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CEO Column - Why Accreditation?

by John R. Embree, USPTA Chief Executive Officer

Some of you may have seen the press release issued by the USTA back in December which announced that as the governing body, they were going to be accrediting organizations or institutions in our sport that certify and provide continuing education to tennis coaches and pros. Or you may have read in last month’s Tennis Industry Magazine the interview with Scott Schultz of the USTA about accreditation. The stated intent is to improve the customer experience on court while enhancing the education of those who aspire to join the ranks of coaches and tennis-teaching professionals. The end goal is obviously to keep tennis playing consumers excited about tennis, thereby growing the game.

Even though the positives of us relocating to Lake Nona, Florida far outweigh any negatives, some of our members were of the opinion at the time (and a few may still think this way) that the move to across the street from the National Campus was the first step to being taken over by the USTA. Then, when the announcement about accreditation was made, we immediately heard an outcry from others who were convinced the USTA would now be telling us how to teach forehands, backhands, and that our independence was being threatened.

Can we kindly dispense with these rumors and innuendos, please? Can we stop worrying about whether the USPTA is going to remain independent from the USTA once and for all? I can categorically state that the USTA has no interest in getting into the certification business and Scott’s article made that clear. They don’t want to have to deal with liability insurance or get involved with dues collection or deal with membership benefits for our professionals.

There is nothing that would have prevented the USTA from becoming the certifying body for tennis-teaching professionals years ago or even today. With revenues exceeding $350 million, they certainly have the financial resources to do whatever they want in the industry, including creating their own association of certified pros.  However, the USTA has had so many other priorities they have been dealing with (the strategic transformation at the BJK NTC, construction of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, building out the National Campus in Lake Nona, launching Net Generation, etc.), let alone the resources they have dedicated to creating more PTM programs to attract more men and women to careers in tennis.

The USTA recognizes that a strong delivery system remains vital to the health of our sport. They want to support teaching professionals more than ever, but the USTA is not going to be certifying pros.  They would rather see the USPTA raise the standards for certification of its membership. They would prefer to help us accomplish our mission, not hinder us from doing it.

So, where are we in the process? We received the application for provisional accreditation in mid-December. Following the board of directors meeting in January, the USPTA turned in its application on January 10. Next, the USTA announced the five-member accreditation committee the week of February 5, which will be responsible for reviewing all applications from those groups who wish to be accredited and ultimately deciding which organizations should receive this approval. Thus, we await the decision of this group about our status which we certainly do hope will be good for the USPTA.

By the way, the five people who will serve on the accreditation review committee are Craig Morris, Dr. Paul Lubbers, and DA Abrams from the USTA national staff along with Jean Mills, director of sports at the Polo Club in Boca Raton, Florida and Dr. Jill Fjelstul, associate professor and director of the Professional Tennis Management program at the UCF Rosen School of Hospitality here in Orlando. Hopefully, they will be meeting soon to review our application.

Assuming we are provisionally approved, we would embark on a “deep dive” about the changes that will be implemented in our certification pathway for applicants and newcomers to our association. This will take months to accomplish. PLEASE NOTE: existing members do NOT have to do anything different other than to keep up with the continuing education requirements. None of the proposed changes would impact current certified members in good standing.  

We are clearly aware that there are USTA “bashers” in the trenches who are quick to criticize things that they don’t like that the USTA is doing. But at the end of the day, the USTA has one overarching goal: to grow the game. Isn’t that what we want as well? If you agree, then let’s figure out a way to work together. That is why the move to Lake Nona made sense. Growing our sport won’t happen if we are not aligned.

Through USTA accreditation, any organization that certifies professionals will have to meet the same high standards, and that is good for tennis and the USPTA. Accreditation is another opportunity to work together for the benefit of our members and to bring a new audience of young professionals into our organization. When the rest of us older folks walk away from what it is that we love to do, we can breathe easier knowing that the game is in better hands than before we left it.*

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