Rod Heckelman's career started in 1966 when he began his five-year role as a teacher at John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch in Carmel Valley, California Later he opened as the resident pro for Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch on Camelback in Scottsdale, Arizona.

In 1976 he took over as head professional/tennis director at the Mt. Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, California, and added the title and responsibilities of general manager in 1982. 

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In 2010 he was awarded “Manager of the Year” for the USPTA NorCal Division and the “Manager of the Year” at the USPTA World Conference. Rod has written several books including, “Down Your Alley” in 1993, “Playing Into the Sunset” in 2013, and most recently, “250 Ways to Play Tennis.”

He also produced the “Facility Manager’s Manual” and the “Business Handbook for Tennis Pros,” which is distributed by the TIA.

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Who's Driving the Bus at USTA NorCal?

By Rod Heckelman

Sometimes the stories just write themselves. On March 31, the USTA NorCal announced that they were planning to start up their Adult League Program in May (See letter below).  Immediately many of the club owners, managers, and tennis directors were concerned.  A few years back, these managers, tennis directors, and owners quickly went to their network to get a consensus on this proposal.  Very quickly a survey went out asking who was comfortable with league play starting up with there still being valid Covid concerns.  The response was quick and lopsided, with most feeling that it was a bit too soon and not in the best interest of their members. The general feedback was to wait until Fall before taking on this agenda. 

          A few days into this survey, the NorCal USTA, possibly due to the noise made by this club survey, made a good move and assigned a couple of people from their staff to call and get feedback from those in the industry.  In less than a week this was their response…

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Adult Leagues Update

               March 31, 2021

We are looking forward to starting Adult League play again in NorCal soon. However, we have received consistent feedback from many Organization Members that, given the pandemic and the ensuing government regulations and emergency orders, additional time would be helpful to prepare for the re-start of Adult Leagues. 

 

Our top priority is the safety of our members and we appreciate that initiating league sports activities during a pandemic, requires the highest degree of caution and care.


As a result, USTA NorCal is temporarily postponing previously announced Adult Leagues registration/start dates while we continue to evaluate with Organization Members the timing of starting Adult Leagues.  We do not anticipate a very substantial delay if Northern California pandemic statistics continue to improve.


We understand that many adult league players are eager to get back on the court. The USTA NorCal Team is working hard to get Adult Leagues up and running as quickly as possible!  We would like to thank all our players for their patience, and we will send updates on registration soon! 

-USTA NorCal Team

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But then, in a quick turn about, the NorCal USTA sent out this response just a few weeks later, please note that in that period of time, the tier system was still in place and much of the Covid issues and concerns of the public was still in play…

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Leagues Update

April 22, 2021

Dear USTA NorCal Family,
 
This past year has been a challenging one for everyone and our thoughts are with all that have been affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Despite the adversity, we are happy to see that tennis participation has skyrocketed. With that being said, we are delighted to bring the Adult League program back to the NorCal section and hope you can participate when your facility is ready and able. 
 
We want to immensely thank all of our facilities who assisted in the launch of the Adult League program in 2021. The data collected from you all was a driving force in when and how to launch the Adult League program. As we slowly roll out Adult Leagues for the duration of 2021, we want to thank you for your continued partnership and support of tennis within USTA Northern California. 
 
If your facility would like to support a USTA NorCal Adult League team, please look over these guidelines to ensure your facility is ready and able to participate in the program with the recommendations and requirements in place.

Please take a look at our 2021 Calendar below:

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Thank you all,

Chrissie Costamagna, Chair, Adult League Committee
Brandy Guillen, Manager, Adult Leagues
Mike Lim, Adult League Specialist

It makes you wonder how these surveys were taken and whom these surveys reached out to.  Many of us in the industry have been rightfully critical of the fact that the USTA seldom asks for the tennis facilities' input, despite an incredibly significant role that clubs have in the industry.  In fact, there is some concern that there is a manufactured agenda to prevent clubs from sharing ideas, uniting in their common goals, and possibly having a very strong influence on the decisions that are made by the tennis world. 

 

To some degree, this is understandable if you analyze the political process of the USTA.  The way the voting is established, heavily favors the clubs, providing them with essentially a built-in majority.  The common member of the USTA NorCal has one vote, while USTA NorCal member clubs in good standing have 15 votes plus 5 votes per court, up to a maximum of 95…those numbers would be an obvious concern for those running the show.  But this flip-flop using supposedly the same surveyed sources is very questionable. Hats off to those who produced the first letter above, they listened and responded responsibly.  It would have been easy to say, “USTA members are asking for leagues to return and hungry to get back to competition.”  But they listened to those who must host these events.

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That last sentence needs more understanding.  First, if anything goes wrong, the host, or clubs could be held responsible, not the USTA.  In addition, most clubs have not been able to secure insurance coverage for the Covid pandemic.  Remember, unlike the USTA tournaments, league play does not require a signed waiver by the participants, unlike what all USTA tournaments required. Second, since all the direct income that comes from the leagues goes to the USTA, there would likely be a battle over who would have been responsible.   And lastly, the organization of court time, tracing, and tracking would have fallen on the shoulders of the clubs.  These are especially important and impacting issues during these times, but quite frankly, should always be important going forward. 

 

Just like the tournaments in the past were structured, the clubs had a great deal of the work in organizing, planning, and running any event.  For the USTA tournaments, the clubs were compensated appropriately.   There needs, and should be, money in place for the expenses that leagues create.  The idea of these USTA league programs help the growth of any club is just not enough compensation.  It also may not be true, after all, no real studies have ever been done, that idea is still just theory. They forget that most events long ago were run by volunteers.  Today, the cost of living and the time people have is limited, so people must be hired and paid to run these programs, be it tournaments or leagues. 

Another lesson to be learned here is, it may be up to the clubs and tennis facilities to do what the Nor Cal tennis facilities have done, and that is to self-organize.  The purpose would not be to overthrow the decisions of the USTA, but rather create the need for any USTA section to recognize the issues tennis facilities take on and their role in the growth of the game. 

 

The recent explosion in tennis popularity, (recognized in the second USTA letter) means we can no longer assume, either by plan or be lack of understanding, that a large, mostly volunteer organization can actually be in touch with why and how the game has grown and will grow. It’s fair to say, that the recent popularity was largely due to the natural distancing of the sport and how that fact fit in with Covid concerns.  But we all need to recognize that the growth was also the result of a new market that consisted of new young players, families, and adults looking for a fun sport that provided great exercise.  It’s highly possible that bringing back an excessive amount of league play could push away these new players. 

 

Maybe competition, which is obviously financially rewarding for the USTA, will not play as much of a role in the future growth of tennis. It’s time to rethink everything in the new normal for tennis.  Crowding the courts with too many league matches and dividing tennis players with ratings and concerns of which team they feel would be most rewarding…that’s pre-Covid thinking…post-Covid is likely to have a whole new look.  So, the answer, “Who’s Driving the Bus,” seems to be everyone, which means no more unilateral decision/drivers.

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