Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Whatever happened to the halcyon days of junior tennis?

Easter Bowl junior tennis event - the circuit in Indian Wells, CA. (same location as the pros just two weeks earlier - Andy Roddick lost in the finals to Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia). Photo by Doug Browne

Easter Bowl junior tennis event – the circuit in Indian Wells, CA. (same location as the pros just two weeks earlier – Andy Roddick lost in the finals to Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia). Photo by Doug Browne

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, the Pacific Northwest tennis circuit offered a unique concept that made it one of the most popular tours in the country: Each event lasted one week and began each June in Eugene, Oregon. At the completion of the first tournament, the players moved on to Portland and then to Washington State for two more contests in Tacoma and Seattle. The participants then played their season finale in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. The players loved the various Pacific Northwest locations but what made the circuit so appealing was that the tournament organizers had the men’s open division and the upper-level junior divisions competing at the same time and same facilities. Additionally, most of the players were sponsored by their respective tennis associations. The sponsorship included free housing and a generous food stipend. Moreover, just about every top-ranked player received free tennis rackets from leading tennis manufacturers. With all of the outstanding perquisites for most players, less-privileged juniors were afforded the opportunity to regularly compete, thus attaining a good tennis ranking and aiding the player in obtaining a tennis scholarship at a respected division one university.

As we fast-forward to the present, it is questionable whether there are any similarities to these earlier tournaments. Long gone is the event that features both adults and juniors. A tournament that regularly offers free housing and free meals is a relic of the past. And perhaps most importantly, a five-week tour where the tournaments were run consecutively within a region, making it desirous for one to travel given the short distances, no longer exists. This change has been harmful to the game and may have an effect on overall popularity. Unfortunately, the consequences of these changes have been detrimental to the junior game and I’m not sure if there is a remedy. The first major one involves how a junior player attains his ranking. “I sarcastically call it the ‘buy a ranking’ system,” a prominent South Florida coach recently complained to me. “Once again, this type of change rewards the rich and believe me, we will see a greater separation between the wealthy families versus the less fortunate ones. And, when it is time to hand out tennis scholarships, a lot of kids will be left behind.” Not only do juniors have to enter more competitions to attain a high ranking, but also with no free housing, families must bear the financial burden to pay for lodging.

Another modification is the qualification process for tennis racket and clothing sponsorship.  Unless one is ranked nationally in the top 20, the player rarely can qualify for a racket fee or clothing reduction. Therefore, if junior players use three or four frames (each costing approximately $115.00 per racket plus strings and stringing) they are out over $500 before they even begin to outfit themselves with shoes and clothes. This can be quite a tricky proposition because youngsters continually grow and their sizes change constantly. About 18 months ago, my junior star wore a size 10 shoe and fitted nicely into a size small short and shirt. Today, he dons size 13 shoes and now requires medium to large shorts and size large shirts. And then there is the cost of coaching…!

Whatever happened to the halcyon days of junior tennis? And then there is the cost of coaching… Stay tuned!

Doug Browne is beginning his 26th year as Director of Tennis at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island. He has been associated with the USPTA for 25 years, and has been playing, talking, and teaching tennis for most of his life.

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