It's working - We've doubled junior participation!
By Jim Reffkin
The USTA Southwest is beginning to fulfill the goals of USTA National's "Plan for Growth." As the very first USTA section to introduce innovative events to our juniors, we have the potential of immediately doubling competitive junior match play in the Southwest.
Here is how we did it. The Reffkin Tennis Center, with the blessing of USTA National and Southwest, introduced two exciting new formats to enrich the menu of junior competitive events. Every year we host the Western States and Arizona Junior Open, and for both of these events anticipate approximately 1,200 matches played; this includes main draw and consolation. With the innovative, non-elimination events we have introduced, we will have our juniors playing 1,700 matches more; that's a 140% increase of what they normally would have been playing at our tennis center. And this is not counting our unsanctioned junior satellite events using short sets and star balls.
What a breakthrough, not only does this help fulfill the goal of our USTA National "Plan for Growth" but the goals of the USTA National Youth Competition and Training Committee as well. This committee, plus influential members of "high performance," has an ongoing campaign to convince our competitive juniors they need more match play against a variety of different opponents.
It's working, even though critics said no one would ever play these innovative events, we received a huge positive feedback from players and parents, and it just took off. These sanctioned events are the Arizona Junior Shootouts using match tiebreak and the Super Set Series using one set per match. These programs should become very popular not only in the Southwest but across the country as well. In fact, after speaking with Curtis Kryzykowski at the Tennis Complex in Albuquerque and Larry Haugness at the El Paso Youth Tennis Center, I am certain they will be offering the events as part of their yearly schedule of events. Albuquerque has already hosted their first Superset and had eighty kids sign up.
Why are these events so attractive? It's simple, they are non-elimination, time definable, no hotel expense and are completed in one day or less. Shootouts and Supersets are also attractive to not only "time poor parents" but teaching pros as well. Because they do not normally conflict (middle of day) with their teaching schedule, they would finally have the opportunity to legally coach between sets or matches without wasting time waiting for matches to begin and end.
However, please keep in mind that there is no other constructive way to increase participation, and at the same time continue to offer the standard venue of competitive events. But I do suggest that the Southwest section help market this program as a branded series of events, offering the opportunity for facilities to be included in a Southwest Master Schedule for each of its Chartered Community Tennis Associations.
Special Note: Now that these events are established with the juniors, we have begun to introduce these same formats with adults. What better way to reconnect with the millions of "lapsed playersv who at one time played tennis regularly but no longer do now?