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Wayne Bryan: “USTA shows that national organizations can get it wrong… and still be arrogant”

Over the last couple of days I have received some great letters and calls from Blanche Roddick - one of the best tennis parents I have ever known - and Lawrence Roddick, the brother of Andy and John Roddick. The U10 Mandate has operated harshly against their talented grandson/son, JC. And like so many of us they are disgusted and upset.

Letters from Blanche and Lawrence Roddick

By: Wayne Bryan

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***Please note: this is a copy of a letter sent by Wayne Bryan, father and coach of the Bryan twins, who lead the doubles world ranking. He is also a very successful coach and speaker. It is a must read for anyone who really cares about the direction of the sport.***

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Dear Tennis Friend,

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I have been out on the road emceeing tennis events in Las Vegas, Toronto, St. Paul, and Shreveport. And next week I head off to do talks and events in New Braunfels, Chapel Hill, Dix Bay, Necker Island, Atlanta, and Sarasota. Happy to report that Mike married his longtime girlfriend, Lucie Williams from Wales, with friends and family in attendance at the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara on Sunday.

Over the last couple of days I have received some great letters and calls from Blanche Roddick – one of the best tennis parents I have ever known – and Lawrence Roddick, the brother of Andy and John Roddick. The U10 Mandate has operated harshly against their talented grandson/son, JC. And like so many of us they are disgusted and upset.

Their excerpted letters follow, along with my response and there are also notes from Harold Solomon, Vic Braden, Will Hoag, Chris Boyer, Robert Lansdorp, Dr. Mike Kernodle, Dick Gould, J.P. Weber, and Doug Pielet.

Wayne,

Thanks for your efforts. My grandson, JC, is a perfect example. He loves tennis. He has a computer on his lap dialed to tennis and a TV showing the Tennis Channel, perfectly able to do both at once. We did not allow him to play until his court skills were respectable knowing the buzz because of his name…

Oh, but enter the USTA – he cannot play until he plays four orange and four green tournaments which is a waste of time and money. He just won a 14 and under tournament losing one set to a pusher. He is in limbo.

Cannot play the competition he is ready to play… This discussion should not even be wasting people’s time. The solution is LET THE PARENTS AND COACHES MAKE CHOICES FOR THEIR CHILDREN. No consideration was made for exceptional athletes for the USTA could not recognize an exceptional athlete if it were given to them as a recipe.

You know the examples one could give to prove this point. JC LOOKS THROUGH THE FENCE TO WATCH PLAYERS HE HAS EASILY BEATEN PLAY TOURNAMENTS HE IS NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY. This is what makes parents change to other sports. If he were not such a tennis nut, we would consider other sports, but unlike the USTA, we will not take his tennis away.

Wayne, heads up. The Roddicks have another potential word class player fast, great balance, competitive, smart, great hands, incredible athlete, and loves the game..

Best to all,
Blanche Roddick

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Dear Wayne,

Good morning. I hope you are well. I have attached the rough draft letter that we are preparing in regards to your letter to the USTA. I am reaching out in hopes that maybe something can be accomplished. After I read your letter over the Thanksgiving weekend (I have no idea why I had not seen it prior to that) I gave a big deep sigh as I realized that I wasn’t on an island and somebody else with insight into the USTA felt the same way. I hope to hear from you as we are down in Texas beginning the fight against the U10 mandate.

Take care and hope to hear from you soon.
Lawrence Roddick

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Draft response from Lawrence Roddick:

I recently came across Wayne Bryan’s letter to the USTA regarding Junior Player Development. His letter is long, long overdue and spot on in almost every respect… My tennis background consists of being the oldest brother of John Roddick and Andy Roddick. I have watched their tennis development for over 30 years beginning when John began tennis in Omaha, Nebraska in the early 80’s. I have watched as both of my brothers competed hard in junior tennis with the unbelievable support of my parents Blanche Roddick and Jerry Roddick.

My brother, John, was a very accomplished international junior player. At the age of 16 he was a quarterfinalist in the Junior Australian Open which took him to one of the top two 16-year-olds in the world at the time. John ultimately played #1 singles at the University of Georgia and was a four time NCAA All-American. He is now in his 4th year as head tennis coach at the University of Oklahoma.

John was a part of the United States Junior development team. After John’s experience with the USTA and player development, my parents decided that things were going to be different with Andy. Andy never participated in the USTA Player Development Program. Andy played matches, established a ranking and became a successful international junior player by playing Junior ITF matches all over the world at the age of 15. I was never an active part of John’s or Andy’s career but was able to watch from a distance as their careers progressed.

One of my favorite things to do is to watch live tennis. I enjoy watching professional tennis but I also enjoy watching junior tennis at any level. I developed the Andy Roddick Youth Tennis Program (ARYTP) in 2006 with the help of the Andy Roddick Foundation and Rene Lacoste Foundation. In 2006 the Andy Roddick Youth Tennis Program was given a very generous grant from the USTA Serves Foundation as seed money. Over the past 6 years the Andy Roddick Youth Tennis Program has continued to develop with generous donations from the Andy Roddick Foundation and the Rene Lacoste Foundation. The ARYTP targets children ages 5-10 in at risk communities introducing them to tennis and supporting them to pursue tennis to whatever level the children and their families want to try and attain. The ARYTP has also supported children to national and international tournaments to introduce them to high level tennis.

I would like to note that the ARYTP was one of the first tennis programs to use Quickstart equipment in Texas and continues to use Quickstart equipment in elementary schools for young beginner players. The ARYTP is now serving over 1,000 children annually in regards to introducing them to tennis and supporting children who want to pursue tennis as a full time sport by providing coaching and guidance into the tennis system. I have watched hundreds (if not thousands) of 10 and under and 12 and under matches over 30 years.

The Roddick family has been in the trenches giving back to the game of tennis and trying to promote the game of tennis which I believe is the motto of the USTA. Almost without exception the USTA has ignored our endeavors and has been uncooperative at best. Not once has the USTA reached out for opinions, advice etc. from our family to better United States tennis.

The most troubling example of the USTA’s arrogance is in regards to the new U10 rules mandating 10 and under children to play with modified equipment in Texas (Texas does not allow U10s to play up in 12s). We are told by the USTA that based on research and data that this new U10 mandate will produce better players in the future. I disagree and I have yet to see any data supporting the USTA’s position.

Wayne Bryan is 100% correct when he says children should be carrying around rackets at 5 and 6, hitting balls (I would even recommend modified balls at this age) and learning to love the game. These younger start children will be hitting the ball well when they are 8 and certainly playing high quality regulation tennis by 9 and 10 (Anyone that has developed a high level tennis player knows this is 100% true). What was Agassi, Sampras, Courier, Capriati, Evert, Connors, Chang etc. doing when they were 9 and 10 years old? Did anyone from the USTA ask this question before mandating modified equipment? I can tell you what John Roddick and Andy Roddick were doing when they were 9 and 10 years old. John was playing 12 nationals when he was 9 and Andy was winning the Little Mo when he was 10 (played on regulation courts with regulation balls). Both John and Andy were playing high quality 14 year olds when they were 10 and competing if not winning.

My background is in boys tennis. The time schedule is earlier for girls. Jennifer Capriati won the girls 18 nationals when she was 12. Does anyone think she was not playing high quality regulation tennis when she was 9 and 10? Does the USTA have a baseline of what level children should be at when they are 10 years old to give them the best opportunity to reach the highest levels of tennis? If not, I can give them food for thought based on John and Andy.

A 10 year-old should be playing 12 and under Super Champ tennis in Texas at the age of 10 to give the child the best opportunity to pursue a high level junior tennis career. Is this possible under the new U10 rules? Obviously not.

I am personally living the catastrophe the USTA has created with the U10 Mandate. My son is now playing tennis and genuinely loves the game. My son is 10 years old and started playing tournaments in January 2012. I tried signing him up for his first 12 and under USTA ZAT tournament in February. Much to my surprise I received an email from the tournament director stating that my son had to play 10 and unders. I was not aware of the new rule mandate that he had to play 10s and could not play up. I was then told that my son could play open USTA sanctioned tournaments in 12s so I signed him up for an open tournament and he was bumped down to orange ball 10s on a short court with short rackets. I called the USTA Texas Section and was indeed told this was the case. My son had to play in 10s if the tournament was sanctioned and had 10s. If the 10s draw did not make then and only then could he play 12s with regulation tennis equipment.

Last week I saw a local open tournament that had three 10s signed up. I called the tournament director and asked if I could sign my son up for 12s since the 10s draw wasn’t going to make (the tournament director told me one of the three 10s had withdrawn leaving two 10s in the draw). The tournament director told me she had to check with the USTA Texas section. I received an email stating that my son had to play 10s. My reply was “no thank you”. The end result of this scenario was that the 10s and 12s were combined and my son is on the sidelines one week after winning a Grand Prix 14s tournament on regulation courts with regulation balls.

Bottom line is that I have witnessed the arrogance of the USTA for 30 years and the U10 mandate is another debacle they have created. The USTA is dug into their position and are once again taking a no compromise attitude. I can’t stress enough how unfortunate this is. I hope this letter in some way helps another child and family reach their tennis dreams.

Sincerely,
Lawrence Roddick
Director, Roddick Youth Tennis Program

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Dear Lawrence and Blanche,

Hope you are both doing well and hope you and your great family had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Thanks so much for the e-mail below and thanks for your calls. Sorry to be tardy in getting back to you. I have been on the road lots this Fall – in fact, I just emceed the exo in Toronto Friday before last, where Andy played great and beat Milos Raonic; great crowd and lotsa fun – and Mike just got married to Lucie on Sunday and I have had the airport run the past two days. Anyway, so glad to read your well written letters above and to hear your comments on your phone calls.

I could not agree with you more on the U10 Mandate and am so, so sorry that it has harshly affected not only your son/grandson, but all the juniors in your program and across Texas and throughout the nation. For the past couple of years I have been speaking out and doing lots of writing and calls in opposition to this harmful and ill-conceived Mandate. Everywhere I go in my US travels I find kids, parents and coaches are discouraged and disgusted with this authoritarian Mandate that has proven so unpopular.

The following quotes might make you feel better.

“I think it’s ridiculous for the USTA to keep a ten-and-under player, who is physically and mentally able, from competing at a high level using standard equipment and courts. In effect, they are forcing kids to play tennis a certain way from a young age. They are, in effect, saying this is the only path to success.”
– Harold Solomon

“Thanks also for being outspoken on the ‘Quick start mandate’. Myself and the majority of the teaching pros and parents totally agree with you.”
– Will Hoag, Former President of the USPTA

“I support QS, but I don’t support mandating that all 8s and 10s play it – that’s just lunacy.”
– Chris Boyer

“At the Little Mo tourney in Florida over 120 people were polled as to whether to continue the competition using regular balls and regular courts. There were three out of over 120 who wanted to go the green dot ball.”
– J.P. Weber

“I am a big fan of QuickStart tennis, but not a fan of forcing children with a wide range of physical and mental abilities into a single category. As a former school psychologist, it was easy to recognize young 10-year-old children with a 15-year-old brain and physical skill. And it was just as easy to see some 15-year-old children who could benefit from a QuickStart program.

“I think Tracy Austin was seven years old when we put on a demonstration at the Los Angeles Forum in front of a few thousand fans.

“I will always remember Rod Laver coming out to perform in the feature match and Tracy was disappointed that Laver now needed the court. Tracy won the US Open singles title at age 16. When I left the Jack Kramer Club to do more tennis research, Robert Lansdorp replaced me and I’m guessing that he is choking on the USTA decision relative to 10-and-under players.

“In a recent session in Santa Ana, Calif., I asked some talented nine and 10-year-old players how they felt about playing in QuickStart tennis.

“They all said they would quit tennis and go back to soccer if they were forced into Quick-Start tennis.

“In our Junior Tennis Ambassador program, we have focused on Quickstart Program in elementary schools with success, but we still have some kids clamoring for bigger courts and racquets.

I find that five, six and seven-year-old children absolutely adore QuickStart court dimensions and sponge balls, but as they begin to develop sound strokes, their eyes head for the bigger courts and racquets.

On the mental side, we have nine and 10-year-old children studying the physics of tennis and are now coaching adults. These children feel that QuickStart is a punishment, rather than an opportunity.

It’s difficult to tell a 10-year-old player with a 90 m.p.h. serve that he/she must give up that skill to compete on a smaller court.

The beautiful thing about tennis is that there are levels for all young children, from QuickStart to tournament play on regulation courts.”
– Vic Braden

“It’s stupid. I’ve never seen anybody who did this for a long time and developed anyone.”
– Robert Lansdorp

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Again I say, have all the U10 QS tournaments you want, just don’t tear down regular tennis for 10s! The USTA’s three pillars of:

  • All 10s moonball;
  • It doesn’t matter if you force the better 10s to play up in the 12s;
  • And success in the 10s doesn’t matter – is 100% fallacious!!

And the thrust of the USTA’s program should be U6 and not U10. Starting at 10 is too late to my way of thinking to truly excel in music, sports, dance or theatre. Ask Dr. Suzuki. And ask AYSO Soccer and Softball and Little League Baseball – their Jump Street is 6, not 10.

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“I have no problem with an appropriate developmental progression, but what the USTA is forcing on our young players has been done without any supporting research and is against the developmental and motor learning research and application.”
– Michael Kernodle, PhD USPTA Master Professional

“Early on I did recommend that perhaps there should be a vehicle in place whereby the truly top 10 and Unders could “play/test” out of the short court, soft ball “requirements” as a compromise effort to initially make this concept more acceptable to those who doubt it’s benefits.”
– Dick Gould

“First of all, the QS mandate is not supported by any pros who are not affiliated with the USTA. They believe in QS but not as a mandate. I am not in a vacuum on this one. They are! The USPTA has told me that 90% of their members believe like I do. Secondly, I have been going to 2/3 10’s tournaments/month for the past 18 months and have watched numerous 10’s matches. I have talked to many if not all the parents and believe me, they were not happy about it at all! It is hard to imagine that an 8 year old will play QS for 2 more years. That is a major concern of the parents. I had one parent tell me that they may just do soccer! That would be a shame. The more I think about this mandate, the more I realize that the USTA may hurt junior tennis more than help it!! Whenever a mandate is not supported by the people out in the trenches, it will only hurt the overall cause!”
– Doug Pielet

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This ill-conceived U10 Mandate reminds me of the John Lennon song, “All we are saying – is give peace a chance” It seems to me that all we are saying is, “Go ahead and have QS and green balls and orange balls and red balls and big ol’ nerf balls and super short courts and balloons and QS Tournaments and any additional programming and promotion that you want really – just don’t tear down regular 10s tennis.

Fullerton Designated Tournament:

  • 2011 Boy’s 10’s 53 2012 Boy’s 10’s 23
  • 2011 Girl’s 10’s 44 2012 Girl’s 10’s 19

South Bay Designated Tournament:

  • 2011 Boy’s 10’s 47 2012 Boy’s 10’s 29
  • 2011 Girl’s 10’s 39 2012 Girl’s 10’s 26
  • 2011 Boy’s 8’s 15 2012 Boy’s 8’s 0
  • 2011 Girl’s 8’s 12 2012 Girls 8’s 0

I registered my complaint with Kurt Kamperman almost a year ago. His response was “We know we will lose some kids”.. It’s amazing to me that such a dictate could be made without consulting coaches, parents and students regarding the mandate ..We have 10 year old kids thinking about joining a soccer team rather than to go backwards to QuickStart.

I love QuickStart for kids who need it, but hate it for kids who now have to go backwards. Sure, the talented ten year olds can play up in the 12 and under, but our job, as coaches, is to maximize performance and enjoyment of the game in the shortest period of time. The mandate now lengthens the “time” and reduces one’s chance to maximize performance at an early age.

Growth and development schedules differ greatly at age 9 and 10, but the dictate assumes they’re all in the same boat. I hope the uprising continues and I feel certain that the USTA will have to reconsider their action. We have nine year olds working on their kick serve and now they will have to learn how to ‘hold back’.

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“I will continue to run 10 and under tournaments this year, even though there will be no sanctioned events. If we are good members of the USTA and professional coaches, we won’t let this issue drop until we rediscover our common sense. I also feel that the intelligent people at the USTA aren’t feeling too comfortable these days.”
– Vic Braden

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In conclusion – I have received several hundred e mails and letters and calls against the U10 Mandate. I have several thousand coaches and parents on my e-mail list. I met with incoming USTA President Dave Haggerty and Exec Kurt Kamperman for some 7 ½ hours over two days a few weeks ago and blasted away re the Mandate. They listened and they heard.

I am hopeful there will be change coming and soon on this issue. I am delighted to hear you feel the same way and with your name and vast tennis background you can do us some good. Rally the troops. Encourage others to speak out there in the great State of Texas. You all have it the worst there as your top 10s are not even allowed to play up! Wow. Crazy.

Steve Bellamy and I and others are debating Craig Jones, head of the USTA U10 Mandate, this coming Sunday at the Riviera Country Club in LA. There will be lots of SoCal pros there and we will be ready and prepared. Our SoCal 10s draws are way down (see Fullerton and South Bay above) as are other 10s draws across the country. I want to find out why Mr. Jones and
the USTA are dictating to the pros and parents here in SoCal and Texas and across the nation. We don’t go back to White Plains and tell them how to coach or how to bring juniors along. And I want to see if Mr. Jones can walk on water…

Again, great letter above, Lawrence. Please know I will continue to speak out on this issue and all the other USTA PD issues that I feel are so harmful to our American Juniors…

Best to you and your family and, again, I am so sorry that your son is in this hideous and harmful predicament.

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