
So, why am I now writing about Steve Keller? Because in all the chaos created by the USTA as to the required pathways to become certified, he plays the role of finding people interested in becoming trainers for people interested in becoming tennis teachers. As I can see it, these people will train the new and coming 'USTA Instructors.' The vehicle: a course called TENNIS ESSENTIALS 1, partly virtual and partly in-person in Orlando at the National Campus.
Steve Keller is one of the good guys in this game. He's running around beating the drums to recruit people and then funnel them to USPTA and PTR. Not sure how he decides who gets to join what organization. Maybe this should be left to the candidates. But I also get the nagging feeling he is not aware of the bigger plan he's a pawn in: The taking over of teaching on the way to taking complete control of tennis, developed by the aforementioned tag team and obviously sanctioned by an equally power hungry Board of Directors.
Now, let's take a look at USPTA and PTR individually on their websites.
Here is the reply John Embree sent me to my questions regarding whether the USPTA has completely surrendered the certification process and much of the actual training to the USTA. I conveyed emails that read, “Nothing was broken with the USPTA’s certification processes and seminars. Embree sold out to the USTA."
Rich, please see the enclosed response to your inquiry from Rich Slivocka, President of USPTA, and the USPTA Board of Directors:
“In response to your inquiry and per the USPTA governance and business practices, our CEO reports directly to the USPTA Board of Directors. The Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the USPTA has approved and directed any interactions between the USPTA and the USTA.
It is the role of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee to promote and protect the best interests of the USPTA and our members. The CEO and the national staff execute on the strategic direction and policies as established by the Board. The USPTA remains an independent and fully autonomous organization.”
Well, if you know me you can see me rolling my eyes at cookie-cutter responses. I remember the rumors for the last 4 weeks that USPTA Board members were quite unhappy with the USTA's handling of affairs the USPTA used to excel at.
As a side note, I can't help it but looking at the USPTA website makes me feel like I'm back in the nineties. The site needs a serious redesign. I know that takes money but when you had 2019 pre-Covid assets of more than $10M, you can't tell me that spending money on modernizing your web portal is impossible.
The site is awkward to navigate and lacks an intuitive and customer-friendly GUI. This is a typical scenario for organizations with an older website where so much stuff and needed functionality is always added to an outdated platform.
But there are more issues with that site and I have the distinct feeling I'm only scratching the surface.
1. Dead Tester. Don Henson passed away 20 months ago.
2. Untrue or outdated statements. In USTA Accreditation FAQ: The accreditation status exists for a period of three years, making USPTA the first and, to date, only fully-accredited tennis-teaching certification association in the United States.
While the USPTA is offering TENNIS ESSENTIALS 1, 2, and 3 on their Certification Calendar, they also posted this confusing chart which may already be outdated. I'm sure quite a few staff members at Lake Nona are also confused by all this. On another page, Move Tennis Forward, they actually outline two pathways, one for Tennis Instructors and one for Teaching professionals. The latter points to the above graphic.
But it gets weirder. They misrepresent the accreditation situation completely with this statement: Under the USTA Accreditation, USTA member organizations and tennis facilities will look to hire USPTA tennis-teaching professionals exclusively, thus having a significant impact on the job market. New applicants beginning in 2019 already are required to be Safe Play compliant.
Ouch! Dan Santorum should be outraged reading this. It needs to be updated asap! While it was probably written when the USPTA Board was still hopeful to erase the PTR from the map, it also raises serious legality questions. Can the USTA demand exclusivity from a tennis club which in itself creates an issue of discrimination against clubs that don't employ certified coaches? I think that should be tested in court somewhere. As one USPTA Master Pro told me recently: "The purpose of certification is to discriminate against others that don't have the ability to get certified or don't want to." Wow!
In summary, it is clear to me that all confusion about the USPTA's role in the game of certificating tennis professionals can be cleared up with three measures:
1. Create a clear, logical roadmap based on your own experience and vision, and don't listen to the USTA too much. They can easily fog your mind and make you promises they can't keep or have no intentions of keeping.
2. For Level 3 Workshops, there are only 5 locations for the first half of 2022. By far not enough to make it easy for people to participate because some have to travel for 5 hours or more to get to one. Again, the barrier of entry is unnecessarily raised too high.
3. Update that darn website!
One last word in regards to the allegations that "no one at the USPTA is testing anymore." It still needs more research but Sid Newcomb assured me over the phone that's not true. I have no reason to doubt his statement. I don't know the man but he was introduced to me as another one of "the good guys."
Here is Dan Santorum's reply to my original question of where the PTR stands in all the USTA certification scheme: "PTR has always focused on providing the best coach education possible for our members, and thankfully we’ve been able to deliver on this commitment. In order to achieve “best in education,” PTR has devoted more than a million dollars over the years to consultants and staff to produce quality coach education. Since 2007, PTR has been fortunate to have employed quality people with strong coach education backgrounds (Jack Waite, Steve Keller, Brian Parkkonen, and currently, Milena Stephens).
Even when PTR was not accredited by the USTA, PTR focused on having its coach education externally accredited by NCACE – the only tennis organization that has earned such a classification. Since PTR attained USTA accreditation, we’ve been able to improve our educational offerings to continue to be the leader.
The USTA has created the guardrails for education requirements within each level regarding accreditation process. PTR took a different stance and chose to develop its own education, which fits within the USTA guardrails but still has the PTR education philosophy strongly intact. As it relates to the level-based approach, this is not a change for PTR. We have been operating within a level-based education pathway since the introduction of the Level 1, PTR 10 & Under certification back in 2009. This program, which Dr. Anne Pankhurst developed, was a game-changer for PTR and the tennis industry."
Both Santorum and Embree tried to stay away from any mention of conflict or disagreement with the USTA. Wise choice.
The PTR website also looks quite dated and needs an overhaul in my opinion. While I liked the fact that PTR has many more Level 1 workshop dates AND people get much more information about that level and its pathway, I observed with amazement that Level 2 and 3 were posted as "launching soon" and "join the waitlist." I wonder what's the hold-up.
The below graphic shows the PTR's Level 2 Pathway - much clearer and more logical than the USPTA's.
In summary, it appears that PTR was a little more cautious in getting Level 2 or 3 workshops on the calendar and now they seem hopelessly behind. I hope they get this corrected soon and a website modernization would be great, too.
I established who is responsible for the current chaos when it comes to coaches' certification in the USA. And, of course, it's the usual suspects. Nothing new here. How the two teaching organizations dealt with the challenge is quite telling. While it's likely that the USPTA was committed to moving to Lake Nona and following the USTA's lead hoping to get an insurmountable advantage from it (If that's the case, shame on the USPTA Board of Directors!), the PTR seems to have stood its ground and refused to be drawn into the USTA's never-ending schemes and manipulations to gain total control of the tennis market. Good for them.
My question to the USPTA Board: Do you regret moving to Lake Nona?
I love both organizations mainly because of the great members many of whom are readers of TENNIS CLUB BUSINESS and often also contributors. I challenge the USPTA to regain greater independence and dictate to the USTA how coaches' certification needs to be done.
I also challenge the USTA to give up hopes of total market dominance and figure out how to get out under this mountain of $750M debt rather than spending money in areas they have no business of being in.
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