Written by: Cindy Brinker Simmons
***There is worldwide upheaval on the International Tennis Federation mandating that all U10 tournaments be played with progressive tennis balls. Progressive tennis is a great tool to learn and develop skill in players of all ages. To impose such draconian inflexible rules lead to the ongoing issues between sport federations and the public they serve. In the US, there is unbelievable backlash from a variety of initiatives which are being imposed not suggested on their constituents. National training centers, national coaches versus private coaches and the imposition and restriction of rules for players U10 are all symptoms of a greater malaise: government intervention, with public money in areas best managed by the private sector. Here is such an issue involving the world renown Little Mo tournaments, the USTA and the International Tennis Federation. The letters are written by Cindy Brinker Simmons, president of the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation. Maureen Connolly Brinker, also known as “Little Mo”, was Cindy’s mother. It is an honor for Ms. Brinker Simmons to continue her legacy to further junior tennis through her namesake foundation. Also of interest, please click here.***
USTA Breach of ITF Rule for 10 and Under Elite Players
Greetings, Craig. Carol and I enjoyed meeting with you recently to discuss our “Little Mo” programs and to better understand the new USTA mandates for junior tennis. I want to reiterate that the USTA’s goal of identifying and developing world-class American players early in their junior careers mirrors what the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation has been doing for over 40 years. We fully support the USTA in its mission to increase the breadth and depth of junior tennis. We steadfastly agree with the importance of furthering junior tennis in a way that generates a love for the sport, exemplary behavior and competitive excellence.
To that point, we established our “Mini Mo” program for young beginners (ages 5-10) in 2010. This program uses the mandated red, orange and green balls and shortened courts for that age group.
In just 15 years, our foundation’s Road to “Little Mo” sectional, regional and national circuit for 8-11 year olds and our “Little Mo” Internationals for 8-12 year olds have targeted the elite, high performance players. This program has been highly successful in its short history and has had as it champions numerous American pros including, but not limited to, Andy Roddick and Ryan Harrison. Additionally, many of our former “Little Mo” participants are currently winning top national and international junior tournaments, as well as competing as top collegiate players. Samantha Crawford, former “Little Mo” champion, won the U.S. Open junior girls title today. Taylor Townsend, another former “Little Mo” champion, won the Australian Open junior girls title in January. These fine female players and so many other former “Little Mo” participants like them are destined for greatness. Our “Little Mo” program works
These “Little Mo” tournaments have used the yellow ball in all age divisions. That worked, too. The 2012 mandate that the ITF and USTA put in place makes it prohibitive to use the yellow ball for any 10 and under division and, thus, compromises our format that has been so effective. Candidly, we think that rule is ill-conceived and imprudent. The parents of our elite kids who have enjoyed the “Little Mo” tournaments think it is unfair and wrong to not have a choice to play with yellow or green balls. We have been deluged with coaches, parents, teaching pros, tennis/sports experts, and even our young players who have written, emailed or spoken to us all pleading to continue with the yellow ball and to not yield to the pressure of the USTA and ITF.
In April, I spoke with Dave Miley of the ITF. We discussed the 2012 ITF and USTA mandate and the use of yellow ball in all age divisions at the “Little Mo” national and international events. I told Dave that we were going to look at how we could change our format for 2013 but that we could not realistically revise our 2012 format mid-year. It was unreasonable for any ITF or USTA executive to think we could do a mid-course correction and switch from yellow balls to green balls after our “Little Mo” circuit was well underway. It was very frustrating that after multiple correspondences back and forth with Dave, there were many bullying tactics and threats by the USTA and the ITF against our foundation that were made in such a mean-spirited fashion. It was particularly unsettling because I had told Dave that our foundation would look at how we could transition in 2013. I meant that.
However, I recently received a copy of an invitation sent to one of our outstanding 9/10 year old “Little Mo” players that congratulated this player on being selected by USTA Player Development, and signed by Patrick McEnroe, to participate in a 2012 USTA Regional Player Development Camp. The letter to this young player stated, “During this camp all players will be training and competing on a 78 foot court with yellow balls.” Furthermore, this letter said the camps were geared toward players born in 1999-2003. If my math is correct, this includes players 9 and 10 years of age. It is very clear that the USTA Development Camps are using yellow balls for 9 and 10 year olds and are not adhering to the USTA’s own mandates. The USTA has, therefore, created a double standard. The USTA is making it prohibitive for our foundation to use yellow balls for our participating elite 9 and 10 year old players yet touting its own use of yellow balls for its competitive program that includes elite 9 and 10 year old players. The Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation finds this double standard both flawed and dishonorable.
Given that the USTA is clearly inconsistent in its own views of using yellow balls by high performance 9 and 10 year old tennis players, the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation will wait until the USTA follows its own rules to follow them as well. We were seriously considering transitioning to green balls but will put these plans on hold until we are fully confident that the very organization making the rules decides to adhere to its own rules. Let me reiterate: the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation fully supports the elite 9 and 10 year olds being allowed to play with yellow balls. We have absolutely no disagreement with your USTA Player Development Camps to do so. But, we do not support having to eliminate yellow balls from our very respected and successful “Little Mo” tournaments when the USTA is in clear violation and in breach of those same rules regarding yellow balls for players 10 and under.
Craig, I mean no disrespect because the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation appreciates our relationship with the USTA. But until the USTA can play by its own rules, our foundation does not feel it is necessary to follow those rules either.
“I love and applaud this letter below from Cindy Brinker Simmons to Craig Jones! And thanks to Cindy and her Little Mo Tournaments that have done so much for junior tennis through the years. We so enjoyed attending their culminating tournament at the Westside Tennis Club two weeks ago and Mike and Bob and I were proud and happy to do a huge clinic and exo there and we think it was one of the most positive and powerful events we have ever been a part of in all our years of tennis… The USTA would be wise to study and learn from this great organization. Best and thanks to Cindy and the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation – – – we admire their good works and their courage.
– Wayne Bryan”
USTA Breach – Email below to Dave Miley – ITF from the President of the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation?, Cindy Brinker Simmons
I wanted to respond to your email. I had meetings all day yesterday and late into the evening so this is my first opportunity to be able to reply to you. I do appreciate the transparency we have had in our multiple communications over the last six months. For that very reason and out of respect for our past correspondences, I purposefully put you on the email list to receive my letter to Craig. I want there to be no hidden agendas on the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation’s part. It was important to me that you were part of this email trail.
Regarding the bullying tactics of the ITF, let me start by responding to that first. In your email to me in June, you were clear that you had not communicated with any tournament directors in the US or coaches to discourage participation in our tournaments (as the USTA did in a memo dated May 30, 2012). I really appreciate that. However, in that same email, you stated, “I did contact Babolat, who are your ball sponsor… hoping that they could convince Little Mo of the merits for the top 10 and under players at your events to also play with the green ball.” Our board did not appreciate your interaction with our sponsor in a way that could damage our relationship with them. We felt that was very inappropriate, Dave, and was unnecessarily bringing them into a conflict to erode our relationship with them. This is a discussion we are having with the ITF and the USTA and does not affect Babolat. Your actions were clearly an overstepping of boundaries that could have harmed our good relationship with a sponsor.
You state that the ITF rule “only limits the use of the yellow ball for 10 and under competition.” However, the yellow balls are allowed at the USTA Player Development Camps, which have 9 and 10 year olds participating. Dave, there is very little difference between these competitive camps and competition in our “Little Mo” tournaments. In other words, whether “results” are recorded at these camps or at a tournament, there still is the same competitive level… Kids are playing with and against each other. In fact, the mission of the USTA Player Development Camps is “to promote the highest level of training and competition” (per the invitation letter signed by Patrick McEnroe). The ITF can state that these camps are operating within the “rules” of its 10 and under yellow ball mandate and that the “Little Mo” tournaments are operating outside the “rules” of the ITF’s mandate but the fact is that yellow balls are still being used for competitive measures in both. The ITF can try and justify that the camps are different from our tournaments but, in reality, they are not. The public knows that is just not true. Additionally, the USTA Player Development Camps’ 9 and 10 year old participants are the very same players who play in the “Little Mo” tournaments… They are the most promising young American players in tennis today. The Player Development Camps are just as competitive in nature as the tournaments of “Little Mo”. Craig even indicated in his recent meeting with Carol and me that the possibility looms in the future that the camps will compete against each other. The point is, it is nonsensical to differentiate the competitive nature of the camps from the “Little Mo” tournaments. The bottom line is that very selective and promising 10 and under kids are playing with yellow balls at these very competitive Player Development Camps, yet the ITF and USTA prohibit the “Little Mo” tournaments from using yellow balls for our 10 and under players…who are the same 9 and 10 year old participants at the camps! Dave, it is very clear these Player Development Camps are highly competitive because they target the country’s best, most elite and promising players. We get that and fully support that. But what we don’t support is the lame argument that these camps are any less competitive because they don’t fall under the heading of “tournament” and, thus, are not in violation of breaching the 10 and under yellow ball rule. That is just not true. The ITF mandate should apply to the USTA Player Development Camps if it applies to the “Little Mo” tournaments. The format of play may be different in the camps and the “Little Mo” tournaments but the level of competition is no different. Clearly, there is a double standard here. The ITF can try and justify it since they make up the rules but the reality is very evident: the camps do not adhere to the ITF’s rules of prohibiting yellow balls for 10 and under players.
Our high performance young competitors in the “Little Mo” tournaments, ages 8-10, much prefer to play against their own age groups than “up.” It is very difficult for a youngster of that age, no matter how good, to compete against a more mature and stronger player two to three years older than them. The ITF mandate that the yellow ball can only be used for 11 and up is very discouraging to our young players. Yes, it is an option, but a poor one for the very young players. They have been playing with the yellow balls in practice and training since their earliest years so they are not interested in going backwards and playing with the green balls. As stated above, this mandate forces them to play “up”, which is not preferable to the younger players.
We have emailed Mio to visit with him about his true feelings. The ITF pressured him into adjusting his tournament to its format of green balls. Many of the tournament directors and even coaches who have to change to green ball are not being honest about their feelings in fear of retaliation from the ITF and USTA. So it is hard to really know if, in fact, the support for green balls for 10 and under players is sincere. I think not in many, many cases. When you know you are being forced to do something and any deviation from that plan will result in sanctions, threats of losing jobs (which has happened) and taking away one’s source of income, what is expressed in terms of satisfaction is not always true. History shows how oppression demoralizes nations. The group with the power can make the rules and pressure anyone into following them because the consequences are severe for those who violate the rules. The ITF clearly pressured European nations to adhere to its rules. I am not so sure all the support you are verbally receiving is being expressed out of genuine agreement with your rules or being expressed out of fear.
Dave, you have mentioned to me the plethora of data behind this ITF mandate. However, many tennis experts and those in the field of sports science and sports medicine staunchly disagree with the premise upon which this ITF mandate has been based. They ask, “Where is the research?” There has been no shared data or research that the ITF has shown to legitimize its assertions. I would recommend the ITF put the research up on its website and the USTA’s website for easy accessibility. People are growing suspicious that there is, in fact, little research to back up this mandate. Let’s see the pilot programs and research about which you speak. I hear this from people all over the world who doubt the credibility of the ITF’s “research”. Would you please make it available? You sent me a three page paper showcasing a small research study on yellow versus green balls done in Australia. It was good reading but cannot, by itself, justify this massive change in yellow balls vs. green balls for 10 and under players. Please allow interested parties to have access to this “research”. This would help alleviate the doubt and skepticism that is rampant about the ITF mandate.
Dave, in closing, please know that the ITF and USTA has put the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation in a very uncomfortable position. We have always appreciated our relationship with both organizations. Please also know that I have been stunned with the responses from my email to Craig. Apparently the letter went viral. I have heard from coaches, teaching pros and tennis experts who stand with our foundation in believing that the USTA is not adhering to their own rules. I am literally shocked at the volumes of responses in support of our claim. You must understand that your arguments are weak to legions and legions of people in the tennis community… Professionals, experts, coaches, and parents… who believe that the USTA is creating a double standard with their Player Development Camps in allowing 10 and under players to use the yellow balls but not letting the “Little Mo” tournaments use the yellow balls for our 10 and under participants. I cannot be more clear.
“My dear Cindy, are you a Lawyer or an English Professor? This is one very well written, persuasive, clear, and cogent letter. Damn, I wish I was that good! Great job and thanks for your passion and your courage and your reasonableness… and thanks what you have done through the years for juniors and for tennis with your wonderful Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation… I can only hope that the ITF and USTA studies and learns from what you all are doing… They have somehow lost their way… and the whole world is still waitin’ for that research, Dave… With admiration and appreciation,
– Wayne Bryan”