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, ScottNorthern
Chamberlain, Michael PeelSouthern
Ehlers, Ellen (tournament director)Southern California
Grant, Geofrey (parent)Florida
Lawson, TracySouthwest
Lebedevs, Peter (Chair) (parent, tourney director)Southern
MacDonald, Paul (coach)Midwest
Minihan, LisaMissouri Valley
Notis, Brian Eric (coach)Texas
Pant, AjayMid-Atlantic
Roth, Claire (long-time USTA volunteer)Intermountain
Rothstein, JeffEastern
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)

Back to those Thanksgiving Tournaments . . .

Image courtesy of Chase Sapphire
Image courtesy of Chase Sapphire

After I wrote my piece about the upcoming Thanksgiving tournament options, I realized that I neglected to mention that, at least in the Southern section, we also have a designated tournament (sectional L2) that same weekend competing with the Eddie Herr qualies, the L2 National Selection tournaments, and the L4 Open Regional tournaments. What’s interesting about the designated tournament is that it is worth the same number of sectional ranking points as both the National L2 and L4. What’s even more interesting is that the draw, at least in the B18s, didn’t fill in the designated, meaning that several players will get a first-round bye, making it an easier run through the draw for them. Add to that the fact that the designated is being held indoors which means all matches will be played regardless of the weather. The same cannot be said for the national L2 and L4 events. Of course, we’re hoping for good weather in Montgomery, but, this time of year, it’s certainly not a guarantee.

My son briefly considered pulling out of the L2 and entering the designated instead even though it’s a 7-hour drive for us to Louisville AND it would mean celebrating Thanksgiving at a hotel instead of at home with my husband. We got caught up in that whole point-chasing thing again – would it help my son’s chances of getting into Winter Nationals if he played in Louisville and went deep in the tournament as opposed to playing in Montgomery where the field is much stronger overall? Should he potentially sacrifice quality of matches in order to earn more ranking points? I couldn’t believe we were even having those conversations again! Just when I thought we were done with the point-chasing game . . .

Thankfully, my son decided to stay put in the Montgomery L2 tournament where he’ll likely get some great competition plus have the opportunity to play doubles. Thankfully, quality [of matches] won out over quantity [of ranking points]. Thankfully, we’ll get to spend my son’s last Thanksgiving before college at home enjoying our favorite holiday foods. Thankfully.

Icy Hots Leave Players Lukewarm

icyhotThank you to a fellow Tennis Parent for providing this detailed analysis of the new Points Per Round schedule and Designated events in the Southern Section. Please feel free to share what’s happening in your section in the Comments below.

All it took was one Icy Hot [Designated Tournament] in Norcross [GA] to convince parents and players that Southern Level 2s (STA2s) weren’t worth the time and expense of travel.

Take away the National 5 points, decimate the early round points, and players were left with a tournament that only offered value for players confident they could finish in the top 6.

The draw for the Icy Hot in February in Norcross was tough; selected players for the Boys 16s were ranked in the top 130 in the South, and the original alternate list was over 40 players long. Fast forward to the Montgomery [AL] Icy Hot in March. Originally with only 6-8 players on the Boys 16s alternate list, the tournament started with 6 byes in the round of 64 and two withdrawals. Last year there were on-site alternates to fill any open spot – not so this year. Registration just ended for the Baton Rouge [LA] Icy Hot; only 52 applicants for the Boys 18s spots by the Sunday night deadline. Possibly more spots will be filled with late entries.

Why are the STA2s snubbed? Low points, long days, lengthy draws. In 2013, even a single consolation win would net 220 points; in 2014 it earns a mere 58 points prior to bonuses – a 75% drop. With consolation rounds for players who lost in rounds 64/32/16 ending on Sunday, the most points (prior to bonus) a player can earn in the backdraw is 160. Players would need to win 3 main draw matches or 4 or more consolation matches to earn those points in a STA2. Winning only two main draw matches in a STA3, which tend to have easier draws, nets the same 160 points.

How do the rest of the points compare between tournaments? Winning three main draw matches in a STA3 garners 240 points. The STA3s finish in two days, and the champion wins 320 points with 4 main draw wins. The 4th place finisher in the STA2 also wins 4 main draw matches (with losses in SF and ¾) and earns 320 points but it takes 3 days. The number of players in each that win 192 or more points? 6 out of 32 for STA3 or around 20% while only 8 out of 64 or 12.5% in the STA3s. Only in the top 3 spots do players earn more points in the STA3; those players earn 384-640 points plus bonuses. However, to earn those points they would have had to play for 3 days and win 4-6 main draw matches. Playing a STA2 only makes sense for players who will be seeded in the top 8; with bonus points those players might earn more points than players who opt for a STA3 instead that weekend.

The silver lining in the STA2 snubfest is that players who would have never been accepted in the past will receive spots as competitors. Maybe the player was sidelined with an injury for several months, just aged up, or is a talented local player who can’t afford to travel to southern tournaments. If these players can win 3 or more main draw matches and upset some seeds, they can earn a couple hundred southern points. However, there will be plenty of noncompetitive 0,0 matches when the seeds play the locals and low-ranked. These tournaments now have a dichotomy of players – seeded talented players who are playing to win versus players who are playing just for the opportunity. The midlevel southern players will skip the the STA2s and opt for STA3s. Even some top players are skipping STA2s and playing up an age group in STA3s.

While basketball fans have their Sweet Sixteen, southern tennis players have their “Sweet 6” – the six southern 1/1A tournaments with the highest southern point values and the only southern tournaments offering national singles points. Until 2014, players had their choice of thirteen southern tournaments with national singles points and high southern point values even in early rounds. With the stripping of national 5 points and the decimation of points in the first 2 days of the tournament, the STA2s -formerly Bullfrogs, now renamed Icy Hots, have become the ugly stepsisters to the Cinderella Sweet 6.

Prom, End of Course Tests, AP tests, and state varsity tennis playoffs – the positive and negative rites of passage for tennis playing public high schoolers – may conflict with these Sweet Six. Two of the Sweet Six tournaments are only two weeks apart –  the 16s/18s in Clemson starting April 25 and the 16s/18s in Raleigh May 9. Do students study for their important tests and/or play for their school teams, or do they neglect both to ensure they don’t miss one of the Sweet 6?

Two of the other Sweet Six were scheduled in the winter – the level 1 in January and the level 1A in February, neither on indoor courts. Southern Closed remains in mid June as in past years, while the July clay 1As were moved to Labor Day. Why are there no 1As scheduled after Labor Day until mid January? Why is there a 4 month gap in the fall and only two weeks between tournaments in the spring during the busiest time of year for public high schoolers? Is USTA Southern trying to discourage tournament players from playing high school tennis by scheduling the Sweet Six during high school tryouts and playoffs? Public high schoolers can’t miss 4 days of school over 2 weeks during this busy time even if AP tests aren’t involved.

I doubt it was USTA’s intention to make life difficult for tennis playing public high schoolers but they did. Why did they need to schedule four of the Sweet Six in the first five months of the year, especially considering many players had 1A points from the fall/winter indoor southern championships in November and December of 2013? Why did they schedule an 128 draw in the winter on outdoor courts when there is high chance of rain or possibly snow? Luckily the weather held this year for that tournament, but it would have been a fiasco with such a large draw and rain.

USTA Southern please consider moving one of the 1As in April/May to the fall for calendar 2015 and possibly one of the Jan/Feb tourneys to fall too. If players are injured in the first half of the year, with a 4 month gap in the fall, those players would have a hard time catching up to their peers. The new 1As for 2014 were former Bullfrogs. Look at some of the popular Bullfrogs from the past and switch out one of them as a 1A. Ridgeland MS in February would be better as a STA2 than as a 1A. Spread out the Sweet Six and make life easier for players trying to balance public high school and tennis.

While the above paragraphs criticize the Sweet Six schedule, southern parents are grateful for USTA Southern for adding a second level 1 tournament for 2014. Having two options for southern endorsement to national championship offers families flexibility. If their players played the level 1 in January, families may travel in June before playing nationals in July/August. We only hope that public high school students will have more options or a less condensed schedule in 2015.

2014 Georgia Rules & Regs

I received the information below from my son’s coach this afternoon. It was sent to Georgia coaches on Friday, March 14, 2014, nearly 3 and a half months into the competition year. According to the footer on the document below, these 2014 Rules and Regulations were adopted in February of this year.

The major changes for 2014 include the Points Per Round tables, the Performance Waiver available for direct entry into the June Southern Closed (the winner of which gets direct entry into the Summer National Hardcourts), and late entries into tournaments – see the highlighted sections in the document below for more detail. I did confirm with Georgia’s Director of Junior & Adult Competition that the Points Per Round tables are retroactive to 2013. While this is the case for USTA Georgia, it is NOT the case for USTA Southern at this time.

2014 USTA Georgia Junior Tournament Rules and Regulations

I would love to hear what’s happening in other states and sections!

 

 

 

More Ranking Info

JR_Tourney_Web_Page_cut1

Our Southern section is unique in that (1) it is comprised of 9 different states (and part of a 10th, Texas) and (2) each state has its own local USTA office with its own USTA state ranking.

It is now the end of the first week of February. Until today, USTA Georgia had not released its 2014 Points Per Round table due to the confusion over what’s going on at the national level.

In Georgia, players are required to play a minimum of 6 Georgia-based tournaments in order to be eligible to play in the Georgia Qualifier to be endorsed into our Southern Closed tournament that is a requirement for the National Hard Courts in August each year – did you follow that? Most of the states in our section have this same requirement. So, even top players in our Southern Section must go back to their local state events before late May/early June, spending time and money competing in lower-level events, in order to be endorsed by the section for Nationals. I’m sure you can understand why the lack of a PPR table until today was troubling for many Georgia players and their families.

This morning, I emailed Barbara Berman who is in charge of junior rankings for Georgia to find out what was happening. She replied promptly, pointing me to the 2014 Points Per Round table and explaining the delay. Barbara said that the USTA Georgia Annual Meeting was held last weekend wherein they discussed the ranking issues with USTA Southern and USTA National and approved a PPR table that is in line with both the section and national tables. The committee waited to update the Georgia ranking lists until those tables were set. Everything should be up to date as of today. Please note that the PPR Tables are retroactive for the 12-month rolling Standings Lists.

For more information, you can go to www.ustageorgia.com. Below is a comparison of the 2013 and 2014 PPR tables just for your information. Again, this is just for the state of Georgia within the Southern section; your state or section may have something that looks very different so please check with your own head of junior competition.

Champion2013 PPR2014 PPR
GA Level 16601000
GA Level 2440670
GA Level 3330500
GA Level 4220330
GA Level 5110170
Finalist
GA Level 1540820
GA Level 2360549
GA Level 3270410
GA Level 4180271
GA Level 590139
3rd Place
GA Level 1480730
GA Level 2320489
GA Level 3240365
GA Level 4160241
GA Level 580124
4th Place
GA Level 1420640
GA Level 2280429
GA Level 3210320
GA Level 4140211
GA Level 570109
FIC Champ
GA Level 1390590
GA Level 2260395
GA Level 3195295
GA Level 4130195
GA Level 565100
FIC Finalist
GA Level 1360550
GA Level 2240369
GA Level 3180275
GA Level 4120182
GA Level 56094
FIC Semi-Finalist
GA Level 1330500
GA Level 2220335
GA Level 3165250
GA Level 4110165
GA Level 55585
FIC QF
GA Level 1300450
GA Level 2200302
GA Level 3150225
GA Level 4100149
GA Level 55077
FIC QF Qualifying
GA Level 1270410
GA Level 2180275
GA Level 3135205
GA Level 490135
GA Level 54570
FIC Rd of 16
GA Level 1240360
GA Level 2160241
GA Level 3120180
GA Level 480191
GA Level 54061
FIC Rd of 16 Qual
GA Level 1210320
GA Level 2140214
GA Level 3105160
GA Level 470106
GA Level 53554
FIC Rd of 32
GA Level 1180270
GA Level 2120181
GA Level 390135
GA Level 46089
GA Level 53046
FIC Rd of 32 Qual
GA Level 1150230
GA Level 2100154
GA Level 375115
GA Level 45076
GA Level 52539
FIC Rd of 64
GA Level 1120180
GA Level 280121
GA Level 36090
GA Level 44059
GA Level 52031
FIC Rd of 64 Qual
GA Level 190140
GA Level 26094
GA Level 34570
GA Level 43046
GA Level 51524
FIC Rd of 128
GA Level 16090
GA Level 24060
GA Level 33045
GA Level 42030
GA Level 51015

Bonus Point Changes for 2014

bonus-buttonThe following was posted by Sandy Hastings, Managing Director of Junior Competition for the Southern section, on a Southern section tournament website. It’s also posted on Southern’s website at http://www.southern.usta.com/Juniors/tournaments_rankings/2014_junior_updates/. I believe it may apply to all USTA sections across the board, but please double-check with your section’s head of Junior Competition to be on the safe side! Does it concern anyone else that USTA has implemented these new tournaments and new pathways to the national events but is still scrambling to get the Points Per Round tables right? I would love to hear from y’all about what you’re seeing in your section.

BONUS POINTS UPDATE 01/27/14

01/27/14 Bonus Points Update

You will note that the standing list done Sunday, January 26th, once again has some changes. It is not an error. As you know, starting in 2014, we started to use the new points table and bonus points. Putting the bonus points into effect skewed the standings a bit for the bonus points had to go retroactive to the 2013 results. This effected the standings more than the committee had hoped and many complaints were recorded.

In researching the situation, it was found that National was to do the same thing but decided to hold off, for they thought there might be a fix where that the new 2014 bonus points would not have to go retro. That fix is still being researched, but it is unknown if this will be a quick fix or a long term fix.

Therefore, it was determined that the best route for us to take was to go back and use the 2013 bonus points for now and the future until a fix is installed without the need of going retroactive. Please keep checking the new spot on the Southern Home Page for updates, or contact Bill or Sandy in the southern office

I am very sorry for the confusion. We were truly hoping for the quick fix, but it was not to happen.

Thank you again,
Sandy

Who’s Really #1?

USTA rankings vs. Tennis Recruiting star ratings vs. Universal Tennis levels . . . is anyone else confused here?  I don’t know about the rest of you, but this obsessed Tennis Momma spends an inordinate amount of time trying to understand what the different ratings and rankings actually mean and how my son can best use the information to improve as a player.

A quick overview of some of the different ranking/rating systems out there . . .

USTA currently uses the Points Per Round (PPR) system which awards ranking points based on the level of tournament and which round the player reaches in the tournament.  A player’s top 6 singles tournament results and top 3 doubles tournament results for the previous 12 months are included in his/her ranking.  There is a National PPR chart, but each USTA Section also has its own PPR chart based on how its tournament levels are set up.  Please note that it doesn’t matter if a player loses his/her first round main draw match or whether that player wins several rounds in the main draw – all that matters is where the player ends up in the draw at the end of the tournament.  So, in a 64-draw, a player who loses in the first round of the main but gets to the semifinals of the backdraw will earn more ranking points than a player who wins three rounds in the main then loses his/her first backdraw match.  Head-to-head wins/losses are not considered in the PPR system.  Quality of wins is considered only when a lower-ranked player has a win over a player in the top 100, though this can also vary by Section.

The Tennis Recruiting Network (TRN) uses the Star Rating system which awards stars based on a player’s ranking within his/her high school graduating class.  The Star Ratings are updated twice a year – once in the Fall near the beginning of the school year and once in the Spring in mid-March.  TRN does consider head-to-head match-ups in its rankings, so many coaches, players, and parents consider these rankings to be more accurate and reliable than the PPR system.  (See my blog post on TRN for more details.)  As one fellow tennis parent commented, unlike USTA’s system, “TRN rankings aren’t influenced at all by where you go to play a tournament and which #900 ranked player in the nation you happened to knock off in the back draw for your only win of the event (to secure those prized PPR points).”

Universal Tennis features 16 levels of tennis and provides tennis players worldwide a common rating system to determine their level of play. The 16 levels – ranging from 1 for beginners to 16 for the top professional players – are based on actual match results (the last 30 matches within the last 12 months) without regard to age or gender using the Competitive Threshold (i.e. how close were the matches?) to determine accurate ratings.  This system – developed by Harvard Head Coach David Fish and former Old Dominion players Dave Howell (who will be my radio show guest on December 3rd) and Alex Cancado – is relatively new on the tennis scene and is meant to be used in conjunction with the other rating/ranking systems.  Thankfully, it, too, is becoming more recognized as a reliable resource for parents, players, and coaches.

Unfortunately, all sanctioned USTA junior tournaments currently use only the PPR rankings – the least reliable of the three, in my opinion – to determine which players get into the events and who is seeded in those events.  One complaint that I hear repeatedly is that PPR rankings can be “bought” by players who have the means to travel to tournaments with weaker draws in order to win more matches and, as a result, wind up with better rankings, allowing them entry into the higher-level events.  I am loathe to admit that my son and I have taken that approach on more than one occasion – driving to the other side of our very large section where the competition runs a little less deep – in order to boost his USTA ranking to the point where he could get into events closer to home without going through the alternate list.  And, sadly (but fortunately, I guess), it worked, but is it honestly in the best developmental interest of a junior player to take this tack?

Of course, the answer is no, but it’s oftentimes a necessary step under the current PPR ranking system in order for a player who is aging up or is a late bloomer to get into the tournaments where he/she has competitive matches.  One parent commented on a previous blog post, “How do you reasonably explain to a 12 year child (or any child, for that matter) that a child he/she has beaten easily (possibly numerous times) is ranked above him/her [and, therefore, getting into tournaments when your player is not]?  The only reasonable explanation is that he plays more tournaments. In other words, his parents spend more money.”  It may not necessarily be that the child is playing more tournaments but that he/she is traveling all over to tournaments with weaker fields to get those match wins and coveted ranking points.

Another parent shared, “It would be great to see at least a few tournaments each year use that [TRN] ranking system to select and seed fields. If the USTA were to switch to TR[N] as their primary ranking system, I think that would solve many of the problems they’ve been trying to address with the proposed changes to national tournament structures, etc. (i.e., players/parents trying to buy PPR points/rankings by traveling to all the big national events).”  I agree wholeheartedly!  At the very least, USTA could use other ranking or rating systems in conjunction with PPR for a more accurate overall picture, especially when creating acceptance lists for the larger national tournaments.

We’re now seeing some creative tournament directors putting on events – like the Holabird-Adidas All-In Junior Tennis Challenge – where PPR ranking isn’t the sole criteria for entry or seeding.  Hopefully, our junior players will have more opportunities outside of USTA to develop and test their tennis skills.  ITA, ITF, and other organizations offer several options.  In the meantime, though, we have to work with what we’ve got and either (1) learn to play the system effectively and/or (2) be creative ourselves and help our kids find opportunities outside the system to become better players.

I would love to hear from you about how your junior player is balancing the challenge of getting into the tournaments he/she wants (needs?) to play while at the same time continuing to develop his/her game.  Please share your Comments below.