Intrigue, Drama, and Suspense
The Cleveland Cavaliers trail the Golden State Warriors 1-3 in the 2016 NBA Finals. What does that mean? Well, in a “best-of-seven” series, the Cavaliers need to win three games IN A ROW to win the series while the Warriors only need one. As it turned out, the Cleveland Cavaliers would do the unthinkable, winning 3 in a row, and taking the series 4-3 over the dazed-and-confused Warriors.
The Cleveland Indians lead the Chicago Cubs 3-1 in the 2016 MLB World Series. At this point, everybody wants to know if the Cubs have what it takes to turn things around or can the Indians hold on for ONE MORE GAME to win the World Series? Believe it or not, against all odds, the Indians would blow that lead, allowing the Chicago Cubs to break a 108-year-old “goat curse” and pull off the unimaginable. “Unimaginable” in the sense that throughout the history of Major League Baseball, there have only been six teams to come back from a 1-3 deficit to win it all.
While these are tremendous accomplishments for both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Cubs, what does it mean to the FANS of these two teams? How does it feel to be a fan of the winning team? Of the losing team? How does it feel to be a fan of the team that is down 1-3? Or up 3-1? Imagine the intrigue, drama, and suspense of watching this best-of-seven series. And what does this have to do with tennis?
Best-of-Seven versus One-and-Done
I’m glad you asked. And the answer is “not much”; other than the idea that pro tennis would be infinitely more enjoyable if it was a best-of-seven series rather than a one-and-done tennis tournament. The reason: in a best-of-seven series there are more opportunities for momentum to swing in both directions. “But who would want to play a best-of-seven match” you say? “Isn’t a best-of-five match long enough? Who would want to watch/play THAT?!? It would take forever!!!” And to that I have to shake my head at the short-sighted, myopic view of most tennis “fans”. Many of them are unable to see beyond the tennis tournament (or the top 4 players in the world) to realize there’s a lot more to tennis that they know nothing about. I’m referring to what I like to call exciting tennis, or Team Tennis.
American Universities employ this best-of-seven Team format where every player on the team contributes to the end result and, honestly, I find it infinitely more enjoyable, interesting, dynamic, satisfying, entertaining, and exciting than tournaments. Seeing players working together to accomplish their goal speaks to me instinctively. No one person can be good at everything and asking one player to carry the entire burden of winning is unreasonable. Besides, what good is winning if you have no one to share it with? And no one should have to suffer through a loss alone, either.
TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More
Tennis Tournaments Lack Real Signifigance
From a spectator’s point-of-view, watching a match between two peripheral players, where the outcome is of little significance, is boring. And unfortunately, tennis tournaments are chock full of players on courts 5 thru 14 that couldn’t be identified without a name badge and in
introduction, just waiting to be eliminated. Just pull up the draw sheet for any recent ATP or WTA tournament and you’ll see what I mean. They aren’t bad players, there just isn’t enough room in the winner’s circle, or in the Game Day program, for more than two people. On the other hand, the best-of-seven series, combined with a full Season of matches between Big 10, SEC, ACC, and Big 12 schools, gives the audience a compelling story that is not only significant… but easy to follow.
See, in Division 1 College tennis, games are often conducted in a best-of-seven format. Meaning, they will play tennis on 7+ courts simultaneously and the team that wins 4 courts wins the match. In the First, of two Rounds, players will pair up to play doubles on courts 1, 2, and 3. The team that wins two-out-of-three courts wins the Doubles Point. Then the teams move on to the round of singles and doubles teams will split up to play singles on courts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Here, each court is worth one point apiece. Together, with the doubles point, the team to win four out of the seven available points is the winning team. In Div. 2, 3, NAIA, and JUCO each doubles match is worth a point, resulting in 9 total points, so teams play best-5-out-of-9.
Hmmm. Sounds a lot like the World Series or the NBA Finals, doesn’t it.
Now, the team that wins the doubles point has the advantage going into the round of singles, but that does not guarantee a win because there are still 6 points remaining. So much drama leaves the audience guessing as to who will come out on top. And that’s exciting! What if one team is full of individuals who don’t play well together? What if one team is made up of primarily doubles specialists (aka. Team Players)? What if one of the doubles-winning teams is being carried by one of the players, so when they split up and play singles, they win one and lose one?
The Coach’s Contribution to Best-of-Seven
All of those are things that can factor into the end result. And we haven’t even talked about the Coach’s contribution yet! In College tennis, the Head Coach is responsible for determining the lineup for each team. That means some players will play both doubles and singles while some will play ONLY doubles or singles. It depends on how they perform in practice, how well they work together as a team, if they are injured, and who the opponent will be that day and the following day.
The Head Coach, along with the Assistant and Graduate Volunteer Coaches, must take all of these things into consideration. And on Game Day, all 3 Coaches monitor their players’ performance making corrections and adjustments when needed. And it is that complexity that makes College tennis an infinitely more intriguing product than tennis tournaments. By the way, ever wonder what a professional tennis coach does for a single player when the draw is pre-determined and coaching is ILLEGAL at tennis tournaments? It doesn’t sound like they have much to do!
On a side note: why is Coaching illegal at tennis tournaments? Name another sport where this is the case. What’s wrong with giving/receiving advice during competition? Is this why kids avoid tennis like toxic waste? Is this why so many lopsided tennis matches end 6-2, 6-1? Is winning not important? Is it really better for a player to carry the entire burden of competition by themselves? Is tennis a superior game and are tennis players superior individuals because they endure such torment (tennis coaches believe this)? And what kind of people are we producing as a result (If they last more than a month)? But I digress.
In terms of excitement, things like unpredictability, uncertainty, and facing adversity factor into a spectator’s enjoyment of a sporting event. Predictability, sameness, and a lack of creativity are what makes something boring. I believe College team tennis falls into the first category. Granted, when the #1 team hosts an unranked opponent, on paper, it can lack some of the flash. But when you consider a College tennis match is best-of-seven, every match is compelling. For example….
Watching a Best-of-Seven Tennis Match
Let’s say that the #45 Miami Hurricanes women’s tennis team were hosting the #17 Duke Blue Devils in Miami, and AATT had planned a field trip for some of our players to see it. What if the Duke Blue Devils were riding a 4-game win streak while the Hurricanes were on a 2-game losing slide? And the game was being played in Miami which means the Hurricanes have “Home Field Advantage” (there are no “Home teams” in tournaments).
On paper, this looks like a sleeper match. I mean, it’s #45 versus #17. But remember: College tennis is best-of-seven. Now you have to wonder: Can the Blue Devils continue their dominance, or can the Hurricanes turn their negative momentum around? Which team came ready to play? Is every player on the roster ready to compete? With the fandom of both Hurricanes and Blue Devils hanging in the balance, this is much more than a “sleeper” match. Because they are playing for more than themselves.
Duke would win two of the three doubles matches to take
the doubles point and go up 1-0. Duke would also win in straight sets on Court 3 to go up 2-0. And then on Court 1, the Miami player would roll her ankle and be unable to finish the match. Duke now leads 3-0.
On a side note, if I were in charge of tennis, and a player was unable to finish a match or was just playing poorly, I would substitute them. I mean, we want to win, right?
Anyway, with a 3-0 lead Duke would only need to win one of the 4 remaining courts to win the match. And the Hurricanes would have to win ALL 4. Miami would win in straight sets on Courts 2 & 5 making the score 3-2 in favor of Duke.
The Hurricanes would need three sets to win on Court 6 and now the score is tied 3-3 and it all comes down to Court 4. Court 4?!? You mean the fate of the entire team comes down to the #4 singles players for both squads?!? Wouldn’t you rather have your superstar in that position? How much faith do we have as Hurricanes/Blue Devils fans that #4 can win his match? Will the pressure of the situation get to either player? Or have they been preparing their whole lives for this moment? The remaining players from both teams are now watching from Court 3 and encouraging their teammate in this critical moment. And all of the fans are crowded around Court 4 to watch the final match play out. This feels a lot like Game 7 of the World Series! And we’re only 3/4 of our way through the SEASON!
When the Hurricanes player scores a point, the Hurricanes fans cheer.
When the Duke player scores a point, the Duke fans cheer. This is intense!
Everyone in the stadium is experiencing a wide range of emotions. When your team is ahead, there’s confidence that she’ll get the job done. When they’re behind, there’s fear. Fear that your player is beginning to press, to get in her own head, unable to block out the sound of cheers for the other team, and groans from her supporters when she misses. Hundreds of eyeballs are watching her every move, hoping the ball stays in, second-guessing that last shot, waiting for one of the Hurricanes or Blue Devils’ shots to land in the net. We’re up, we’re down, we’re inside-out! (Fans don’t do well in handling their emotions.)
And then the final ball is struck, it sails beyond the baseline, and players from the winning team come pouring onto the court, arms held high, shouting at the top of their lungs, to embrace their teammate, and share in the feeling of joy at having won the match for their team. It really is a sight to see.
While players from the losing team walk slowly onto the court, arms open wide, not in celebration, but to console their teammate after having lost the match. They know their teammate may be having a difficult, five-stages-of-grief, time dealing with the knowledge that they lost it all for their team; that theirs was the game to determine the entire match, but let’s be honest: everyone shares in the loss. It was a best-of-seven match which means no one has to carry the burden of winning/losing alone. That is what makes the Team so valuable.
There are a number of reasons why players join teams, and why spectators gravitate towards team sports. Team Sports satisfy the need for companionship in ways that tennis tournaments do not. As a fan, I may not be able to play at that level, but I can experience the highs and lows of competition through my favorite Team. And when my friends and neighbors are fans, too, I have someone to talk to about it. I am not alone when I belong to a Team. Ever wonder why sports fans “live and die” with their teams? Because the wide range of emotions that can only be experienced through competition are what make life so exciting. And those emotions are more readily experienced at a College tennis, best-of-seven, team-versus-team tennis match where my favorite Team is playing. One-and-done doesn’t do it for me.
And that, my friends, is why College tennis is infinitely more enjoyable, interesting, dynamic, satisfying, and entertaining than professional tennis tournaments.
What do you think? Which would you rather watch, best-of-seven or one-and-done, and why? What are your thoughts on the best-of-seven format? Who are your favorite teams? Have you attended many of their matches? Where is the best place to watch? Which teams have the best chance of making it in the NCAA Championship? I would love to hear your thoughts.
On April 12, 2016, 100,00 fans packed the Horseshoe in Columbus, OH to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in their annual Spring Game. Yeah! The Buckeyes played each other! On the same day, the Georgia Bulldogs set an SEC record for Spring Game attendance with 93,000 spectators. On Sunday September 4, 2016 the US Open set a record for attendance with 25,000 pouring through the turnstiles for the evening session. Combined with the 40,000 who attended the morning session, Sunday would become the biggest attendance ever with a total attendance of 65,797. Keep in mind: this took place over the course of 48 matches on 15 courts and would include men’s, women’s, doubles, and juniors.
I may be the only one thinking it, but I’m not impressed. If attendance is important enough to keep track of, report on, and set records for, shouldn’t tennis’ numbers
be on par with the biggest sports in America? Shouldn’t tennis attract spectators the way football does? Or the way basketball does? Or the way soccer does? Shouldn’t a city of 8.4 million people (New York City) draw more than 65,000 for the “Super Bowl” of tennis, the “Granddaddy of them all”? Shouldn’t tennis draw more than 65,000 over the course of 48 matches played on 15 courts? That’s only 4300 per court, or 1300 per match. What would the numbers look like if there were only 6 courts instead of 15? 24 matches instead of 48?
If one football scrimmage can draw 100,000, I believe an entire tennis tournament should be able to do the same.
Popularity is determined by a number of different things including (but not exclusive to) audience (see above), participation, television ratings, and word-of-mouth. I’ve already touched on audience, now onto participation: the USTA believes there are 30 million tennis players in the United States. How they came up with that number, I don’t know, but statista.com says that 24.7 million people played basketball, 18.05 million people played football, and 11.12 million people played soccer in 2016 and these are some of the most popular sports in America. Now ask yourself: Does it feel like tennis is bigger than either one of these three sports? And is a sport’s popularity determined by participation? Or something else?
A look at the television ratings for the US Open gives a very clear picture of the interest in our sport from the nation as a whole. An organization like Major League Soccer topped out at 1.4 million viewers for the MLS Cup, which is on par with the 1.7 million people who watched the US Open Men’s Final. But what about a ‘UFC on FOX’ card on a random Saturday is December that draws 4.8 million? Or the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors that drew 30.8 million viewers? Or the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers reaching 114.4 million viewers? What do these numbers say about tennis’ popularity?
Those are the television ratings, and those are important, but what does this mean to those of us on the local level? Are people talking to each other about tennis? Are they buying merchandise of their favorite player/team? Are they getting together with friends at the local sports bar to watch the big game? People talk to each other about the things they are passionate about, both good and bad. Are they talking about tennis? Ask around. The answer is ‘No’.
Chuck Sullivan, a member of the family who owned the New England Patriots before Robert Kraft bought them, says that “the professional sports team is a community asset.”
But what does that mean? It means that the team belongs to ALL OF US, not just one person, and is the reason Robert Kraft did everything in his power to keep the New England Patriots in New England. But how many times have we heard a professional tennis player say they only play for themselves? In my humble opinion, that is self-centered, self-serving, and one of the many reasons the public, at large, is unable to identify with tennis players and the game they play. So while cities across the country are building new stadium homes for their sports franchises, tennis tournaments bounce around from city to city, never remaining in one place for more than a week or two. How are the citizens supposed to wrap their arms around the sport when the players are only here long enough to cash the check?
When a professional sports league brings a franchise to a city, the players on the team become a part of the community. They represent the community on the field of competition. They live among the people of the community. Their kids go to the same schools and play for the same little league teams as your kids. They shop at the same grocery stores that you shop at. They eat at the same restaurants you eat at. They visit the same doctors you visit. They live in your neighborhood. They become one of US. And they’re here to help MY TEAM win.
The same can not be said for tennis tournaments. Professional tennis players are globetrotters, visitors, tourists, drifters, nomads; people who swoop into town once a year to receive our adoration, stay in our best hotels, eat at our finest restaurants, avoid the public as much as possible because they have to focus on their play, take their prize money, and move onto the next city. It’s no wonder tennis does so poorly in attendance and ratings when compared to other, mainstream sports. But there is a better way.
The Home Town team belongs to the Home Town. And the players on the team belong to the home town, too. And we currently have, in very large numbers, teams and players representing the people of their Home Towns: College Tennis Teams. In South Florida, alone, there are the Hurricanes, Owls, Seahawks, Sailfish, Panthers,
and Fighting Knights. Not to mention the teams in other major cities around the state and the country. All of them playing on behalf of the students, alumni, and citizens of their home town. They live in our neighborhood. They go to our school. They shop at our stores. They support our other sports teams. THEY are one of US.
So let’s support them in what they do for us. Attend their matches. Cheer them on. Buy their souvenirs. Because they’re not just playing for themselves… they’re playing for all of us!
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!
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!