By: Wayne Bryan
***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.***
As you know, I have respected your right to disagree with the USTA mandate and even the Texas rules on the 10’s mandate. Thanks for this e mail, Ken, and thank you for respecting my right to disagree with the USTA Mandate. However, I do not respect your taking this to the level of personal and demeaning comments about the folks on the other side. I specifically refer to the two paragraphs below that malign Steve Cobb. I do not malign Mr. Cobb personally. I did not impugn his character in anyway.
He holds a very high and important role with the USTA. His actions have major consequences for young juniors and for the great game. I have been a keen observer of the USTA PD for lo these past 23 years and it is well known that I have been very critical of the arrogant and top down attitude of the USTA PD to coaches in the private sector. I have seen many letters like Mr. Cobb’s and I have heard many comments by USTA PD staff to private coaches. It is always “Look at what we are doing. We know better than you. You must abide by our harsh Mandates.”
Never have we heard the USTA PD staffers say, “You are running a great program and producing some fine players. We want to come and see what you are doing and learn from you.” The local private coaches do not get a pat on the back or any approval at all and that is fine, but by the same token, private coaches and parents want to be free to bring players along as they see fit.
How would you like it if you were a Mom/Mentor/Coach of a son that had won the US Open and been #1 in the world in singles and helped win the Davis Cup for the United States. And she now has a grandson that is passionate about tennis and has been playing since he was a little tyke. The Mom knows the sport inside and out and is very, very experienced and wise about the game and how to bring players along from a very young age. She feels her grandson is better at age 8, 9 and 10 than her superstar son was. And when this grandson is ready to start playing the 10s, she is told by Steve Cobb and the USTA Texas Assn. that he cannot play with the regulation yellow tennis balls that he has been hitting with for the past four or five years. She says fine, we’ll just enter him in the 12s to play with regular balls. And then she is told, “No. He can’t play in the 12s either. He must play with our new soft green balls in the 10s or he can’t play tournament tennis at all. We just know that by forcing him to do it our way, he will be a better player. And if he does not go along with our Mandate, then he must stay outside the fence and watch.”
And what if you are a very experienced coach, who was a tour player and has produced various pro players and top juniors through the years. You have an 8 year old that you feel is the most passionate and talented young player you have ever had. When little KK is ready to compete in the 10s, he gets the same treatment as outlined above.
And you get a letter from Mr. Cobb as the Director of Competitive Tennis USTA/Texas and he writes “The JTC met in Dallas this past weekend, and enacted some significant 10U changes that will be going public very shortly – but there was one that prompted me to dash off this quick message to you. The rule that stated a player going through Orange and Green by winning 4 at each level must be at least 9 years old in order to compete in 12’s ZAT (yellow) has been rescinded. As you and I discussed, a player who accomplishes our qualification requirements should be allowed to progress regardless of age, and the Council agreed with us.” I don’t know about you, Ken, but from my vantage point that is bizarre and insulting to read a paragraph like that. To offer up a crumb like that and to require players to play with super soft Orange and Green Balls for 4 weeks each is patently absurd and hyper controlling.
And then to read this: “SG tells me you may be “softening?” on your 10U position, and that he hopes to convince you into helping coach some of our Early Development Center programming. I am delighted to hear that. Please allow me to once again extend an invitation to you to come to any of our RTC (Regional Training Center ) Camps in the coming year, and see firsthand what we are doing in the Player Development arena in not just 10U . . .” Mr. Cobb is saying, you play ball with us and we will be so kind and gracious as to extend an invitation to you to come to our RTC Camps.
Would Mr. Cobb dare to send a letter like that to Richard and Oracene Williams or Robert Lansdorp or Vic Braden or Rick Macci or Nick Bollettieri or Tim Mayotte or Harold Solomon or Blanche Roddick or Mark Bey?
How would you feel if you were someone is in the Athletic Hall of Fame of their college and who has coached pro players and several top juniors and has been named the World Team Tennis Coach of the Year three times and has several other coaching awards from the USTA, USPTA and USPTR. Someone who has coached six #1 players in the 10 in SoCal and who coaches the #1 doubles team in the world. A coach who has been asked to speak several times in your Lone Star State. And he has been duly hammered – – – you might call it attacked or demeaned – – – by USTA PD staff members at meetings and on the phone and in emails and letters at every turn and told, “We know better than you how to bring along young juniors. You must do it our way. Your way is wrong and our way is right.”
And you say I demean Mr. Cobb? You say I am attacking Mr. Cobb? Walk a mile in my shoes . . . I’ll show you attacking and I’ll show you demeaning.
Am I being very critical of Mr. Cobb and the way he does he job in terms of mandating? You bet. No doubt about it.
First, Steve works for USTA Texas and he handles the title of Director of Competitive Tennis very professionally. It is his job to administer the policies and rules passed by our volunteers whether he agrees with the rules or not. In this case I happen to know he agrees. And I have yet to meet a USTA Staff member who gets a check every two weeks who will speak out publicly against the U10 Mandate. Several have spoken to me off the record that they think it is yet another gimmick that will not withstand the test of time.
Secondly, he did work in the private sector prior to my hiring him. And he worked and learned from the best and most experienced professionals in the Northeast, Southern, and nationally. His knowledge and experience is as strong as I have seen, and I have 57 years playing and teaching the sport. And that is just fine. And may I be so bold as to say I also have respect for my friends and coaches on the tour and I think their knowledge and experience is perhaps as strong as your Mr. Cobb’s – – – coaches like Paul Annacone, Brad Gilbert, Brad Stine, Ricky Leach, and Larry Stefanki. And college coaches like Billy Pate, Manny Diaz, Bobby Bayliss, Billy Martin, Peter Smith, Greg Patton, John Whitlinger, Luke Jensen, Richie Gallien, Dave Fish, Brad Pearce, Peter Wright, Matt Anger, and Marty Davis just to name a few. And former tour players who coach the great game like Stan Smith, Tim Mayotte, Scott Davis, Harold Solomon, Murphy Jensen, and Phil Dent. And club pros like Mark Bey, Larry Mousouris, Bruce Lipka, Bob Hochstadter, Craig Cignarelli, Dave McKinney, Mark Spearman, Mark McCampbell, Hugh Stratman, Nelson Emery, Susan Evans, Cornelius Jordan, Steve Loft, Carl Hocker, Cheryl Shrum, Chuck Waldron, JP Weber, Doug Pielet, Traci Curry, Tony McCormick, and Cici Louie also just to name a few.
Is Mr. Cobb suggesting that he knows the better junior path than all these coaches? Seems to me that he is and that is why I again say, the USTA, our national governing body, has no business being in coaching. The USTA should not be competing with the private sector. That is fraught with danger.
I have had the pleasure of being on court with most of the coaches above. Funny, I have never, ever seen one pro practice that was the same or one college workout that was the same. I have never seen one World Team Tennis warm-up or practice that was the same. Very few club pros have the same kind of workouts for their juniors.
There is no one way. There is no one way. There is no one way. There is motivation. There is inspiration. There is fun. There is art. There is magic. There is individuality. There is creativity. There are so, so, so many factors that go into helping create a player or helping create a champion.
Take a one year old and hit a balloon over the sofa. Or roll a ball. A green, ball, a red ball, a polka dot ball, or a golf ball. Do what you want at two. Three. Four. Five. But do it your way. A way that works for the little player. But when it comes time for the U10s, you play regulation tennis.
You want to offer all sorts of colored ball tournaments? – – – fine and dandy!! Just don’t tamper with and tear down regulation tennis for 10s.
As the governing body and as USTA leaders, I know you welcome and encourage and expect input from all dues paying members. When you make a massive change – – – with zero data and without truly consulting a big cross section of coaches and experienced parents across the country – – – with your various mandates you expect harsh and relentless criticism.
Ken, we have been friends a long time and have been together at many a coaches conference and tennis event. You have said nice things about me and I have certainly said nice and appreciative things about you and your work with the Texas Tennis Assn. If you say so, I am 100% sure Steve is a good man and a very fine coach and I do not demean him as a human being. I certainly respect him as a human being. But how would he like it I mandated that all his players have to use a certain kind of ball that was not regulation in U10 tournament play?
What if I wrote to him and told him to come and see how I do things? I’ll bet he would be amazed and angry and I guarantee you he would not like it for one single minute – – – just like I and so, so many coaches in Texas and across the country don’t.
I am all for sharing of ideas, but I believe each coach and parent and player should be free to do it their way.
Same with music. The Beatles did not read a note of music, but they might have been the greatest composers of the 20th century. The governing body of music in England, did not come down and say, “Hey, John, Paul, George and Ringo, we are not going to allow you to perform in England. You must stay off the stage and watch until you first learn to read music! You must do it our way. We know better than you.”
Similarly, talented KK and JR and their coaches and parents and even grandparents want to do it their way. They do not want to be told how to do it by Mr. Cobb or the USTA.
A great tennis person, businessman, and Dad, Chris Boyer wrote this to me in an e mail a few weeks ago and I think it is right on the nose: “And, I will add one last comment to this thought about the USTA trying to control/be involved with tennis player development: NO OTHER SPORT DOES THIS! AYSO soccer doesn’t try to govern how soccer coaches develop in the private sector; Football – NO, Baseball – NO, Basketball – NO. Not even FIFA, which could be considered one of the most powerful sport organizations in the world doesn’t get involved in player development – they let the professional soccer clubs develop their own talent from age 4 on up to pro level in each clubs own system.” Bingo. The USTA is top down. Authoritarian. They reward those that play ball with them and penalize all coaches, parents and players who do not.
Steve has respect for Chris Bovett, as do I, and he treated Chris with time and respect. Great! Chris and Blanche’s comments were shared with our Council clearly and professionally. Good to hear! It is seriously unfair to attack a good man just because he has chosen to serve tennis through the USTA. Again, I am not attacking Mr. Cobb. I am only criticizing the way he – – – as the Director of Competitive Tennis USTA/Texas – – – is mandating to young juniors and their parents and coaches and grandparents. (By the way, Steve has nothing to do with this response.)
Wayne, I am very disappointed by this attack. Ones man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One’s man’s attack is another man’s speaking truth to power and criticizing the governing body and high USTA officials.
I say the USTA has lost its way. Put your ear to the ground and you will hear a general distrust and disgust with the USTA. I have never seen it like this in all my years – – – in terms of the number of people and the level of despair. It is palpable and it is pervasive . . .
I still hope to visit with you personally in Houston. Always have loved talking tennis with you through the years, Ken, and can’t wait to see you in H Town to discuss this further . . .
Ken: Here are a few of the other silly and ill-conceived Mandates from USTA PD over the past two decades:
- Do not get an early start in tennis. Play all the other sports and then, and only then, turn to tennis when the kids are around 12.
- Get rid of all the 12s Nationals.
- Get rid of rankings for our precious little 10s and 12s so they won’t have any pressure.
- Get rid of all parents for top players and send them to the USTA National Coaches in Key Biscayne. Close down Key Biscayne and now Carson is the place to be. Phase out Carson and now Boca Raton has the magic and is where all the top players must go and live.
- Get rid of all local pros and send our top players to the USTA National Coaches.
- Have Area Training Centers with the primary purpose of disseminating Sports Science Info – – – that is the key to getting to the top.
- Periodization for tennis! That is the new key to getting to the top.
- Have all our top juniors turn pro and not go to college.
- Make all the National draws 256 so everyone can go to Nationals.
- Have all kinds of Regional National Tournaments so the juniors won’t have to battle in their own section – – – allow them to run around and pick and choose tournaments that are weak enough so they can improve their rankings and get in the nationals.
- Get rid of doubles rankings.
- Have fewer and fewer doubles tournaments.
- Force the 10s to have to play with soft green balls instead of regulation tennis balls.
Note: Most of these Mandates ‘n PD philosophies above have been overturned by succeeding USTA PD regimes and some are still rolling.
Hi Chris – I hope this finds you well. The JTC met in Dallas this past weekend, and enacted some significant 10U changes that will be going public very shortly – but there was one that prompted me to dash off this quick message to you. The rule that stated a player going through Orange and Green by winning 4 at each level must be at least 9 years old in order to compete in 12’s ZAT (yellow) has been rescinded. As you and I discussed, a player who accomplishes our qualification requirements should be allowed to progress regardless of age, and the Council agreed with us. I hope that comes as good news for Kapeer and your other students.
On a related note, our mutual friend Sammy G. tells me you may be “softening?” on your 10U position, and that he hopes to convince you into helping coach some of our Early Development Center programming. I am delighted to hear that. Please allow me to once again extend an invitation to you to come to any of our RTC (Regional Training Center ) Camps in the coming year, and see first hand what we are doing in the Player Development arena in not just 10U, but older kids too.
Steve Stephen Cobb, Director of Competitive Tennis USTA/Texas
Let me be clear, Blanche. I am 1000% against the U10 Mandate and have been since I first heard about it coming down the road 4 or 5 years ago. Have fought it as hard as I can. Been on many national conference calls. Made many calls myself. Spoken out vociferously at many a meeting. Written many a letter and e mail. So have many thousands of the other top US coaches and experienced parents.
Of course, we have all fought with USTA PD too. And all the silly National Schedule and Ranking changes. It has been a long hard road, indeed.
We take every little crumb we can get. Like when the USTA Gods and Generals finally said – – – after much prodding – – – they were gonna“allow” the nice, caring and hardworking ladies at Little Mo to use regulation yellow balls for their tournaments for young juniors. We were heartened. Happy. It was a nice little crumb.
When the VCJTA stood up and said “hell no” to the mandate and kept all 30+ of their local junior tournaments in Ventura County, California with regulations balls for their U10s that was another good sign. We smiled. Another crumb.
This letter at the very bottom is also another tiny little crumb bestowed upon us by our august governing body. Is it all that we want? Of course not. It is sad, silly and stupid to require 4 tournaments with their super soft orange balls and then 4 more tournaments with green balls!!! 8 weeks of entry fees. 8 weeks of precious travel and play time – – – and for so, so many kids that are practicing with yellow balls each and every day of the week! What a waste! But, still, it is a very slight incremental improvement. Now hoping it will go to just 2 tournaments. Then to 1. And finally, poof, none at all!!!
And then when this current crop of autocratic and “we know better than you” USTA staffers are fired – – – and they all will be, sooner or later, for one reason or another – – – then someone in the next regime will come up with the brilliant idea of allowing U10s to play with regular yellow balls and it then will have come full circle. Just like all their other crazy and bizarre mandates through the years . . .
And tell your Stephen Cobb – – – after reading his last sentence below about “come look at us!” – – – to come to SoCal and see what our top coaches like Robert Lansdorp and Vic Braden and Larry Mousouris and Craig Cignarelli and Bob Hochstadter and Hugh Stratman and Mark Weil and Nelson Emery and Dave McKinney and Mark McCampbell – – – just to name a few quickly – – – are doing and follow us around and let us show him what the top coaches across this country are doing in the “real deal” private sector.
And come walk a mile in our shoes on the pro tour . . . three of the four guys on our US Davis Cup team grew up within 12 miles of our house for crying out loud . . . maybe he should fly out here and see what is goin’ on – – – or was that just a lucky occurrence? . . . but none of us out here have a title like Director of Competitive Tennis USTA/Texas so he must be a way, way better coach than all of us . . . and the fact that he can mandate to Chris Bovett and Blanche Roddick and all the other great Texas coaches and parents must mean that he is much smarter and more experienced and better than all of us regular folks . . . and I guess there is only one way to do this junior tennis journey – – – his way!
Again, we simply say, have all the red ball, orange ball, green ball, nerf ball and polka dot ball tournaments you wanna have, just allow those U10s that want to compete against their peers using regulation yellow tennis balls be given the chance to do so . . . just like your son Andy did and his pals Pete and Andre and Venus and Serena and Roger and Rafa . . .