Proud To Be A Buckeye
Growing up in Columbus, OH Ohio State Football was inescapable. Everywhere I turned I would see a t-shirt, a hat, a sweater, a bumper sticker, a license plate, a house flag, or a football with the Ohio State logo stamped on it. The Buckeyes consumed all of the available coverage on television and radio. All of my friends and family were Buckeyes fans. We would even exchange gifts on Christmas and on birthdays that consisted of new Buckeyes hats and jackets. The Buckeyes were everything.
This continued from birth until I left Ohio for Florida in 2009. Fortunately, the Ohio State Buckeyes travel well, so I would regularly come across Buckeyes fans in my daily travels. A quick shout of “O-H” would always illicit an “I-O” response. It was a little piece of
home in a faraway place. The same cannot be said of American tennis. Tennis fans are much harder to find.
In my line of work I come across many different people and visit many different places. I visit College campuses, neighborhoods, and shopping centers and can point out the fandom of just about anyone by the clothes they wear. I can tell what city I am in by the merchandise hanging from the racks. Gators, Seminoles, Hurricanes, Dolphins, Heat, Marlins, Rays are in every store, reminding visitors that they are in Florida. The same cannot be said of American tennis. Tennis merchandise is much harder to find.
Ubiquitous: def. existing or being everywhere; omnipresent.
My Vision of American Tennis
Sports like football and soccer are popular because they are everywhere. The ubiquity of basketball and baseball make these sports a gathering place for the community. The local sports franchise is as much a part of the city as the Town Hall. After work, or after school, if you’re looking for something to do, or someone to hang out with, you can buy tickets to a game or meet friends at the local sports bar. Sports are an experience you can share with your friends. These shared experiences become the memories you carry with you the rest of your life; the glue that binds people together. Individual sports
struggle to live up to this metric; choosing separation and isolation as their chosen method of delivery. My idea of American tennis is very different.
My vision of American Tennis is one where cities across America have professional Tennis teams to represent the people of that city. Players are not playing for themselves, but rather for civic pride. I envision College tennis stadiums full of people supporting players they believe are playing for the “love of the game” or can make it to the next level. I can imagine every Parks and Recreation department in America offering Team Tennis to their residents as a means of bringing people together: players, parents, and extended family. My dream is to see tennis as a Gathering Place.
Ask Yourself These Questions
As currently constituted, and marketed by those in charge (USTA), American tennis is a challenging, individual, adversarial game requiring thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars just to participate. Am I the only one who sees these as reasons why people turn away from tennis? Am I the only one who hears the people saying that tennis is a game for ‘rich’ people? Am I the only one who can see the deluge of football, baseball, and soccer merchandise
at my local retailer while tennis merchandise is mysteriously absent? Am I the only one questioning the brand new, $60 million facility the USTA built in Lake Nona while the tennis courts in my neighborhood have cheerleaders practicing on them? True story. Am I the only one hearing the lack of conversation about tennis in the general population? Am I the only person who hears the cries of “I love tennis. I just can’t find someone to play with”? What’s missing?
Those in charge of the game of tennis (USTA) have positioned tennis as a goal to be achieved rather than a game to be enjoyed. If someone enters tennis and refuses to be ushered along the ‘path to enlightenment’, they are quickly written off and told to find something else to do. There’s no “hanging out” in tennis. You must be prepared to work. On the other hand, Tailgating is a $20 billion industry with nearly 20 million people participating in some sort of tailgating activity on Game Day. Entire businesses have sprung up to meet the demands of those who are as content sitting outside the stadium, eating and drinking with friends, as opposed to going in to watch the game. If I were in charge of tennis, growing the fanbase would be my first priority.
Living Outside of The Top 5 Most Popular Sports
Out of all the sports available to those in High School, tennis is the 7th (girls) and 8th (boys) most popular sport, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. More boys would rather wrestle, and more girls would rather play volleyball than play tennis. I believe the most effective
way of turning that around would be if tennis told a better story. A story that compels people to pay attention, maybe sit down and watch for a while. People are drawn to things that draw crowd. Think about it: how many of us slow down to see what slowed down traffic on the freeway? (hand raised) If you hear music pouring out of the gym, are you going to swing by to see what’s going on? Yes! Why do football games have cheerleaders? To draw more of a crowd! Increasing your audience means you can then secure sponsors to pay for the stadium, the concession stand, the training facilities, even the bobble head dolls to give away on Game Day. It’s a numbers game and there’s strength in numbers.
My vision for American tennis would see the rise of the Home Town Tennis Team giving residents something to be proud of… Because Life Is A Team Sport! WHO’S WITH ME!?
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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’.
“Ohio State is going to dominate the 2016 NFL draft. “
“His team could have as many as five players taken in the first round next year, with underclassmen such as Joey Bosa and Ezekiel Elliott leading the way.”
“Here’s an early look at the NFL talent who will be lighting it up for Ohio State this fall.”
These are lines from an article posted on the Bleacher Report website from May 5, 2015. The article goes on to give a breakdown of each player and his contribution to the Buckeyes for the coming season. Every day journalists across the country reach out to their numerous sources to gather information for reporting on their chosen team and its players. Television, websites, newspapers, even smartphone apps are flooded with valuable information concerning the players from your favorite team/sport.
But not tennis. Why?
College tennis rosters are full of players that any coach would give their non-dominant arm to work with. Players that have spent most of their lives training, traveling, and testing themselves against the best competition in their given region, both here and around the world. These are players that, if we were to play them ourselves, would make any one of us look like a clumsy, 5-year-old, uncoordinated, special needs child. And they all come together, at the same time, to go to college. So what happens to them after what many believe were ‘the best years of their life’?
When a top college prospect in football or basketball decides to go pro and declares for the draft, it sets a number of things in motion: agents, Pro Day, the Draft, visitations, contract negotiations, etc. Much of it taken care of by the player’s handlers so the player can focus on playing. In tennis, the player must be the CEO, CFO, HR, travel agent, administrative assistant, chief, cook, and bottle washer all at the same time. Once they leave college they are essentially on their own to navigate the treacherous waters of professional tournament tennis. And for what? A couple hundred dollars at the end of the week? It doesn’t seem worth it. In fact, a great many top college prospects burn out before ever realizing their dream of playing on the bigger stages. We can’t let this talent go to waste.
Tennis tournaments are a process of elimination designed to find out who’s #1. But how many #1’s can there be? You know the answer. But when the Denver Broncos, the Golden State Warriors, or the Kansas City Royals win a championship, how many #1’s are there? When the Vanderbilt women’s or the Virginia men’s tennis teams win the NCAA Championship all 11 players win the trophy. Unlike the Miami Open or US Open where only 1 player can take home the trophy, a greater number of people benefit from the success of the Team. And that number includes all of the fans, too.
A third of the top 25 college tennis rosters feature the names of players born outside the United States. And while some believe this to be problematic, the real story is the global nature of college tennis. When saddled with the responsibility of filling a roster of 10+ players, college coaches search far and wide for the best players available. Players who come up through the tournament ranks believing they might one day play professionally, are now filling college tennis rosters. In other sports they refer to college as a period of ‘maturity’. In tennis, college is the final destination. Washed up at 22?!? That is a very short-sighted view.
Follow me on this one: Imagine tennis as a Team Sport at the professional level, like it is in college.
It changes the entire tennis conversation from “who will be the next #1” to “my team just signed a prospect out of the Ohio State University to a 3-year contract worth $1.2 million. He could be a starter right away. How do they fit into the system Coach Ken has in place? And can the veterans on the team bring along the rookies to put the team over the top?” I’ve just given you more content for TV and radio than most tennis tournaments (mind blown). Imagine the growth of the tennis industry when we have more than 2-3 people to talk about; the talk shows, segments on ESPN, news crews covering the High School State Championship. Things really begin to open up.
So the next time you’re looking for world-class tennis, skip the tournament (you’re not missing anything) and visit your local university. Players who understand the value of the team are definitely worth cheering for. GO TEAM!
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.
Every season of All American Team Tennis presents another opportunity for the children of America to enjoy tennis the way it was meant to be. Let’s face it, with so many activities like soccer, baseball, basketball, and video games all vying for your time, tennis tends to get lost in the shuffle. But not any more.
When you visit your local Parks and Recreation department and register your son/daughter for a Season of youth tennis, they enter a world of community and camaraderie, Game Day and Playoffs, fun and friends! For one low price players are assigned to a team where they are encouraged to learn the game in a group. They receive a jersey with THEIR name and number on the back. They grow and develop as players by participating in Game Day every Saturday. And they’re rewarded on a regular basis for their accomplishments with lollipops and other awards. Tennis has never been this much FUN!
But that’s not all!
When was the last time you took your kids to a LIVE sporting event? Maybe shared a hot dog or bought a souvenir hat? How about a tennis event? Well, we’re here to help you with that, too.
Every season our players travel all over South Florida in search of the best tennis around. Season 13 is no different. In fact, this season we are planning THREE field trips to College tennis matches. Spring is the perfect time to take in a tennis match as there are so many nationally-ranked Division I colleges who play their Home games right here in South Florida: the Gators, the Bulls, the Seminoles, Hurricanes, Knights, Owls, Eagles, Ospreys, and Sailfish all call Florida home. And this season we’re traveling to see the Owls, Knights, and Hurricanes play. It’s my favorite part of the season!
So be sure to visit your local Parks department in Palm Springs, Greenacres, and Riviera Beach or call 561-578-9914 for more information and we’ll see in Season 13.
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 email@example.com or call him at 561-578-9914. All American Team Tennis is different…on purpose… 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!