U.S. Tennis Association is the latest group to change the way things are done in its sport. Coming to the conclusion that American tennis is at its sorriest state ever- no American player is ranked in the top ten- it has launched a multi-million dollar development program called Ten and under Tennis.
In what I consider another “futsal” moment of inspiration when it comes to youth athletic development, Ten and Under Tennis features smaller courts and balls that don’t bounce as much. The result is that kids are developing skills that allow them to play the game sooner and have more fun, rather than standing in a line, picking their nose, bored out of their gourd, waiting to hit balls with oversized rackets on oversized courts. This program has been used in Europe for years, but USTA is just now getting around to implementing it in the United States.
An official from USTA claims that hundreds of thousands of more kids will be able to learn the game, and because of the greater pool of tennis players there is a greater likelihood that the next Pete Sampras will emerge. Basically, it’s a numbers game, which we in American Judo understand quite well. We just haven’t found a way to create those numbers.
There is one problem though with the USTA program. Not all tennis facilities are controlled by USTA, and not all facility managers are in favor of the changes, probably because it will involve some initial costs to make the changes, and because change is feared by so many. The tennis clubs that have implemented the new program are ecstatic. More kids are playing, more revenue is coming in. It’s a win-win situation for the players, the clubs, and the sport.
We share some common issues with tennis. We stink at our sport, our numbers are not high enough to produce the next world class athlete, and we want to do better. It’s obvious that doing the same thing over and over has gotten us nowhere. We in American Judo could have our own “futsal” moment and decide to use “youth rules” rather than the idiotic full IJF rules, but then we’d have to convince the referees and tournament directors to go along. And most of us know how that would work.
In spite of the difficulty in making changes and fighting those who are glued to the past or invested in their own self-aggrandizing agendas, we must come up with an innovative plan for the future. American Judo will continue to fail at the international level while dying a slow death at home, unless we start thinking outside the box. That means we must change the way we develop our youth. Not only must the rules of the game change, but we must also embrace better methods of teaching. Since I don’t see any of our national organizations leading the charge, it must come from grassroots clubs and coaches.
I’m anxiously awaiting our “futsal” moment.