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2012 CTDW: Organizing play along the play pathway

January 13, 2012 03:30 PM
USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Manager Marikate Murren promotes Tennis Play Days as a newfound gateway for kids into tennis.
During the workshop, attendees were asked to assume the roles of children and Play Days staffers to troubleshoot potential event issues.
Sharing "sticky situations" - or problem areas - amongst your tennis staff and other organizers is good for learning how to run youth programming more effectively.
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
NEW ORLEANS -- From 10 and Under Tennis, to adult players, to parents who want to take a more active role in their child's personal development, the Community Tennis Development Workshop (CTDW) each year serves as the meeting of the most tireless minds from all 17 USTA sections and the national level to discuss the future of tennis in the United States.
As part of USTA.com's coverage of the 2012 CTDW in "The Big Easy," we're going around the workshops to discover which new ideas, initiatives and practices are pushing people towards the ultimate goal: To promote and develop the game at all levels. 
Along the way we'll meet the impassioned speakers delivering the presentations and come to know what drives their efforts.
Want to express your thoughts, or hear what others have to say about the state of American tennis? Check out the USTA's Twitter page and tweet yourself with the hashtag: #ctdw12 all weekend long!
Who they are: 
- Anne Davis, USTA National Manager of Tennis Training & Development
- Marikate Murren, USTA National Manager, Jr. Team Tennis & Tournaments
Why they're speaking:
With the brand-new USTA/ITF Rule Change going into effect earlier this month, the game of tennis as commonly perceived – intense training, militaristic practice & drills, only the strong survive even before the teenage years – is no more. Slower moving balls, lighter, shorter racquets and sized-down courts are bringing kids into tennis at higher rates than ever before.
The question: "How do organizers and coaches keep kids interested and retain them in tennis programs across the United States?"
Davis and Murren believe its to keep each player involved in fun, innovative competitions that meet the needs of all ages and ability levels. Kids ought to be playing matches from the very first time they pick up a racquet and ball, and so an outlet is needed. Enter Tennis Play Days, introducing healthy and appropriate competition from the very first day that celebrates winners and rewards effort without documenting play results (other than how much enjoyment kids and parents got out of the experience). From there, a child can keep attending Play Days at their local facility to learn and enjoy the game through playing in tournament-style settings, improving to the point where they can advance to Jr. Team Tennis competition and beyond. 
Play Days begin with good organization – setting pre-event, during event & post-event goals – and are meant to be low-pressure, high-enjoyment outings. A warm-up period should always begin a Play Day, allowing staff members to sort out kids by ability level so that they can be matched with kids most like themselves. At each event, arrange food and off-court activities to keep all guests constantly engaged.
"A lot of good organizational qualities are like a forehand or a backhand, they can be learned," said Davis, on getting Play Days off the ground and into a community. "Be a delegator and give your coaches and volunteers responsibility, all while sharing your difficult – or ‘sticky’ – situations. Much like tennis is adapting to the Rule Change, take what you learn today and adapt given your situation." 
Pre-event decisions should entail determining a date and site, creating a staff and establishing a budget. During the event, all leaders and volunteers should be able to set up courts and equipment, quickly orientate the players and handle off-court activities. Lastly, post event, each staff member should be able to evaluate the "good, bad and ugly," and celebrate success, with an eye towards planning the next Play Day. 
"Just be sure to keep kids involved," said Davis. "Three matches minimum, five or six preferable. Whether a match is four games, four points, until the music stops, totally the organizer’s call. The competition aspect is key." 
Feature Idea: The Pathway
"Until a child can serve, rally and score, Jr. Team Tennis and Junior Tournaments are not for them," said Murren. 
Too often, it’s a well-meaning parent buying their child an adult-sized racquet and putting them on the 78-foot court right away, far too advanced for a beginner child between the ages of 5 and 10. The Rule Change, stating that all sanctioned 10 and Under Tennis tournaments must be played using age-appropriate equipment and courts, is an attempt to safeguard kids – and their parents - from their first tennis experience being failure. 
The advent of Play Days, if utilized correctly, can shorten the learning curve.
"Play Days are a tremendous opportunity to educate adults who bring their child to an event, as we can break old, bad habits by showing first-hand that their kids can have fun, feel confident and improve skills all while competing," said Murren. 
"Its also consistent to what they’ll learn and experience when they move along to Jr. Team Tennis. Play Days don’t necessarily have to end when a child reaches a certain age or ability level – let kids play and keep them playing."
The new attitude towards youth tennis is that from Pre-K to high school, young Americans can participate locally in tennis competition that suits all ages and ability levels. The equipment is available, and so too is the programming.
"The first stages can be ugly," said Davis. "That’s great. Embrace it, because all the while you’re allowing kids to experience the learning process of rallying."
How to Improve: Not Your Father’s Tournaments
"How many of you, as kids, played in tournaments?" asked Murren to the audience, most of whom raised their hands. 
"Do you remember? Mom or Dad driving an hour, hour-and-a-half sometimes, and you’re sitting in the car, nervous about the match you’re going to have. Then you get on the court and if you lost, its all over and you have to drive home. Or if you won, maybe even worse, you’d be sitting around for hours waiting to play again. This needs to change."
USTA Junior Tournaments, as a later stop on the pathway with documented results and individual competition, need to go through an overhaul process – "a new face," as Davis and Murren describe – to be in-line with the more kid-friendly, family friendly initiatives of Play Days and Jr. Team Tennis.
"No more ‘one-and-done.’ Single-elimination tournaments are not effective in keeping kids on the courts," said Murren.
As part of the makeover, tournament organizers should look to compass draw formatting, as it gives all kids within a tournament the maximum amount of opportunities to play, win or lose. Keeping within a compass draw, an whole-day event can be planned out with scheduled blocks of time – no waiting around – eliminating the need for hotel stays and, in many cases, reducing fees.


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