By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 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 2011 CTDW in Washington D.C., 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.
Who they are:
- Erica Perkins, Senior Manager, Junior & Collegiate Competition, USTA Player Development
- Glenn Arrington, National Manager, Tennis On Campus & Tennis Service Representatives
Why they're speaking:
The idea of college being a "failure ground" for players who couldn't fast track into the professional ranks is antiquated. Some of the top American professionals in the world today (John Isner, University of Georgia; Bob and Mike Bryan, Stanford University) were improved and advanced from their NCAA days. If anything, any pathway of progression should feature a collegiate playing career, which provides the fallback of a higher-learning education and the development of key life skills, in addition to tennis skills.
Opportunities to play in international (Master'U) and professional tournaments (USTA Pro Circuit), in addition to Pro Tour transition camps, have been developed for college players looking to advance further.
On the other side of the spectrum, Tennis On Campus is tailor-made for players who want to simply be part of a team as a complement to their studies. Playing at a club level can also carry many of the same perks as varsity play. The program offers championships at both the national and sectional levels, along with brand new spring and fall invitationals, providing year-round competition on the calendar. Even with 30,000 student-athletes participating at over 500 different participant colleges, there's still work to be done to attract new players and disprove the notion that you can't play in college based on ability level.
Feature Idea: "Tennis DNA"
It is evident that a player who goes on to enjoy professional success on the ATP or WTA tours has made tennis their life's obsession, but rare talent isn't a prerequisite for the passion necessary to remain involved in the game.
"The fact is, our Tennis On Campus kids are more mature now than ever before," said Arrington. "At one time, this program for us was just about getting college kids out to the courts by any means necessary. Now we're finding that with each passing year, these young men and women are extremely self-motivated through ownership of their teams.
"As part of Tennis On Campus, we're run by students, for students. We've called on each team to fundraise their way to competitions, and they take to it strong by getting active in their surrounding communities. These will be the same people who our section offices and World TeamTennis will take on for internships and become the brains behind a lot of community planning and development."
Perkins notices similar traits in varsity players who go on to professional careers other than tennis but cannot shake the bug.
"Tennis is in your DNA. A lot of times your top-level players will graduate and think their tennis careers are finished. They get out into the real world as investment bankers or lawyers, and they realize, 'Oh my gosh, tennis is what I love to do,' and they get back in."
How to Improve: "Get Even Younger"
USTA Campus Showdowns, where organized teams enter an all-day event at a nearby college facility and participate in tournament play, have been a rousing success in terms of providing added competition for junior and college players. Perhaps more importantly, the events also serve to expose more American junior players to college campuses, giving them a taste of college life and a chance to compete against college players.
"We keep the entry fees minimal -- $5 for doubles, $10 for singles -- to access a full range of players," said Perkins. "To be able to bring high-level tennis to a community and enhance the profile of the college within that community has been key."
The initiative has grown from three registered events in 2008 to 115 in the past year. In addition to tournament play, college coaches and players are often all too willing to volunteer in teaching clinics with attending children and signing autographs, according to Perkins.
"We need to raise awareness that tennis experts are often right in your own backyard. College coaches love to speak to kids. They want to connect and work with local programs, and they'll often do so for free. In return, what they do want are eyeballs on the court, kids attending their matches, seeing how those lessons play out on the court, and growing to love tennis."