Why Does the USTA Need a National Campus?
Why does the USTA need a National Campus?
For years the USTA has partnered with tennis facilities to use their many resources to fund programming for both recreational and competitive tennis. But in January of this year, they USTA launched their very own, state-of-the-art National Campus to raise the the level of American tennis? The $60 million facility holds 100 courts of every type of playing surface as well as programming for touring pros, aspiring juniors, adult leagues, and beginner programs. It sounds like a good idea, on paper, but why would the USTA get into the coaching business by offering its own tennis programming? Why would the USTA build a facility they could rent for $15 per hour? Why would the USTA spend so much money on what they are calling a “public” facility? What’s really happening at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona? Why would the USTA feel the need to compete with the thousands of Coaches across the country currently running tennis programs? Is this something they plan to do in other parts of the country? If the idea is to make tennis more accessible to people living in Central Florida… what about Central Kansas? Or Central Ohio?
They’re Building a New Walmart!
The purpose of a governing body is to oversee operations, or to “draw up the rules that govern the actions and conduct of a body such as school, university, or sport”. The actual work of delivering the product is done by individuals in various parts of the country while the governing body makes sure administrators are compliant to the rules established by the governing body. You have to trust those who have committed to doing the job to actually DO THE JOB. But what happens when the bosses come down to the factory floor and start doing the job in place of the workers? Or rather when they go across the street and take business from the factory? What happens to smaller businesses when Walmart comes to town?
By the USTA building a facility to perform the duties already being carried out by others in the Central
Florida community, have they undercut those businesses and doomed them to failure? What happens to the “National Training Center” in Boca Raton when resources are diverted away from their facility and absorbed by the National Campus outside Orlando? Unless the overall ”pie” gets bigger, the USTA would have to cherry-pick the best players from each facility and bring them in to fill their courts and make back the money they’ve spent on their own facility. Otherwise, the USTA would have to find NEW players to fill their courts, and believe me, starting from scratch is a steep hill to climb. Considering tennis’ core player demographic is aging and playing less often, is a new, 100-court, country club outside of Orlando a good investment? Only time will tell.
So What Happens To Us?
So let’s say that the USTA is successful in recruiting the best players from the Orlando area, maybe even the rest of the country, to train at their facility… what happens to the facilities the players have left behind? What happens to their programming? What happens to their membership? What happens to their revenue? How will people look at ‘Facility A’ after the best players have left for the USTA National Campus? How does it feel to be one of those left behind, knowing you’re not good enough to play at the National Campus? What does that do to morale?
Now let’s look at it another way: why would someone leave their Home courts to play in an unfamiliar setting? Why would someone leave their friends and family to play/train at the National Campus? Does the USTA have the “secret sauce” needed for you to reach the next level? What do they have that my club doesn’t? One of the things that bonds an individual to something is their level of enjoyment. It can be hard to quantify, but familiarity is a very real thing. Players often go to the same tennis program at the same place and time for years because humans are creatures of habit. When we find something we like, we hold onto it. We all have our favorite restaurants, hangouts, our favorite room in the house, or our favorite TV show. When we make friends we want to see them as often as we can because we like them and we know how hard it can be to make new ones. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is a hurdle every business has to overcome. Why would the USTA choose to put people in unfamiliar surroundings?
Palm Springs Feels Like Home
The USTA National Campus is a world-class, state-of-the-art, high tech facility with 100 courts consisting of every playing surface. It is a marvel of engineering and a monument to the game of tennis. No other facility can boast of having the amenities (restaurants, locker rooms, pro shop) of the National Campus. It is in a class by itself. But I would rather play on the public courts of Palm Springs, FL than on the Team USA courts of Lake Nona. Why? Because Palm Springs feels like Home.
Given everything the USTA has put into the construction of the National Campus, there’s one thing it
does not have: it doesn’t feel like Home. The USTA National Campus feels sterile and impersonal. And since none of my friends made the trip to Lake Nona, playing in Lake Nona means I am playing by myself. I wonder how many people would give up the comforts and familiarity of Home for the privilege of playing in, what amounts to be, unfamiliar surroundings.
I hear this when I speak to College tennis teams because they feel the same way. Many of them would rather play at Home on their Home courts in front of their Home fans instead of a neutral site because they were told “it’s special to play here”. When the Ohio State Buckeyes play in Columbus, OH the majority of spectators are Ohio State fans. The same can be said of FAU in Boca Raton, or Texas Tech in Lubbock. There’s a reason why we refer to it as “Home Field Advantage”; playing in familiar surroundings keeps you relaxed and allows you to play your best. And as a fan, playing at Home means I don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on traveling to support the team. As much of an honor as it is to play at the National Campus, most players would rather play at Home in front of their fans. It’s a win-win situation.
Give Me $60 Million And See What I Do With It!
Which brings me to my last point: did the USTA build a facility of their own because they were dissatisfied with the efforts of every other coach in America? Did the absence of an American man in the #1 position for so many years discourage the USTA on the efforts of coaches across the country? Is the USTA bringing in, not only the best players, but the best coaches for greater control over American representation on the international tour? Did the USTA just deliver a virtual ‘backhand’ to every other tennis program in America for not producing better tennis talent? Why would the USTA put $60 million of membership money into their own campus when that money could have gone to the thousands of tennis programs across America that need new tennis balls, nets, and coaches? Was this move an indicator of something even more problematic within the sport of tennis? Would that money have been better spent here (USTA) than there (locally)?
The sport of tennis has been choked into submission by the USTA’s strict adherence to tennis tournaments. Tournaments are sterile and impersonal, much like the USTA National Campus. If players wish to compete at the next level they must leave home to train and travel with the 3 or 4 other players on their level. But what about the fans, friends, and families back home? Tennis has seen a steady decline in popularity for the past 30 years. But a shift from individual tournaments to the Home Town Team will inject life back into this dying sport. There are literally hundreds of NCAA Division 1 College
tennis teams all across America with talented players playing for their respective communities. They play for the entire school body; students, faculty, and the surrounding community, not just themselves. They wear the uniform with pride, they play with pride, and they embrace the fact that they are not out there by themselves. To many College players, and even professional players, their College days are the best days of their lives. Why would the USTA endeavor to take that away from them by bringing them to the National Campus to play?
…Because Life Is A Team Sport
Social interaction is the bedrock of any society. Whenever an individual is taken away from familiar surroundings there is an adjustment period that many never recover from. Has the USTA overlooked the basic human needs of safety and social acceptance in some misguided attempt to produce world-class tennis talent? And what does it mean to be really good at tennis? Can it pay your bills? Put food on the table? For some, yes. Unfortunately, for the overwhelming majority, playing tennis may pay for college, and that’s it. But does it need to be more than that? And is the time-tested tactic of tennis tournaments the optimal vehicle for delivering players to empty tennis courts? Would America be better served by abandoning tournaments and adopting the Tennis Team, exclusively? I say ‘yes’. Is there anyone else who agrees with me?Posted on: June 20, 2017coachken