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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”