The growing popularity of flex leagues are filling a need for players with busy schedules and are helping to feed players into other tennis programs, too.’
Are your players looking for the newest game in town? They may want to take a spin on USTA Flex Leagues or other flex league programs (see box at far right).
USTA Flex Leagues (usta.com) were introduced in 2008 as a way for the USTA to become more involved with another aspect of tennis programming. The program groups players of similar ability together in an organized season that allows players to schedule five to 10 matches when it best fits their schedules, at a mutually convenient location. In 2009, the program had more than 7,000 players in 75 leagues in 26 states. This year, it’s expected to reach 14,000 players in more than 100 locations. Currently, USTA Flex Leagues are in 78 areas around the country, from Phoenix to Kansas City, Mo., to Naples, Fla., and the Northeast.
Players register online for singles, doubles, or mixed doubles using the TennisLink system. They can then track standings, report scores and review their schedule of matches.
It’s really tennis on your time, explains USTA Flex League National Manager Marilyn Sherman. “Thousands of players are getting to play more tennis due to the ability to choose when and where to play,” she says. And Sherman should know. For years, she coordinated USTA Leagues for the 150,000 adults in the nine states that make up the USTA Southern Section and has worked with players and coordinators of all levels to mobilize community resources to grow league participation.
For your players, Flex Leagues offer a number of benefits. One big plus is that players get to meet and play with new people, which is great for their games and offers fun, competitive match play. While Flex League formats can vary from city to city, most all leagues offer singles. Some cities also offer doubles, giving participants the chance to play several matches in a row with the same partner and to work on doubles strategy.
Although play in a USTA Flex League is based on a USTA self rating or a verified rating, the matches themselves do not count toward an official NTRP rating, which means players can use Flex League matches to work on their games and put into actual play what you teach them in lessons and clinics. So, if a player of yours is more of a doubles expert, it’s a perfect format for honing those singles skills, and players say they enjoy having organized matches where “winning” is nice, but de-emphasized. The NTRP rating system helps to ensure compatible and competitive play.
Flex Leagues is the first adult USTA program that invites non-USTA members to play. (Fees are $25 for USTA members, $35 for nonmembers.) Nearly 20 percent of all USTA Flex League players are non-members, says Sherman. USTA Flex League players also are entered into a sweepstakes for twice-a-year drawings with gift certificates and even a trip to the US Open.
Matches can be played anywhere — at park and recreation facilities, country clubs and other indoor and outdoor tennis facilities. The league assigns home and away players for each match, and if necessary, the home player pays for any court time if done at a private site. Home players also supply balls.
Local league play is put together by the Local Tennis Organizer, or LTO, an integral part of the program. “Our LTOs include club owners, league coordinators, tennis directors, CTAs, and individuals determined by their section to be the best choice to administer and promote USTA Flex Leagues in that community,” says Sherman. “They typically are already a conduit for tennis and enjoy helping players get connected to everything offered in the local tennis menu.” The LTO is responsible for such things as helping find doubles partners if needed, promoting the league, arranging flights and schedules on TennisLink, and helping solve any local league disputes.
In Phoenix, Bob Zucker, LTO for the largest league in the first full year of USTA Flex Leagues, says the program helps build the tennis base in the community. “I encourage every facility, tennis professional, league coordinator and retailer in town to help promote USTA Flex Leagues and they soon realize it’s a ‘win-win’ for everyone,” he says. “More court time filled, new members joining clubs, more tennis merchandise sold, more players for teams next season, etc.”
Flex Leagues also give a community a chance to offer a program during an off-season, such as when USTA Leagues, World TeamTennis, USTA Senior leagues or other play is not in session. It also feeds all those programs, as Flex League players are often getting back into the game, and then discover the myriad of programming available to them. And Flex Leagues gives the ability to offer another play opportunity to new and returning players.
For teaching pros, there’s an opportunity to offer more lessons to Flex League players, both those who had stepped away from the game for a time and those who see the need for improvement based on their match-play results.
“My area club tennis professionals tell me they are very excited about the Flex League program because besides having another great program to promote to their membership base, it really helps the entry-level players find more people at their level to play with,” says Gregg Gruhl, USTA Florida’s tennis program coordinator for the Tampa area.
Sherman says some areas are using the Flex League program to target specific groups, such as young professionals in Jacksonville, Fla., and super seniors in Albuquerque, N.M. She also expects Tennis on Campus teams to offer Flex Leagues campus-wide, to students, alumni and faculty as a fundraiser for their team’s travel expenses.
“This program can complete the local adult tennis menu and actually recruit players for existing leagues and tournaments, in addition to offering an additional opportunity to those players who need flexibility to schedule more tennis,” Sherman says. “Flex Leagues has proven that this format can help players and the industry ‘flex their tennis muscle.’”
Need more information on how to organize or play in a USTA Flex League? Contact your section or Marilyn Sherman at Sherman@usta.com, or call 914-697-2636.
Other Flex League Programs
Besides USTA Flex Leagues, there are others offered around the country, including some that have been running for quite some time. Here are some other flex leagues worth checking out.
- Ultimate Tennis: Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Ultimate Tennis (UltimateTennis.com), based in St. Petersburg, Fla., is considered by many to be the “granddaddy” of the format. It has more than 85,000 members and 20,000 players yearly. Founder Scott Nunn says Ultimate Tennis continues to expand, and right now can be found in nearly a dozen metro areas in Florida, Texas, Georgia and California.
- Peach Tennis League: Run by Scott Tucker and based in Atlanta, Peach Tennis League (peachtennis.com) has programs in Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., Columbia, S.C., and Phoenix. Originally started as a free service, at the end of 2005, a website was developed and Peach Tennis League became “official,” with Prince as its national sponsor. There are retail store sponsors in each participating city, which help to draw player support for the program. Gift certificates to the sponsoring stores are given away to league players.
- LeagueTennis.com: Founded in 2007 by Trish Leeks in Atlanta, LeagueTennis.com also is in Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and soon, San Diego. The league has four seasons and offers singles, doubles and mixed doubles; weekday leagues; and business leagues. The cost is $20 per season and $10 per season for juniors. At the end of each eight-week season, there are citywide playoffs to determine city champions at each level, complete with prizes. Sponsors include Golfsmith in Texas and I Play Tennis in Atlanta.
— Cynthia Sherman
See all articles by Scott Hanover
About the Author
Scott Hanover is the general manager of Clayview Country Club, a swim, tennis, and fitness facility in Kansas City, Mo. As a volunteer, he serves as the national chairperson of the USTA Tennis in the Parks committee.