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The Commish is not just one single person, it is a real and true thought experiment of many different entities. That's also why the Commish has no preferred pronouns and you

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can call the Commish anything and anyway you want. Makes no difference to the Commish. The Commish lives in the minds of all tennis professionals, tennis players, tennis organizers, everyone with a clear and logical thought pocess. 

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An Insider View of the USTA

Why having doctors and attorneys on your Board doesn’t necessarily grow the sport

By The Commish

My perspective runs from over 25 years as a USTA volunteer at all levels except the national board and being involved in almost every aspect of the delivery system, as a teaching pro, director of tennis, manager, and club owner.

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The USTA Mission statement is “To Innovate, Promote, and Grow the Game of Tennis." Sounds really good, but are they doing it?  You decide. Last year this 1 billion dollar organization distributed over 52 million dollars to its 17 sections to do that.  The USTA says they did. Statistics show a 22% increase in participation. Yet, during that time we experienced a tragic pandemic, forcing according to the International Labour Organization over 114 million people in the US to lose their jobs. Many USTA events and most national events were canceled with meetings being virtual. The majority of the USTA Sections and District offices either totally shut down for long periods or had less staff working.  

Photo by Ruthson Zimmer on Unsplash

Compare the 22% increase to the past.  Tennis Industry Association report for 2019 states ”Tennis participation has remained fairly constant over the past eight years, with an average annual change of -0.4 percent from 2010 to 2018.” 

"How did the USTA do relatively nothing
and grow tennis by 22%?"

So how did the USTA do relatively nothing and grow tennis by 22%? Many of those 114 million people were out of work and wanted something safe and fun to do.  Logic would tell us that the nature of tennis being a socially distant sport was the key.  According to the A. C Nielson Company studies tennis participation in 1974 was 33.9 million players.  In 2018 according to TIA, we had 17.84 million players. That’s not growing the game!!!  For a great participation analysis please refer to Gary Horvath’s article January 2020, “Growing the Game” in this publication. 

Why isn’t the USTA growing the game?  Probably the biggest reason is they truly don’t know-how.  An old tennis teaching pro’s saying is that “the AMA has doctors on their board, the BAR Association has attorneys on their board, while the USTA has doctors and attorneys on their board”. There have been very few from the delivery system, either teaching professionals or directors of tennis on the USTA board.  My definition of the delivery system includes teaching professionals and tennis directors.  Club owners and equity group members worry about the bottom line not growing the game per se. Granted, a diverse makeup on the board is necessary but one would think that most of the board would be made up of people that have actually accomplished the mission statement of growing the game.  One cannot find many teaching pros or directors of tennis as volunteers in the whole organization.   Why?  Is it because they don’t see the USTA growing tennis? The majority of USTA staff from the National and  Sectional level do not come from the delivery system either.  At the District level, it is a bit better.

“The AMA has doctors on their board, the BAR Association has attorneys on their board, while the USTA has doctors and attorneys on their board”

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The USTA’s initial concept was to be a volunteer-run organization.  I have seen in the past 25 years the power structure of the USTA moved from the volunteer to the USTA staff throughout the infrastructure especially at the national and sectional level.  The basis of this is most likely the USLTA Long-Range Financial Planning Committee report of January 15, 1969, stating “The USLTA has gone as far as it can as a basic volunteer organization”.  From then until now the staff has been taking more control over the organization.  When I started in the organization a committees’ charge included the statement that the staff will support the volunteers while a few years ago it was switched to read the volunteers would support the staff.  

USTA staff used to support volunteers

and not the other way around.

So now we have volunteers that have some connection to tennis.  They may have a child that plays tournaments, they may play leagues or just a recreational player.  But not from the delivery system that is crucial to growing the game.  Then we have USTA staff.  Some come from the delivery side but most are still recreational players, not professionals that have grown the game.  Their job is to administrate and organize USTA programs.  Rules and Regulations related to the game for programs and the sport are constantly changed and revised.  Dashboard paperwork is a must.  Add bean counters to their job description. They haven’t made their living in the delivery and growth structure of tennis. Remember the 110 or so experienced people asked to “retire” from the USTA last year?   Any job openings were filled with less experienced, younger staff with less knowledge.   

One might ask why don’t teaching pros or directors apply for the board?  Some are involved in the organization, but not at the top level.  They are kept out by the nominating committee which is primarily made up of volunteers with minimal experience in what is necessary to grow the game.  Case in point, this past cycle I know two Directors of Tennis with long proven track records growing the game.  Both recognized by the industry.  Several USTA Board members had told them to apply,  that they would be an asset to the Board.  Neither one was given an interview.  It is the blind leading the blind.  

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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The USTA is a big business with the associated bureaucracy that believes programs grow tennis. 

They don’t.  People do.

What are the answers?

  • Pass an amendment that requires 33 1/3 % of all committees/ board to have people that presently or in the past have been either a full-time teaching pro or director of tennis for at least five years. 

    • This combined with the new USOC requirement for 33 1/3 % Elite Athletes would go along way to growing the game.  Elite Athletes may or may not be part of the delivery system.  They are first and foremost Professional Players and not necessarily knowledgeable on growing tennis but with the delivery systems representatives' input of subjects, they would understand and make the connections. 

  • Start the Area Training Center (ATC) system again including the annual coaches training.

    • Getting down to the better juniors in each state with local coaching.

    • The annual training would help develop elite coaching standards.

  • Advertise and promote the positives of becoming a certified teaching pro as well as supporting them.

    • The delivery system needs the USTA resources to truly grow the game.

  • Change and limit dollars for the heavy structure and trim national and sectional staff.

    • Have a professional audit to trim waste and non-essential structure and staff to be more productive.

  • Hire proven successful teaching pros that have grown the game.  Also, keep those TSR’s that have at least 5 years of experience. 

    • Use the dollars saved in the above point to hire “Tennis Ambassadors”.

    • Based upon a combination of geographic areas and population density to make sure the US is adequately served.

  • Take the Net Gen dollars and start a coaches education situation that would coordinate and communicate with both teaching organizations.

    • This would use the USTA resources and dollars to support the education of the delivery system to ensure current methods and appropriate info for teaching and coaching. 

    • This info would also be summarized and used for the annual ATC coaches workshops.

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Photo by Steve Riggs

The USTA is a big business with the associated bureaucracy that believes programs grow tennis.  They don’t.  People do.

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