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Why Does the USTA Need a National Campus?

Why does the USTA need a National Campus?

USTA National Campus road sign
Road sign at entrance to USTA National Campus

For years the USTA has partnered with tennis facilities to use their many resources to fund programming for both recreational and competitive tennis. But in January of this year, they USTA launched their very own, state-of-the-art National Campus to raise the the level of American tennis? The $60 million facility holds 100 courts of every type of playing surface as well as programming for touring pros, aspiring juniors, adult leagues, and beginner programs. It sounds like a good idea, on paper, but why would the USTA get into the coaching business by offering its own tennis programming? Why would the USTA build a facility they could rent for $15 per hour? Why would the USTA spend so much money on what they are calling a “public” facility? What’s really happening at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona? Why would the USTA feel the need to compete with the thousands of Coaches across the country currently running tennis programs? Is this something they plan to do in other parts of the country? If the idea is to make tennis more accessible to people living in Central Florida… what about Central Kansas? Or Central Ohio?

They’re Building a New Walmart!

The purpose of a governing body is to oversee operations, or to “draw up the rules that govern the actions and conduct of a body such as school, university, or sport”. The actual work of delivering the product is done by individuals in various parts of the country while the governing body makes sure administrators are compliant to the rules established by the governing body. You have to trust those who have committed to doing the job to actually DO THE JOB. But what happens when the bosses come down to the factory floor and start doing the job in place of the workers? Or rather when they go across the street and take business from the factory? What happens to smaller businesses when Walmart comes to town?

By the USTA building a facility to perform the duties already being carried out by others in the Central

USTA National Campus post card
No one does it like the USTA?

Florida community, have they undercut those businesses and doomed them to failure? What happens to the “National Training Center” in Boca Raton when resources are diverted away from their facility and absorbed by the National Campus outside Orlando? Unless the overall ”pie” gets bigger, the USTA would have to cherry-pick the best players from each facility and bring them in to fill their courts and make back the money they’ve spent on their own facility. Otherwise, the USTA would have to find NEW players to fill their courts, and believe me, starting from scratch is a steep hill to climb. Considering tennis’ core player demographic is aging and playing less often, is a new, 100-court, country club outside of Orlando a good investment? Only time will tell.

 

So What Happens To Us?

So let’s say that the USTA is successful in recruiting the best players from the Orlando area, maybe even the rest of the country, to train at their facility… what happens to the facilities the players have left behind? What happens to their programming? What happens to their membership? What happens to their revenue? How will people look at ‘Facility A’ after the best players have left for the USTA National Campus? How does it feel to be one of those left behind, knowing you’re not good enough to play at the National Campus? What does that do to morale?

Now let’s look at it another way: why would someone leave their Home courts to play in an unfamiliar setting? Why would someone leave their friends and family to play/train at the National Campus? Does the USTA have the “secret sauce” needed for you to reach the next level? What do they have that my club doesn’t? One of the things that bonds an individual to something is their level of enjoyment. It can be hard to quantify, but familiarity is a very real thing. Players often go to the same tennis program at the same place and time for years because humans are creatures of habit. When we find something we like, we hold onto it. We all have our favorite restaurants, hangouts, our favorite room in the house, or our favorite TV show. When we make friends we want to see them as often as we can because we like them and we know how hard it can be to make new ones. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is a hurdle every business has to overcome. Why would the USTA choose to put people in unfamiliar surroundings?

Palm Springs Feels Like Home

The USTA National Campus is a world-class, state-of-the-art, high tech facility with 100 courts consisting of every playing surface. It is a marvel of engineering and a monument to the game of tennis. No other facility can boast of having the amenities (restaurants, locker rooms, pro shop) of the National Campus. It is in a class by itself. But I would rather play on the public courts of Palm Springs, FL than on the Team USA courts of Lake Nona. Why? Because Palm Springs feels like Home.

Given everything the USTA has put into the construction of the National Campus, there’s one thing it

does not have: it doesn’t feel like Home. The USTA National Campus feels sterile and impersonal. And since none of my friends made the trip to Lake Nona, playing in Lake Nona means I am playing by myself. I wonder how many people would give up the comforts and familiarity of Home for the privilege of playing in, what amounts to be, unfamiliar surroundings.

FAU Owls Men's tennis team
The FAU Owls of Boca Raton

I hear this when I speak to College tennis teams because they feel the same way. Many of them would rather play at Home on their Home courts in front of their Home fans instead of a neutral site because they were told “it’s special to play here”. When the Ohio State Buckeyes play in Columbus, OH the majority of spectators are Ohio State fans. The same can be said of FAU in Boca Raton, or Texas Tech in Lubbock. There’s a reason why we refer to it as “Home Field Advantage”; playing in familiar surroundings keeps you relaxed and allows you to play your best. And as a fan, playing at Home means I don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on traveling to support the team. As much of an honor as it is to play at the National Campus, most players would rather play at Home in front of their fans. It’s a win-win situation.

Give Me $60 Million And See What I Do With It!

Which brings me to my last point: did the USTA build a facility of their own because they were dissatisfied with the efforts of every other coach in America? Did the absence of an American man in the #1 position for so many years discourage the USTA on the efforts of coaches across the country? Is the USTA bringing in, not only the best players, but the best coaches for greater control over American representation on the international tour? Did the USTA just deliver a virtual ‘backhand’ to every other tennis program in America for not producing better tennis talent? Why would the USTA put $60 million of membership money into their own campus when that money could have gone to the thousands of tennis programs across America that need new tennis balls, nets, and coaches? Was this move an indicator of something even more problematic within the sport of tennis? Would that money have been better spent here (USTA) than there (locally)?

The sport of tennis has been choked into submission by the USTA’s strict adherence to tennis tournaments. Tournaments are sterile and impersonal, much like the USTA National Campus. If players wish to compete at the next level they must leave home to train and travel with the 3 or 4 other players on their level. But what about the fans, friends, and families back home? Tennis has seen a steady decline in popularity for the past 30 years. But a shift from individual tournaments to the Home Town Team will inject life back into this dying sport. There are literally hundreds of NCAA Division 1 College

Virginia Cavaliers NCAA Champions 2017
The best thing to happen to Charlottesville? The National Champion UVA Men’s Tennis Team

tennis teams all across America with talented players playing for their respective communities. They play for the entire school body; students, faculty, and the surrounding community, not just themselves. They wear the uniform with pride, they play with pride, and they embrace the fact that they are not out there by themselves. To many College players, and even professional players, their College days are the best days of their lives. Why would the USTA endeavor to take that away from them by bringing them to the National Campus to play?

…Because Life Is A Team Sport

Social interaction is the bedrock of any society. Whenever an individual is taken away from familiar surroundings there is an adjustment period that many never recover from. Has the USTA overlooked the basic human needs of safety and social acceptance in some misguided attempt to produce world-class tennis talent? And what does it mean to be really good at tennis? Can it pay your bills? Put food on the table? For some, yes. Unfortunately, for the overwhelming majority, playing tennis may pay for college, and that’s it. But does it need to be more than that? And is the time-tested tactic of tennis tournaments the optimal vehicle for delivering players to empty tennis courts? Would America be better served by abandoning tournaments and adopting the Tennis Team, exclusively? I say ‘yes’. Is there anyone else who agrees with me?

It’s Lonely At The Top – Pro Tennis

Pro Tennis is a Very Lonely Game

I saw this Twitter post from a recent Pro tennis tournament and my first thought was “that looks awkward, lonely, and uncomfortable?”


How many of us like it when people stare at us? Judging us with their little eyes? Yet this man is placed on a pedestal, all by himself, surrounded by nothingness, while people who believe they are sharing in the victory are really staring at someone having a private moment. Why do I say ‘private moment’? Well, what is he doing? Is he performing? Is he interacting with the crowd? Is he on the microphone? No. He’s focused inward, on himself and his feelings, patiently waiting for the ceremony to end so he can be with his loved ones. “I’d rather be somewhere else”… this is what it must feel like to be a really good tennis player. It’s different than being a part of a team where you can share these moments with your friends. This is almost hard to watch. Who dreams of being in that position? Is this what Pro Tennis feels like? And if this is what it feels like to win, how does it feel to lose?

Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Back in 2004 I started my career as a tennis coach at a tennis club in Columbus, OH. A friend invited me to assist with the junior tennis program one afternoon. So what began as a part-time ‘assist’ would become a life-long journey of discovery. I remember consuming tennis wherever I could; TV, magazines, on court, because I wanted to be a part of something. I wanted to be accepted by the tennis community. I did what I  could do to “fit in”. It wasn’t what I expected.

Along the way, I tried to share my passion for tennis with the players I worked with, but it didn’t travel well. On many occasions I would ask club members (both kids and adults) if they saw a match on TV. The answer was usually ‘no’. And after the kids in the junior program repeatedly refused to participate in junior tournaments, I stopped encouraging tournament play and instead set out to figure out ‘why not?’. Why are kids ‘too busy’ to play tournaments? Don’t they know that’s how they’re going to improve their ranking? Don’t they know that tournaments are how they’ll be taken seriously? Don’t they understand that junior tournaments today could lead to them playing Pro tennis tomorrow? Isn’t that why they practice twice a week? But they came up with a myriad of excuses: birthday party, vacation, school work, whatever. But it became very clear when a player said they couldn’t enter the tennis tournament because they had a soccer game that day. Here we have a player IN the junior tennis program that would rather play soccer than tennis?!? Hmmm. Maybe tournaments aren’t that important to kids?

Where is the Tennis Community?

When I was a child my parents put me in baseball. My brother and I played from 5 years old all the way through High School. And I remember my little league days with a certain fondness that I believe youth tennis players never have a chance to experience. And that makes me sad.

I remember my baseball coach taking the team to Dairy Queen following the games. I remember the parents watching the game from their lawn chairs and cheering every time a player got a hit. I remember being selected to the All-Star Team and traveling to locations I had never been before. In my mind, when I make a side-by-side comparison of my days

Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs Pro Tennis
Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs

playing baseball and what tennis players experience today, it makes me sad because baseball is a more enjoyable experience than tennis. I believe the soccer player I mentioned earlier would say the same.

Month after month of turnover in the junior tennis program forced me into action. When I realized that no one else was going to do anything to improve the tennis experience, I decided to do it myself. It has proven to be a fool hardy endeavor but one I am comfortable pursuing because, I believe, children are suffering in most tennis programs but the coaches don’t see it. It’s too much work and not enough fun. (Adult tennis is something completely different.) Yes, we can play silly games with prizes and stuff, but there needs to be more. The sport of tennis doesn’t address the more significant needs that humans are born with and need to be met. Needs like security and acceptance and self-esteem. And it all hinges on one simple feature; the same feature that makes tennis unique also makes it unappealing:

Tennis is an individual game.

The Trophy Doesn’t Love You Back

Pro tennis player Serena Williams
Is it worth losing your friends?

Plain and simple. That’s where it starts. And for some strange reason, the tennis establishment seems to be ignorant of this critical error. Tennis does not appeal to the masses because no one wants to be lonely. So even if you win the tournament, and take home the trophy, you’re still alone. That trophy is not your friend. The trophy doesn’t love you back. Your friends are the ones you abandoned in pursuit of the trophy. Your friends are back at home while you’re out of town traveling to your next tournament. Your friends are hanging out with each other while you spend hours on the court practicing your passing shot… alone. Your friends left you because YOU chose an individual sport. Your friends are hanging out with each other. Who are you spending time with? And none of your friends are watching the tennis matches you are watching because they are not interested in tennis… period! So you can’t even TALK to your friends about tennis. And they’re not waiting for you to come back to town, either.

On the other hand, your friends are all playing team sports like soccer and volleyball. Your friends are hanging out at Pizza Hut because their Team won the championship. Your friends are going to Dairy Queen after the softball game. Are you going with them? Your friends are gearing up for a trip to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World for the AAU Wrestling competition. Where are you playing this weekend? And with who?

Good Friends Make You Happy

Being alone sucks. That’s why I started All American Team Tennis. Most human beings are afraid of being alone because we have a basic human need for companionship. I think it has something to do with endorphins, or dopamine, or something. When something good happens we look for someone to share the experience with. When something bad happens we look for someone to comfort us, to make the pain go away. Isolation and loneliness are what people

Sidney Crosby Stanley Cup
You’re never alone when you’re a part of the Team

feel before they commit suicide. It is also a form of punishment (ie. “go to your room”, “you’re grounded”, or solitary confinement). But Community can bring a person back to life. Which reminds me: what do people mean when they say “Get a Life”? Just curious.

I wanted to bring a more enjoyable experience to tennis players. It’s an idea that has been tried multiple times to little success because we keep holding on to the things that people are not interested in: tournaments and rankings. High Schools have tennis teams. Colleges have tennis teams. Country clubs have tennis teams. Serious tennis players, those who play 1-2 times a week, play on a team. But tennis on television remains individual. Why? The ratings for tennis are minuscule because Professional tennis LOOKS lonely. And lonely isn’t fun.

Everyone knows that social interaction is the building block of society, allowing for proper development of individuals. And that no one wants to be alone as evidenced by the fact that people gather together at restaurants and concerts. We can do the same for tennis; we can make tennis a gathering place for people of all ages. And you don’t have to pick up a racquet to do it. Tennis needs more fans. And that is why, on this website, you’ll hear about what’s happening in College tennis in addition to the Youth tennis league… Because Life is a Team Sport!

GO TEAM!

Pirates Of The Caribbean Movie Review

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales opened in theaters on Friday May 26 to cautious optimism. Walt Disney Studios has a history of making some of the most popular movies ever produced, and I think people really wanted to like Dead Men Tell No Tales (I know I did). But Pirates 3 & 4 left us wondering when the suffering would end. Would the 5th installment of the franchise “right the ship” and restore Pirates of the Caribbean to its former glory? I think the formula of Jack Sparrow on a quest to find what he truly desires had run its course. At World’s End was a smelly pile of raw fish rotting in the Caribbean sun that was not only boring, but hard to follow and senseless. They did their best to clean up the mess with On Stranger Tides, but they, again, crammed too many story lines into the movie making it too hard to follow (kind of like a season of Game of Thrones  in under 2 hours).

Central Characters: Henry, Carina, and Captain Salazar

Dead Men Tell No Tales takes a different approach. The movie starts with a young boy tying a rope around his ankle that is attached to a net full of rocks. He uses this device to sink to the bottom of the ocean where he comes face-to-face with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) the captain of the Flying Dutchman. We learn that the boy is Will’s son, Henry (Brenton Thwaites), and following a brief exchange, Henry decides he is going to find a way to break his father’s curse so they can be a family, again. Ok! So we have a new story line!

Fast forward 9 years (why 9? I don’t know) and we see Henry below deck on a British naval ship in pursuit of pirates. This is our introduction to the Devil’s Triangle and Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who is in pursuit of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to break the curse placed over him and his men (We see later how the crew became cursed and how Jack is responsible).

Jack Sparrow bank vault
How did he get in there?

We then come to the island of St Martin as some really important people are celebrating the Grand Opening of the new bank and it’s “indestructible” bank vault. This is how we introduce Jack and his pirate crew. But it seems a little odd that they would be robbing a bank. Oh well. Our introduction to Jack and his crew lead us on the wild chase and escape we’ve come to expect from Jack Sparrow. Fortunately, there aren’t many “wild chase scenes” in this movie.

Next, we are introduced to Carina (Kaya Scodelario) who is in prison for being a witch. Of course, she professes herself to be a ‘woman of science’ and only searching for the key to the ‘map-that-no-man-can-read’ that will help her locate Poseidon’s trident as outlined in her father’s notebook which she has carried with her since birth. This seems strange considering she claims to be all about “science” but she’s following a map left by her absent father to locate a mythical figure’s magical weapon.

There’s more to Pirates than Jack Sparrrow

But anyway, who’s paying attention? The point is that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t one where the audience follows Captain Jack Sparrow on some wild adventure in search of something Jack keeps hidden, even from the audience, only to be revealed as insignificant and trivial. It is something much more than that. It’s a journey to reunite family, a search for one’s identity, a story of sacrifice, AND a story of vengeance on the one who cursed Salazar and his crew to an eternity of pain and suffering, with a little bit of Jack Sparrow thrown in for comic relief. In my opinion, I felt like Jack Sparrow was the “Olaf” of Pirates 5; there for a little bit of levity when things got too heavy. He moves

Young Captain Jack Sparrow
Young Captain Jack Sparrow

the story along, but the story doesn’t revolve around him, exclusively. Although one of my favorite moments in the movie is seeing how Jack became the pirate he is today and how he got all of the wristbands, headbands, trinkets, and baubles he’s been wearing since we first met him 14 years ago. Understanding the significance behind his captain’s hat and why he has held onto it this long shows a more human side to the swashbuckling pirate.

I felt this story had more heart than the 2-3 previous movies which makes it a more enjoyable film. The characters had a clear purpose and the action made sense in respect to the overall storyline. Although the cursed sharks lying dormant until they are placed in water seemed a bit confusing. Especially when they can’t even sink a row boat! I thought Salazar’s ship was amazing as were all of the special effects. I liked the revelation at the end as well as the conclusion of the movie. And then there’s the bonus scene after the credits. Looks like they’re gearing up for a 6th Pirates of the Caribbean movie! I can hardly wait! Everyone should see this movie in the theaters. I just might go see it again!

Hometown Heroes – NCAA Div. 2 Tennis

The Men’s and Women’s NCAA Div. 2 Tennis Championships are taking place at the Sanlando Tennis Center in Altamonte Springs, Fl. Thursday May 11 would feature the semifinals for the Men and determine the semifinals for the Women. Representing the best NCAA Div. 2 tennis teams in America are:

Women’s Tennis Semifinals

Lynn University

Hawai’I Pacific

Barry

Armstrong State

Men’s Tennis Semifinals

Barry

Columbus State

West Florida

Southwest Baptist

These are the final 8 teams to battle it out for the right to call themselves “Champion”.

But what does that mean to you? Well, unless you attended one of these schools or live nearby, not much. But for the students, faculty, alumni, and surrounding community, it means everything. See, the local sports franchise is a Community asset. It is something for the People to be proud of.

For example, when I’m away from home, and someone asks me “where are you from?”, and I tell them “Columbus, Ohio”, images pass through their mind as to current events from my home town. And as a former resident, I can be proud of my home town because Columbus is home of THE Ohio State Buckeyes; and they’re awesome! Did I play a sport for the Buckeyes? No. But I lived there most of my life. I went to school there. My whole family and all of my friends are Buckeyes fans. And they’re awesome!

So for those of you in Boca Raton Florida, Honolulu Hawai’i, Miami Shores Florida, Savannah Georgia, Columbus Georgia, Pensacola Florida, and  Bolivar Missouri hold your heads high because your tennis teams are awesome!

GO TEAM!

New Teams and 3 Field Trips!!!

Every season of All American Team Tennis presents another opportunity for the children of America to enjoy tennis the way it was meant to be. Let’s face it, with so many activities like soccer, baseball, basketball, and video games all vying for your time, tennis tends to get lost in the shuffle. But not any more.

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Other Awards!

When you visit your local Parks and Recreation department and register your son/daughter for a Season of youth tennis, they enter a world of community and camaraderie, Game Day and Playoffs, fun and friends! For one low price players are assigned to a team where they are encouraged to learn the game in a group. They receive a jersey with THEIR name and number on the back. They grow and develop as players by participating in Game Day every Saturday. And they’re rewarded on a regular basis for their accomplishments with lollipops and other awards. Tennis has never been this much FUN!

But that’s not all!

When was the last time you took your kids to a LIVE sporting event? Maybe shared a hot dog or bought a souvenir hat? How about a tennis event? Well, we’re here to help you with that, too.

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Our players in Delray Beach

Every season our players travel all over South Florida in search of the best tennis around. Season 13 is no different. In fact, this season we are planning THREE field trips to College tennis matches. Spring is the perfect time to take in a tennis match as there are so many nationally-ranked Division I colleges who play their Home games right here in South Florida: the Gators, the Bulls, the Seminoles, Hurricanes, Knights, Owls, Eagles, Ospreys, and Sailfish all call Florida home. And this season we’re traveling to see the Owls, Knights, and Hurricanes play. It’s my favorite part of the season!

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Our players with the FAU Owls

 

So be sure to visit your local Parks department in Palm Springs, Greenacres, and Riviera Beach or call 561-578-9914 for more information and we’ll see in Season 13.

GO TEAM!