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?”
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 12, 2017
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
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
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
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!
Ohio State Buckeyes, Virginia Cavaliers, Vanderbilt Commodores, and the Florida Gators. What do these Universities all have in common? We are all familiar with the universities who have top-shelf programs in football, and basketball (Ohio State and Florida), but these schools also have world-class talent in tennis. Believe it or not, the World comes to America to find the best facilities,
the best training, and the best competition. It starts at the tennis academies like IMG and Saddlebrook and it continues on our College campuses. Players from countries like Brazil, Columbia, England, and Germany continue their education while continuing their playing careers right here in the United States. And seeing some of the world’s best tennis players in action, in person, is so much better than watching them on TV. Am I right!?!
Before we get into HOW to watch a College tennis match I though I would give a little background as to WHY watching College tennis is such a tremendous value, how is it different than what people may be watching on television, and why the Team is the premier vehicle for bringing tennis into the mainstream.
First, watching a Collegiate tennis match, while fundamentally similar to the professional game,
is a very different experience because the rules are more relaxed allowing the fans to become more involved the matches. And I say “match-es” because there can be up to six being played at the same time and they all count towards the team’s final score. Unlike professional tennis where it’s every man for himself, College tennis is a Team Sport, a group effort, where every player contributes to the outcome. Some people (me) prefer it this way.
For example, a College tennis match consists of two rounds; Round 1: three doubles matches followed by (Round 2) six singles matches. In some cases, all three doubles are counted as one, best-of-three set match, giving the team one point, the Doubles point, while in other situations all three doubles matches count as a point apiece (three total points). The singles always count as one point each, so the winner of the match must win four out of seven (best two-of-three doubles) or best five out of nine (three doubles points).
This best-of-seven format lends itself to all kinds of dramatic situations: after all of the doubles have been played, and 5 of the singles matches have wrapped up, if the match is tied at three points apiece, that means the last court to finish will be the deciding point, much like a Game 7 in the World Series or NBA Finals. And the last match to finish can be a different player each week: this week Court 2 went to three sets, but last week it was Court 6. So depending on how the coaches determined the lineup, and how evenly matched the players are, any player can be the hero (or the goat) for that day. It gives me goose bumps! I mean, is there anything more exciting than a Game 7?!?
But the #1 reason to watch a College tennis match (in my opinion) is because the players represent not only themselves, but the University. More significant than a bunch of random athletes, from a bunch of random countries, coming together to showcase their talents, competing for a trophy that represents nothing more than how good they are; College tennis teams play for their community. They play for their friends and classmates, the faculty, alumni, those who live in the surrounding area, and even those who have moved away but are still loyal to the university.
As a former Ohio State student living in Florida, I am a part of the larger Buckeye community… and we are everywhere! It’s always good to see someone wearing an Ohio State t-shirt or hat, or someone with an Ohio State license plate on their car, or flying an Ohio State flag outside their house. It reminds me of where I came from. It says to me that no matter how far I go I’m never far from home. So when I check the box scores and see an Ohio State football / tennis / basketball / baseball / gymnastics / wrestling victory, it lifts my spirits. Seeing Ohio State tennis at #3 on the Men’s side and #4 on the Women’s (as of 2/15/17) makes me proud to be a Buckeye, because whether they know it or not, they’re playing not only for themselves, but for me, too.
Now that we know WHY College tennis is so important, we can talk about HOW to watch a match. But we’ll save that for next time.
Who is your favorite University tennis team? I would love to hear from you. Send an email to email@example.com or visit our Facebook page to be a part of the conversation. Then go to your team’s website to find their schedule and see when they’re playing. Most tennis matches are admission-free so they’re easy to afford. Cheer for your favorite team and have a good time. Tennis is always better in person.
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.
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!