The Alphabet Soup of Tennis
One of the main issues with tennis today is the lack of standardization. At the professional and junior levels, each country has its own tennis foundation that stands alongside the International Tennis Foundation and the ATP. On top of that, there are different organizations that attempt to govern the teaching of the sport such as the United States Professional Tennis Association and United States Professional Registry.
I like to call this mess the Alphabet Soup of Tennis.
I’ve though a lot about the popularity of tennis with respect to baseball, football, and basketball. I think it’s important for those in the business of the sport to evolve and think of new ways to grow and retain more players. I’ve distilled my thoughts about the Alphabet Soup of Tennis into some poignant questions:
- Where do I start if I’m new to the game?
- How do I find a coach and how do I verify his credentials and how influential he is in the tennis community?
- If I’m an already established player, where can I find players who want to play near me?
- How can I find a league or tournament near me?
- If I’m traveling with my racket or am new to a city, where are the local racket clubs and what kind of offerings do they have?
The existing organizations, with their fundamental differences in philosophies and approaches to the game create barriers for players to get pertinent answers to the questions above. Also, with all the different standards and rating systems, it makes it difficult for players to get quality competition near them wherever they are in the world.
Tennis Leagues in the US
In the US, the largest governing body of tennis is the USTA. One of the major ways players get into the game is through league tennis. The USTA has a number of leagues based on the NTRP system, a self-rating system to assess a players level of play.
A league system based on the NTRP contains a couple of flaws that inhibit a wider adoption of the game:
- Tennis is not a game that’s meant to be played on paper
- You cannot accurately measure improvement with such a static oversimplification of the levels of play
- You should be able to get a more accurate reflection of your play (Think golf handicap or chess rating)
- To get an official rating, you must register through the USTA
- This rating system is solely used by the USTA and no other governing bodies of the sport
My Side of the Net
Whenever I have traveled or moved to a new city, the only way I’ve been able to find new competition is through people I already know. This creates more of a closed community since it is not easy for new comers to find a way to join in. This is an unacceptable way to foster growth and development in the sport.
The US Open was moved from Forrest Hills to Corona Park for one major reason – by moving a grand slam into a public park, they made a statement that tennis should be an open sport. Majority of tennis today can be played in a public park, yet all of these different rating systems and organizations inhibit tennis from being a truly open sport. I believe that social networks can play a tremendous role in increasing the appeal of the sport. They can create a universal platform for the game, and incentivize players to think about their rackets everywhere they go.