“It was a little extra work, but it was all worth it to be able to have tournament tennis back in Florida!”
That’s right – tennis tournaments are back in the sunshine state, but it took a lot of careful planning to get to this point. In June, USTA Florida announced safety guidelines for youth and adult tournaments ahead of a planned resumption of tennis play amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines, developed based on feedback from the Florida tennis community and aimed at supporting Tournament Directors, put the safety and well-being of all players, spectators and event personnel as the top priority. Less than a month after the guidelines were released, juniors were back on the court and ready for action over Independence Day weekend. One of those tournaments was the Countryside Summer Battle Level 6 in Clearwater.
“104 players converged to Countryside Country Club for the 2-day event,” says teaching pro Mike Baugh, the Associate Director of Tennis at Countryside Country Club and Tournament Director for the event. “Safety measures and social distancing guidelines were put in place.”
When tennis play slowly started to resume in Florida, Baugh took several steps to prepare for a return to the court. The Countryside Summer Battle was his first tournament with the safety guidelines, and with 104 players competing plus parents and coaches, and he wanted to make sure he was ready for anything.
“Online training sessions, phone calls with other tournament directors and Section staff, went over the guidelines with a local infection disease doctor, made seating charts for parents and coaches to watch players, sent out emails to all players on the protocols before the tournament started, had parents and players fill out their waivers and reminded everyone of the use of face masks indoors,” he shares.
All that preparation was put into practice the weekend of July 4th– and Baugh made sure everyone in attendance was on the same page. The guidelines were displayed in the check-in areas, draw areas and the bathrooms. Before the tournament was even underway, a map of the property and a chart outlining where people could and could not sit were sent out to players. Walkways were taken into consideration for social distancing, as well as proximity to the fences/players. Officials, staff and even a social distancing monitor reminded everyone at the facility of the guidelines. Baugh even took a few extra steps as well, to make sure his officials remained comfortable during conversation and in the hot summer sun.
“I purchased gaiters for all the officials, so if they had to come into contact with any parents or players, they could talk more freely. Also, with it being so hot they help to keep you cool,” says Baugh.
With safety as the main priority, USTA Florida also introduced a new and safer option to deliver tournaments – Match Tennis App’s Virtual Tournament Desk. The app, which is facilitated through the mobile devices of players, parents and coaches, aims to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to more effectively facilitate CDC guidelines and best practices. The Virtual Tournament Desk is used in lieu of a physical tournament desk to eliminate the most common scenarios where social gatherings most often occur during tennis events. Baugh used the app to help check-in players, call them to their courts, and for score reporting, and even posted step-by-step instructions about how the app worked so parents and players were educated on exactly what to do.
“Overall, the new app worked well,” he shares. “The more the parents and players got used to it, the better it worked for the tournament desk. They got better at reporting scores immediately.”
Baugh says his first tournament post-tennis hiatus could not have gone any more smoothly – he didn’t have any issues with enforcing the new safety guidelines and everyone complied with social distancing recommendations. He says the experience was worth it, even with all the extra safety precautions.
“There was a lot of extra work that went into the weekend,” he admits. “But hearing ‘come on!’ and ‘let’s go!’, parents clapping for both players on great points, and most importantly seeing the local tennis families again – it was all worth it.”
Since July, Baugh has hosted a handful of other tournaments, including two Level 6s and a few entry-level events. As facilities and tournament directors continue to monitor developments surrounding COVID-19 and state and local guidelines, Baugh says the key to hosting a successful tournament with the safety recommendations is to be calm and consistent.
“Everyone is trying to come back right now, and tournaments may be stressful for some and dealing with the added stress of a pandemic may add more pressure for others,” he says. “I encourage other Tournament Directors to do what they can to make things as easy as possible for the players and parents.”