It's the economy stupid...
By Jim Reffkin

January 2004

Former President George Bush will never forget that phrase, it cost him the election to Bill clinton and it has become a political oversight that will forever be remembered by political analysts everywhere.

Well, the USTA Southwest Section has a new President, he may not have as important a job as leading the United States, but Tim Russell is now in charge, and for the next two years will be responsible as "keeper of our game" - and to tennis people in the Southwest, that's also pretty darn important.

I am well aware that all incoming Presidents have their own game plan to lead their southwest tennis community. But for whatever its worth, many of us have career expectations at stake based on our new president's decisions, or lack of, in growing our game. So please, regard the following as positive suggestions not criticism.

As the tennis director responsible for all of the City of Tucson's public tennis, I just hope our new president follows closely the current strategic goals of USTA National. And what is number one on the national priority list you may ask? It is "Community Tennis" which promotes the game at the local level and is dedicated to ensuring that every segment of the US population has the opportunity to "try, learn, play and compete." This priority reaches new and current players regardless of age, ability, physical challenges, geographic locale or socioeconomic status.

In simple terms, this means introducing more new players to tennis and increasing current player's participation - its called "grow the game." So, if this should happen, club owners, club managers, park and recreation directors, teaching professionals, tennis coaches, manufactures and public tennis directors everywhere will rejoice.

So the question is, will the new president mandate the overwhelming call for more community tennis, or in two years be reminded "It was the Plan for Growth _____!"

Here's our new president's problem. The success of national goals will be directly dependent upon the implementation - commonly called "grunt work" - that the local USTA staff and volunteers commit to. After servicing the higher skill levels of both the existing junior (high performance) and adult (ranking tournaments) programs, our section and its districts have little incentive or motivation to deliver or implement programs that create new players and increase participation. If the volunteers/staff are mostly tournament parents or adult ranked players, its obvious where the attention will be. Please do not expect volunteers to implement and service programs that they are not comfortable with or would not enjoy.

The good news is, Tim Russell may be the perfect leader to help "change the course" to turn the battleship in a new, positive direction that will dramatically fulfill the expectations of the USTA national governing body. After speaking with Tim, he strikes me as someone who is goal orientated and will think outside the box - that's called vision. So Tim, cut to the chase and consider including the following in your game plan, remember, you only have two years and national will be counting the numbers.

USTA Junior Team Tennis - the single biggest opportunity to create a broader base of players that will eventually be the future of adult NTRP Leagues. Check it out, count the numbers, we host the National Championship in Tucson but have almost no local participation.

NJTL - this program should be the foundation for delivering the game to children. What are we doing to increase participation in the USTA's largest junior development program - count the numbers.

Parks and Recreation - 75% of tennis is played at the public courts. What have we done to increase their participation? Lets start with a personal invitation and host a meeting/reception every other year at the Southwest headquarters or during the annual meeting.

High School Tennis - a huge opportunity to attract "unranked" players to USA Team Tennis and USTA programs. In each southwest metropolitan city, how about an annual "play day" for players and coaches?

Beginning Adults - initiate "soft tennis" play days as an incentive and motivation to bridge the gap to higher levels of competition.

NTRP Adults - with innovative time definable formats, attract "dropouts" to take up the game again. Motivate tournament directors to enrich their menu of events to service NTRP.