Does Junior Tennis Need a DNF Rating?

rule

Over the years I’ve been involved in USTA junior tennis, there have been several instances where our governing body has created a rule or policy without considering or accounting for potential unintended consequences. A new Withdrawal Rule is yet another case where innocent juniors may be punished unintentionally.

Effective January 1, 2018, USTA Middle States adopted the following:

All Defaults, Walkovers and Withdrawals will receive 2 Suspension Points.
Suspension points will be assessed for each default, walkover or withdrawal occurrence.
 If the player has not accumulated enough points (10) to be suspended, the player will not have the right to appeal the individual points to the USTA MS Grievance Committee; Written Verification will not be accepted for a medical situation, personal situation or parent decision, until 10 suspension points have been accumulated.

 The “rollover” principle works as follows: The first point received will be dropped from your record on its first year anniversary. The second point listed will then become the beginning of your new 12-month period. This procedure will continue in chronological order for each point already in your report and for any points received subsequent to those listed on the report.

 The USTA MS Tennis Junior Competition Department will then notify you if you are suspended. If suspended, you have the right to appeal the points to the USTA MS Grievance Committee.

Since the Middle States rule seems to be spreading to other sections, I emailed the section’s Director of Junior  Competition, Michael Kennedy, to ask why withdrawing due to illness or injury isn’t excluded. His response:

“Please understand, it is not our intent to suspend any players who are legitimately injured, sick or have family emergencies. We are just notifying players of the suspension points list that is kept only at our Middle States Office and it is not necessary for you to appeal these points to the Section unless players accumulates a total of 10 points total. At that time a letter will be sent for you to submit any documentation regarding each of the legitimate withdrawal/walkover/default, such as documentation for an injury. THEN we will remove 2 points for each legitimate documented occurrence at that time. Players are suspended from participating in USTA Sanctioned events only if they cannot produce legitimate documentation for at least one of the occurrences, in order to reduce the number of suspension points below 10. The objective for this new change from the USTA Middle States Junior Competition Committee is to deter players from leaving tournaments early and not playing in consolation rounds, resulting in players who want to play with no opponent.  It is also to deter players from entering tournaments knowing that they are not available to complete.  It is not to punish players who follow the rules, which is why nothing will happen until 10 points are issued. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.”

In other words, the onus is on the player/parents to appeal – after the fact – instead of on the governing body to do a better job at recognizing and punishing those players who are trying to game the system.

And, now, the Texas section has adopted the same rule just as the weather begins to heat up into triple digits, forcing players to make a choice between their health and their standing with USTA.

For the upcoming Texas Slam event being held June 9-17, 2018, here is what it says on the tournament website:

New Withdrawal Penalty for Super Champ Level Tournaments

There will be no penalty for withdrawing from singles or doubles prior to Wednesday, June 6th at 12 Noon for Super Champ Level or Major Zone events. After that time, if a player withdraws from singles and/or doubles, they will be penalized 2 suspension points for the withdrawal. This includes any withdrawals, walkovers, and retirements after Wednesday, June 6th at Noon until the end of the tournament. The maximum penalty is 2 points per tournament. You will not be penalized twice for singles and doubles withdrawals. If a player does reach the suspension threshold, they will be able to appeal any points at that time.

On its surface, the rule sounds harmless enough. There has been an epidemic of tournament withdrawals by players concerned about negatively impacting their TRN and/or UTR ratings by losing to lower-rated players. Why not implement a rule that penalizes these types of system-gaming maneuvers?

The way the rule is currently worded, though, it will punish players who are hard workers and highly motivated to succeed. Why hasn’t USTA gone to both TRN and UTR to work with them to come up with a solution that doesn’t penalize juniors who are legitimately ill or injured?

Heat stroke and dehydration are real concerns are not caused by “not training hard enough or not hydrating properly”

We do not have maximum heat index limits or access to indoor courts for our summer tournaments. Players can and will get dehydrated and feel heat-stroke— at no fault of their own. We cannot control the weather and mimic tournament conditions all the time (nor would it be healthy to train players by playing 2-3 full singles matches and 2 doubles matches every day). In addition, cramping and dehydration are results of complex physiological, metabolic and neurological triggers that are individual to each person. There’s not enough data or education out to help any of us predict the conditions under which someone will suffer from cramping or dehydration. Yes, there are general precautions we can take, but it’s not a fail-safe.

Injuries are legitimate and common

USTA Junior Tennis has no off-season or recovery periods. Instead, USTA keeps adding more and more tournaments to the schedule which not only conflict with public school schedules but create more pressure to play (ie what will I miss out on if I don’t play?) Because there are no built-in recovery periods and players feel pressured to play as many tournaments as possible to keep up their rankings, these players are prone to overuse injuries that can appear/reoccur at any time and last for an unknown period. It requires a lot of fortitude, courage and drive to return from injury— don’t punish these kids for trying to return to tennis (trying to play). From experience, we know it is difficult to determine when a player is “ready” to return to competitive play; training conditions are different from tournaments. Players have to go out and just try— and putting additional pressure of penalty points for not finishing the tournament seems a bit cruel and unnecessary. We want these junior to keep playing tennis, not drop out.

Without a medical clause, the USTA is putting players at risk for serious illness/injury

If anything, DON’T MIX penalties for these health concerns with penalties for poor behavior— they are NOT THE SAME and should not be categorized as such. This new rule will put players at a health risk: whether they push themselves or their parents do, these players will play past what is healthy BECAUSE they want to avoid penalty points. These kids (yes, they are still children) will make an injury worse by playing through pain to avoid repercussions. They will feel heat-stroke symptoms but refuse to stop. They will play until their bodies give out in cramps or something even worse. Did you know that low potassium levels will cause the heart to stop? Will the USTA supply defibrillators at every site? These kids are the ones you want playing USTA— they’ve got grit and determination. Please do not endanger them or scare them into pushing beyond what is healthy. Having penalty points is a badge of dishonor— ask any good student/high achiever, no one wants them for any reason!

I know some will say that the ones who will get penalized are the ones abusing the system. But based on how the rule is written, you will also be penalizing the high achievers BECAUSE THEY PUSH HARDER and often won’t give up. These players will be put at a HEALTH RISK in an effort to AVOID breaking this rule. It’s a double whammy: penalty points plus illness/injury that will take a longer recovery time since they pushed through instead of retiring or pulling out of the tournament. Even one incident is serious enough.
THIS IS A SAFETY ISSUE!
Because I get frustrated by people who point out problems without offering up potential solutions, here are some ideas to avoid the unintended consequences of this new rule:
Suggested solutions:

1) Add a clause to the rule to allow for medical conditions.

2) Require players who are ill or injured to submit a doctor’s note within 14 days of withdrawal from a tournament to avoid accruing the suspension points in the first place. That way, the player doesn’t have to deal with the USTA appeal process (which, I can tell you from personal experience, is very unpleasant), and those players who are truly ill or injured won’t risk exacerbating said illness or injury by playing through it simply to maintain a clean record.

3) Use a separate penalty point system for withdrawing (don’t place it in the same group as penalties for poor behavior). An ankle sprain is not the same as throwing a racquet— a sprain happens to you while throwing a racquet is an action that you choose to do. In addition, I doubt that a tournament director or the USTA wants to be liable for putting a player in this potentially “no-win” position with their health.

4) UTR and TRN should add a feature that shows Failure to Complete Tournament – aka the DNF (Did Not Finish) Rating – alongside the player’s tennis rating. They could put the number of unfinished tournaments in a bold red font that would catch the eye of any college coaches interested in such a statistic. A number of 2 or 3 probably wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, but anything higher than that might cause a coach to dig a bit deeper. USTA could add a similar feature to its player rankings as well. NOTE TO COLLEGE COACHES: Please add your Comments below about whether this is an issue/concern for you during the recruiting process.

5) Provide medical staff and defibrillators at every site. And, really, this should be a mandatory policy regardless of this new rule.

I absolutely want to find a way to punish those players who pull out because they are gaming the UTR and TRN system but not at the risk of punishing those with legitimate withdrawals. Can we work with the rating organizations to solve this problem (that THEY’VE created)? Can USTA sit at the table with the programmers and coders at UTR and TRN to come up with a fix? We need to eliminate the problem at its source not just treat the symptom.

The problem is that UTR seems more committed to partnerships, marketing, and social media these days. Their algorithm seems to have taken a back seat to their Twitter feed causing frustration for people like me who have grown used to getting immediate and meaningful replies to any inquiries. TRN, on the other hand, has stepped up its game in recent months, so maybe they are the ones to lead the charge on this one. Either way, something needs to be done, but this new USTA rule in its current iteration is not the answer.

A huge THANK YOU! to the parents who brought this new rule to my attention!

Has your USTA section adopted a similar rule? How is it impacting junior players so far? Please share your thoughts in the Comments below.

6 Comments on “Does Junior Tennis Need a DNF Rating?”

  1. Wow, just wow. I bet the next change will be 10 minute breaks between singles matches instead of one hour.

  2. Thanks for this great post. Leave it to USTA to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. The UTR problem is real, but no-shows? They’re rare in our experience. From my observation, my son , in SoCal 16s, gets gamed by cheaters far more often than by illegitimate no-shows. USTA does absolutely nothing institutionally and consistently about rampant bad calls, score changing tactics, coaching and psychological taunting and comments designed to demoralize opponents. We see all of that a LOT. The rules are sketchy and the enforcement whimsical and intermittent. Then add to that the fact that treatment by umps of the kids who ask for help when they are being cheated can be as harsh as the treatment of the kids who cheat.

  3. New rules-wrong idea. Health should be top priority. If a player is exhausted, dehydrated, or suffering a minor strain, he should retire or withdraw. Why risk an injury that keep him off the courts for weeks-know from personal experience when son hid an injury before a national tourney and then was off court on doctor’s orders for 4 weeks afterwards. If our competitive kids tell us they want to withdraw, usually they really are hurting or thoroughly exhausted. To second guess a parent’s judgment because some will take advantage of the situation is not worth the risk to the player or potential liability to USTA. Change the rules to have a trainer record temperature, flushed skin, symptoms, impaired range of motion, etc to report back to TD to justify withdrawal rather than give penalty points. In our section, summer tourneys were particularly brutal- a week long state qualifier followed a week later by a 8 day sectional qualifier in humid 95 degrees. Many top players who didn’t get waivers would withdraw after winning one match for the endorsement rather to play a week of matches vs 1-3 stars in the heat.
    Yes sometimes players lie about withdrawal-often it is a school reason. Players have withdrawn-even from main draw-because they have an AP test on a Monday or end of course required state tests. Too many tournaments in big sections have Monday play during the school year. Maybe the draws for the top sectional tourneys should be smaller-no reason for a sectional 128 draw during school year. No reason for a summer sectional tourney to be almost as large as summer national level 1 draws. On another tennis related board, I asked some questions about summer recovery for kids, and I was accused by one poster of child abuse when I mentioned the length and heat index of son’s tourneys but it was what was required and expected in our section.
    USTA makes it very difficult for kids who attend regular school to balance school and tennis. The points for the top 8 players are exponentially higher than those in the early rounds. There is no point in playing unless you can play the last day. If players lose early, they may withdraw from backdraw to save those missed school days and hotel $ for another Monday. One year, USTA in our section decided to only have main draw matches on Monday and have the consolation for a sectional level 1A or 2 end on Sunday. USTA did that for one tourney, got flack from some parents, and then reinstituted the Monday backdraw at the next tournament, and parents did not find out until they were already at tourney. USTA at both the national and sectional level has a history of making decisions without doing a complete investigation and talking to all stakeholders. Junior tournament committees should have an appropriate representation of parents of both home and public schooled players at various tennis levels. USTA national reduced the national draws for level 1 summer tourneys several years ago in spite of protests, and then reversed the decision after one year. Now the pendulum has swung the other way with possibly too many tourneys with some 2 stars getting in Nat 2s. If USTA keeps adding rules and weakening tennis, more of the best players will leave school for the ITFs, and more of the high level kids who put academics first may just quit tennis rather than fight the constant battle between school and tennis-most lie more to school than to TDs but there are only so many flus you can have in one school year. Considering the low scholarship $ for US male tennis players unless they are blue chips (and most of those are doing the ITF route anyway), most male players will get more academic scholarship $ than athletic $, and some of those students will have to occasionally withdraw from tourneys for school. If USTA punishes those, they will be discouraging some of the highest achievers in the sport. If UsTA keeps coming up with more rules and bigger draws, all that will be left will be a bunch of 2-3 stars who are happy to get in weaker nationals and sectionals but will not be ready for college play. The rest will find tourneys outside USTA. Maybe USTA should pilot some different variety of high level national and sectional tourneys-some single elimination, some compass draw with guaranteed 4 matches to give options to both the school attenders and those who want to play the maximum matches for development.
    My son had few withdrawals in his 8 years of junior tennis-he played a lot of times when he shouldn’t have and even ended up in the ER once in the 12s. No parent should judge another player for withdrawing because they don’t know the personal health, finances, school situation, etc of the other player. Every player/parent deserves the benefit of the doubt. One child’s desire to play all the matches possible does not trump another child’s health or academic needs-both are worthy but hard to balance. Shorter draws, especially during school year and reasonable length of summer tourneys would help. OK to have 224 draws for the two major nationals, but not a 180 draw sectional.

  4. Thank you for highlighting this! I’m a parent of a TX Section player coming off an open, inflamed right shoulder growth plate. The tournament is our most important of the year but she’s been told (going back full time today) that if she feels pain to STOP. Then we receive the new “rule”.

    I wrote the section who responded immediately with “We strongly encourage you to always protect your child and advice them to retire if you feel health is a concern. ”

    However, the kids who retire with valid issues will STILL get those suspension points no matter what. . Apparently it’s only an “issue” if they get 10 in a year and only THEN can one appeal with Dr’s records. While obviously most wouldn’t come near 10 suspension points (this is basically the section stance) I don’t see why they can’t appeal those 2 immediately?!

    The Texas Grand Slam is one of the hottest tourneys of the year and I have seen over the last few years uncountable heat exhaustion and even some heat stroke withdrawals. These were not unfit players, not in the least.

    I know the silly withdrawals for UTR purposes are ridiculous and becoming rampant and the issue does need to be addressed but punishing (and giving two suspension points IS punishing) innocent kids for health issues isn’t the way.

    I’ve seen no education from our Section to parents about how withdrawing because of ranking or UTR concerns only hurts your child in the long run. That should be the focus, not punishing the innocent with this rule .

    Players do need to experience the pressure about losing to a lower rated player and they’ll see it’s not the end of the world if they lose. Also many UTR ratings are not entirely accurate (sometimes wildly inaccurate) and by players retiring (they know who has an inflated UTR or a too low one) they don’t let the UTR system properly work by constantly avoiding matches that could balance things appropriately. Having a too high UTR will eventually be exposed, college coaches aren’t stupid and aren’t signing based on just a UTR number. This IS a problem in the Texas section but I wish cheating, a huge issue that the USTA just ignores would finally be a focus and more line judges (who knew the rules and actually paid attention) would be implemented rather than a knee jerk, shortsighted response to the withdrawal issue.

    So in the meantime, please write to your section head about these solutions here and to insist at least for immediate appeal for these 2 suspension points due to injury or heat exhaustion. When we all write, they listen.

    Thanks to Lisa, always such a great advocate for junior tennis!

  5. That is a similar issue that we are running into for Southerns. Over half of the State Qualis are done prior to 6/1. Ours started afternoon of 6/1. Done by 6/4 (1 day early, as they did schedule for rain just in case). Hot, humid, kids getting sick, pushed to come off the court and back on fast to keep matches going. And Southerns start on 6/9. On Sunday, girl A (who was local) decided not to play her AM match. Notified official right before; her opponent’s (Girl B, another local girl to area) mother was livid that the Girl A waited to last minute to pull. Flash forward to afternoon – Girl B was to play my daughter and pulled at last minute, claiming injury when she was fine in AM and clamoring to play….

  6. Agree with all these points! In addition, USTA Texas and other sections must inform members and players, through early advance email or public newsletter when they make changes to competition, including tournament formats, such as happened this year with the Texas Grand Slam, instead of posting the information only on the tournament page for each to read on their own. The lack of transparency and communication of changes in USTA Texas, and inattention to the major issues that really pervade tournaments (cheating, too few trained officials, little onboarding for new players to understand the levels and path to competition, just to name a few) are what turn so many players and families off to the sport. It is just too complicated and ever-changing for many time-pressed families, and requires constant self-vigilance to stay abreast of the state of the sport. There is so much to learn as a tennis parent or player, and lack of transparency from sectional and national leaders about changing competitions and rules to PAYING members, in my mind, is one of the big reason (along with cost) that stunts the great sport of tennis.

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