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
On Sunday February 26, players from the All American Team Tennis youth tennis league would travel to Boca Raton to witness the Florida Atlantic University Owls men’s tennis team take on the Florida A&M Rattlers. Players had high expectations for this field trip and the FAU Owls did not disappoint. Having personally attended a number of tennis matches in the past, Coach Ken was prepared for an afternoon of college tennis. Armed with his trusty Shade Tech canopies and Coleman portable propane grill, he would escort his players onto the hallowed grounds of the brand new FAU Tennis Complex. Ok… maybe ‘hallowed’ is a bit much. But it is a really nice facility!
There are a number of reasons why Field Trips are such a phenomenal part of any youth tennis program. First, College Tennis is the best and most readily available tennis product for
those most interested in the game. Both players and non-players can enjoy an afternoon at the local university watching some of the best players in the world.
Next, College Tennis teams play all of their Home games at the same location. Which means you have multiple opportunities to take in a match. Compare that with the pro tour where players sweep into town once a year for a week and then they’re off to the next exotic location. As a tennis fan, it feels kind of empty when there’s no tennis going on. Fortunately, the College Tennis season is 4 months long! And it’s 6 months if you count the pre-season matches in September/October. That’s what I call a “Full” season!
Third, giving players the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company away from the tennis court strengthens the bonds they’ve built on the court. From the anticipation leading up to the field trip, to arriving at the gathering place, to driving to/from the games, to the matches themselves, field trips are fun. Plain and simple.
This field trip would feature a matchup of the Florida Atlantic Owls of Conference USA hosting the Florida A&M Rattlers of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The energy level is always high when watching FAU but things really ratcheted up when the third court of doubles would need a tiebreak to see who would take the doubles point (“Why are the doubles only one point?” you ask. We’ll talk about that later). With all of the spectators watching the action on only one court, everything felt much bigger. And when the referee took a point away from the Rattlers
for one of their players hitting the net with his foot, things really heated up. Fortunately, the Owls would keep their composure and hold on to win the doubles point and roll in the singles to take the match 4-0, moving their record to 9-3. The win puts Florida Atlantic in a two-way tie for second place in the Conference USA standings.
There’s much more to tennis than tournaments… and Field Trips are a big part of that. Attending a tennis match by yourself is good, but traveling with friends is what makes Field Trips so much fun. And the FAU Owls appreciate it, too.
So join us on our field trip and see what all the excitement is about!
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 email@example.com 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.
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.
When was the last time you took your kids to a tennis match? Was it the
Delray Beach Open in February? Was it the Miami Open in March? Are you traveling to the US Open in August? For most people, tennis doesn’t rate high enough to set aside the time to take in a match. There are just too many other things to do. And given the infrequency of professional tennis tournaments coming to town, we’re just too busy to step away from our everyday lives to see the “Best in the World”.
But if you live in Boca Raton or Orlando or Coral Gables (or any other college town across America) you’re in luck! Because every January thru April the College tennis season kicks things into high gear! The great thing about College tennis (besides playing all of their Home games in one location) is that these players REALLY ARE the best in the world. Most college rosters are 50% international players meaning every team is loaded with the best college-age players making College tennis World Class tennis.
On Sunday February 14 All American Team Tennis traveled to Boca Raton to watch the Florida Atlantic University Owls host Army West Point. It would be a very tight match requiring all 7 points to be played (college tennis matches are Best of 7 so once a team wins 4 courts, the other matches stop playing) with Army West Point coming out on top, 4-3. There was a lot of yelling and cheering and shouting throughout with players AND spectators for both teams pumping up the players on the court. It was an experience much like a football or basketball game. The only thing missing was taligating!
And following the matches the Head Coach for the FAU Owls invited our players onto the court to meet the players where they would sign our jerseys and take pictures with us. Where else are you able to find this kind of accessibility?
Field Trips are a regular occurrence for All American Team Tennis as we take them EVERY season. We take our players to College tennis matches because College tennis players understand the value of playing on a team; the camaraderie, teamwork, friendships, and support all combine to make an overall enjoyable college tennis experience. In fact, our second of 3 field trips for Season 13 will be to Orlando to watch the UCF Knights host the Tulane Green Wave! At All American Team Tennis we endeavor to create memorable team tennis experiences… Because Life is a Team Sport.
On Saturday November 7, our Youth Tennis League traveled to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World to witness the Collegiate Clay Court Invitational hosted by the Florida State University. It was a loooooong day for everyone which included watching matches in the morning at ESPN and playing matches in the evening at the Kiwi Tennis Club in Melbourne with a visit to Disney Springs in between. But even with the amount of time spent sharing a vehicle, our players will always remember the time we spent watching and playing tennis.
While attending the event at ESPN Coach Ken led the players from court to court gathering autographs from as many players as he could find, which wasn’t very hard because they were EVERYWHERE! You can see some of the autographs on the back of the shirts in the pictures.
Josie Kuhlman and Brianna Morgan of Florida, Yukako Noi of Florida State, Florida Gulf Coast, Clemson, Georgia, and others gave each of our players a little bit of their time and a signature to go home with. It was a truly memorable experience for us and, I’m sure, for the players, too. You’re not going to get this kind of attention at a professional tennis tournament!
But before we were ready to move onto our next destination, FSU Head Coach Dwayne Hultquist graciously accepted our invitation to speak to the group. So we all gathered around him while he spoke to the kids about being a part of the Team, doing your part to help the Team, and traveling with the Team to far away destinations like Hawaii. I just hope our players appreciated what it meant to have Coach Hultquist speak to the group. Because while he was speaking to us, the FSU Men’s team of Jose Garcia and Marco Nunez were embroiled in the heat of battle against the team from Louisville. Garcia and Nunez would go on to capture the title in the Gold division, taking out Pepperdine in the Final.
On the Women’s side, Josie Kuhlman and Brianna Morgan of the University of Florida would face Gators teammates Spencer Liang and Peggy Porter in the Final to also win the Gold division. They would destroy the Clemson team 8-4 in the semifinal.
Seeing a tennis match in person makes the game feel much more real. And watching college tennis players play their hearts out for the benefit of their team makes it all the more special. It is why All American Team Tennis places kids on teams, and why I believe tennis would be more popular if it were a Team sport at the professional level. Who knows… maybe one day.
High School is a memorable time in all of our lives; the bright future, the friends, the sports, the parties, there’s nothing quite like it. The same goes for High School Tennis. For many players it is their only opportunity to experience team sports on that level. Maybe they’re not mean enough for football or tall enough for basketball. Maybe the thought of running cross country makes you break out in hives. Whatever the reason, High School tennis teams are eager to receive the incoming class of Freshman every September.
But there’s a problem.
Schools all across South Florida are gearing up for the 2016 season , but something is missing in their preparation. Every team experiences it, many have no way to address it, it hinders the sport in such a way it makes it hard to win: is it a lack of talented tennis players. All of Florida has been exposed to tennis in one way or another: elementary school gym class or tennis lessons at the local tennis club. Unfortunately, just as many decide to try something else when they find tennis to be boring. So when these players finally get to High School and have to choose a sport, and see tennis as their only option, tennis coaches are left to teach the fundamentals rather than coaching their team to victory.
What are we going to do? Ask yourself these questions:
Question 1: Why do players decide not to continue playing tennis after being introduced to the game as a child?
Question 2: How does tennis compare to other youth sports? And…
Question 3: What can be done to keep kids playing tennis or to bring players from other sports over to the tennis court?
Former USTA Florida President, Bob Pfaender, recently penned an essay outlining junior participation in High School tennis vs. tournament tennis. According to USTA President Dave Haggerty, 355,000 juniors play High School tennis… 36,396 played one USTA tournament a year. That’s a 10% success rate!!! Meaning 90% of High School players play High School tennis, exclusively. There lies the key to popularity. If the goal is to play on your High School tennis team, wouldn’t it make sense to play on a team in Middle School, too?
‘Chemistry’ is an often overlooked key to the success of a team. Players must learn to cooperate and to communicate if they have any plans of winning. Unfortunately, tennis tournaments, while developing a player’s individual abilities (and ego), do very little to promote community, camaraderie, cooperation, or teamwork. That is what makes All American Team Tennis special.
Following in the footsteps of College tennis, All American Team Tennis places the team front and center, leaving tournaments as an option for the summer break. Our players train together, travel together, and compete together to develop unity, and chemistry, among the teammates. It is the kind of ‘Team’ attitude High School coaches are looking for when players arrive for tryouts. They are looking for players who are considerate of others, who assist others when they need it, who encourage their teammates. Of course, coaches are looking for talented players but more importantly, they’re looking for TEAM players. Because that is the key to victory.
Get your High School career started on the right track. Join All American Team Tennis and see how much fun tennis can be when you play on a team.
All American Team Tennis… Because Life is a Team Sport! GO TEAM!
A great many children would love to play tennis but the ‘game’ won’t let them in. For hundreds of years tennis has been a tournament sport exclusive to the country clubs because they were the only ones who could afford to take the private lessons. You may be asking yourself “Do I have to take lessons just to play a game?” And that is a very valid question, one I have asked many times, myself; we don’t run plays, we don’t run the “triangle”, there are no “squeeze” play in tennis, or offsides. It’s just two (or four) people hitting a ball back and forth. Simple. Much simpler than the complicated sports of football, basketball, or lacrosse. But the Parks and Recreation Department doesn’t advertise “Basketball Lessons”, do they? Instead, parents are encouraged to sign their kids up for the youth basketball program where kids are placed on a team, given a uniform, attend practices twice a week with Game Day every Saturday. Hmmm, sounds a lot like what we’re doing with All American Team Tennis!
Every sport has its own set of rules. Whether it’s running the bases, scoring a touchdown, double dribble, offsides, or double fault rules make the game fun because everyone plays by the same set of them. That’s what ‘fair’ looks like. In competition, who is responsible for making sure the rules are followed? The Home team? The Away team? The spectators? No. The Referee. And believe it or not, tennis doesn’t use a Referee on every court of its junior tennis matches. Instead, one roaming official is assigned to 6 courts and only watches play when the players call them over. Usually because one person is cheating. But they are not required to stay the entire match. So after a few points, they leave to wait for another person to call them over. My head hurts trying to figure this one out.
That is why All American Team Tennis is ahead of the curve. Have you ever tried to play a game against someone who didn’t play by the rules? Have you ever forgotten the score of your match? Was that ball in or out? Requiring young tennis players to act as player, coach, and Referee all at the same time is burdensome and reasons why kids are turned away from the sport. But not any more!
You can help KEEP kids on the tennis court by working as a Referee. For more information contact Coach Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 561-578-9914.
Every season our players are invited to join the League on a field trip to a tennis-related event. Past events include a trip to Miami to see the Miami Hurricane Women’s tennis team host the Florida State Seminoles. In July of 2015 we went to Delray Beach to see the Boy’s 16’s and 18’s Clay Court National Closed tournament. These are the guys being recruited from around the country to play on University tennis teams everywhere. Normally, field trips give our players to see top level talent and to get ideas on how we can play better, too. This time we had the chance to play because there are junior tennis players everywhere!
The Kiwi Tennis Club is located in Indian Harbour Beach, FL and is host to the Audi Melbourne Pro Tennis Classic, a $50,000 WTA Satellite event that takes place in May. This was by far the nicest facility we had even played at. And the Home team was very welcoming.
We played well, Kiwi gave our players a few gifts, and we were on our way. Where to?
To Disney Springs and lunch at the House of Blues. Disney Springs is one of Coach Ken’s favorite places to hang out at the Walt Disney World resort (that and the Wide World of Sports complex). We walked up and down the walkways, stopped in just about every shop, checked out some of the new stuff, and came home with a few things of our own.
Another successful field trip.
Our field trip for Season 12 is scheduled for Saturday AND Sunday November 7-8. And I’m sure you probably guessed.. it’s in Orlando. We’ll have more on that later so be sure to register for Season 12 and have some fun with us next season!
All American Team Tennis is a grassroots organization dedicated to uniting the tennis industry. Similar to other youth sports, our Youth Tennis League creates a real feeling of community in an otherwise insular sport. And we do this with a very simple concept we like to call: the Tennis Team.
The American sports landscape is populated with numerous Teams from a myriad of sports: football, basketball, soccer, even lacrosse. We love team sports because humans are social animals: we function better in groups. Our Youth Tennis League is the key to revitalizing the dying sport of tennis.
In 2010 we began conducting our brand of tennis at the Palm Springs, FL Parks Department. We are now introducing this to other Parks Departments around South Florida and encouraging them to be a part of the network. The growth of All American Team Tennis presents a very positive opportunity for everyone: more teams, more players, more Referees, and more coaches.
Click here to see a list of opportunities to support All American Team Tennis. Than click the image to be taken to our GoFundMe page.
Help us keep kids playing tennis by donating to our campaign. We’ve got a long way to go, but with your help, we can make it!