Summer 2013 Version: The Ins & Outs of TennisRecruiting.Net

Below is a re-print of my June 13, 2012, article on TennisRecruiting.net.  Twice a year, TennisRecruiting.net updates its Top Prospect ratings – sometimes known as “The Stars”. The next update to the Top Prospects comes in September 2013.  This week, TRN announced a change to their ratings process – starting with this rating period, ratings will be based on a player’s second-highest rankings during the eight-week period from July 23 through September 11.  Why is TRN making this change?  According to their most recent newsletter, it is so they can avoid errors due to mis-reported scores or results.  Be sure to take a look at TRN’s new National Showcase Series of tournaments – these events may not count toward a player’s USTA ranking but will count toward his/her TRN ranking and rating.

By now, most of my readers are probably very familiar with the TennisRecruiting.net website.  Well, I recently discovered that the creators of the site, Julie and Doug Wrege, live about a mile and half from my house (!), so I figured I would pick their brains a bit about how the site came into existence as well as the way parents and players should be using the information available on the site to their best advantage.

The first thing to note is that Julie and Doug are not now, nor have they ever been, Tennis Parents; that is to say, none of their children played tournament tennis.  However, Julie is a very accomplished player and college coach in her own right – she started the very successful women’s tennis program at Georgia Tech – and Doug is an internet technology guru – he wrote the very first tennis-related software, Tournament Management System, in the 1980s and was the first to put tournament draws on the Web.  As a result of Julie’s extensive college coaching experience, she knew what the coaches needed to see in terms of player records and rankings, and she wanted to create something better for them to use.  In 2004, with Doug’s help, TennisRecruiting.net was born!

Now, the basics of TRN and its Star Rating System . . .

The TRN ratings, done by graduating class, go from Blue Chip (highest) to 1 star (lowest) as follows:

Blue Chip:  top 25 players in the class

5-Star:  players ranked 26-75

4-Star:  players ranked 76-200

3-Star:  players ranked 201-400

2-Star:  players ranked 401 up to a number based on a percentage of the size of that class

1-Star:  a player with any qualifying ranking

TRN looks at 6th graders through 12th graders and ranks 16,000 boys each year out of the approximately 34,000 male junior players currently playing and competing.  They rank about the same number of girls.  Therefore, even a 1-Star player is better than more than half the juniors currently playing tournaments.  Ratings are based solely upon a player’s position within his own high school graduating class year; for example, a 14-year-old high school freshman would be rated independently of a 14-year-old 8th grader even though they are both eligible to play in the 14-and-under age division.

In order to be ranked on TRN, a junior must play in a minimum of 3 TRN-eligible tournaments and win a minimum of 3 matches (2 of which must be over other eligible players). Ratings happen twice a year – at the end of February and the Tuesday after Labor Day in September. Ratings are preceded by an 8-week rating period. The player’s highest ranking during the 8-week rating period will determine that player’s Star Rating per the chart above*.

All matches from TRN-eligible events in a one year window are used to compute a player’s ranking, independent of age division or class of the players. In addition, TRN looks at a player’s 8 best wins during that period, averages them, then uses that as one of several complicated (understatement of the year!) mathematical components to determine the final ranking. Ratings, age, and graduation year of a player’s opponents are not used in the calculation. Previous rankings are not used to determine current rankings – TRN starts from scratch for each week’s ranking. It is important to note that wins never hurt a player’s ranking and losses never help it.  Also, “retirement” of a match counts as a loss but a “walkover” does not.

Matches are weighed according to when they were played.  A win today counts more than a win against the same opponent six months ago.  This is one way that TRN makes it very difficult to “play” their rating system or “buy” rankings.  For your player to improve his ranking on TRN, he should be sure to enter tournaments where he can win some matches but NOT where he is, by far, the best player in the draw.  As Doug says, “Winning makes you feel good.  Losing makes you learn something.”  Because of the extensive analysis that goes into the TRN rankings, college coaches consider them to be a better predictor of player quality and who’s going to beat whom in head-to-head competition.

How should players and parents use TRN?  During the Middle School years, TRN is just another tool at players’ fingertips to track their progress and that of their peers.  Parents should check their child’s profile using the Free Account option and make sure all the information is correct – if it’s not, then you can either make the corrections yourself or contact TRN if you have any questions or problems.  There are also some very useful articles on the TRN site written by experts in the junior tennis world – take advantage of this free tool to educate yourself and your child during these important developmental years.

Once a player enters High School, you might want to consider buying a TRN Recruiting Advantage membership so you can see which college coaches are looking at your child’s Player Profile.  The membership also allows you to upload gallery photos, videos, and article references mentioning your child.  It is well worth the $49.95 annual fee!  But, here’s a great tip from Doug:  if you have multiple tennis players in your family or are on a limited budget, pay only for a membership for your oldest child then use that account to do everything on the website for all of your children except see the coach visits and upload the photos, videos, and articles.  Once the oldest graduates high school, cancel the account and get one for the next child.  Another great tip from Doug is that you can buy a monthly membership (which renews automatically), load all the information you want during that first month, then cancel the account.  The information will stay on your child’s profile, but you will no longer be paying the monthly membership fee.  To cancel the account, simply click on the Member Services link at the top of the page then un-check the “Auto Renew” option.  Voila!

Given that Doug is giving away these money-saving tips, let me share how TennisRecruiting.net generates its revenue.  Initially, TRN’s biggest source of income came from players signing up for an enriched profile with the Recruiting Advantage membership.  On top of that, the college coaches pay TRN to have access to the player information.  Very recently, however, TRN started selling advertising on its website, which has now become its largest source of revenue.  If you’re a user of TRN, please consider using the advertiser links on the site in order to help TRN continue to offer its free services!

I want to emphasize that TRN is about much more than player rankings.  Doug and Julie are working tirelessly in the junior tennis community to ensure that more kids have the opportunity for cross-sectional play and that they have the opportunity to play college tennis if that’s their goal.  With the recent changes in the USTA National Tournament Schedule and smaller draw sizes, the Wreges have their work cut out for them.  They are currently working with tournament directors around the US to encourage more open events, even if it won’t impact the player’s USTA ranking, by designating tournaments as “Historically Strong” so that the players have an opportunity to improve their TRN ranking and become a TRN “National Player” (one who has won a match in a USTA National Level 1-3 event or other event that counts toward a USTA national ranking).  The upcoming Georgia State Junior Open will be the first of these tournaments – information on that tourney is online here.

This is a lot of information to digest – I know! – but please do yourself and your child a favor and do some poking around on the TRN site.  Familiarize yourself with their ratings and rankings.  Read the articles, especially the Q&As with the different college coaches if that’s your child’s goal.  Make sure your child’s information and player record are correct.  If your child is in high school, upgrade to the paid membership, at least for a period of time.  It will be time and money well-spent.

*UPDATE September 2014: TRN now takes a player’s top two weekly rankings during the bi-annual rating periods in order to determine Star Rating.

High School Tennis Revisited

State Champs

Last year, about this time, I was writing regularly about my son’s experience on his high school tennis team – the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

However, due to some ridiculous eligibility rule changes by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), my son did not play for his school team this year.  It was HIS choice, don’t get me wrong, but, basically, our state governing body made it very unattractive for any high-level players to join their high school teams this year – to summarize, the rule said that a player lost eligibility if he or she trained for his/her sport during stated school hours.  For my son and many other tennis players, their school hours are modified in such a way as to include “zero period” and online classes so they can get to the courts earlier in the afternoons for training.  In other words, they get out of school an hour or two earlier than the rest of the student body.  Under the new GHSA rule, that modified schedule and their extra training made them ineligible to play.

That said, there were still many talented high-schoolers who played this season as evidenced by the tight matches during this past weekend’s State Finals.  And, there is hope for the rest of the players as I recently heard GHSA reversed that eligibility rule for the 2013-14 school year.

And now, especially in light of what recently happened at UGA with its number 1 singles player on the men’s side, it seems to me that high school tennis needs to take on a bigger role in preparing our juniors for tennis at the collegiate level.

A fellow tennis mom feels exactly the same way.  “I’m so tired of hearing ‘nobody cares about high school tennis’. In light of the recent events [sic], shouldn’t college coaches reconsider the high school player? These kids play for the sheer joy and camaraderie that they get from being a member of a team and representing their school (and they don’t get paid to do it)! They give up individual opportunities to earn tournament points and improve their rankings so they can play and practice with their team. Isn’t that exactly what college coaches are or should be looking for?”

I would love to see high school tennis become a training ground for college.  Unfortunately, at least where we are, the level of coaching the high school teams receive is pretty amateurish.  Often times, a teacher or coach from another sport are recruited to coach tennis even though they may have little or no knowledge about the sport.  It makes it a very tough decision for a kid who is used to training at a high level to take a step backward in order to play for his or her school team.  Add to that the fact that many college coaches and recruiting consultants have said over and over that they don’t care whether a kid plays for his school; they simply care about tournament performance and ranking/rating.  Is it wonder that many top-level juniors are opting out of high school tennis?

 

 

New Rules in GA for U10s & U12s

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Why, you might ask, is there a French magazine cover pictured at the top of this post?  Well, 2 reasons . . . first of all, because I want everyone to notice that it features French pro, Richard Gasquet, at the age of 9, playing tennis using a yellow ball.  Second of all, because in just a few weeks I’ll be at Roland Garros watching a couple of days of phenomenal tennis at the French Open and am pretty darn excited!  (P.S. Anyone who wants to hook me up with courtside seats, you know how to reach me!)

Some of you may have gotten wind of the changes happening across the country with 10-and-under tennis and the mandated use of the ROG balls in tournament play.  What you may not know is that ROG is now infiltrating the 12s, too.

The state of Georgia implemented a new competition structure for the 12-and-under crowd this year, and more changes are coming in 2014.  I spent some time on the phone with Rick Davison, USTA Georgia’s Director of Junior & Adult Competition, to find out what’s new, what’s coming, and the reason behind the changes.

As of today, all Georgia sanctioned 10-and-under tournaments use an orange ball on a 60 foot court.  For the 12s, in local Georgia sanctioned tournament levels 4 and 5 only, players use the Stage 1 green ball on a full-size court; at the higher level local tournaments, the 12s use a yellow ball.

What does that mean?  It means that a child who is under the age of 13 who wants to compete in a local tournament on a full-size court with yellow balls must play in the 14-and-under age division.  So, if your child is 9 years old (or 10 or 11 or 12), practicing each day with a yellow ball on a regular court because you and the coach feel the child is ready, and wants to compete under those same conditions, you must put him or her in the 14s in order to play a local event.

Take a close look at this photo:

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The player on the left is my son, age 11, playing at a local Georgia tournament in the 12-and-under division.  The player on the right is his opponent, also age 11.  Please note the physical size difference between the 2 boys.  Now, imagine that, in order to play with regular balls on a regular court, my son had to play in the 14s . . . and my son was already 11 in this picture!  He would’ve gotten crushed!

I asked Rick why Georgia decided to implement these new rules for the 12s.  He told me that the talented 12-and-under players have historically always played up in the 14s anyway at the local events, so this change won’t impact them.  The target audience for this change is the 10-and-under player who is transitioning from the orange ball.  Georgia felt that it would make an easier transition for the players if they have a stint with the green ball on the way to the yellow ball.  So far, Rick says, the Georgia kids are transitioning well in the Southern section, and the level of play in the 12s is getting better.

One other change that happened in the 10s this year was the shift to 4-game sets.  Rick says that he was initially opposed to this change but quickly realized that the parents were in favor due to the much longer rallies with the orange balls – matches that were 2 out of 3 6-game sets were lasting much too long.

For 2014, Georgia is making some additional changes in terms of the match and tournament format.  For the 10-and-unders only, since matches are the best of 3 4-game sets, tournament fees will be reduced and tournaments will most likely be compressed into one-day events.  Rick acknowledged the fact that parents are unhappy about traveling to a tournament, having to spend money on a hotel and restaurant meals, for their child to play these short sets.  Georgia’s answer is to shorten the tournament for these young players so parents can avoid most of the travel expenses.

In case you were wondering, Georgia isn’t the only place seeing these types of changes.  Texas has been under an even more-complicated system for the last year with more changes going into effect this month (click here to read the new rules).  The NorCal section recently introduced its Junior Development Pathway illustrating the progression of a young player from the red to the orange to the green and, finally, to the yellow ball.  Please note that in both Texas and NorCal, progression from one level to the next is absolutely mandated by the section itself – a player may not jump to the appropriate level based on their own personal development but rather must go through each painstaking step in order to move to the yellow ball in competition.  I’ve recently heard that the Midwest section is looking to adopt similar mandates for its 10s and 12s, too.  To hear more about what’s going on around the US, listen to the podcast of my radio show with Lawrence Roddick and others by clicking on this link: ParentingAces Radio Show

If your child is ready to move on, developmentally-speaking, be assured that alternative opportunities are popping up across the country.  Take a look at the events I have listed on our 10-and-Under Tourneys page above – I will continue to add to the list as more events are created so please check back regularly for updates.

I also want to direct you to the complaint that Ray Brown filed with the US Olympic Committee regarding the 10-and-under initiative.  You can click here to read the complaint and all subsequent responses on Ray’s website.

And for those who missed my recent Facebook post/Tweet, proof positive that kids younger than 13 can train and play with a yellow ball:

Pete Sampras Age 10

 

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Now What?

The 2014 changes to the junior competition calendar are all but a done deal.  The Powers That Be at USTA, despite our best efforts, have decided they (not parents, not coaches, not the players themselves) know what’s best for our young players and have slashed competitive opportunities at the national level by a huge margin.  So, now what?

Add to the mix the fact that several USTA sections have also adopted a rather Draconian policy for the 10-and-unders and 12-and-unders, forcing them onto the ROG path, making it so they have to play all the way up in the 14s if they want to play with a yellow ball on a full-size court.  If you haven’t already, be sure to listen to the free podcast of my radio show with Lawrence Roddick (Andy’s older brother) about what’s happening in the Texas section and what’s coming in Southern and Midwest and NorCal.  Later this week, I’ll post the changes coming in Georgia in 2014.

What’s a tennis parent to do???

I think many of us are frustrated and stumped and just plain angry over all these changes – I know I am.  I feel like decisions are being made by executives who are so far removed from our World of Junior Tennis that they just plain don’t get it.  They still don’t acknowledge how many parents and coaches and players are opposed to what they’re mandating out of White Plains.  When asked about how they can still say that the opposition is small, they throw out the fact that only 160 some odd people emailed the LetUsKnow@usta.com address even though almost 4000 joined a Facebook group in opposition and almost 1000 signed a petition to stop the 2014 changes.  How do those numbers NOT make you sit up and take notice???

I would love to hear from y’all about how you’re planning to navigate starting in 2014.  What changes will you make to your child’s tournament schedule?  Will you add more ITF events, more non-sanctioned events, or have them play adult events instead?  What’s your plan?  I’m still working with my son’s coaches on figuring out the best path for him, but you can be sure I’ll report back once we come up with something concrete.

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Another Giant Step

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This past weekend was another giant step in my Tennis Parent Journey.  My son drove himself to a tournament.  Out of town.  About 2 hours from home.  While my husband and I were at a family reunion out of state.

Now, before you start thinking I am totally out of my mind, please know that I enlisted the support of a Fellow Tennis Mom to be on call for my son.  She and her son were staying at the same hotel as my kid.  She was in charge of checking my son into his room and making sure he had his key.  Her son was playing in the same age division as my kid.  And the boys go to school together.  (And I now owe her a very nice bottle of wine!)

As my husband and I left our house and headed to the airport, I made a mental list . . . Had I reminded my son to text us each time he got behind the wheel of the car?  Had I reminded him to take an extra pair of contacts?  Did I tell him enough times that NO ONE was allowed in his hotel room except himself?  I will admit the whole thing had me pretty nervous!

And, it didn’t help matters that, once my husband and I arrived at my aunt and uncle’s ranch outside of Houston and said our hellos to numerous family members, everyone decided to share stories of their high school escapades and the parties they threw when mom and dad weren’t around.  Ack!

I think I’ve written before about how much trouble my son has waking up in the morning – he doesn’t hear his alarm most of the time, and it typically takes about 3 tries before I get him to open his eyes and acknowledge my presence.  The fact that he had an 8am match on Saturday morning had “disaster” written all over it.  That meant a 5:30am wake-up and a 7am warm-up, all without a parent or coach there to nudge him when the alarm started blasting Imagine Dragons loud enough to wake the entire hotel (but probably not loud enough to stir him out of his deep sleep).  I spent a restless night worrying whether or not I would get a panicked phone call that he had overslept and had to default his first round.

I’m pleased to report that he DID wake up, DID make it to his warm-up, and DIDN’T have to default.  He played a tough match that didn’t go his way, but then he picked himself up and got ready for the backdraw, all without me there to comfort him or take him to get lunch before his next match.

My baby is growing up.  He’s way more capable than I give him credit for, even calling me on his way back to Atlanta to find out if he should pick up something for dinner for his dad and me since we would be arriving later that night.  It’s a big relief to realize he was/is up to the challenge of taking responsibility for his tennis and his tournament play.  I’m not sure I’M ready to relinquish all responsibility just yet, but it sure is good to know that my son can handle things on his own, at least from time to time.  And, I think I only grew a few more gray hairs this weekend!

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The Tournament that Almost Was

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Finally, after months of being on alternate lists and finding out last minute whether or not he was going to play that weekend, my son got direct entry into one of our Southern Level 3 tournaments AND was seeded!  He had a pretty good draw and figured he had a very good chance of getting to the Semis if not winning the whole thing.  He had been playing well in practice over the past couple of weeks and went into the weekend feeling very confident in his game.

So, early Friday evening, we packed up the car and headed to South Carolina, an easy 2-hour drive from our house.  The weather forecast was bleak, but we kept hoping the Weather.com folks would be wrong (hey, that’s not a reach, right?!?) and that the 2-day tournament would finish as planned.  We drove under clear skies and fell asleep under those same clear skies.  But, then the Weather Gods decided to have a bit of a mood swing.

My son was originally scheduled to play his first round at 2pm on Saturday, so we had planned to sleep in a bit that morning.  When we woke up and opened the hotel curtains, the weather looked grey but dry.  Apparently, though, it had been raining steadily since early morning, and the tournament was on an “indefinite” rain delay.  Oy!

My son’s warm-up partner lives about an hour from the tourney site, so his family decided to wait out the weather before driving over.  That meant we were going to hang out in our hotel room until the Tournament Director decided how to proceed.  Finally, around Noon, the draws were updated, and my son was scheduled to play his first round match at 8:30pm.  Again, oy!  That meant only one round would be played on Saturday (with short-scoring, I might add, and on clay as opposed to hardcourts as planned) instead of the scheduled 2 matches as is typical of a Southern Level 3.  And that meant 3 rounds on Sunday, probably also with short-scoring, and a late night drive home for us assuming my son did well and kept winning.  Add to that the fact that the forecast for Sunday was a 70% chance of rain starting at 3am, continuing throughout the day.  To the TD’s credit, he gave players an “out” on the tourney website, allowing them to email the Tournament Referee if they wanted to withdraw altogether.

So, I decided to throw on some clothes and head over to the main site to see if I could get a better feel for what the TD had planned.  The 10s and 12s were scheduled to play there, and the TD had found clay courts for all the other age divisions in hopes of squeezing in the matches once the rain stopped.  Unfortunately, the rain continued for quite some time, and all matches were further delayed, meaning that my son’s first match probably wouldn’t go on until at least 9pm (though, in the 18s, the matches could go on as late as 10pm under USTA rules).  Can I hear another, “Oy”?

At that point, I made an executive decision (after making sure my son was on board) to withdraw from the tournament and head home.  Our hotel let us out of our reservation without charging us for Saturday, so it was kind-of a no-brainer.  We packed up our stuff and were home in time for dinner.

We’ve never done that before.  We’ve always hung around and waited out the weather, crossing our fingers that it would clear long enough for some good tennis to be played.  I’ve always been of the mindset that if you sign up to play, then you stay and play.  Bad weather is just part of junior tennis.  But, given these particular circumstances, I felt it was the right thing to do – to cut our losses and beg off.

Turns out, we made a very good decision.  The rain did indeed continue throughout the night and the next day, and the tournament was cancelled altogether around noon on Sunday with no matches being played that second day.  Keep your fingers crossed for better weather this weekend – we’re heading to a Southern Bullfrog (Designated) on Friday, and these kids really want the chance to play!

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New Coke & 2014

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Today’s post courtesy of Antonio Mora . . .

In 1985, before all our junior players were born and when many of their parents were young enough to be junior players themselves, the Coca-Cola Company took what has been referred to as the greatest marketing risk in consumer goods history.  The company changed the formula for Coca-Cola, the world’s most popular soft drink, the first significant change in its formula in 99 years.

The development of what everyone ended up calling “New Coke” was a long and secret process that even had a code name, “Project Kansas.”  The company’s most senior executives launched the effort, hoping to find a new “champion” for the company and reverse years of decline in Coke’s market share.  By the early 1980s, Pepsi had become the best-selling soft drink among young Americans and Coke found itself suddenly in the unfamiliar position of not comfortably dominating the soft drink market.

“Project Kansas” and Coke executives chose to compete with Pepsi by drastically changing what was arguably the world’s greatest brand.  Their huge mistake?  They failed to consider their customers and Coke drinkers’ loyalty to the “real thing.”  The outcry from Coca-Cola’s customers and its bottlers was immediate and “New Coke” turned into a marketing disaster amid public protests and boycotts.  At first, Coke executives considered slightly “tweaking” the formula of their new drink, to make it more similar to traditional Coke.  Cooler heads prevailed and, only 79 days after “New Coke’s” debut, the company reintroduced the old formula and started selling it as “Coca-Cola Classic.”  It was the most spectacular about-face in American corporate history, bigger than Ford turning its back on the Edsel.  My old boss, Peter Jennings, interrupted regular programming on ABC to report the breaking news.  On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Democratic Senator David Pryor of Arkansas called Coke’s reversal a “meaningful moment in the history of America.”  Trust me, I’m not making this up.

It was certainly a meaningful moment in Coca-Cola’s history.  The company’s sales numbers soared, “New Coke” soon disappeared and “Coca-Cola Classic” went back to being plain “Coca-Cola.”  Within a few years, Pepsi became an also-ran in the soft drink wars, and today, both Coke and Diet Coke outsell Pepsi.

The parallels between “New Coke” and the USTA’s 2014 changes to the junior competitive schedule are pretty obvious.  Well-intentioned USTA executives launched the effort, trying to find a new “formula” to develop American champions and reverse years of decline in US tennis fortunes on the world stage.  The USTA’s effort may not have had a code name, but the process was long, a lot of hard work was involved, and it was secret.  Like Coca-Cola, the USTA didn’t fully consider the reaction of its customers and faces a huge public outcry.  As Coca-Cola executives did at first, USTA officials are considering just “tweaking” their new “formula,” instead of fully reconsidering their decision.  The big question, of course, is whether USTA officials will learn from the past, acknowledge the overwhelming opposition to their new “formula,” have the courage to stand up to internal pressure and reverse course, starting a new process that will be more inclusive of its customers’ wishes.