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Tennis Parity: What can we do as a body of coaches to help create more parity among ALL teams around the state? More parity will inevitably create more and stronger tennis programs which is ultimately good for high school tennis in general. 


Other Coaches Opinions


Jim Niebling Hey guys, Ohio has come up with a proposal that seems simple and addresses the issue of "parity" (or "Competitive Balance" as they call it) pretty well. Perhaps this could be a model we look into. Check it out at:
Ron Landfair

Dear Charles,

I have a hard time with this discussion. What constitutes parity? In the NBA, only only eight franchises have won championships since 1980: Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Pistons, Spurs, Rockets, Heat, and the 76ers. Should the league be realigned to create "parity" among those franchises who have not won a title in 31 years? Is that to say that the managment of the other franchises is incompetent, unlucky or what? The NFL paints a different picture, in that a team can go from worst to first in one year (which follows the conversation circulating around some tennis coaches) in that scheduling is based on record (outside of division). I do not believe that teams should be punished for winning, or building "successful" programs (which is not always measured in championships!). I also believe that it is nearly impossible to create the kind of infrastructure some propose without the MHSAA completely overturning it's school divisional listing and getting near universal buy-ins from not just coaches, but principals and A-D's across the state, which is what would be required to accomplish this "parity re-boot". The NFL can create parity as a capitalist entity whose business is to make money. The NBA, NHL and MLB does minor tinkering (franchise buyouts, league underwriting etc. for some troubled franchises), but that is the exception rather than the norm. Even college sports realign only after the defection of school(s), to new conferences (see Nebraska and others), but the manifest reasoning behind such realignment is not to create parity. It seems that some want to create an artificial reality rather than allow the organic entity (which now exists) to take its course. The insertion of "artifice" makes sense in some cases (think of zebra mussells, lamphrey eels and their effects on the Great Lakes), but in others I suggest that part of the problem is in thinking that we as human individuals as the source and summitt of all things and can "fix" what we "think" is broken. Perhaps a better question is how do we market our sport to athletes at the elementary, middle school and high school levels? It seems that we are unwilling as the ESPN article concerning the late Dave Duerson suggests to consider that: "Sadly, the initial word of Duerson's suicide was not wholly surprising. The list of NFLers who have taken their own lives for various reasons is not a short one. But add to them the former players suffering day-to-day ailments -- many in so much pain that they cannot lead normal, healthy lives -- and you have to wonder why the health and safety of players (current and former) isn't more than a seeming afterthought during the negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement."

We can all agree that at the high school level, football for better or worse is king. Yet why can't we be brave enough to compare tennis longevity vs. football longevity? Why can't we do a better job of recruiting "athletes" to play a lifetime sport vs one of high school glory? I suggest that we are looking at this from the wrong perspective. Instead of decrying what is "wrong" with high school tennis, why don't we market what is "right" with it?

Charles Phelps

Good words Mike! Great comparisons! We definitely need to continue the discussion on what we can do to better tennis in Michigan! Focusing on the positives can be one great way to accomplish that.

Outside of that, is there something more, something deeper, and perhaps something on a more ethical and fundamentally grounded level that involves creating our tournaments for state championships in a more equally competitive way?

Do we owe that to our athletes, the kids, the spirit of tennis?

Jim sent me this link which I find quite interesting...

I think you have a great point that we can't in some essences punish teams for succeeding or winning by moving them up a division. I had never thought of it that way before.

Let's keep the talk going.

Chuck Parker

I agree that high-level programs should be playing each other. They play each other to prepare for regional and state competition; they should be playing each other in regional and state competition.
Maybe somewhere between Jim Niebling's performance criteria solution to lack of parity in tennis and Williamston coach Steve Stanley's two-tier-have-and-have-not system (which helped me get away from thinking private and public) is an answer to bring high school tennis closer to parity.
Maybe we can get some ideas, and, perhaps, help from the United States Tennis Association's system of rating players to determine their levels of competition.

Jim Niebling

This is a tough nut to crack, no doubt. This discussion topic was posted at my request. In my 20+ years of coaching high school tennis it has been a long-standing outcome that, for the most part, the same teams do well year after year with only a few exceptions. I have always accepted that outcome, figuring that if I just worked harder and built a strong youth/community program for a good foundation we'd get our shots at the state tournament now and again. But with the season switch a few years ago, I sense that this outcome has become more and more exacerbated to the point where it threatens the health of our sport in general. The disparity between the traditional "strong" programs and the rest of the field has gotten bigger, and that cannot be good for high school tennis.

My evidence to support this is largely anecdotal. But I suspect that nearly every coach has stories to tell about team X not being able to field a JV team any more; or, team Y being cut from their schools' athletic program; or, team Z not being nearly as strong as they once were. It appears to me that interest in tennis is still thriving in places where it has thrived for a long time but it's becoming irrelevant everywhere else. What's more, we have lost a lot of our clout as a sport in the past several years within the MHSAA community. Why else would they have thrown tennis in the mix for switching seasons without any recourse to defend ourselves? Why else would baseball and softball be exempt from the summertime "dead week" rule but tennis is not, despite repeated attempts to rectify it?

We as coaches need to find a way to address these problems and I believe that creating more parity in Michigan high school tennis would be an important first step. As it stands now, tennis is a fringe sport in most communities on its way to becoming irrelevant. Unless there is a strong-willed coach or an ambitious parent or two willing to put an outrageous amount of effort into building a program, they have little hope of ever finding their names listed among the top-10. They have little chance of making it to the state tournament. It's the same schools year after year. But if we can find a way to affect the system to level the playing field, more programs would see their chance to make it out of regionals and even see their schools listed among the top-10. And that kind of wholesale parity would be good for our sport in general. The competition would be good for all of us.

So what I'm hoping we can find and discuss and debate is a solution that would level the playing field for ALL TENNIS PROGRAMS and create some parity in our sport. As I wrote in my first sentence, this is a tough nut to crack and I certainly don't know the answer. But I know there's a growing problem and I want to see it resolved. So let me offer a couple of my own ideas. They have their flaws, for sure. But hopefully they will spark a better idea which will spark an even better idea and so on.

The next discussion topic on this website is also at my suggestion and has to do with a super tie-breaker replacing the third set. Besides the advantage of making tournament management easier, it might be a small way to add some parity. As I tell my players whenever that's the format of the day and they just lost the first set badly, "hey, if you can find a way to win the second set, you stand a good chance of winning the match in a tie-breaker." In other words, it gives the weaker player a small incentive to give their best effort when it might have otherwise looked hopeless. In that way, the weaker player might steal a match or two that perhaps on paper they didn't really deserve.

Another idea I would offer is to find a way to shift schools among the divisions based on their performance rather than leaving it purely based on school size. After all, there are several mega-leagues around the state that have in place a mechanism to bump over-performing small schools up a division or two, replacing them with weaker, larger schools. Perhaps one of those leagues could serve as a blueprint to do something similar in high school tennis. For example, maybe the teams that qualify for the state finals this year get moved up a division next year while a comparable number of teams that scored the fewest points in their regionals be moved down to replace them.

Again, this particular idea has it's flaws. But it hopefully moves the discussion forward toward a solution. So someone, please pick up the ball on this discussion forum and advance it. There are no bad ideas!
Jim D'Angelo If someone can figure this one out, please let me know.  Some communities are into soccer, some schools are into tennis, some rally behind football, some are fanatical and good at all sports it seems.  You get the idea.  Other than starting at the grass roots levels when kids are very young, and offering programs like Quick Start or Little Tennis; and hoping they catch 'tennis fever'; I don't know how to tackle this problem.  Even then, in a community like ours (Mason) you may lose the girls to soccer because of a long tradition already in place.  We hope to win enough that kids think our sport is cool too.