Coach Ken Says
NCAA Div 1 National Champions
If you’ve been following me on Twitter and Facebook then you know that the Virginia Cavaliers men’s tennis team and the Florida Gators Women’s tennis team are the 2017 NCAA Div. 1 National Champions. For the Cavaliers, becoming Back-to-Back-to-Back National Champions (three-peat) puts them in the same conversation as the ’98-’00 Yankees, the ’00-’02 Lakers, and the ’13-’16 UConn Women’s basketball team. For the Gators, this win marks their
7th National Championship, making the Women’s tennis team the most prolific team in Florida Gators history! The closets to the Gators are the Men’s golf and the Women’s gymnastics teams with four championships to their credit. Congratulations.
The NCAA Championships began at regional sites across America as each of the top 16 seeded teams would host the first and second rounds. The Sweet 16, through the Finals, would be held on the campus of the University of Georgia. And in case you are new to College tennis, these are the teams that hosted Regional matches:
Men’s Seeded Teams:
- Wake Forest
- Ohio State
- Oklahoma State
- Texas A&M
Women’s Seeded Teams
- Ohio State
- Texas Tech
- Georgia Tech
- Oklahoma State
- South Carolina
A couple of things jump out at me when I look at this list:
- Do any of these teams look familiar? They should. Many of the biggest Universities in America have not only football and basketball programs, but tennis teams, too!
- Florida isn’t the only place where they play tennis.
- Texas and Oklahoma seem to be the hottest tennis states.
- Lesser known “football” schools like Vanderbilt and Pepperdine have stellar tennis programs.
What is Your College Team Doing?
Watching the NCAA Championship play out over the course of 2 weeks was enjoyable, for me, primarily because of the Season that preceded it. From late January right up to the start of the Championship, players are growing together and developing into a Team. We see this in their interaction on Game Day and on their Instagram posts and Twitter timeline. We watch them struggle to overcome the opposition. We see them encourage each other after a loss. We see them celebrate together after a win. We see them playing practical jokes on each other, clowning in the gym, and being recognized by the student body at basketball games.
And then comes the NCAA National Championship.
A season of struggle all comes down to one, meaningful, tournament. Noticeably different than their professional counterparts, College tennis only has one Major tournament. There are numerous invitationals during the course of the school year, but they are merely exhibitions designed to prepare teams for the NCAA Championship. In fact, there’s an individual tournament for both singles and doubles following the NCAA Championships, but by then the crowds have gone home, moving on to the College World Series, or something.
Tennis Night in America
Here’s the point: tennis as a Team Sport is infinitely more enjoyable than tournaments. When cities like Charlottesville (Virginia) and Nashville (Vanderbilt) and Malibu (Pepperdine) have a team to gather around, the sport takes root in that territory. When the Oklahoma State Men’s tennis team makes the news it brings attention to tennis in Stillwater. When the Texas Tech Women’s tennis team visits the local Children’s Hospital in Lubbock the Red Raiders become a greater part of the Community. When the citizens have a tennis product they can be proud of they begin to display their tennis proudly. Much like the fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team (me) everyone knows where we belong. We are Buckeyes. We say it loud. We say it proud. And if you’ve got a problem with that, we can take it outside!
But seriously, Team Sports inspire a passion not found in individual sports. Which is why professional tennis SHOULD BE a team sport like it is in College. Just imagine what Sundays in the spring would be look like if it was Tennis Night in America; a day for the Community to embrace the local sports franchise, gather at the sports stadium, wear matching jerseys and t-shirts, and cheer in unison for their Home Town team. And when the Championships come around, tickets go on sale for $1,000! Can you see it?
We don’t have it yet, but I’ll keep dreaming it until we do. In the meantime, you can help me by supporting your local University; attend their matches, buy a hat and t-shirt, take pictures with the team and post them on Facebook. Make College tennis a part of your Community and let’s see how far we can take this thing!
There is a problem plaguing tennis and it stems from the persistent use of the ‘tournament’ as our chosen method of delivery: the exclusivity of tennis has led to America turning its back on the game.
Americans are missing from upper levels of professional tennis.
American television ratings are minuscule compared to other sports.
Public tennis courts are empty.
And College tennis teams consist of rosters that are 50% foreign-born players… if they still have a team! If the sport doesn’t adapt, it could go away, completely. What are we going to do?!?
Keep in mind: I am only speaking of the American cultural landscape; because this is where I live.
Team Sports = Community
A look at the top 10 most popular sports in America illustrates something very interesting: the Top 5 sports are Team Sports, while the bottom 5 are individual sports.
Individual sports such as wrestling, gymnastics, and track realized this and made the switch to implementing their own teams. Gymnasiums and studios across the country have formed wrestling and gymnastic schools dedicated to training athletes together. And when the school enters a competition… everyone competes together. Participants wear matching uniforms to represent the gym where they train, parents buy matching t-shirts to support their son/daughter’s team, they even travel in a van wrapped in the logo of the school. They have, in essence, created their own Community that every student is now a part of.
Humans are social beings, requiring the company of others to bring out the best in themselves. We seek out people that we have something in common with to avoid being alone. On the other hand, tennis players are taken away from the group to train and compete individually. This kind of isolation leads to separation not only physically, but emotionally and socially. Tennis players have become society’s outcasts. And as a result… so has the sport. This is the reason why so many students are unaware of their school’s tennis team, along with the other problems identified above.
We Have A Choice
People choose to participate in the things that make them happy. They’ll even watch others having a good time if it makes them happy. The same cannot be said for tennis. Unfortunately, children are often forced into tennis lessons because their parents want them to play. This leads to children choosing to play something other than tennis. And with this kind of exposure to tennis, society chooses not to watch it, either.
To remedy this situation tennis must become a greater part of the Community. It must become the sport embraced by society as a whole. And the only way to do that is to promote tennis as a game that is played/watched IN community with other people; meaning we have to embrace the Team as our primary means of distribution. Tennis is NOT a game that you or I play, it is a game that we play Together. But more importantly, it is a game that we WATCH together.
Every major metropolitan city in America has at least one sports franchise: from baseball to football to soccer to hockey. They build stadiums, sell tickets and jerseys, and hire people to work on Game Day. The team is embraced by the Community as evidenced by the campaign to bring a team in, and the outcry when a team leaves. The team is as much a member of the Community as City Hall.
If tennis is to remain a part of American culture it must embrace the Team philosophy from beginning to end; from recreational to professional. Otherwise it will be lost and forgotten, on the outside looking in on the overcrowded marketplace of activities.
Saturday, April 15, would mark the end of Season 15 of youth tennis with All American Team Tennis. And like we do every season, we held a big event that we like to call Championship Saturday. For those of you who are new to AATT, Championship Saturday is our “playoffs”; it’s the tournament at the end of a long season. Kinda like the NCAA Championships, but for little leaguers. It’s where our players, after a lot of trial-and-error, compete to find out who’s #1, in addition to rewarding our players for what they’ve accomplished during the season. Beginning with Season 14, Championship Saturday would also feature a visit from a highly-ranked University Tennis Team. Last season it was the Keiser Seahawks. This season it would be the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls! But more on that later.
During the course of the season, the League (me) kept track of a number of stats: W/L, Serves Held/Broken, and Total Points. We use these numbers to determine things like Point Differential and Turnovers and award the players who performed the best over the course of the 10-week season. Then on Championship Saturday, the winners of the tournament are our National Champions! We save the tournament until the end the Season because too many tournaments can cause “Tournament Burnout”. One big blowout is what most people are happiest with. And isn’t that why we play sports: to have a good time?
Season 15 Award Winners
One of our season-ending awards is the Pennant. This award
is given to the #1 team over the course of the 6-week Regular season. We awarded the top 6 players with the best W/L numbers in Doubles with this award. So for Season 15, the Pennant Winners were the Knights with a record of 4-2, and the top 6 players were Amaris, Emmanuel, Michael, Esteban, Alethea, and Ava (pictured right). Now, you’re probably wondering why the players are wearing different jerseys. It’s because All American Team Tennis is all about the “Team”. And to drive home that point, each player played on a different team each week of the season. It’s a way of building Community among tennis players. And isn’t that what sports are all about: Community?
Next up would be the MVP. The MVP is the #1 player on the #1 team. This season our MVP was Ava. Now, this is where all of the stats come in as Ava would lead the League in Doubles wins, Buckeye Leafs, Point Differential, and Turnovers.
- Doubles wins: 7 – 3 more than #2
- Singles wins: 4 – 2 behind #1
- Buckeye Leafs: 28 – 3 more than #2
- Point Differential: +47 – Tied for #1
- Turnovers: +9 – 2 more than #2
And her award for being the MVP was a backpack; which is symbolic of how she carried her team on her back. Get it?
Next, we recognized the Sportsmanship Award winners. This is an award where Coach Ken chooses the players who best exemplify the spirit of All American Team Tennis. AATT is about building Community among its players. Creating an atmosphere of camaraderie, teamwork, communication, and making friends. It is built on the pillars of Sportsmanship which are: Fairness, being Gracious, and Respect for others. I watched the players as they interacted with each other and looked for the ones who were kind, considerate, and just plain nice. I look for smiles and high-fives and listen for how the players talk to each other. For Season 15, the players who best exemplified the spirit of the “team” were Esteban, Rubie, and Alethea.
And we’ve saved the best for last: the National Champions! This one is very straight forward: the winners on Championship Saturday are the National Champions (I told you it was simple). Since each team has players from ages 6 to 13, we would play two courts of doubles, one for ages 6-10, and another for ages 11-13 to determine a winner. The total games won would be added together and the team with the higher score wins. On this day, Championship Saturday, the Owls would come out on top by a score of 12-7. Isn’t it ironic that OUR Owls would come out on top on the same day the REAL Owls were in attendance?! Crazy!
The Best Team in Palm Beach County
Now for the really exciting part: the FAU Owls, the Greatest Tennis Players in Palm Beach County came to our tennis courts to inspire the next generation of tennis player! It may not seem like a big deal to many of you but considering tennis tournaments only come here once a year (pitiful), having a Home Town Team is gigantic! The FAU Owls are a Div. 1 tennis team in the Sun Conference. On their schedule are teams like Central Florida, Old Dominion, and the Miami Hurricanes. The Owls would finish the season at 17-6, going 11-1 at Home. Next up for the Owls are the Sun Conference Championships in Tennessee, April 21-23.
The reason why a visit from FAU is such a big deal is because “celebrity matters”; and everyone knows about Florida Atlantic University. Their football stadium hosts the Boca Raton Bowl on ESPN each year. And the school is making headlines not only with their sports teams, but with their academics, too. And as a Div. 1 university, the FAU Owls are verifiably the BEST group of tennis players in Palm Beach County. Yes, Serena Williams lives in Palm Beach Gardens, but let’s be real: she doesn’t play here and she’ll never come to Palm Springs… so who cares. On the other hand, the FAU Owls are the Home Team and play all of their Home games in Boca Raton. It’s true their players come from Florida, Spain, Brazil, and France. But they’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast, and they’re Local. I can only imagine what would happen if there were a Professional tennis team playing here in Palm Beach County. What would it mean to the fanbase? Maybe THEN tennis could compete with other sports in terms of popularity. I’m being serious!
After putting on a show for the fans, and signing a few autographs, Coach Ken would bring EVERYONE onto the court to play a game called Caterpillar. It’s a volley game, with six players at a time, rotating extra players in and out. You should have felt the energy on the courts. The kids were excited, the parents were cheering, FAU was getting into it, it was the BEST DAY EVER! How many people can say they “played Caterpillar with FAU”? Hmm? It was an experience our players will never forget. And hopefully enough motivation to keep them playing, and watching, tennis… at least until next season.
Field Trips and Championship Saturday happen every season but only the last two have featured a visit from a Special Guest. It takes time to develop that kind of relationship which is why the majority of kids would rather play basketball and soccer than tennis. And why, overall, Americans would rather watch football and baseball than tennis. Tennis tournaments aren’t around long enough to establish themselves withing the Community. On the other hand, College teams like Florida Atlantic and Miami and Ohio State are NEVER leaving. They belong to us. They’re OUR team. Can you feel the difference?
There is a gold mine of tennis talent laying dormant on our College campuses. It’s time we put these players to work promoting the game; visiting schools and Parks departments, hospitals and nursing homes, signing autographs, showing people how much fun this game is to play AND to watch. Becoming a part of the Community is how fans are made. Florida Atlantic University is a part of our Community. The players and coaches live, work, and play right here in South Florida. They are not playing for themselves, but rather for all of us. That kind of give-and-take is why I proudly wear the colors of the FAU Owls. #OwlsUp
Intrigue, Drama, and Suspense
The Cleveland Cavaliers trail the Golden State Warriors 1-3 in the 2016 NBA Finals. What does that mean? Well, in a “best-of-seven” series, the Cavaliers need to win three games IN A ROW to win the series while the Warriors only need one. As it turned out, the Cleveland Cavaliers would do the unthinkable, winning 3 in a row, and taking the series 4-3 over the dazed-and-confused Warriors.
The Cleveland Indians lead the Chicago Cubs 3-1 in the 2016 MLB World Series. At this point, everybody wants to know if the Cubs have what it takes to turn things around or can the Indians hold on for ONE MORE GAME to win the World Series? Believe it or not, against all odds, the Indians would blow that lead, allowing the Chicago Cubs to break a 108-year-old “goat curse” and pull off the unimaginable. “Unimaginable” in the sense that throughout the history of Major League Baseball, there have only been six teams to come back from a 1-3 deficit to win it all.
While these are tremendous accomplishments for both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Cubs, what does it mean to the FANS of these two teams? How does it feel to be a fan of the winning team? Of the losing team? How does it feel to be a fan of the team that is down 1-3? Or up 3-1? Imagine the intrigue, drama, and suspense of watching this best-of-seven series. And what does this have to do with tennis?
Best-of-Seven versus One-and-Done
I’m glad you asked. And the answer is “not much”; other than the idea that pro tennis would be infinitely more enjoyable if it was a best-of-seven series rather than a one-and-done tennis tournament. The reason: in a best-of-seven series there are more opportunities for momentum to swing in both directions. “But who would want to play a best-of-seven match” you say? “Isn’t a best-of-five match long enough? Who would want to watch/play THAT?!? It would take forever!!!” And to that I have to shake my head at the short-sighted, myopic view of most tennis “fans”. Many of them are unable to see beyond the tennis tournament (or the top 4 players in the world) to realize there’s a lot more to tennis that they know nothing about. I’m referring to what I like to call exciting tennis, or Team Tennis.
American Universities employ this best-of-seven Team format where every player on the team contributes to the end result and, honestly, I find it infinitely more enjoyable, interesting, dynamic, satisfying, entertaining, and exciting than tournaments. Seeing players working together to accomplish their goal speaks to me instinctively. No one person can be good at everything and asking one player to carry the entire burden of winning is unreasonable. Besides, what good is winning if you have no one to share it with? And no one should have to suffer through a loss alone, either.
TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More
Tennis Tournaments Lack Real Signifigance
From a spectator’s point-of-view, watching a match between two peripheral players, where the outcome is of little significance, is boring. And unfortunately, tennis tournaments are chock full of players on courts 5 thru 14 that couldn’t be identified without a name badge and in
introduction, just waiting to be eliminated. Just pull up the draw sheet for any recent ATP or WTA tournament and you’ll see what I mean. They aren’t bad players, there just isn’t enough room in the winner’s circle, or in the Game Day program, for more than two people. On the other hand, the best-of-seven series, combined with a full Season of matches between Big 10, SEC, ACC, and Big 12 schools, gives the audience a compelling story that is not only significant… but easy to follow.
See, in Division 1 College tennis, games are often conducted in a best-of-seven format. Meaning, they will play tennis on 7+ courts simultaneously and the team that wins 4 courts wins the match. In the First, of two Rounds, players will pair up to play doubles on courts 1, 2, and 3. The team that wins two-out-of-three courts wins the Doubles Point. Then the teams move on to the round of singles and doubles teams will split up to play singles on courts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Here, each court is worth one point apiece. Together, with the doubles point, the team to win four out of the seven available points is the winning team. In Div. 2, 3, NAIA, and JUCO each doubles match is worth a point, resulting in 9 total points, so teams play best-5-out-of-9.
Hmmm. Sounds a lot like the World Series or the NBA Finals, doesn’t it.
Now, the team that wins the doubles point has the advantage going into the round of singles, but that does not guarantee a win because there are still 6 points remaining. So much drama leaves the audience guessing as to who will come out on top. And that’s exciting! What if one team is full of individuals who don’t play well together? What if one team is made up of primarily doubles specialists (aka. Team Players)? What if one of the doubles-winning teams is being carried by one of the players, so when they split up and play singles, they win one and lose one?
The Coach’s Contribution to Best-of-Seven
All of those are things that can factor into the end result. And we haven’t even talked about the Coach’s contribution yet! In College tennis, the Head Coach is responsible for determining the lineup for each team. That means some players will play both doubles and singles while some will play ONLY doubles or singles. It depends on how they perform in practice, how well they work together as a team, if they are injured, and who the opponent will be that day and the following day.
The Head Coach, along with the Assistant and Graduate Volunteer Coaches, must take all of these things into consideration. And on Game Day, all 3 Coaches monitor their players’ performance making corrections and adjustments when needed. And it is that complexity that makes College tennis an infinitely more intriguing product than tennis tournaments. By the way, ever wonder what a professional tennis coach does for a single player when the draw is pre-determined and coaching is ILLEGAL at tennis tournaments? It doesn’t sound like they have much to do!
On a side note: why is Coaching illegal at tennis tournaments? Name another sport where this is the case. What’s wrong with giving/receiving advice during competition? Is this why kids avoid tennis like toxic waste? Is this why so many lopsided tennis matches end 6-2, 6-1? Is winning not important? Is it really better for a player to carry the entire burden of competition by themselves? Is tennis a superior game and are tennis players superior individuals because they endure such torment (tennis coaches believe this)? And what kind of people are we producing as a result (If they last more than a month)? But I digress.
In terms of excitement, things like unpredictability, uncertainty, and facing adversity factor into a spectator’s enjoyment of a sporting event. Predictability, sameness, and a lack of creativity are what makes something boring. I believe College team tennis falls into the first category. Granted, when the #1 team hosts an unranked opponent, on paper, it can lack some of the flash. But when you consider a College tennis match is best-of-seven, every match is compelling. For example….
Watching a Best-of-Seven Tennis Match
Let’s say that the #45 Miami Hurricanes women’s tennis team were hosting the #17 Duke Blue Devils in Miami, and AATT had planned a field trip for some of our players to see it. What if the Duke Blue Devils were riding a 4-game win streak while the Hurricanes were on a 2-game losing slide? And the game was being played in Miami which means the Hurricanes have “Home Field Advantage” (there are no “Home teams” in tournaments).
On paper, this looks like a sleeper match. I mean, it’s #45 versus #17. But remember: College tennis is best-of-seven. Now you have to wonder: Can the Blue Devils continue their dominance, or can the Hurricanes turn their negative momentum around? Which team came ready to play? Is every player on the roster ready to compete? With the fandom of both Hurricanes and Blue Devils hanging in the balance, this is much more than a “sleeper” match. Because they are playing for more than themselves.
Duke would win two of the three doubles matches to take
the doubles point and go up 1-0. Duke would also win in straight sets on Court 3 to go up 2-0. And then on Court 1, the Miami player would roll her ankle and be unable to finish the match. Duke now leads 3-0.
On a side note, if I were in charge of tennis, and a player was unable to finish a match or was just playing poorly, I would substitute them. I mean, we want to win, right?
Anyway, with a 3-0 lead Duke would only need to win one of the 4 remaining courts to win the match. And the Hurricanes would have to win ALL 4. Miami would win in straight sets on Courts 2 & 5 making the score 3-2 in favor of Duke.
The Hurricanes would need three sets to win on Court 6 and now the score is tied 3-3 and it all comes down to Court 4. Court 4?!? You mean the fate of the entire team comes down to the #4 singles players for both squads?!? Wouldn’t you rather have your superstar in that position? How much faith do we have as Hurricanes/Blue Devils fans that #4 can win his match? Will the pressure of the situation get to either player? Or have they been preparing their whole lives for this moment? The remaining players from both teams are now watching from Court 3 and encouraging their teammate in this critical moment. And all of the fans are crowded around Court 4 to watch the final match play out. This feels a lot like Game 7 of the World Series! And we’re only 3/4 of our way through the SEASON!
When the Hurricanes player scores a point, the Hurricanes fans cheer.
When the Duke player scores a point, the Duke fans cheer. This is intense!
Everyone in the stadium is experiencing a wide range of emotions. When your team is ahead, there’s confidence that she’ll get the job done. When they’re behind, there’s fear. Fear that your player is beginning to press, to get in her own head, unable to block out the sound of cheers for the other team, and groans from her supporters when she misses. Hundreds of eyeballs are watching her every move, hoping the ball stays in, second-guessing that last shot, waiting for one of the Hurricanes or Blue Devils’ shots to land in the net. We’re up, we’re down, we’re inside-out! (Fans don’t do well in handling their emotions.)
And then the final ball is struck, it sails beyond the baseline, and players from the winning team come pouring onto the court, arms held high, shouting at the top of their lungs, to embrace their teammate, and share in the feeling of joy at having won the match for their team. It really is a sight to see.
While players from the losing team walk slowly onto the court, arms open wide, not in celebration, but to console their teammate after having lost the match. They know their teammate may be having a difficult, five-stages-of-grief, time dealing with the knowledge that they lost it all for their team; that theirs was the game to determine the entire match, but let’s be honest: everyone shares in the loss. It was a best-of-seven match which means no one has to carry the burden of winning/losing alone. That is what makes the Team so valuable.
There are a number of reasons why players join teams, and why spectators gravitate towards team sports. Team Sports satisfy the need for companionship in ways that tennis tournaments do not. As a fan, I may not be able to play at that level, but I can experience the highs and lows of competition through my favorite Team. And when my friends and neighbors are fans, too, I have someone to talk to about it. I am not alone when I belong to a Team. Ever wonder why sports fans “live and die” with their teams? Because the wide range of emotions that can only be experienced through competition are what make life so exciting. And those emotions are more readily experienced at a College tennis, best-of-seven, team-versus-team tennis match where my favorite Team is playing. One-and-done doesn’t do it for me.
And that, my friends, is why College tennis is infinitely more enjoyable, interesting, dynamic, satisfying, and entertaining than professional tennis tournaments.
What do you think? Which would you rather watch, best-of-seven or one-and-done, and why? What are your thoughts on the best-of-seven format? Who are your favorite teams? Have you attended many of their matches? Where is the best place to watch? Which teams have the best chance of making it in the NCAA Championship? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Ohio State Buckeyes, Virginia Cavaliers, Vanderbilt Commodores, and the Florida Gators. What do these Universities all have in common? We are all familiar with the universities who have top-shelf programs in football, and basketball (Ohio State and Florida), but these schools also have world-class talent in tennis. Believe it or not, the World comes to America to find the best facilities,
the best training, and the best competition. It starts at the tennis academies like IMG and Saddlebrook and it continues on our College campuses. Players from countries like Brazil, Columbia, England, and Germany continue their education while continuing their playing careers right here in the United States. And seeing some of the world’s best tennis players in action, in person, is so much better than watching them on TV. Am I right!?!
Before we get into HOW to watch a College tennis match I though I would give a little background as to WHY watching College tennis is such a tremendous value, how is it different than what people may be watching on television, and why the Team is the premier vehicle for bringing tennis into the mainstream.
First, watching a Collegiate tennis match, while fundamentally similar to the professional game,
is a very different experience because the rules are more relaxed allowing the fans to become more involved the matches. And I say “match-es” because there can be up to six being played at the same time and they all count towards the team’s final score. Unlike professional tennis where it’s every man for himself, College tennis is a Team Sport, a group effort, where every player contributes to the outcome. Some people (me) prefer it this way.
For example, a College tennis match consists of two rounds; Round 1: three doubles matches followed by (Round 2) six singles matches. In some cases, all three doubles are counted as one, best-of-three set match, giving the team one point, the Doubles point, while in other situations all three doubles matches count as a point apiece (three total points). The singles always count as one point each, so the winner of the match must win four out of seven (best two-of-three doubles) or best five out of nine (three doubles points).
This best-of-seven format lends itself to all kinds of dramatic situations: after all of the doubles have been played, and 5 of the singles matches have wrapped up, if the match is tied at three points apiece, that means the last court to finish will be the deciding point, much like a Game 7 in the World Series or NBA Finals. And the last match to finish can be a different player each week: this week Court 2 went to three sets, but last week it was Court 6. So depending on how the coaches determined the lineup, and how evenly matched the players are, any player can be the hero (or the goat) for that day. It gives me goose bumps! I mean, is there anything more exciting than a Game 7?!?
But the #1 reason to watch a College tennis match (in my opinion) is because the players represent not only themselves, but the University. More significant than a bunch of random athletes, from a bunch of random countries, coming together to showcase their talents, competing for a trophy that represents nothing more than how good they are; College tennis teams play for their community. They play for their friends and classmates, the faculty, alumni, those who live in the surrounding area, and even those who have moved away but are still loyal to the university.
As a former Ohio State student living in Florida, I am a part of the larger Buckeye community… and we are everywhere! It’s always good to see someone wearing an Ohio State t-shirt or hat, or someone with an Ohio State license plate on their car, or flying an Ohio State flag outside their house. It reminds me of where I came from. It says to me that no matter how far I go I’m never far from home. So when I check the box scores and see an Ohio State football / tennis / basketball / baseball / gymnastics / wrestling victory, it lifts my spirits. Seeing Ohio State tennis at #3 on the Men’s side and #4 on the Women’s (as of 2/15/17) makes me proud to be a Buckeye, because whether they know it or not, they’re playing not only for themselves, but for me, too.
Now that we know WHY College tennis is so important, we can talk about HOW to watch a match. But we’ll save that for next time.
Who is your favorite University tennis team? I would love to hear from you. Send an email to email@example.com or visit our Facebook page to be a part of the conversation. Then go to your team’s website to find their schedule and see when they’re playing. Most tennis matches are admission-free so they’re easy to afford. Cheer for your favorite team and have a good time. Tennis is always better in person.
On April 12, 2016, 100,00 fans packed the Horseshoe in Columbus, OH to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in their annual Spring Game. Yeah! The Buckeyes played each other! On the same day, the Georgia Bulldogs set an SEC record for Spring Game attendance with 93,000 spectators. On Sunday September 4, 2016 the US Open set a record for attendance with 25,000 pouring through the turnstiles for the evening session. Combined with the 40,000 who attended the morning session, Sunday would become the biggest attendance ever with a total attendance of 65,797. Keep in mind: this took place over the course of 48 matches on 15 courts and would include men’s, women’s, doubles, and juniors.
I may be the only one thinking it, but I’m not impressed. If attendance is important enough to keep track of, report on, and set records for, shouldn’t tennis’ numbers
be on par with the biggest sports in America? Shouldn’t tennis attract spectators the way football does? Or the way basketball does? Or the way soccer does? Shouldn’t a city of 8.4 million people (New York City) draw more than 65,000 for the “Super Bowl” of tennis, the “Granddaddy of them all”? Shouldn’t tennis draw more than 65,000 over the course of 48 matches played on 15 courts? That’s only 4300 per court, or 1300 per match. What would the numbers look like if there were only 6 courts instead of 15? 24 matches instead of 48?
If one football scrimmage can draw 100,000, I believe an entire tennis tournament should be able to do the same.
Popularity is determined by a number of different things including (but not exclusive to) audience (see above), participation, television ratings, and word-of-mouth. I’ve already touched on audience, now onto participation: the USTA believes there are 30 million tennis players in the United States. How they came up with that number, I don’t know, but statista.com says that 24.7 million people played basketball, 18.05 million people played football, and 11.12 million people played soccer in 2016 and these are some of the most popular sports in America. Now ask yourself: Does it feel like tennis is bigger than either one of these three sports? And is a sport’s popularity determined by participation? Or something else?
A look at the television ratings for the US Open gives a very clear picture of the interest in our sport from the nation as a whole. An organization like Major League Soccer topped out at 1.4 million viewers for the MLS Cup, which is on par with the 1.7 million people who watched the US Open Men’s Final. But what about a ‘UFC on FOX’ card on a random Saturday is December that draws 4.8 million? Or the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors that drew 30.8 million viewers? Or the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers reaching 114.4 million viewers? What do these numbers say about tennis’ popularity?
Those are the television ratings, and those are important, but what does this mean to those of us on the local level? Are people talking to each other about tennis? Are they buying merchandise of their favorite player/team? Are they getting together with friends at the local sports bar to watch the big game? People talk to each other about the things they are passionate about, both good and bad. Are they talking about tennis? Ask around. The answer is ‘No’.
Chuck Sullivan, a member of the family who owned the New England Patriots before Robert Kraft bought them, says that “the professional sports team is a community asset.”
But what does that mean? It means that the team belongs to ALL OF US, not just one person, and is the reason Robert Kraft did everything in his power to keep the New England Patriots in New England. But how many times have we heard a professional tennis player say they only play for themselves? In my humble opinion, that is self-centered, self-serving, and one of the many reasons the public, at large, is unable to identify with tennis players and the game they play. So while cities across the country are building new stadium homes for their sports franchises, tennis tournaments bounce around from city to city, never remaining in one place for more than a week or two. How are the citizens supposed to wrap their arms around the sport when the players are only here long enough to cash the check?
When a professional sports league brings a franchise to a city, the players on the team become a part of the community. They represent the community on the field of competition. They live among the people of the community. Their kids go to the same schools and play for the same little league teams as your kids. They shop at the same grocery stores that you shop at. They eat at the same restaurants you eat at. They visit the same doctors you visit. They live in your neighborhood. They become one of US. And they’re here to help MY TEAM win.
The same can not be said for tennis tournaments. Professional tennis players are globetrotters, visitors, tourists, drifters, nomads; people who swoop into town once a year to receive our adoration, stay in our best hotels, eat at our finest restaurants, avoid the public as much as possible because they have to focus on their play, take their prize money, and move onto the next city. It’s no wonder tennis does so poorly in attendance and ratings when compared to other, mainstream sports. But there is a better way.
The Home Town team belongs to the Home Town. And the players on the team belong to the home town, too. And we currently have, in very large numbers, teams and players representing the people of their Home Towns: College Tennis Teams. In South Florida, alone, there are the Hurricanes, Owls, Seahawks, Sailfish, Panthers,
and Fighting Knights. Not to mention the teams in other major cities around the state and the country. All of them playing on behalf of the students, alumni, and citizens of their home town. They live in our neighborhood. They go to our school. They shop at our stores. They support our other sports teams. THEY are one of US.
So let’s support them in what they do for us. Attend their matches. Cheer them on. Buy their souvenirs. Because they’re not just playing for themselves… they’re playing for all of us!
Why would Indiana Pacer, Paul George, take a picture of himself on vacation wearing his OWN jersey?
Why would John Wall, who plays for the Washington Wizards in the NBA, be criticized for wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey to watch the Cowboys against the Washington Redskins… in Washington, D.C.?
Why would a grown man be seen walking around town in a jersey with another man’s name on it?
Why is that kid wearing her softball uniform as she walks through the Wal-Mart?
Jersey sales are an indicator of an athlete’s popularity. In the NBA, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving, and Klay Thompson are the Top 5 jerseys sold on NBAstore.com. How many of these names sound familiar? Ezekiel Elliott, Tom Brady, Odell Beckham, Jr., Cam Newton, and Rob Gronkowski lead the NFL in jersey sales according to NFLshop.com. How many of THESE names sound familiar? In addition to listing the Top 5 player jerseys sales, overall, NFLshop.com also lists the Top 5 selling jerseys by position: QB, RB, WR, TE, and Def. That’s a minimum of 25 jerseys being sold on the NFLshop.com website. Can you name the Top 25 players on the ATP tour? Or on the WTA tour? I didn’t think so. How about the Top 5? Maybe. Jersey sales are an indicator of an athlete’s popularity. But tennis doesn’t sell jerseys.
The jersey also has tremendous psychological significance. It not only represents a personal accomplishment; the ability of the individual to overcome adversity and to pass the test of “tryouts”. In terms of jersey sales, it represents a player’s overall popularity. But more importantly, the jersey represents acceptance by the group. When an Ohio State Buckeye fan sees another fan in an Ohio State jersey, there’s an instant bond between the two of them. They have something in common. They’re on the same team. But when they see someone in a Michigan Wolverines jersey, their eyes glow red. Just kidding. It’s ‘scarlet’.
There are billions of people on the planet. Each of us is unique in some way, but we all have one thing in common: a desire to be noticed. We need attention. For some, the desire leads to a loving, caring, long-term relationship full of family and friends. For others, that desire leads to jumping out of a hot air balloon at 25,000 feet without a parachute hoping to land in a net 100′ square (what?!?). But for many of us the desire to be noticed leads us to tryout for the football or volleyball team. And we stick with our sport for a very long time because we like the people on our team. And they like us, too. Sport is something we have in common, and a friendship grows out of that.
But how do you know who to be friends with? Look at your jersey. What starts as an obligation to work together for the good of the team can blossom into lasting friendships where players spend time together away from the playing field, at a birthday party, going to the movies, or on a trip to Walt Disney World. The more time people spend together, the more their friendship grows. But the same is true when teammates split up.
LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 to play for the Miami Heat. The “decision” was met with mixed reactions. In Miami they welcomed him with open arms, believing they now had what they needed to bring a title to Miami. And while the Cavaliers’ fans felt the same way about their chances of winning with LeBron on the roster, losing him was equally devastating. There was outrage coming from every corner of
Cleveland, from the fans to the front office. Even the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, wrote a letter expressing his disappointment. Cavaliers fans were seen burning ‘LeBron James’ jerseys. It was a very dark time. LeBron would go on to win 2 titles for the Miami Heat and return to Cleveland in 2014 and the reaction was very much the same, but in reverse: Cavaliers fans were excited to have him back, while Heat fans were devastated, vowing to hate him for the rest of their lives.
Why the visceral reaction to someone coming or going? Why did one person’s “decision” affect so many people to the point of lashing out and destroying property? Because LeBron James was a part of their Team. It’s really very simple: if you can help us, we like you. If you can not help us, we hate you. It’s not about you, it’s about ‘Us’. This is true not only for really good players, but for the not-so-good players, too. Like when a player is under-performing, the fans ‘boo’ him and take to social media calling for the player to be traded because he’s hurting the team. The same reaction is not witnessed in tennis when a player is playing poorly. Why don’t tennis fans ‘boo’ the bad tennis players?
Professional tennis players do not represent the fans. But rather they play only for themselves. And as a result, tennis fans are much less animated when a player wins/loses a match. Of course, the USTA/ATP/WTA will show snippets of crowd reactions that make tennis appear to be as exciting as a soccer match, but that’s all stock footage, and isn’t necessarily tied to any one player. How do we know this? Tennis players don’t wear jerseys so you never really know who the fans are cheering for. Sports fans wear their hearts on their jersey. I guess tennis fans wear their hearts… in their chest?
That is why, when All American Team Tennis takes its players on field trips, we go to see college tennis teams: because they play on a team! We know who to cheer for. They are playing for all of us. And since I can’t be out there, they’re playing for me, too. And as a show of support for what they do for me, I wear their jersey. And if I can’t find one, I make my own because…
We’re on the same team.
The state of Florida has a number of very good tennis teams to pay attention to including the Gators, Hurricanes, Seminoles, Seahawks, Owls, and Sailfish. But we have a number of great players playing for the Buckeyes, Hurricanes, Sailfish, and Seminoles of Palm Springs, too. And you can find the jersey of your favorite player’s team at franchiseteamtennis.com. So take in a match. And remember to wear your jersey to the game.
Warning: The views and opinions expressed in the following blog post are exclusively those of Coach Ken and are the reason why All American Team Tennis is a Youth Sports League and not a series of tournaments. Reader discretion is advised.
One of my players entered a “tournament” here in West Palm Beach. All things considered, it went well. He played some points, he won some, he lost some, they gave him a water bottle, it was fine. No big deal. But I took from the event a few observations. Let me start by saying that attending a USTA tournament reminds me of why I don’t like USTA tournaments. Having played baseball and football as a child, and ice hockey in my 20’s, what I saw was very disappointing. It failed to capture not only my attention, but that of the players. And the tiny dictator, uh, I mean Tournament Director telling the parents to be quiet and reading off a list of rules the players have to follow, really put a damper on things. There has to be more to tennis than tournaments.
This was a Level 9 tournament for players 10 and under*. We won’t go into why there are 9 levels of tournaments when every level is essentially the same. With many of the same players playing in multiple levels of tournament! That’s beside the point. But, with this being a Level 9 event, the director brought teenage volunteers to monitor the courts to help the players who are new to the game. That was a good idea, but the execution needs work. The monitors need to be trained or at least have some playing experience in order to do the best job possible. But the kid monitoring my players match had NOT been trained and it showed. First, he asked another monitor how many games they would be playing. Then, during the warmup, he kept feeding balls to my player preventing the other player from hitting any serves. There must have been 15+ balls on the court. Then, instead of instructing the players to retrieve tennis balls, themselves, he went around the court picking up balls while trying to watch them play. That doesn’t work very well and, needless to say, he missed a couple of points.
But this one really got me: my player served the ball into the box and the other player returned it. But he returned it high so my player moved in to take it out of the air. My player missed the shot so the other player got the point, anyway, but the monitor then began to admonish my player saying that the ball has to bounce and that’s why the other player got the point. my player lost the point, so it really didn’t matter, but the monitor continued to explain that the ball has to bounce because you are “not allowed to take it out of the air”. Clearly this person has limited knowledge of the game because my player was simply going for a volley. My player argued the volley thing, but the monitor brought over another monitor to explain that he was right. Now my player is confused as to what to do. We hit almost nothing but volleys in practice and this person is telling him that volleys are not allowed?!? EVERY 8 year old is ill equipped to handle this situation. This would have been take care of if monitors were trained properly and/or tennis players had Coaches.
Which brings me to my next point: Coaches. Every player needs a coach. Not some of the time… ALL of the time. Have you ever heard the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees”? That means when you stand too close to a single tree, bringing your face close enough to the bark to see the ants climbing it, the tree blocks your view of the rest of the forest. The same applies to athletics and sport: participants can get so focused (tunnel vision) on what’s right in front of them (hitting the ball) they can’t see anything else that’s out there. But the coach can. The coach sits on the outside watching EVERYTHING that’s happening. He sees things that the player doesn’t and can instruct the player to focus on something else, if necessary.
But my biggest complaint is for the people holding on to the status quo. The attitude of people who blindly defend how tennis tournaments are conducted by saying “it has to be this way” or “the kids have to learn how to do this”. Why? Why does it have to be this way? Do I need to learn this if I’m playing soccer? Why are there no referees? Why is coaching not allowed? Why are the parents asked to watch from outside the fence? Why separate a child from their parent? Because it’s tennis?!? That’s not a good enough reason.
You’re gonna have to do better than that because we don’t have to play tennis. There are plenty of other options for people to play games or get exercise. In fact, there was a BOXING class in the grass just outside of the tennis courts. Why not take up boxing instead of tennis? Not only is it exercise, but you learn how to throw hands if you need to defend yourself. Listen, if I don’t LIKE what you’re doing, I’m not going to do it. So a greater emphasis must be placed on LIKING rather than learning.
That’s the bottom line.
But tennis has done very little to make the game appealing to a larger audience. It’s a simple game that places a tremendous amount of pressure and stress and innumerable restrictions on its participants. For example, you have to hit the ball over the net and keep it inside the lines. Do you know how many people can’t do that? Roughly 98% of America. It’s one of the reasons why more people don’t play. But instead of adapting the game to reach a broader audience, some people hold on to tradition and expect other people to change to accommodate a game they don’t have to play. It’s very bad for business.
To make that point, I was looking at the “tournament bracket for the event one of my players was supposed to play last weekend and I noticed something very troubling: in a bracket consisting of 16 spots, there were 13 players entered, and 6 of them were from outside Palm Beach County. I understand that not everyone is able to play every week at every location, but that is part of the problem: a lack of commitment from the players. Tennis players come and go as they please. And the fact that this event pulled 7 kids from Palm Beach County ages 10-12 is embarrassing when there are literally 10’s of thousands of children in middle schools in this area. Football, baseball, basketball, and soccer get hundreds of players every Saturday morning. Ice hockey and lacrosse do the same. And we pull 7?!? Once a month?!? Something has to change.
All American Team Tennis is the solution to all of tennis’ problems. Much of what we do can be found on your local college campus. First, every single one of us has a desire to be included, to feel like we’re not alone, to interact with other people. It’s how God made us. So All American Team Tennis is a team sport where players are placed on teams and given a uniform so they know where they belong. The uniform says “you’re with us.” The team says “you’re not alone.” Now you have someone to talk to.
Someone to hang out with. Someone to play with. Someone to travel with. Someone to invite to your birthday party. Someone to tell jokes to. Someone to talk to about your favorite tv show. And if you think none of those things are important when it comes to playing tennis, your head is in the wrong place. Because humans are social creatures, designed to desire the company of other people. And if we don’t get that social interaction we become very selfish and bitter and inconsiderate and rude and condescending. I know this from first-hand experience because I’ve crossed paths with them repeatedly over time. How does a person learn respect when their opinion is the only one that matters?
See, in other sports, superstars still have to FIT IN with the group. Even in individual sports like wrestling, gymnastics, and karate. Their desire to be better than everyone else is balanced by what’s best for the TEAM. Not so in tennis. I do WHAT I want, WHEN I want, HOW I Want, and if I don’t WANT to, I ain’t doing it because MY results are the only results that matter. I’m out here by myself, me against the world, so what happens to you does not matter to me because we’re not CONNECTED in any way. And that seed of selfishness gets watered every time they play. So players become very unsympathetic, inconsiderate, unable to relate to other people, yet very demanding in their interactions with others because they are the only person that matters. That’s cold!
Next, Game Day is every Saturday. That requires a commitment on the part of every player because the team is counting on them. Accountability is not required in individual sports, but makes for a much better member of society. An understanding that you are not alone, and that your actions affect those around you leads to greater maturity. That’s what it means to be a Team Player.
Third, we put a referee on every court, similar to what you’ll find at colleges like Miami and Ohio State (GO BUCKS!), and I train them personally. Relying on the players to conduct their own matches is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. And those who defend it are missing a few synapses. Every type of competition should have someone watching the participants to make sure the game is played according to the rules. I don’t care if it’s tennis, football, or Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, there should be a referee. In the heat of the moment, when the stakes are so high, players can not be trusted to make the right call. There’s an inherent bias to officiating your own match that leads to players making calls in their favor. That’s called cheating. So we make sure to have someone that I’ve trained, personally, on every court. It’s the right thing to do.
Not only does every match need a referee, but every player needs a coach. Period. So we invite our parents to act as coaches during practice and on Game Day. We don’t relegate them to the outer limits, or the vast wasteland beyond the fences where they are forced to watch their child play through the wind screen**. But we invite them to come inside and set up a
chair to view the matches along the sidelines. They can talk to their kids, they can cheer for them, on the changeovers the parents can give their kids a bottle of water or grapes. It’s a much better experience for everyone. And because the players are on a team they don’t have to spend their changeover alone. Kids enjoy talking to each other. Surprising, isn’t it. Coaches keep players on the right track because they can see the entire forest, not just the trees.
Never underestimate the value of community. Community creates emotional stability by lending perspective to any situation because when you realize you’re not alone things are not as bad as they seem. And when you win, having someone to share it with makes it even more memorable.
Tennis doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. In fact, it can be a very memorable one. All American Team Tennis is unlike your typical junior tennis program. We’re different.. on purpose. Teams, uniforms, Game Day, coaches, parents, field trips, community, camaraderie, a support system, and that’s only the beginning. We haven’t even talked about the marketability of team sports! There’s room for everyone on the team. Including you. So join us next season and see what all the noise is about.
I would love to know your thoughts. Send me an an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.
*The USTA decided it would be a good idea to implement a series of tournaments for players under the age of 10, as a way of introducing children to tennis competition. The switch to shorter courts and low-compression balls is necessary to make the game easier for children to play. We do this, too. Unfortunately, they continue to use tournaments as their primary vehicle of transport. As my mechanic would say “Well, there’s your problem!”
**And can anyone tell me why we have wind screens, anyway? They block your view more than they block the wind. If it’s purely cosmetic, and you just want to put your logo on the fence, why not get a chain link with smaller holes and paint it? It’ll last longer than nylon. Or put up sections of screen with your logo on it. Maybe along the back but not the sides. I’m just sayin’.
Parent: “I’m calling to get information on your tennis lessons. I have a 6 year old daughter. How much are they?”
Coach: “First, has she ever played before?”
Parent: “No. But she did some gymnastics.”
Coach: “That’s a very good place to start. That means she’s athletic. And don’t worry, most of our players are playing tennis for the first time. In fact, many of our players had never heard of tennis until their parents signed them up. So she’ll fit right in. We start on Monday and the cost is $XX.”
Parent: “Thank you. We’ll see you Monday.”
(Later that evening, after the child has come home from school, the parent approaches the child about playing tennis.)
Parent: “I saw they’re offering tennis lessons at the rec center. Do you want to play?”
Child: “I don’t know.”
Parent: “I spoke to the instructor today and he told me there would be other children there who are new to the game, too, so you should fit right in.”
Child shrugs their shoulders.
Parent: “Well, I’m going to sign you up to see if you like it. We’ve got to find a way to get you out of the house. If you don’t like it we can always try something else.Ok?”
Child: “I guess so.”
I imagine this conversation taking place on a regular basis because no matter how many calls I get asking about “tennis lessons”, 1 out of 5 actually show up for practice. But why would they decide not to play? Was it something WE did? How could it be? They never showed up to see what we’re all about. And seeing as they know so little about the game, why won’t they entertain the idea of playing tennis? I can only assume that tennis doesn’t interest them. At all.
My childhood was spent playing baseball, football, and basketball. In college I tried intramural ice hockey. I’ve coached baseball and hockey. I even dabbled in lacrosse back when I worked at a sporting goods store in Ohio. Along the way I’ve attended a great many sporting events such as high school football (I was in the marching band), Minor League baseball, Blue Jackets’ hockey, as well as the Western & Southern Tennis Open in Cincinnati. Now, I know tennis people don’t like to compare tennis to other sports because they believe it is unlike every other sport. But that could not be further from the truth. “What do you mean” you might be saying? “What does the Miami Open have in common with the Miami Heat or the Cincinnati Bengals”? Spectators. (Or rather the lack of spectators.) And from a spectator’s point-of-view the in-game experience of a tennis match pales in comparison to an Ohio State Buckeyes football game.
In an article written back in 2008, the USTA claims to have “made a financial commitment to growing and developing tennis in the U.S.” But when you read it carefully it states that while 30 million people played tennis that year, the USTA only has 740,000 members. Wait a minute: the governing body of tennis, that sanctions leagues and tournaments, has a membership of 2.4% of all participation?!? And how do we know the 30 million number is accurate? Where did that number come from? Because when you look at the television ratings for the 2014 U.S. Open, 30 million sounds veeery suspect.
If these numbers are to be believed, there is a fundamental disconnect between those who play tennis and those who watch tennis. What could be the cause of such a sizable disparity? Why would someone choose to play tennis but not watch it on television or attend a match in person? Why have so many tennis tournaments been relegated to the desolate wasteland of ESPN3? And why does it look like tennis stadiums are empty when I see them on TV? Shouldn’t people who play a game be inspired to watch the game they play? Maybe to get a few pointers? Learn something new? Or simply enjoy a night out on the town? Or invite some friends over for a viewing party?
Did you know: according to USTA Florida president, Bob Pfaender, a meager 10% of High School tennis players play one (1) tennis tournament per year, leaving 90% who play for the Team, exclusively. Why is there no interest in tennis tournaments? And on the club level, the greatest participation at most tennis clubs are in the Leagues and Socials. Drive by the tennis club in the morning and you’ll find it full of seniors and stay-at-home moms, but in the afternoon the courts are empty. And if you’re looking for something fun to do, stop by on a Friday or Saturday evening for the “pizza and wine” social (I made up the name, but you get the point). So you could say that 90% of country club members also play in groups. Why are so few people entering tennis tournaments? Seeing as tournaments are all that’s being shown on television, shouldn’t it inspire more people to play more tournaments? A better question would be “Why are we constantly being fed singles tournaments when 90+% of all participants play tennis in groups or teams?” There is a fundamental disconnect between the tennis fan and how tennis is marketed.
I run a youth sports league called All American Team Tennis (you’ve probably heard of it). And much like the baseball and hockey teams I’ve coached over the years, our kids practice twice a week with Game Day on Saturday. And while I have my own set of goals for my players, I realize that they have their own personal goals, too. So my job is to meet them where they are in order to bring them along for the journey. So what are their goals? Observing the players during practice allows me to find out where their heads are at. I see how much they enjoy playing games like Caterpillar and Fruit Salad (ages 6-10) or King of the Court and Rodeo (ages 11+) versus drills like 2 forehands across the baseline. I also observe their interaction with me versus the other players. This has led to the conclusion that children would rather play games* with their friends* than run drills or compete on Game Day. Believe it or not, the majority of my players enjoy practice more than competition, which is strange because, apparently, they don’t see Caterpillar as competition. Hmmmm.
Given the thousands of hours spent by the USTA getting children to play, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to play professionally… wait a minute. I’m sorry. I’m only going to divert for a second. But shouldn’t professional athletes be getting paid to play, rather than paying to play? Isn’t that what it means to be a professional? Good job, tennis!
Anyway, given the time and effort we put into getting people to play tennis, and considering the results of said time and effort, why don’t we try something else? I have an idea: How about we spend more time and money encouraging people to watch tennis? Let’s create a product that engages the fan and adds to the in-game experience in order to fill our stadiums with people. Because an empty stadium looks bad on TV. Then when people are talking about tennis, more people will end up watching it, in person or on TV. And with more people watching it, you’ll see the participation numbers going up. I know what you’re thinking “I went to the Miami Tennis Open and had a great time. The atmosphere was electric!” Well, good for you. But if the experience was sooooo great, why do we get it only once a year? Why do I have to share tennis with the rest of the world? As a spectator, I want more tennis. Roland Garros is a great event, bit it’s in FRANCE! I’m in Florida. Do the math. And speaking of “electric”, there’s plenty of energy all around the tournament grounds, but what about in the stands? How’s the energy in the stadium? And why is the chair umpire always telling the fans to “be quiet”? Don’t you want the fans to make noise? Isn’t that what fans are there to do? Or are the players so sensitive they can’t handle a little noise from the people they’ve taken money from to watch them play?
When I attend a basketball/football/soccer/hockey game, the arena is noisy for 3 hours. And fans will do their best to become a part of the action on the court. Is it sportsmanlike to distract a player while shooting free throws? Who cares! It’s fun! And when I go to a baseball game, between innings, someone with a microphone comes out onto the field with a kid from the stands to play some silly game. What does that have to do with baseball? Who cares? It’s fun! Why doesn’t tennis do this? Why don’t we get fans to participate during the match like in baseball?
I remember attending a hockey game where prior to resurfacing the ice they brought out 2 pee wee hockey teams to play each other in front of the entire arena. Can you imagine the butterflies the kids must have felt playing in front of so many people? I guarantee it was an experience they will always remember. See, I’m talking about it today! But as long as we conduct these pointless one week tournaments, full of players we don’t know, and keep the spectators behind glass so as not to disturb the players’ concentration, the sport will continue to be ignored by 90+% of Americans. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is an alternative.
College tennis teams such as the Miami Hurricanes, the Ohio State Buckeyes, or the North Carolina Tarheels are full of players who dream of one day playing tennis professionally. They attended the tennis academies, traveled to all of the junior tournaments, and spent thousands of dollars doing it, much like every other player on the tour. The difference is their parents must have run out of money and could not afford the $200,000 a year to play tennis professionally (Professional? Really?) These players are just as strong, just as fast, just as smart as any player on the tour. Many of them even have professional rankings. Attending a College tennis match is much more exciting because you’re so close to the action, too. I mean, you stand beside the fence that borders the court! How cool is that!?! And following the matches the players are available for pictures and autographs. Try getting Sharapova’s autograph as she comes off the practice court. Her bodyguard will shove you to the ground!
We can bridge the gap between tennis and its fans by putting Team Tennis front-and-center. 90+% of America plays tennis on a team so it just makes sense to market the sport to them and their friends. College tennis is a Team sport full of world-class tennis talent so I encourage you to take in a match. There are more opportunities to do so as there has to be a college close to your home. In fact, I attended 9 matches between February and May this year. I saw the Miami Hurricanes, Central Florida Knights, Florida Atlantic Owls, Palm Beach Atlantic Sailfish, and Keiser Seahawks play this season. I even took some of my players with me (everyone loves a field trip) because they play on a team, too. Their season is 4 months long and they even have an NCAA Championship at the end (Men’s bracket. Women’s bracket). It’s everything professional sports are supposed to be. Now it’s tennis’ turn.
“Ohio State is going to dominate the 2016 NFL draft. “
“His team could have as many as five players taken in the first round next year, with underclassmen such as Joey Bosa and Ezekiel Elliott leading the way.”
“Here’s an early look at the NFL talent who will be lighting it up for Ohio State this fall.”
These are lines from an article posted on the Bleacher Report website from May 5, 2015. The article goes on to give a breakdown of each player and his contribution to the Buckeyes for the coming season. Every day journalists across the country reach out to their numerous sources to gather information for reporting on their chosen team and its players. Television, websites, newspapers, even smartphone apps are flooded with valuable information concerning the players from your favorite team/sport.
But not tennis. Why?
College tennis rosters are full of players that any coach would give their non-dominant arm to work with. Players that have spent most of their lives training, traveling, and testing themselves against the best competition in their given region, both here and around the world. These are players that, if we were to play them ourselves, would make any one of us look like a clumsy, 5-year-old, uncoordinated, special needs child. And they all come together, at the same time, to go to college. So what happens to them after what many believe were ‘the best years of their life’?
When a top college prospect in football or basketball decides to go pro and declares for the draft, it sets a number of things in motion: agents, Pro Day, the Draft, visitations, contract negotiations, etc. Much of it taken care of by the player’s handlers so the player can focus on playing. In tennis, the player must be the CEO, CFO, HR, travel agent, administrative assistant, chief, cook, and bottle washer all at the same time. Once they leave college they are essentially on their own to navigate the treacherous waters of professional tournament tennis. And for what? A couple hundred dollars at the end of the week? It doesn’t seem worth it. In fact, a great many top college prospects burn out before ever realizing their dream of playing on the bigger stages. We can’t let this talent go to waste.
Tennis tournaments are a process of elimination designed to find out who’s #1. But how many #1’s can there be? You know the answer. But when the Denver Broncos, the Golden State Warriors, or the Kansas City Royals win a championship, how many #1’s are there? When the Vanderbilt women’s or the Virginia men’s tennis teams win the NCAA Championship all 11 players win the trophy. Unlike the Miami Open or US Open where only 1 player can take home the trophy, a greater number of people benefit from the success of the Team. And that number includes all of the fans, too.
A third of the top 25 college tennis rosters feature the names of players born outside the United States. And while some believe this to be problematic, the real story is the global nature of college tennis. When saddled with the responsibility of filling a roster of 10+ players, college coaches search far and wide for the best players available. Players who come up through the tournament ranks believing they might one day play professionally, are now filling college tennis rosters. In other sports they refer to college as a period of ‘maturity’. In tennis, college is the final destination. Washed up at 22?!? That is a very short-sighted view.
Follow me on this one: Imagine tennis as a Team Sport at the professional level, like it is in college.
It changes the entire tennis conversation from “who will be the next #1” to “my team just signed a prospect out of the Ohio State University to a 3-year contract worth $1.2 million. He could be a starter right away. How do they fit into the system Coach Ken has in place? And can the veterans on the team bring along the rookies to put the team over the top?” I’ve just given you more content for TV and radio than most tennis tournaments (mind blown). Imagine the growth of the tennis industry when we have more than 2-3 people to talk about; the talk shows, segments on ESPN, news crews covering the High School State Championship. Things really begin to open up.
So the next time you’re looking for world-class tennis, skip the tournament (you’re not missing anything) and visit your local university. Players who understand the value of the team are definitely worth cheering for. GO TEAM!
The two things that separate All American Team Tennis from your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill tennis program are the two things kids enjoy the most. Remember the feeling of excitement when you would wake up on Saturday morning and put on your football pants and shoulder pads for Game Day? Remember the feeling of anticipation when your school was planning a field trip to the aquarium and you needed your parents to sign a permission to go with the class? Or maybe when the baseball team was entering a tournament out-of-town? Or when the marching band was scheduled to participate in the Citrus Bowl parade in Orlando, Fl and in addition to marching in the parade they were planning a visit to Epcot and staying in a hotel on the east coast just a few miles from the beach? (That last one happened my freshman year of High School). More than anything else, children enjoy spending time with their friends doing the things they find fun.
Game Day + Field Trips = All American Team Tennis
On Saturday February 20, All American Team Tennis held its first Car Wash Fundraiser in Greenacres, Fl, and it was a huge success. We’ve toyed around with fundraisers in the past (t-shirts, shoulder buddies) but this was probably the most visible fundraiser we’ve conducted because in crossing paths with so many new people it afforded us the opportunity to introduce them the the Youth Tennis League. The players and parents worked hard, we washed a bunch of cars, and received almost as many donations as cars washed. The atmosphere surrounding the event was very positive as the community really appreciates what All American Team Tennis does for the children of Palm Springs and Greenacres. But it doesn’t stop there.
The Car Wash Fundraiser was geared towards raising money for our upcoming field trip to Orlando to watch the University of Central Florida Knights Women’s tennis team take on the Green Wave of Tulane (they’re from Louisiana. I didn’t know that, either). The trip is scheduled for Friday March 25 and includes a visit to Disney Springs for dinner at the Rainforest Cafe.
Now, this isn’t the first field trip our players have attended. In fact, this will be the 2nd of 3 field trips we are going on this season. And it isn’t the first time we’ve traveled to Orlando to watch UCF play or visited Disney Springs. It just so happens, our very first field trip was prior to the start of Season 1 back in November 2011. UCF hosted an Invitational with Arkansas, Auburn, Miami, and Florida Gulf Coast so I invited the players and parents I was working with at the time to drive to Orlando with me.
It was a memorable experience as rain interrupted play, causing 10am matches to start at 2pm. This would push back everything we had planned for the day including dinner at the T-Rex Restaurant at Downtown Disney. Looking back, I don’t remember who won the Invitational, but I do remember the animated dinosaurs and simulated meteor shower during dinner at the restaurant and spending more money than I had budgeted. (I learned so much that day.)
Since then we’ve been to see the Miami Hurricanes play Florida State in Miami, the Florida Atlantic Owls host the Owls of Kennesaw State in Boca Raton, and the UCF Knights host Florida A&M (FAMU) followed by lunch at Splitsville in Downtown Disney. We’ve taken players to Dave and Busters in Hollywood, FL, Boomer’s in Boca Raton, the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World resort, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex where Florida State now hosts their November Invitational (my personal favorite).
And we are not stopping. As All American Team Tennis continues to spread across America, children everywhere will be given the opportunity to witness some of the best tennis available: College Tennis. Players from around the world are filling college tennis rosters and these players play not only for themselves but for their team and their school. They understand the importance of being surrounded with a good support system. They realize what cooperation and teamwork can accomplish. They are always available for pictures and autographs. And they play for more than just one week out of the year. Yes, I believe, college tennis is a superior consumable product when compared to the professional game as far as accessibility is concerned because one week doesn’t compare to 6-7 months. So we will continue to schedule field trips to college cities so players who participate in All American Team Tennis can be inspired by what could become their Alma Mater.
You’re invited to join us on our next field trip. It could be the beginning of your child living out their dreams.
How’s the view from where you sit?
I may be completely alone in this… but Junior Tennis Tournaments are a freaking nightmare! No Referees, No Coaches, Few Spectators, No Excitement, just two kids hitting a ball back-and-forth! And this is how we determine who can play in college or professionally?!? These players train in isolation, travel by themselves, and compete against the same people at every tournament. And don’t get me started on the cheating! I guess that is to be expected when you have NO REFEREES!!!
Whew! Sorry about that. But seriously…
For centuries, tennis has been a country club sport; once residing in the palaces of the French aristocracy because the streets were unsafe thanks to the Black Plague. Today, it is the exclusive property of the gated communities, leaving much of America to play other sports like football, basketball, and soccer. The exclusivity of tennis leaves many people desperately searching for someone to play with. Unable to find a hitting partner, adults often turn to CrossFit and slow-pitch softball for exercise. At the same time, children, unfamiliar with the game, having never been exposed to it by their parents, are completely unaware that their school has a tennis team (True story. I heard it from 2 different students at two different Florida schools. FLORIDA!!!) What can be done to solve this problem? What can be done to bring tennis to prominence? Who is going to adjust tennis’ presentation making it more palatable and appealing to a much larger audience?
AATT REFEREES ARE CHANGING THE GAME OF TENNIS
Cheating ruins the experience for everyone involved. Take a look any youth sport and watch their reaction when they feel like the wrong call was made. Injustice is something we can all recognize, and Referees are assigned to making sure the game is played fairly. They keep the game moving forward, they make sure the players play by the rules, they protect the integrity of the game and make sure sportsmanship is the order of the day. In short, Referees make the game fun.
When Coach Ken first conceived the League back in 2008, the first order of business was to make sure every court had a Referee. it wasn’t easy because many people believed tennis tournaments were supposed to be messy. “The kids have to learn how to handle certain situations” they would say (and this from a lacrosse Referee!). Well, if that were true, without a Referee monitoring the match, who is there to teach what they’re supposed to learn? Do you think they’ll just miraculously pick it up through osmosis? The children may not be able to articulate it, but this is a major reason why more kids don’t enter tournaments: no one to make sure the game is played fairly. All they can say say is that it wasn’t any “fun”. Think of it this way: in baseball, who calls the balls and strikes? The pitcher or the batter? In basketball, who calls the fouls? The offensive player or the defender? In football, who measures the first down? The offense or defense? “Learning how to handle certain situations” in tennis usually becomes “learning how to cheat and get away with it.”
It is in the very nature of a competitor to win; to do what it takes to achieve the goal. Truly successful athletes possess a singular focus that only allows them to see what is immediately in front of them and/or to their benefit. Sportsmanship says something completely different: respect your opponent / respect the game. Remember: if I am going to win I have to beat you. That is, in and of itself, disrespectful. So it is the responsibility of the Referee to make sure players exhibit sportsmanship and respect to their opponents. Otherwise every game would end in a fist fight. It’s only natural. Unfortunately, in tennis, due to the shortage of Referees, many players would rather stop playing than to get into fights with their opponents.
Which brings me to my next point: WHY are the no Referees at junior tennis tournaments? The USTA is presenting a “New” pathway of tournament tennis for players 10 and Under. The goal is to increase participation (we’ll talk about gaining more fans another time). And while I applaud the sentiment (more players) I believe their methods to be disastrous. As I explained earlier, the lack of any authority being present at junior tennis tournaments leads to players taking advantage of less experienced players. The less experienced player then becomes frustrated at their perceived lack of talent. And while that may be true, it is also expected that this is going to happen, and that the player is now more likely to leave tennis and take up another sport, like volleyball. Greater emphasis must be placed on retaining players and that means more fun.
Where do children find the most fun? Among friends. If children are to continue playing tennis for more than 3 weeks they must be surrounded by other children. Which is why All American Team Tennis puts kids on teams with uniforms and a Referee on every court every Saturday morning. Here’s the hidden benefit of conducting the sport as a League rather than a tournament: More players per court means fewer courts to monitor!
Most tennis tournaments feature multiple age divisions (10-18), playing in multiple brackets, on multiple courts all at the same time. Given the going rate for a certified tennis official is upwards of $100 a day, on how many courts can a tournament afford to place an official? The answer is that tournaments are only required to provide 1 official per 6 courts. In contrast, All American Team Tennis teams can have up to 6 players on a team, play up to three courts at time, and recruits High School tennis players looking for community service (or $10 per game). It is a much more economical way of conducting tennis matches; and now every court has a Referee. This is just one of the may things we do differently to ensure players have the most fun.
There are other reasons why All American Team Tennis is the ‘Best Game In Town’ and we will be sure to cover them later. In the meantime, you can help KEEP kids on the tennis court by working as a Referee, yourself. For more information contact Coach Ken at email@example.com or call him at 561-578-9914. All American Team Tennis is different…on purpose… because Life is a Team Sport. GO TEAM!
When you’re having a good time you never want it to end. So why are we shortening tennis matches?
In July 2014, after months of coordinated discussion, experimentation, and research the Division 1 Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committee decided on changes to college tennis that would “reduce the overall length of play” and “increase the level of excitement of the matches.” 1) All matches will be conducted with no-ad scoring. 2) The round of doubles will be played on 3 courts, with the team winning two out of three receiving one point for the overall team score. 2) The round of singles will be played on 6, best two out of three sets to 6 games, with each court counting for one point. The first team to score 4 total points will take the match. All unfinished matches will stop once a team reaches the specified goal (2 out of 3 and 4 out of 7).
It sounds like the NCAA believes tennis is lacking in fans and unable to generate revenue because the matches are too long. Do I have that right? So, if we shorten the matches, people will become more interested in tennis? It is obvious the people in charge know nothing about human psychology or the fundamentals of business. It’s kind of like a movie that people believe is too long. They believe it to be too long because the movie was not INTERESTING to them. Giving fans less tennis will not make tennis more interesting them. 60 Minutes of boredom isn’t any better than 90 minutes of boredom. We have to go deeper and change what tennis looks like to the fan in an effort to make tennis more interesting.
Tennis suffers from a lack of creativity and aggression. It has become a bland, boring game filled with players who all play the same, passive, timid, baseline game. Years ago when tennis was more popular, players like McEnroe, Navratilova, and Borg ruled the game with an aggressive, all-court style of play. They frequently came to the net to put pressure on their opponents, to hit drop shots, short angle volleys, and smash overheads. And even if their opponent won the point, as a viewer you were on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what would happen next. Then along came Evert and Connors and the invention of the steel and graphite racquet. Now players could generate superhuman amounts of power, hitting shots so fast, passing shots became the norm. As a result, players became afraid of coming to the net for fear of losing. They retreated to the baseline and settled for the Waiting Game; waiting for their opponent to make a mistake and playing not to lose rather than playing to win. It is this timid, frightful, scared version of tennis that has caused the decline in interest over the past 30 years (check the ratings). When players played aggressively, took chances, and really scored points the game flourished. When instructors began teaching players from a very early age that “playing it safe” was the key to victory, the game dropped in popularity.
I am a big fan of the all court game. I find baseline tennis boring. I would rather watch players hit a variety of shots including volleys and overheads, instead of the same 20-ball rallies from the baseline with only groundstrokes. Anticipation is what makes sports interesting to the audience. It is the uncertainty of what will happen next that captivates the viewer’s attention. And isn’t that who we’re playing for? Watching a football coach run the same running play over and over again gets very boring very fast. The intrigue is in how a coach assesses a situation and comes up with a solution to the problem. The same goes for basketball, baseball, and every other sport people watch in large numbers.
In baseball, players steal bases. In basketball they drive the lane. In football, they throw the long bomb. In volleyball, they spike the ball. In wrestling you win with a pin. In soccer, they score goals. Should I go for it on fourth down or punt the ball? Should I try to poster this guy with a dunk or shoot the jumper? Should I throw strikes of walk the batter? But in tennis, we try to keep our mistakes to a minimum?!? Hmmm. It is the aggressive, offensive, charge-forward attitude that fans find interesting. Everyone loves a winner. It’s the reason most Americans find soccer boring: no scoring. A game that ends in a 0-0 tie means that every player on the field was unsuccessful, a failure. Imagine for a moment if tennis was scored based on points WON rather than points lost. How long would it take to play the match if you had to start over every time someone hit the ball out? If the only way to score a point was to actually “score a point” we would have to shorten the match. I think we’ve come full circle.
Bottom line: The NCAA has made changes to the rules to shorten the matches not because the matches are too long but rather the POINTS are too long. Shortening the matches will only result is less time being bored. So rather than giving people less of what they DON’T WANT, give the more of what they do: excitement. Bring back the hard-charging, aggressive, in-your-face, all court game where players take chances and play to win and watch the fans come flooding in. Because as they say in the UFC “Styles make fights.”
IS THIS EVER GOING TO END?!?
Have you ever to listened to someone tell a story that kept going and going and never came to a point? Have you ever sat down to watch a two hour movie that should have been over in 90 minutes? Why do some tennis tournaments play additional games to determine a winner rather than could play a simple tiebreaker? The point is that, just like a story that goes on forever, many Americans feel tennis matches are just too long. Is this because matches really are too long, or because the product isn’t interesting enough to hold a viewer’s attention? We see this in other sports: when a basketball team leads by 26 points with 2 minutes remaining, timeouts make people mad. In fact, the NCAA recently adopted changes to their match format to produce what they believe to be a more television-friendly product (shorter matches). Today’s sports consumer has too many options available to waste time on a sport that takes too long to complete. Which means more is needed to make the game more exciting, rather than shorter.
This leads me to what I look for in a tennis player / team. I am a busy person. I don’t like wasting time. So I look for players who don’t waste time on the court, either. I look for players who play intelligently. I look for players that make the game more exciting, players that take chances, players that can bring more viewers to the television, and growing the game as a whole. These are the types of players I want to see.
I enjoy watching Aggressive Net Player, players who finish >50% of points inside the service line with either volleys or overheads, because baseline tennis is boring.
PLAYING THE NET IS A SKILL
Rather than jumping to conclusions and simply stating “I like net rushers,” allow me to explain. There is a certain skill to winning points at the net that many of today’s players either do not possess or refuse to use. That is why many players choose to play from behind the baseline leaving all sorts of opportunities on the table… and not a single footprint inside the service box. Their rallies last too long, making it too hard to explain on a broadcast, or to your players, and ultimately too hard to bring new players to the game. Most commentators aren’t able to get out more than a “Good Shot!” on most rallies leaving the viewer in the dark as to what just happened, unclear about how the game is played, and ultimately disinterested in the sport.
On the other hand, Net players play shorter points, they take chances, and win or lose THEY will determine the outcome of the match.
WAITING FOR THE BIG PLAY
I look for players who recognize an opportunity and seize it rather than simply waiting for their opponent to make a mistake. I look for players who know how to set up AND finish a point. Players who hit to the middle of the court or allow their opponent to change directions show a lack of understanding (and the killer instinct), that would make the game exciting for the spectator. For most of America this passiveness is boring. Like in the UFC, we want to see the finish. In baseball we look for the home run. In football we look for the big hit. In basketball we look for the slam dunk. In NASCAR we look for the crash. In soccer we look for the goal to be scored (which is why we don’t watch).
Look at it this way: in other sports they draw up plays. The team’s coach carries around a dry erase board, with a picture of the playing field on it, and he tells the players what to do in a given situation. Football does it, basketball does it, they all do it. In fact, I remember playing baseball and the coach explaining to us “it the ball is hit here, you throw it there.” There was a plan, there were x’s and o’s, we knew what to do.
Most tennis players do not.
HOW DID THEY DO THAT?
They can rally. They’re fast. They’re in great shape, but they’re too passive in their game planning. Just listen to their post match interviews and you’ll hear “I made my shots” or ”I wasn’t playing my best.” It almost sounds like they don’t know how they won or lost. They were told by their coach if they are able to perfect their technique, they’d win. Is that what baseball coaches do? Throw a better ball and you’ll win? Where’s the strategy in that?!?
I was watching an FSU match on ESPN3, recently, where Mark Bey was one of the broadcasters and there was a moment that really stuck out in my mind. One of the players throws in a drop shot and follows it in. Mark saw this and pointed it out to the audience. He said something along the lines of ‘I like how he started coming in after hitting the drop shot. That way he’s in a better position to win the point when the ball comes back.” It may not sound like much, but that kind of insight can help people understand what just happened. When I watch football on TV I see replays, close-ups, yellow lines on the screen, and all of it is narrated by the commentators. The commentators are teaching the viewer how the game is played by explaining what is happening on the field. They will even go so far as to predict or suggest what should happen next. Tennis commentators are unable to do that.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!?
When I watch pro tennis I see players who don’t understand the basic geometry of a tennis court. It’s pretty simple when you consider we play on a big rectangle, with no one to defend us, and the biggest obstacle is a stationary net dividing the court in half. Exactly what is the objective of this game? Is it to get the ball by the other person? NO! It is to create a SITUATION to get the ball by the other person, or to make your opponent miss. So hitting a “better ball” is of little value. The real challenge is Manipulation.
A good tennis rally should last no longer than 10 shots. If you know what you’re doing you should be able to win/lose a point in under 10 shots because once you get to the net, you only have 2 shots left. The goal should be to create an opening for yourself, and finish your opponent. As another, high profile tennis coach would put it “control, hurt, and finish.”
THE RULES ARE VERY SIMPLE
From the baseline, the safe play is crosscourt; Change direction when you get a short ball, after you pushed your opponent off the court, or when you can hit it by them cleanly.
On the approach: The first question is when do you come in? And when you do come in, hit the approach down-the-line to make it easier for yourself on the next shot, the volley.
And of course, volleys always go to the open court. The only exception is when the open court is so obvious, your opponent sees it, too, and takes off running. In that case you hit it behind them. This is all basic stuff (or should be) but I believe the top players believe they can overpower their opponent rather than trying to outsmart them. I mean, a Swing Volley?!? What’s wrong with a firm flat volley to a part of the court as far away from your opponent as possible? Or maybe a drop shot? And if they return it, hit it to the other side! You’re welcome. That will be $80.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Coaches and commentators spend much of their time talking about technique because it’s easier to recognize a technical mistake than a tactical one. We don’t draw up plays because the rallies are too long to diagram. So we wait until a player makes a mistake and talk about why they missed the shot, technically, rather than identifying the situation they were in and how they got there, an opening they missed, or how to get out of it.
But if more players were able to recognize an opportunity, and were not afraid to seize it, I believe the on-court action would be much more exciting and much more interesting to the spectator so there would be no need to shorten match… because they could do it themselves.
NCAA Individual Championship
In my opinion, tennis tournaments are probably the hardest to report on because there are too many players playing too many matches, too many consecutive days with not enough time in between to prepare for the next. I can only imagine what it is like to be a player, but as a spectator, it’s my job to sort through the clutter of activity to gather what’s important to the reader. Because other sports operate on a periodic schedule of games, rather than week-long tournaments, commentators are able to build anticipation for the next game on the schedule making it more exciting when following your favorite team.
I understand the thinking that ’More is better’, but what about “Too much of a good thing”? College tennis is the best method of conducting the sport and should be implemented on the professional level. Why? When you follow a team over the course of a season you begin to identify with them. It becomes appointment viewing. Every game matters and every game is important. Plus the players have enough time to rest during the season, they take fewer days off. This keeps the fans interested.
For example, have you ever heard someone, in reference to the weeks leading up to a Major tournament refer to those tournaments as “tune-up” events? That would imply that the tournament is of little value other than to prepare the favorites for the next big one. By diminishing the importance of Indianapolis or Atlanta or New Haven you diminish every player in the tournament making the event less appealing. Why would I go to this event if it doesn’t mean anything? It’s like watching your favorite football team: why would I pay to watch a game that doesn’t matter? When college tennis teams work their way through a schedule of matches, against teams from across the country, all for a chance to qualify for the NCAA Championship at the end, every game is important. The season is not a “warm up” to the tournament, but rather a qualification FOR the tournament. A loss at the wrong time could drop a team in the standings and out of the Championship. A win at the right time could mean an easier draw when they’re accepted. Institute a season of scheduled matches and add significance to professional tennis.
Below you will find the results of the individual NCAA Singles / Doubles Championship for 2015 for players on Florida teams. It’s a lot to take in all at once, but it’s important to at least hear the names of players you are going to want to watch next season. Enjoy!
We can talk about why we’re playing this tournament another time.
For more on your favorite Florida college tennis teams follow us on Twitter @aateamtennis. GO TEAM!
#6 Doubles team Sophomore Courtney Keegan and Freshman Brooke Austin
Defeated Shayne Austin/Briar Preston of Arizona, 6-2, 6-2
Defeated Lauren Herring/Ellen Perez of Georgia, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3
Defeated Taylor Davidson/Carol Zhao of Stanford, 6-0, 1-6, 6-4
Lost to Klara Fabrikova/Zsofi Susanyi of California, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4
May 22, 2015 – The Gators’ top doubles team of Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan advanced to the Round of 16 with a win over Arizona’s #27-ranked Shayne Austin and Briar Preston, 6-2, 6-2. Brooke Austin: “I thought we played really well… really aggressively.” Kourtney Keegan: “I don’t think it’s always easy… getting into a rhythm…. Getting a lead early helps you relax a lot…. You just feel more comfortable out there, and I think that helps a lot because you get more momentum that way.”
#3 Freshman Brooke Austin – Lost in Round 1 to #47 Jennifer Brady of UCLA, 7-6 (3), 6-3.
#56 Sophomore Kourtney Keegan – Lost in Round 1 to #20 Carolina Price of UNC, 6-1, 6-3.
#28 Junior Brianna Morgan – Lost in Round 1 to #57 Madison Westby of USC, 6-0, 3-6, 6-4
#58 Sophomore Belinda Woolcock – Defeated Lorraine Guillermo of Pepperdine, 6-2, 6-3
Lost in Round 2 to Sabrina Santamaria of USC, 6-3, 6-3
#13 Freshman Josie Kuhlman – Defeated Kyle Phillips of UCLA, 6-4, 6-1
Defeated Viktoriya of Oklahoma State, 6-3, 6-4
Defeated Maegan Manasse of Cal, 6-4, 6-1
Defeated Sinead Lohan of Miami, 6-3, 6-4
Lost in Semifinals to Carol Zhao of Stanford, 2-6, 6-4, 6-0
#17 Doubles team Senior Lina Lileikite and Junior Stephanie Wagner
Lost to #11 Lauren Herring/Ellen Perez of Georgia, 6-2, 6-2
#37 Freshman Sinead Lohan – Defeated Lauren Herring of Georgia, 6-1, 6-4
Defeated Caroline Price of UNC, 7-6 (3), 7-5
Defeated Natalie Beazant of Rice, 7-5, 6-1
Lost to Josie Kuhlman of Florida in Quarterfinals, 6-3, 6-4
#11 Junior Stephanie Wagner – Defeated Blair Shankle of Baylor, 6-3, 6-2
Defeated Beatrice Gumulya of Clemson, 6-2, 6-4
Defeated Saska Gavrilovska of Texas A&M, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4
Defeated #1 Robin Anderson of UCLA, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
Lost to Jamie Loeb of UNC in Semifinals, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
#91 Freshman Alizee Michaud – Lost to Jasmine Lee of Mississippi State, 6-0, 6-4
May 20, 2015 – #91-ranked Freshman Alizee Michaud endured an 0-6, 4-6 loss to Mississippi State’s Jasmine Lee in the first round of the NCAA Singles Championship. This would be the first singles match Alizee has lost all season. Jasmine Lee was a first-team All-SEC selection and the #23-ranked player in America. A very tall order considering Michaud was playing for the first time since April 18, when Stetson lost to FGCU in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. Stetson Director of Tennis Pierre Pilote: “I believe her slow start had to do with her going about a month without playing any meaningful tennis… the second set was more of the quality level of play that we are accustomed to seeing from Alizee.” Alizee Michaud finished the regular season as the 2015 Atlantic Sun Conference Player and Freshman of the Year.
North Florida Singles
#96 Sophomore Jack Findel-Hawkins – Lost to Roberto Quiroz of USC, 6-4, 6-3
Jack was playing in his first match in over two months after being sidelined with an injury which makes his #96 ranking even more impressive. He won the Bedford Cup in the fall and the first Osprey to earn entry into the NCAA Singles Championship.
South Florida Doubles
#28 Doubles team Senior Oliver Pramming and Freshman Justin Roberts
Defeated Denis Nguyen/Brian Yeung of Harvard, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4
Lost to Harry Jadun/John Patrick Mullane of Michigan State, 7-6 (0), 6-4
Congratulations to Oliver Pramming on a successful season with the Bulls, helping the team achieve a #18 ranking and capture its first AAC title. Looks like Justin Roberts will have to find a new doubles partner next season. But one-half of the #28 Doubles in the nation shouldn’t have any trouble finding someone to play with.
South Florida Singles
#21 Junior Roberto Cid – Lost to Austin Smith of Georgia, 6-2, 7-6 (1)
Florida State Doubles
#16 Doubles team Juniors Benjamin Lock/Marco Nunez
Lost to Arjun Kadhe/Jakob Sude of Oklahoma State, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
Florida State Singles
#44 Junior Benjamin Lock – Defeated Uros Petronijevic of San Diego, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-6 (4)
Lost to Ryan Shane of Virginia in Round of 32, 6-2, 6-1
I recently read an article that stated “Chocolate Milk May Boost Post-Workout Recovery” (fitnessmagazine.com). As a tennis coach, was interested since I’ve always been a fan of chocolate milk. I often make my own with a little 2% milk and some chocolate syrup. I like the crisp, refreshing taste of really cold milk enhanced with the creamy sweetness of chocolate. I mean, who doesn’t like chocolate, am I right!?!
So when I saw the title I had to continue reading. The article gave a number of reasons why the nutrients in milk are beneficial to athletes in terms of recovery, rehydration, and building muscle. Many of them make sense, but I wondered how much of it made sense when compared to the theory that milk, after a certain age, does more harm than good in adults. Let’s take a look.
Milk Is Bad! BOOOO!
The arguments in opposition to consuming milk say things like “No other species but humans… [is] able to drink milk after you’re a baby.” But this may not be due to a specific condition experienced by every human, but rather an inability to digest the sugar found in milk, lactose, by some people. Another article in regards to bone health in adults wrote “Six studies containing almost 200,000 women could find no association between drinking milk and lower rates of fractures” which makes me wonder how they conducted this study: did they swing a baseball bat at people to see if they would break? Yet another study believes the ability to digest and absorb the nutrients found in milk are actually a genetic mutation that “showed up… about 7,500 years ago… first in Northern Europe, where people got less vitamin D from the sun and therefore did better if they could also get the crucial hormone from milk.” Which makes it sound like humans have always had the ability to process milk, and the vitamin D found in it, but certain regions needed it more than others. I mean, if we were not meant to drink milk, why do cows give it up so easily? Don’t they know we’re not supposed to be drinking it? Listen, if you are not able to process milk, for whatever reason, don’t drink it. But for those of who can, and like the taste, here are the reasons you should.
Physical exercise is very demanding on the body. Whether it’s tennis or running or riding a bike the body sacrifices certain things to help you play your best. Nutrients, such as electrolytes, which allow the body to function by passing electrical impulses (among other things) throughout the body, are lost when you sweat. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, phosphorous, and calcium are lost in this process, and need to be replaced after a workout. Failure to replace electrolytes could lead to your muscles and organs functioning improperly or shutting down completely. Milk has a good supply of sodium, potassium, phosphorous, and calcium and is more slowly digested by the body which means its nutrients are absorbed much slower (Brian D. Roy in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition”.) That means your body holds onto it for a long time.
As athletes, we must pay close attention to our intake of protein, carbohydrates, and fat and milk is a good source of all 3. As you can see in the image, one cup of 2% milk provides 9g or protein, 13g of carbohydrates, and 5g of fat, numbers far more balanced than what you’ll find in a bottle of the leading sports drink. Chocolate syrup will add sugar (carbohydrates) but not much else, so the amount of fat in chocolate milk is based upon the % milk being used.
Physical exercise also breaks down muscle tissue leading to small micro-tears that need to be repaired. Dr. John Ivy, lead researcher and chair of The University of Texas at Austin College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education (PHEW! that’s a mouthful) found you can build more muscle and lose fat during training if you drink chocolate milk after a workout. This is due, in part of the amount of protein and carbohydrates. An excess of sugar (carbohydrates) in the diet, if not metabolized for energy, will be stored in the body as fat, mostly around the mid-section. Protein, on the other hand, promotes muscle growth (and repair) which is necessary for metabolism and being able to play the following day.
Research has been conducted at to an athlete’s ability to perform better with chocolate milk compared to a sports drink, but most of this is circumstantial. The reports show soccer players being able to play longer in the afternoon, than in the morning, when they had chocolate milk for lunch. While this can be very hard to prove (maybe they’re just not morning people), it would make sense that the additional time it takes for the body to digest milk would allow it to remain in the system longer, providing sustained energy and additional nutrient absorption. But this is anecdotal.
I like chocolate milk because of how it tastes. Knowing the nutritional benefits only makes me like it even more. But for those who are lactose intolerant (cramping, gas, etc.) it may not be right for you. Maybe nature has a milk-substitute just for you. I hear soy milk is pretty good.
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A long time ago, when All American Team Tennis was just getting started, we would award our players with trophies; nothing too grand, just the oval, pewter plates with crossed checkered flags on them. Since then we’ve graduated to championship rings because they’re WAAAAY cooler.
But I remember stopping by the trophy shop to pick up the name plates and while I was waiting, a man with a little girl came into the shop. You could tell they were tennis players by the way they were dressed, and by the trophy she would receive. The man spoke to the clerk, asking for the trophy they had ordered. The clerk went into the back and came out with a pillar trophy, no more than a foot tall, and handed it to the little girl. Then the man (who may have been her coach) and the clerk looked at the girl and said “YAY! Good Job!”
Seeing as I was there for the same reason, except I was getting awards for a Team to be recognized at an Awards Ceremony, I immediately drew comparisons. I would never say anything to them in the shop, but I held onto the image in the back of my mind because it’s one of the reasons I run my tennis program as a tennis League. Community.
All too often I hear tennis players complain about how much the people around them get on their nerves: How they prefer singles because there’s no one to make them lose. I often hear from adults who say the conflict of teammates in other sports drove them to tennis. Which begs the question: are you running FROM something or running TO something. Are you playing tennis because you wish to be left alone? Are you playing singles because of your inability to get along with other people? Listen, no matter where you go in life, there will be other people there. And like it or, you need them as much as they need you. Like it or not, we all need each other.
I watch as much college tennis as I can because I prefer the synergy of people working together, like in football or basketball. And the way college tennis matches are conducted can be very exciting. They start with 3 courts of doubles and the team who wins 2 out of 3 wins one point for the team (we’ll talk about that debacle in another post). Then they move onto the round of singles where many of the doubles players, but not all of them, will get a court to themselves. Six matches, all being played at the same time, until one team wins a total of 4 points, including the doubles point. Meaning, if you won the doubles point, all you need are three singles, but if you lost the doubles, you need four singles. It’s a ‘Best-of-seven’ much like the NBA Playoffs, or Major League Baseball. It is this combination of individual achievement paired with team accomplishment that I find intriguing. And over the course of 7 games, either team could win. But even more important than winning and losing is the feeling of Community that develops between players because they all depend on each other. When they need something they have someone to turn to, and they are also there when someone needs them. And the celebration when they win is better than anything I’ve seen on the pro circuit (why are they lying on the ground?)
That is why I found the scene at the trophy store so sad. This little girl had achieved something no one else had done and she had no one to share it with. In her respective division she had climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest and the person at the top, waiting to congratulate her, was the gift shop owner selling mini Everest snow globes and souvenir pins.
Yes, the girl received a trophy as a reminder of what she had done, but who’s going to see it? Will she take it to school and show her friends or will they come to her house? What if her friends don’t play tennis? What if her friends DO play tennis and she beat them in the tournament? Will she show her parents, teacher, family? How does it feel to accomplish something and have no one to share it with?
Tennis is full of players who believe they are superior to every other player, including players in other sports. But how can this be when the tennis “experts” tell us the reason we don’t have an American at #1 in the world is because “America’s best athletes are playing other sports”? LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Clayton Kershaw could have been tennis players… if the sport were more appealing. So this holier-than-thou attitude of tennis players is simply misplaced. It also makes it hard to become friends with other people. And what is life if you live it alone?
I enjoy playing tennis because I like hitting things. That’s it. In fact, I believe WE ALL enjoy hitting things. But it has to be about more than just hitting things if we are going to get back on TV (ESPN3 doesn’t count as TV). So why don’t more people play/watch tennis? Ask the little girl in the trophy shop.
One of the items most often overlooked by tennis players are their shoes. Surprising when you think about how much movement is involved with tennis. Tennis can be very demanding on the feet, and when your feet hurt, you just don’t feel like playing. A good pair of tennis shoes will help you navigate the rigors of the tennis court.
You may be saying to yourself “But I just bought a good pair of running shoes. They cost me $95 and they feel good on my feet, isn’t that good enough?”
The short answer is ‘no’, the long answer is ‘it depends’. The first consideration is how much you will be playing and how hard. And by ‘how hard’ I’m talking about how serious you are about developing as a player. If you are signed up for Cardio Tennis or a beginner’s tennis class where you are mostly drilling, you should be. Running shoes were designed for the rigors of running and drills are mostly running. Running shoes tend to be soft, very comfortable, and built for, well, running.
Tennis shoes, on the other hand, are designed to support your feet and ankles while playing tennis and to prevent injury because playing tennis requires a lot of hard stops and changes of direction. That means moving left and right rather than just straight ahead. Here are a few things to consider:
- Tennis requires frequent stops and starts, typically on a hard flat surface.
- These stops and starts are very demanding on shoes and require them to be much sturdier.
- Quick changes in direction also demand more from the shoes on your feet.
The type of playing surface also determines what kind of shoe to buy:
- Hard court players require a more durable sole to withstand the abrasive nature of the playing surface.
- Clay court players often drag the toe of their back foot requiring a shoe with a sturdy toe cap on top. Vinyl or leather is often used for this.
- Different surfaces also demand different patterns on the bottom of the shoe. Clay court shoes allow a player to slide without collecting much clay in the tread.
Players must also consider their own style of play when selecting a shoe.
- Baseliners tend to play longer points requiring a sturdier shoe, while serve-and-volleyers need a lighter shoe that allows them to respond quickly.
- Always remember: the sturdier the shoe, the heavier it will be.
However, tennis shoe manufacturers have recently made efforts to make lighter weight shoes while offering support and durability in strategic locations. For example, the Adidas Women’s Stella McCartney Barricade features Kunan mesh upper for added breathability,
while the Prince T22 has a split leather upper for added durability.
This makes the shoe heavier and less breathable. So consider your goals before deciding on a shoe.
Another thing to consider when selecting a shoe is the arch support. The bridge connecting the front half of the shoe with the back half determines whether these two pieces move together or independently. When running, this is not as much of a concern as both pieces are lined up one behind the other, so they naturally function as a unit.
But in tennis when much of your movement is side-to-side, these two pieces must move together to prevent injury. So when looking for a tennis shoe, be sure to check the bottom of the shoe for added support in the bridge. A great way to determine this is to hold the show in front of you, sideways, with the palm of each hand at the front and the back of the shoe. Squeeze your hands together like you are playing the accordion, and see how much the shoe flexes.
If it remains fairly stiff, only flexing a little bit, you’re ok. But if it bends a lot or flexes at the arch, it will not be sturdy enough to help you play your best.
These are just a few things to consider when selecting a tennis shoe. There are a lot of shoes out there by many different brands, so take your time. Not only do you need a shoe that will help you play your best, but you also want it to look good, too!
Florida State Assistant Coach, Susie
In Defense of College Coaches
The purpose of college is to train you for future work. Whether it’s as a teacher or an engineer, colleges build upon what you learned in high school to train you for a better future. The same is true for professional athletes, only your instructors are your coaches: offensive coordinator, pitching coach, strength and conditioning coaches, etc. When a high school football player is choosing a college they often consider the things that will help them achieve their goal of playing in the NFL. They consider the location, yes, the history, of course, but let’s not forget the coaches. Is this coach the right coach to get you to the pros? How many other players have they gotten to the pros? This is one of the considerations of college recruiting in sports like football and basketball.
What about college tennis? How many college coaches send their players to the pros? How many college coaches go pro, themselves? Is college even on the path to the pros? Unfortunately, the path to the pros doesn’t go through college. So what about the coaches? If a coach’s value to the university is determined by their team’s accomplishments, and the path to the pros goes around college, how much is a college tennis coach really worth? Coaches are not responsible for a player’s academics, that is in the realm of the professor. They don’t partake of other college extra-curriculars (parties), either. And now we see they can’t get a player to the pros. So what, exactly, do they do? What is their value? What is their worth? Are they nothing more than after school, junior program, tennis instructors, offering a way to pay for college to their small group of players?
Until professional tennis becomes a team sport, colleges and college coaches will remain in a sort of limbo, between accepting high school players who have given up the dream to play professionally, and a professional sport not interested in college talent. It is a situation that must be remedied for not only the game as a whole, but specifically for college tennis coaches.
Consider, for a moment, what a college tennis coach is being asked to do: take a group of players, from different parts of the country, sometimes the world, bring them all together, and get them to play as a team. This is a monumental task considering the tennis environment and players’ attitudes. Tennis players a raised from a very young age to believe they are in it only for themselves, everyone is an opponent, a doubles partner is more of an anchor than a sail, and the best players play singles, while the leftovers play doubles. Now… take those players and make a team out of them, produce a winning record to get into the Conference championships, and eventually the NCAA championships. Good luck. And what do they get in return? A tangible lack of respect from society-at-large because they coach a Team of players rather than an individual. But I would argue that the college tennis coach is an even more accomplished coach because of everything they are asked to do.
The only solution to this problem is to abandon the tour and bring tennis back home. Establish professional tennis in America as a team sport and allow college coaches to work with the next generation of professional tennis talent. Recruit from High Schools, get drafted by the Pros, and watch the sport explode in America. And who knows… maybe your favorite college tennis coach will get called up to the Big Leagues, too! GO TEAM!
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One of the things I hear more than anything else when I invite people to play tennis is: I don’t think I’m ready for that, yet. It’s almost as if they are afraid of tennis. Can this be true? I find it strange, when you consider how complicated other sports can be with all of the moving parts. Every player has to be in the right spot, every player has a specific job to do, and if one player is out of position or does the wrong thing, it creates a domino effect. Contrast that with tennis where we don’t have specific assignments or run plays, where there’s only one person on the court, and that one person is in total control of what they do. Tennis is so simple, I’m surprised more people would rather play ice/roller hockey! Why is that?
Sports like hockey and football understand the value of the Team. Not only do the players on a football team need the other players to block, pass, and catch, they need each other for other reasons: support, community, camaraderie. The players they play with become their friends because they have something in common, something they share. in many cases, the parents and officials become friends because THEY have something in common, too. It is the shared experience that creates community, and what is life without friends?
Unfortunately, tennis does not share this same spirit of community because every player is an opponent. Yes, players often train together at the same facility, but when they travel to a tournament, partners become opponents. And that kind of consistent opposition can strain a friendship ultimately leading to tennis players having very few friends. Most people can be friends with people that are kind to them, but on the field of competition the other person’s objective is to see you lose. How long can a relationship last when the only thing you have in common is a desire to see the other person fail? And in many cases, this feeling of isolation is too much for players, to where they decide not to play anymore.
There is a solution. There is an answer to the demise of our sport. There is a way to keep players playing and we see it in High Schools, Colleges, and (believe it or not) in every tennis club across the country; and it’s called the ‘Tennis Team’. The Team is a container that is big enough to hold every player who wants to play. The Team is great for new players because they are not required to carry the team. The team is good for more experienced players because they now have an audience that appreciates their talents. The Team fills in the gaps of the human experience that individual sports leave behind. And if tennis were a team sport at the Professional level it would bring greater notoriety to a sport that could desperately use the attention. That is what we are here to do: make a big deal out of an otherwise ignored sport. Stay tuned for more.