Keep the Debate a Healthy One
Lately, a few things have crossed my screen that have made me a bit concerned about the health of some relationships in this industry. This regards a little dust-up about a (soon-to-be) proposed rule change for 10-and-under tennis.
Some quick background: The QuickStart Tennis format has been well accepted by most in this industry. The reasoning is pretty solid: When starting kids out, they should play on appropriately sized, shorter courts, with shorter racquets and lower-pressure balls, and with modified scoring, eventually moving up to bigger courts and equipment.
In fact, many teaching pros are finding QST to be a huge moneymaker because they can use a normal 78-foot court, divide it into four 36-foot courts, and have a large number of kids playing in that space. Not only are the court sizes appropriate for the kids, but also the balls they use allow them to actually sustain rallies and learn proper technique right from the start. They have fun and learn at the same time. Now, many facilities are permanently lining regular courts with 36- and 60-foot lines, and an increasing number of facilities are going beyond that and building shorter courts.
Many people, including USTA officials, feel that for 10-and-under tennis to really grow there needs to be more tournament competition on 36- and 60-foot courts. The USTA’s Kurt Kamperman isn’t shy about saying the lack of current 10-and-under tournament play isn’t just discouraging, it’s embarrassing, and for many, many years, junior programs have simply failed to create an appropriate competitive pathway for 10-and-under kids. It’s time, he says, to try something different.
And here’s where this little “dust-up” comes into play. The ITF and USTA believe most tournaments for 10-and-under players should take place on 60-foot courts with an orange ball. Better skilled 10-year-olds could play on a 78-foot court with a green (slightly lower pressure) ball, either limited in the 10s or playing up in the 12s. However, some feel there should be an option to allow these better 10s to play on a regular 78-foot court, with a regular yellow ball. All of a sudden, it seems the debate has started to escalate.
Although, as of early June, nothing has yet been formally proposed by the USTA, there already are strong feelings on all sides, including parents, teaching pros and USTA Sections, which in some cases have already made rulings for their own sections regarding this matter. This “back and forth” has at times been rather heated. At one point, I was seeing letters and emails for and against certain aspects of this “unproposed” change that seemed to take the opportunity to slam opposing parties on many unrelated issues.
Here’s the thing — there’s no room for bad blood in this industry. Heck, the economy has battered all of us around enough; we don’t need to do it to ourselves. On this particular issue, we’re all after the same thing: Let’s get more 10-and-unders playing tennis. These letters and emails I’ve been seeing — and yes, some are rather incendiary — are all premature and mis-timed, and all leading to bad feelings.
Differences of opinion, especially regarding a rule change, are absolutely fine. But let’s keep the debate healthy and productive. And let’s keep in mind the ultimate goal: We all want more kids to play tennis.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.