Familiarize Yourself With the 2017 Junior Competition Changes

Note from Lisa: I am reposting this article with the addition of information on changes to doubles format in national tournaments. Please read this entire article and click on the links to see the USTA documents detailing the changes. Be informed!

A tournament director, a coach, and a Tennis Parent walk into a room . . .

What happens when you get a group of tennis folks together and charge them with coming up with a world-class junior competition structure? Two years and countless meetings later, you get the 2017 USTA Junior Competitive Structure (click here)!

USTA’s Junior Competition Committee is staffed by Bill Mountford and consists of members from a range of tennis backgrounds and involvement. The list includes at least one tennis parent, a couple of long-time tournament directors, several coaches, and others who have a lifetime of experience in the sport. They have worked long and hard to come up with a system of tournaments to meet the needs of junior players of all ages and levels.

It’s crucial that parents (and coaches) understand these changes and what they mean in terms of planning your junior’s training and tournament blocks in the coming year.

One major change that has been a source of debate for many years now is the dilemma juniors face when aging up to the next age group. Prior to January 1, 2017, when a player aged up, all of his/her ranking points in the lower age group just went away. The only way a player could age up AND maintain a ranking in the higher age group was to play up and win matches. Now, though, USTA has made a provision for the lower-age-group ranking points to count at a rate of 20% in the higher age group which should allow players aging up to qualify into higher-level tournaments as soon as they reach the new age division. While some committee members fought for a higher percentage based on what’s allowed in other federations, the 20% seems to be a decent compromise that will take care of most juniors as they move through the various age groups. For more on this new policy, click here. I haven’t been able to find the Points Per Round table for 2017 but will add the link as soon as it is available.

It’s important to understand this new “points counting up” policy in order to fully understand how selection will work for national tournaments moving forward. According to USTA, “the first National Standings Lists of 2017 will look significantly different than the last lists of 2016 because all of the next-younger division players will be appearing on the next-older division lists with 20% of their points. This also means that next-younger division results will be a part of the selection process for all national junior tournaments that use National Standing Lists, including for the first time all USTA National Championships.” The link above shows an example of how the points system will work – I encourage you to do the math for your child(ren) before year-end so you can plan accordingly.

USTA is also introducing additional national tournaments in 2017 to give more juniors the opportunity to play at this high level. These include:

◊ USTA National Indoor Championships, to be held in late November, in support of the vast number of players that play and train indoors during the winter months and in recognition of the prevalence and importance of indoor play. It also will expose players who play less frequently on this surface to one that is widely used in college tennis and provide a college recruiting opportunity just after the mid-November signing deadline when coaches learn whether they have openings in their lineups.

◊ USTA National Spring Championships as a National Level 1 Gold Ball tournament. For many years the “Easter Bowl” has been one of the strongest tournaments on the national schedule, and this designation returns the event to the highest-level national ranking status. The BG18 tournament will continue to be an ITF tournament, governed by ITF Regulations, but the top finishers will receive Gold, Silver, and Bronze Balls.

◊ USTA National Level 3 Tournaments which will be sanctioned up to 6 times per year in each division. One or more tournaments will be held in these date blocks with up to 192 total draw spot offerings in each division.

◊ Split of USTA National Spring Team Championships, creating a separate tournament for 18/16/14 division players and 12 division players. The split will create a more age-appropriate event for 12 division players that includes more in this division able to compete (96 boys and 96 girls). It will also permit both events to have a tournament format that mirrors the college tennis dual match format.

With the addition of these events, USTA has decided to eliminate the Level 4 regional tournaments and to replace them with National Level 3 Tournaments that are held on weekends that have no other concurrent national tournaments. The USTA’s reasoning behind eliminating the L4s is explained here: “While concurrent National Selection and Regional Tournaments were intended to give players that could not make it into the National Selection Tournaments an opportunity to earn their way to a higher level, the pathway wasn’t perceived as a reality and introduced one of the most complex aspects of the previous structure – entering multiple tournaments and the Freeze Deadline – the date by which a player must decide whether to remain on the alternate list of the higher-level tournament, or commit to the lower level tournament.”

The 2017 National Junior Tournament Schedule offers more date blocks on which national tournaments are held, particularly National Level 3 Ranking Tournaments. The Committee has concluded that more options for play on the calendar will permit players to choose a schedule of national tournaments that best meets the varying academic demands, work schedules, and Sectional requirements that are different for every player and family. The intent is to provide a menu of options that allows players to make customized decisions about their development. I urge you all to study the new schedule below and make the appropriate choices for your junior.

Beginning on Page 3 of the document located here, you can learn about the format, selection criteria, section quotas, and various levels of national tournaments being presented in 2017. Take a close look at the selection process for each level of tournament – they are different, and you need to have a clear understanding of how players will be chosen to participate.

USTA has also taken this opportunity to make some recommendations to Sections on how to create and run junior tournaments. I was most excited to read the last bullet point about educating parents, an issue I’ve been asking – begging! – for since my son started playing tournaments. I’m hopeful the sections will take advantage of the resources available and put on more parent-education events. Let me go on record that they are welcome to use anything I have posted or published on ParentingAces (as long as they ask me first)!

• Commit to fully adopting the alignment principles of the USTA’s Youth Player Progression, entry-level tournaments that are non-elimination and non-ranking and permit non-members to participate, and all aspects of competition (tournaments, USTA Junior Team Tennis, and Play Days) that utilize right-sized equipment, courts and balls.

• Sanction more tournaments, with an emphasis on increasingly localized play at the lower levels in all age divisions.

• Experiment with different tournament formats for younger players and lower level tournaments, including most importantly events that can take place during one day and a half-day periods.

• Experiment with ROG match formats at entry-level Yellow Ball and higher tournaments. • Incorporate and emphasize team competitions, not just in the USTA Junior Team Tennis arena. This includes promotion of participation on Zonals teams, sanctioning inter- and intra-sectional team competitions that model a collegiate dual match and count for rankings, and holding competitions on college campuses.

• With the assistance of USTA Player Development and USTA Youth Play, educate parents and coaches on the pathway, as well as the optimum amount of match play, training, participation in other sports, and rest.

The final change I want to point out is the relocation of several national tournaments. Winter nationals for the boys and girls 16s and 18s will move to the new USTA mega-facility at Lake Nona (FL) beginning in 2017. And rather than splitting the boys 12s and 14s national hardcourts between Texas and Arkansas, they will now both take place in Mobile, AL. There have been rumors about moving other major tournaments to Lake Nona as well, but there have been no official announcements so far other than these.

I know this is a lot to digest, but I really do encourage you to take some time and read through all the information carefully. You might be able to avoid some unnecessary travel and spending if you plan well and mix in some of the new UTR events along the way (click here for their schedule of tournaments). Please remember that this is a journey, one that needs to be mapped out well in order to steer clear of roadblocks. If you have any questions or need clarification on any of these changes, please post them in the Comments below, and I will do my best to address them.

NOTE: There has also been a change to the doubles format used in many national tournaments – they will now be echoing the format used in Division I college tennis matches, one 6-game set using no-ad scoring. This is a change that many predicted when the NCAA and ITA approved the doubles format modification in 2015. I fear this will have a negative impact on doubles development for our juniors. Click here to see the entire document (doubles changes are in Table 2 on Page 6): NtlJrTournRegulations-asof01012017

Editor’s note: Here is a list of the 2017-18 USTA Junior Competition Committee members

Baron, Ivan S. (tournament director) Florida
Bey, Mark (coach) Midwest
Boyer, Christopher (parent) Southern California
Boyer, Scott Northern
Chamberlain, Michael Peel Southern
Ehlers, Ellen (tournament director) Southern California
Grant, Geofrey (parent) Florida
Lawson, Tracy Southwest
Lebedevs, Peter (Chair) (parent, tourney director) Southern
MacDonald, Paul (coach) Midwest
Minihan, Lisa Missouri Valley
Notis, Brian Eric (coach) Texas
Pant, Ajay Mid-Atlantic
Roth, Claire (long-time USTA volunteer) Intermountain
Rothstein, Jeff Eastern
Sasseville, Robert (tournament director) Southern
Walker, Thomas S (tournament director) Midwest

Editor’s Note: For those interested, here is a list of the people who served as volunteers on the Junior Competition Committee in 2015-16, the one responsible for creating the current (2017) Junior Competition structure (with their tennis role in parenthesis):

  • Andrea Norman (Committee Chair, tournament director & long-time USTA volunteer)
  • Peter Lebedevs (Committee Vice-Chair, tournament director)
  • Robert Sasseville (tournament director)
  • Geoff Grant (tennis parent)
  • Mitch Alpert (long-time USTA volunteer)
  • Ellen Ehlers (tournament director & long-time USTA volunteer)
  • Paul MacDonald (former college & pro player, current coach)
  • Maria Cercone (tennis parent, coach)
  • Rick Meyers (former college & pro player, coach, USTA volunteer)
  • Claire Roth (long-time USTA volunteer, long-time ITA volunteer)
  • Sally Grabham (tournament director)
  • Ignacio Hirigoyen (former college & pro player, college coach)
  • Larry Newton (coach)
  • Andi Brandi (coach)
  • Mark Bey (coach)

USTA Follow-Up

The rules have changed all right, and it’s not just for the 10-and-under crowd.  I recently reported on the Q&A sessions that USTA hosted at various national hardcourt championships earlier this month.  As promised in that piece, I reached out to Tim Russell, Patrick McEnroe, Lew Brewer, and others to get a better understanding of what USTA is trying to accomplish with its changes to the 2014 Junior Competition schedule.  I emailed them the link to my article along with some specific follow-up questions.  While Patrick did reply that he would call me to discuss my questions, I haven’t yet heard from him.  However, I did have multiple lengthy phone conversations with both Tim Russell and Lew Brewer – a big thank you to both gentlemen for taking the time to talk with me – and here’s what I found out during those calls:

  • First of all, parents, coaches, and players need to read the New USTA Junior Competition Structure FAQ – click here – several of your questions are probably answered within it.  Why did the USTA make these changes?  According to page 9 of the FAQ, among the goals is to “prepare an appropriate national tournament structure and rating/ranking system for the future which is affordable [emphasis added] and will ensure that competitive tennis opportunities are available for all American juniors regardless of their economic circumstances and where they reside; and supports the importance of a traditional American education [emphasis added] and does not require students to short-change their academic careers.”  Please keep those 2 things in mind as you continue reading.
  • Regarding the Regional Tournaments and Sectional Ranking Tournaments, they are explained on page 6 of the FAQ.  It is interesting to note how the regions are arranged.  When I asked Lew Brewer how this will reduce costs and missed school days, he told me that juniors will be able to stay closer to home and still get good competition.  However, when I look at my new region (comprised of the Southern, Florida, and Caribbean sections), I’m hard-pressed to understand how a junior from the Virgin Islands is better served traveling to Lexington, Kentucky (for example) for a tournament rather than staying closer to home to compete.
  • Tim conceded that USTA does a poor job of communicating with its membership, and Lew said they do need to do a better job.  They both told me that they had been advised by the USTA legal department that they were prohibited from emailing junior members since they were under the age of 18.  When I pointed out that USTA could circumnavigate that issue by adding a box on the membership form allowing junior members to enter a parent’s email address and opt-in to an email distribution list or e-newsletter, they agreed to look into it.  I also suggested that USTA use its Facebook and Twitter accounts to do a better job of communicating with both juniors and their parents.  Again, both Tim and Lew agreed that it was a good idea.
  • When I asked why USTA doesn’t have staff or even volunteers who report on top junior and college events, I was not given a clear answer other than “we need to do a better job at that”.
  • When I asked what Patrick meant when he said, “We know at 13 or 14 who the top players are”, Lew responded that every American top 100 professional player in the “Open Era” was ranked in the national top 50 at age 13 or 14 and that there are very few who break through after that age.  He pointed out that Sam Querrey happened to be one of those players, and that Sam was given a USTA wildcard for the Junior US Open (and got to the quarters that year) despite the fact that he had a lower ranking than many others in the draw.  He also told me that the goal of Junior Comp is to cast a wide net for the younger players then funnel it up as the players get older.
  • I asked Lew to explain how the wildcard system will work under the new schedule.  I told him that the word on the street is that the wildcards will be reserved for kids at the USTA Regional Training Centers.  He told me that the number of wildcards will be reduced in 2014 in all age groups except the 18s.  The wildcards will be used, among other reasons, for (1) players whose ranking has dropped due to injury, (2) local players who may not be ranked highly enough but bring local interest to the tournament, and/or (3) players who missed the entry deadline but would have qualified for the tournament by their ranking otherwise.  Lew said that it never hurts to ask for a wildcard into any event – USTA even has an online application to make things simpler – and asked me to remind players and parents that the universal deadline for wildcard applications is always 5 days after the event’s entry deadline.  (Please note: tournament directors have the discretion to accept late entries, but in national championships, all late entries must go to the bottom of the alternate list – that is why a wildcard might be used in that circumstance.)
  • I also spoke with Lew about the aging-up dilemma that we all face.  He recommends players start playing up at least 3-4 months ahead of time.  The rolling ranking and the events that take players based on their younger ranking make things easier, though Lew agreed that it’s still very tough for juniors to transition to the next age group.
  • USTA has stated that it decided to reduce the draw sizes (see page 3 of the FAQ) partially because it wants to reduce costs for families and shorten the tournaments so players miss fewer days of school.  Justifying the 128 draw size in the boys nationals in Kalamazoo, traditionally a great recruiting opportunity for college coaches, Lew said, “Honestly, while there are coaches who are interested in the 129th player to the 192nd player, more are looking at that top 128.”  He told me that there were complaints from coaches and players that too many early-round matches at the national tournaments aren’t competitive, and that there are too many withdrawals from the backdraw.  He shared that there have been several cases of players who lost 0 & 0  or 0 &1 in their first round main draw match, had a similar loss in the first round backdraw match, and another bad loss in the first round doubles match.  Lew’s point was that, obviously, those players didn’t belong at a top national event, that they just weren’t competitive at that level, and that cutting the draw size to 128 would save others from that type of “triple-crown” humiliation.  Lew went on to say that if a player wants the Kalamazoo t-shirt that badly, he (Lew) would send him one.  I pointed out that there is an aura around Kalamazoo and that sometimes simply the experience of being at the tournament is enough for some players.  Why eliminate that experience for someone who is willing to take the risk and travel there?  I think the USTA folks understand that point of view but still feel the smaller draws are the best way to go.  When I suggested USTA hold a qualifying tournament for those on the bubble right before the national events, Lew said that at this point they are not considering any change before 2014.
  • We discussed how the section quotas will change in 2014 (see page 4 of the FAQ).  The biggest change concerns looking at the strength of the section and not just membership numbers when determining quotas.  Beginning in 2014, USTA will base 60% of the quota on the percentage of players in the top 150 nationally and 40% of the quota on traditional membership numbers.  He told me that it’s possible that a strong section like Southern California, Texas, or Southern may actually see its quota increase in 2014.
  • We also discussed how voting works in USTA.  Lew explained that individual members do not have a vote.  Rather, club and organization memberships determine the number of votes each section is allocated.  Apparently, USTA was set up to operate in that manner from the get-go in 1881.
  • Lastly, we discussed the online survey that USTA did a couple of years ago.  Overwhelmingly, those who took the time to answer the survey questions said they would prefer tournaments have smaller draws so they would take fewer days to complete (and, as a result, be less expensive for families and require missing fewer days of school).  I pointed out to Lew that nowhere in the survey was it mentioned that the results would be used to justify the changes that we’re now seeing in the national schedule.  I told him that if USTA had disclosed the fact that they were going to use the survey responses to justify cutting the draws at our country’s top junior events, I was sure parents would have answered differently.  Best case scenario is that this is a case of poor communication on USTA’s part.  Lew Brewer says, “No one expects everyone to agree with the plan for 2014, but it WILL become effective on January 1, 2014.  I think a lot of this mirrors the health-care debate.  There are many who want to appeal the affordable care act.  It is scheduled to become fully effective on January 1, 2014.  Just like our plan, very few Americans have read the affordable health care act and are reacting to what is broadcast on the news or the blogs.  The smart money – the insurance companies and healthcare providers – are preparing for 2014, because they can’t afford to be left behind if the law is not repealed.  I think tennis parents and coaches would be wise to begin preparing for 2014 as well.  I think players, parents, and coaches ought to be focusing on what they can do to help players develop their games so that they are ready for the enhanced competitive environment in 2014.  No player should be left behind because they think something will change with this plan.”
  • Despite Lew’s comment that this is a done deal, some folks have created an online petition in hopes of getting USTA to rethink its stance.  You can find the petition at www.gopetition.com.  Please consider signing and sharing with others in the tennis community.  And, in the meantime, take Lew’s advice and get your junior player ready for the New Normal.

Playing Up

Playing up is one of those controversial topics in junior tennis.  Should my child play up?  If so, when should he start playing up?  Which tournaments?  How many?  Should he keep playing his own age group as well?  Ask 5 different coaches, and you’ll get 5 different answers!

What I have learned is that, as your child gets older, it becomes more important for him to establish a good ranking early in his age group so that he can actually get into the higher-level tournaments (see Life In Limbo).  Since many of the tournaments will admit a certain number of players from the younger age group, it’s good to take advantage of that opportunity to play up and earn some ranking points, especially as your child gets closer to his official aging-up date.

Talk to your child’s coach.  As a team (remember that whole Tennis Triangle thing?), you can devise a plan in terms of which tournaments and which age group your child will play in order to maximize her chances of reaching whatever goals she may have.  Go online and look at the tournament schedule for the next 3 months or 6 months or 12 months and map out your route.  If there are multiple tournaments on the same weekend, include them all on your list and keep an eye on them as the entry deadlines get close, then talk with the coach to determine which is the best to enter.  It takes planning – as well as flexibility – but it’s worth the time and effort, believe me!

My son is still in his first year of the 16s.  But, since he has a July birthday, and since many of the national tournaments he aspires to play are shortly after his birthday, he is going to start playing in some 18s tournaments now in hopes of having a good enough ranking to play those big tournaments after officially aging up in July 2013.

My son’s playing his first 18s this coming weekend – it’s just a small local tournament, but I think it will be good for him to get a little taste of competing against the older (and, yes, probably bigger) guys.  He practices with hard-hitting guys and girls every day at drills.  He’s now playing on his high school team with boys up to 3 years older than him, so I know he can handle the pace of the Big Boys.  He’s looking forward to the challenge  of this tournament, and I’m looking forward to seeing him play the part of David to what may very well be Goliath on the other side of the net.