How To Use Ratings & Rankings

logos

I get a lot of emails asking about the various ratings and rankings used in Junior Tennis, so let me try to explain the differences between USTA rankings, Tennis Recruiting Star ratings, Tennis Recruiting rankings, and Universal Tennis ratings and how best to use each one. I have been talking extensively with people at each organization about what their numbers mean, how they are derived, how college coaches use them, and why they are relevant. Since TennisRecruiting.net is in the midst of its Star Rating Period, and since high school juniors and seniors are in the throes of college recruiting, it seems like the right time to present this information again.

First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between a ranking and a rating. A ranking is an ordered list of players from best (#1 or top-ranked) to worst. You can look at a ranking list and see exactly where a particular player falls among his or her peers. Typically, in head-to-head competition, the better-ranked player is expected to win, and it is considered an upset when a player ranked several spots below gets the victory. A rating, on the other hand, identifies and groups together players of similar levels of skill and/or competitiveness. You can use ratings to find practice partners and opponents at a similar level regardless of age or gender, and some tournaments (see the New Balance High School Tennis Championships) are now using ratings as a selection and seeding tool to ensure more competitive matches. Depending on the system, you can predict who will win a particular match based on the range of difference between the players’ ratings.

Let’s start with the Points Per Round (PPR) ranking system since it’s been around the longest and is the one used by USTA (a similar system is used by ITF) to determine selection into sanctioned tournaments. With PPR, a player earns ranking points in his/her current age group (as well as older age groups if the player chooses to “play up”) based on the level of the tournament played as well as which round the player reaches in that tournament. Moving forward in a tournament draw, whether by an actual match win or by a default or walkover, is all that matters in this ranking system. Main draw matches count for more points than do backdraw matches. USTA takes the player’s top 6 singles tournament results plus the top 6 doubles results (doubles only counts at 25%) within the previous 12-month period to determine his/her ranking at the local, sectional, and national level. The only time an opponent’s ranking is considered is in determining whether to award Bonus Points for a particular match win. Rankings are typically updated weekly. The actual points awarded by tournament level and by round changes slightly each year and varies by section, so be sure to look on your section’s website for the latest information.

Tennis Recruiting (TRN) publishes both rankings and Star Ratings based on a player’s high school graduation year. Rankings are updated each Tuesday and Star Ratings are updated twice per year. Unlike PPR, players are not rated or ranked by age group but rather by recruiting class. Head-to-head results definitely factor into both the ratings and the rankings on TRN though the algorithms they use are way too complicated for me to understand or explain (click here for my 2012 article on the intricacies of TRN)! TRN counts only singles matches (doubles are not included) that actually start, even if one player retires during the match. An exception would be a match in which a player plays one (or just a few) points to avoid Suspension Points by USTA. Dallas Oliver of TRN told me, “In our system, winning always helps – although wins over players rated far below do not help much. Losing badly always hurts (close losses can actually help in our predictive rankings which use scores) – although losses to players rated far above do not hurt much. So it’s all about competition – and the back draw gives you the chance to play more matches.” TRN uses both USTA junior tournaments and ITF tournaments to calculate its ratings and rankings. At this time, high school and ITA matches are not included.

Universal Tennis (UTR) publishes ratings based solely on actual matches played. They look at a player’s 30 most recent singles match results (doubles are not included), apply their proprietary algorithm, then rate the player on a scale from 1-16.5 to provide a snapshot of where a particular player is in comparison to other players in a given week. Gender is not a consideration. Neither is age nor country of origin. All players world-wide are rated together on the same scale. Only matches that are actually played are included. Walkovers or defaults are not counted. And, UTR pulls match results from a wide variety of sources including USTA junior tournaments, USTA adult tournaments, high school matches, ITF tournaments, ITA tournaments, and college dual matches among others. According to the UTR guiding principles, any two players within a 1.0 rating differential should have a competitive match, and if a player rated more than 1.0 below the opponent wins the match, that is considered an upset. For more information, click here and here.

Lately, there has been a lot of conversation around “gaming” these various systems, especially in terms of avoiding lower-ranked/rated opponents in order to manipulate the numbers. Rest assured that the brains behind TRN and UTR are constantly on the lookout for the “gamers” as are college coaches. With PPR, it’s a bit easier to get an inflated ranking just by scouring draws and traveling to weaker tournaments to earn points. With UTR and TRN, that simply doesn’t work since each opponent’s rating and ranking are taken into consideration. As Bruce Waschuk at UTR explained to me, “If a player ducks too many matches, they could end up with an unreliable UTR, at which point tournament organizers will no longer use their rating for seedings or selections. Some college coaches do check actual draws to see if a prospective recruit demonstrates chronic match withdrawal characteristics. Being too clever with respect to matches played in an effort to ‘game’ rankings or ratings could hurt a junior in the end, if their goal is to play college tennis.”

Now that you understand how the various numbers are calculated, what’s the best way to use these indicators?

For entry-level players who are just starting to play tournaments, PPR is probably the most important number since it determines your USTA ranking and whether you will be selected for certain tournaments as well as whether you will be seeded in those events (for players just starting on the ITF circuit, PPR is useful there as well). There’s a great website called MyTennisNetwork that allows you to search for tournaments and view the USTA rankings of players who have entered each tournament so you can tell if your ranking will earn you a spot in the draw and/or a seeding. I highly recommend this site for anyone new to tournaments as a way to keep track of entry deadlines and to search for the appropriate level tournaments in your area.

Once a player is entrenched in the junior competition structure and has played close to 30 matches, UTR becomes very valuable as a way to find appropriate tournaments (you can copy and paste the entry list from USTA and ITF tournaments into UTR to determine where your player falls in the field) and practice partners. The free account provides enough basic information to get started. But, for those juniors hoping to play college tennis, a Premium or Premium Plus Account is definitely worth the small cost. UTR is incredibly helpful in choosing schools to contact since you can pull up the UTRs of all the players on a particular team or even a particular conference to figure out whether you would be a desirable addition to the team.UTR

TRN typically starts rating and ranking players beginning in their 6th grade year, so it’s good to go ahead and set up a free account once you hit that point in school. As you enter your sophomore or junior year of high school, it may be worthwhile to sign up for a Recruiting Advantage Account so you can see which college coaches are viewing your profile, add more details like photos and videos, and update your GPA and test scores (click here to find out what college coaches can see on TRN). For a complete description of the various features available on TRN, click here.

Speaking of college coaches, I have heard from many of them that they are using all three of these indicators – USTA, TRN, and UTR – in addition to other more subjective factors when deciding whether or not to recruit a particular player.

Rather than worrying too much about ratings and rankings, a junior player’s best approach is to continue working on his/her game, playing matches against a variety of opponents, and – if college tennis is the goal – making sure to have a high enough GPA and SAT/ACT score to ensure admission into a desirable school. Stressing out over the incremental changes that may occur week to week doesn’t serve anyone. College coaches look at trends – are a player’s ratings and rankings moving up or down over time? – and tend to ignore little hiccups that may show up if a player has a bad week or two on the courts. While it’s nice to have a current picture of where you stand against your peers, I sometimes think the once-per-year rankings we had when I was playing juniors was a saner approach to the game. Regardless, these indicators are here to stay, so please use them in the manner in which they’re intended: to help you reach your highest potential as you go through the Junior Tennis Journey.

Southern Closed Seeding: USTA vs UTR

Yesterday, the player selections and seedings were posted for our upcoming sectional closed tournament (the tournament starts this Saturday). Given that USTA is starting to incorporate Universal Tennis Ratings (UTR) in its selection and seeding process for several events this year, I thought I would take a look to see how things would flesh out when I compared the actual seeds using USTA rankings versus what the seeding would look like using UTR instead.

You may not think this makes much of a difference, but it does. For our sectional closed, the tournament uses “block seeding” which means that seeds get two “byes”. For a tournament with a 160 draw that is played over 6 or 7 days in the summer heat and humidity, getting 2 “byes” is a very big deal – that’s 2 fewer matches that the seeds have to play on their way to the title. It’s very rare for a non-seeded player to break through at this tournament because of that exact factor.

I will leave it to my readers to analyze this data and comment on its meaning and potential impact.

Here’s what I found in the various age groups:

Boys 18s

Actual USTA SeedsSeeds Using UTR UTR
11. Stachowiak, NickCrawford, Oliver14.22
22. Boyden, BlaineStachowiak, Nick13.8
33. Yun, ChristopherKarl, Steven13.73
44. Crawford, OliverBoyden, Blaine13.64
55. Karl, StevenYun, Christopher13.49
65. Karlawish, JohnPelletier, Beau13.47
75. Lee, GalenJemison, Jonathan13.36
85. Sharma, AbhinLee, Galen13.33
99. Diaz, AlexGalush, Matthew13.21
109. Huryn, AleksSharma, Abhin13.15
119. Jemison, JonathanDiaz, Alex13.11
129. Jennings, ZachRichey, Spencer13.09
139. Pelletier, BeauStone, Morgan13.05
149. Rettke, VincentHuryn, Aleks13.04
159. Richey, SpencerKumar, Kavir12.98
169. Showers, BaileyBedwan, Amer12.93
1717. Akins, DrewJennings, Zach12.93
1817. Anders, ChristopherKarlawish, John12.93
1917. Barr, KyleMendelsohn, Maxwell12.89
2017. Bedwan, AmerEasterling, Chambers12.69
2117. Croyder, TrevorWayand, Benjamin12.68
2217. Easterling, ChambersBauer, Zummy12.65
2317. Galush, MatthewRollhauser, Lorenzo12.55
2417. Harrison, LaddLauture, Philip12.52
2517. Hendrix, PaulDayton, Jeffrey12.48
2617. Kumar, KavirRettke, Vincent12.48
2717. Rebol, MaxShowers, Bailey12.44
2817. Rollhauser, LorenzoMilitzer, Mark12.4
2917. Schupp, ChaseBrown, Spencer12.36
3017. Steryous, AlexCameron, Scotty12.36
3117. Wayand, BenjaminCroyder, Trevor12.26
3217. Wilkins, ChristopherSchupp, Chase12.24
Girls 18s
Actual USTA SeedsTop 32 Using UTRUTR
11. Jones, MakennaJones, Makenna11.32
22. Meredith, MarycarolineMuzik, Katherine10.71
33. Pesavento, PeytonBojczuk, Ally10.69
44. Otsuka, NamiRice, Tatum10.66
55. Carr, JacquelinePesavento, Tatum10.52
65. Kessler, McCartneyOtsuka, Nami10.43
75. Kurtz, EmmaCarr, Jacqueline10.42
85. Smith, SamanthaSuswam, Sena10.4
99. Armas, SamanthaKessler, McCartney10.38
109. Bojczuk, AllySmith, Samantha10.33
119. Boyden, SusanneMeredith, Marycaroline10.22
129. Muzik, KatherineKurtz, Emma10.19
139. Rice, TatumMarsh, Ruth10.15
149. Roberts, MeredithBoyden, Susanne9.82
159. Sawyer, ChelseaZenoni, Suzanne9.72
169. Suswam, SenaSawyer, Chelsea9.7
1717. Albertson, AnaPelletier, Jacqueline9.67
1817. Bauers, DanielleNorman, Elizabeth9.34
1917. Darter, AlyeSullivan, Claire9.27
2017. Gilmer, MalloryGrigorian, Sabina9.21
2117. Jennings, GraceArmas, Samantha9.2
2217. McCall, LaurenMcKamey, Allison9.2
2317. Mixon, HeatherArcher, Olivia9.17
2417. Norman, ElizabethValentine, Morgan9.16
2517. Sheldon, TerraJennings, Grace9.11
2617. Strickland, JordanRoberts, Meredith9.05
2717. Sullivan, ClaireWilliams, Elizabeth9.02
2817. Valentine, MorganBogdanovich, Brooke8.98
2917. Williams, ElizabethGilmer, Mallory8.98
3017. Zenoni, SuzanneMixon, Heather8.98
Boys 16s
Actual USTA SeedsSeeds Using UTR UTR
11. Croyder, BlakeRedding, Andrew12.79
22. Pickens, A.TriceHuynh, Kevin12.6
33. Soufi, SamiPratt, Jared12.48
44. Stuckey, GrantCroyder, Blake12.44
55. Johns, GarrettYuan, Jeremy12.44
65. Li, DanielBaird, Drew12.4
75. Redding, AndrewSingerman, Drew12.38
85. Shick, CollinStuckey, Grant12.37
99. Baird, DrewJohns, Garrett12.24
109. Gandolfo, JosephSoufi, Sami12.22
119. Grattan-Smith, WilliamFischer, Sam12.19
129. Huynh, KevinLi, Daniel12.08
139. McCallie, PaulShick, Collin12.07
149. Singerman, DrewTerry, Matthew12.05
159. Stice, TylerHuynh, Steven12.03
169. Terry, MatthewJurist, Ryan12.03
1717. Beasley, JakePickens, A. Trice12.02
1817. Branicki, AndrewMcCallie, Paul11.95
1917. Duarte, AndreiBeasley, Jake11.89
2017. Fischer, SamSklenka, Patrick11.88
2117. Huynh, StevenGandolfo, Joseph11.84
2217. Johnston, BrittonHarwell, George11.82
2317. Jurist, RyanGrattan-Smith, William11.76
2417. Marshall, JacobJahn, Thomas11.72
2517. Maughan, HarveyStice, Tyler11.7
2617. McKendree, SeanDuarte, Andrei11.65
2717. Pratt, JaredMcKendree, Sean11.63
2817. Roegner, RyanRoegner, Ryan11.57
2917. Sklenka, PatrickCarter, Princeton11.55
3017. Watson, NicholasWatson, Nicholas11.49
3117. Yuan, JeremyMarshall, Jacob11.48
3217. Zhang, KevinFujino, Masahiro11.46
Girls 16s
Actual USTA SeedsTop 32 Using UTR UTR
11. Meredith, MadelineMeredith, Madeline11
22. Song, LindsayBeck, Chloe10.84
33. Navarro, EmmaDespain, Ali10.5
44. Alferova, YekaterinaZimmermann, Lindsay10.18
55. Beck, ChloeStephens, Nicole10.01
65. Gish, LaurenLaFrance, Katie9.93
75. Henry, SomerWhite, Margaret9.9
85. LaFrance, KatieNavarro, Emma9.88
99. Brown, EllisHrastar, Ava9.79
109. Cyr, AmandaSong, Lindsay9.74
119. Hamlin, ChloeGish, Lauren9.71
129. Kerman, CarolElizabethKerman, CarolElizabeth9.63
139. Mitta, PriyankaBrown, Ellis9.5
149. Stephens, NicoleMitta, Priyanka9.47
159. White, MargaretPyritz, Tiffany9.47
169. Zimmermann, LindsayDillon, Madison9.45
1717. Carney, AngelJoch, Lauren9.44
1817. Chratian, ErinHamlin, Chloe9.35
1917. Clayton, AleeBorders, Eva9.34
2017. Despain, AliHolmes, Lilly9.33
2117. Dewald, KatieHaynes, Adrienne9.32
2217. Dillon, MadisonCyr, Amanda9.29
2317. Harmon, AnnaTruluck, Elizabeth9.28
2417. Haynes, AdrienneMarkel, Abigail9.21
2517. Holmes, LillyHenry, Somer9.2
2617. Hrastar, AvaAlferova, Yekaterina9.14
2717. Joch, LaurenCormier, Alyse8.88
2817. Lee, PeytonLee, Peyton8.88
2917. Pyritz, TiffanySherman, Katharine8.85
3017. Rice, TheaClayton, Alee8.84
3117. Roper, HunterFlesch, Sydney8.83
3217. Thibault, MariaThibault, Maria8.83
Boys 14s
Actual USTA SeedsSeeds Using UTR UTR
11. Chopra, KeshavJordan, Phillip12.02
22. WANG, JERRYBarnett, Wesley11.77
33. Sculley, ScottChopra, Keshav11.57
44. Jordan, PhillipWang, Jerry11.36
55. Babineaux, GriffinHalpin, Matthew11.27
65. Barnett, WesleySmith, Zachary11.26
75. martin, andresAllen, Huntley11.25
85. Raab, JoshuaMartin, Andres11.04
99. Allen, HuntleyRaab, Joshua10.99
109. Huey, EricSimpson, Valewis10.99
119. Koch, BenjaminWaldman, Justin10.88
129. Krishnan, SuhasMavrodiev, Georgi10.87
139. Tracy, JJBabineaux, Griffin10.84
149. Trudell, DanielDavis, Jackson10.77
159. Waldman, JustinSculley, Scott10.77
169. Wylly, JackRogers, Foster10.75
1717. Chou, BrandonTrudell, Daniel10.72
1817. Davis, JacksonHuey, Eric10.71
1917. Gwynn, MichaelKrishnan, Suhas10.71
2017. Halpin, MatthewHotard, Welsh10.65
2117. Hotard, WelshWylly, Jack10.65
2217. Mavrodiev, GeorgiMontroy, Thomas10.62
2317. Montroy, ThomasParker, Chase10.59
2417. Parker, ChaseRamesh, Vivek10.55
2517. Pitts, TimothyChou, Brandon10.49
2617. Posey, MasakiEvans, Banks10.45
2717. Ramesh, VivekWilson, Reilly10.44
2817. Reid, JonBrannGovindarajan, Anuraag10.28
2917. Rogers, FosterReid, JonBrann10.22
3017. Simpson, ValewisKoch, Benjamin10.21
3117. Smith, ZacharyBroadstreet, Andrew10.12
3217. Wilson, ReillyPitts, Timothy10.05
Girls 14s
Actual USTA SeedsTop 32 Using UTR UTR
11. Cubitt, MaggieThompson, Jenna10.02
22. Hiser, AnneMarieVerizova, Elizabet9.56
33. Mills, EliseMcClure, Sara9.52
44. Verizova, ElizabetHernandez, Sayda9.48
55. Briggs, CarlyAlston, Robin9.41
65. Collins, KyliePolk, Margaret9.41
75. Durham, AveryCollins, Kylie9.37
85. Thompson, JennaHiser, AnneMarie9.36
99. Huth, WinslowMills, Makayla9.36
109. LaBiche, LilyCubitt, Maggie9.34
119. Maheshwari, SoniaMaheshwari, Sonia9.17
129. McClure, SaraNirundorn, Mai9.16
139. McKee, MaddieSchneider, Lara9.13
149. Mills, MakaylaWhite, Morgan9.09
159. Nirundorn, MaiImhof, Ella9.08
169. Polk, MargaretWeber, Katie9.07
1717. Adams, Ann MariaTanik, Sibel9
1817. Alston, RobinJames, Junmoke8.99
1917. ansari, carolynDurham, Avery8.98
2017. Carter, KennediTanguilig, Carson8.94
2117. Courville, MaryBriggs, Carly8.9
2217. Despriet, TaylorAnsari, Carolyn8.88
2317. Duncan, PaigeRebol, Cassidy8.86
2417. Gray, KateGray, Kate8.78
2517. Hemmings, GracieLyman, Katherine8.74
2617. James, JunmokeCarter, Kennedi8.67
2717. Mitchell, AnnaBashir, Fatimah8.48
2817. Rebol, CassidyGrosmann, Miriam8.48
2917. Schneider, LaraHemmings, Grace8.48
3017. Sinha, SnehaMills, Elise8.48
3117. Tanguilig, CarsonDuncan, Paige8.41
3217. Weber, KatieLabishe, Lily8.38

The Good Ol’ Days

Photo courtesy of www.fashion-era.com
Photo courtesy of www.fashion-era.com

 

We don’t have to go quite as far back as the image above to find the glory days of junior tennis in this country, but with all the mess surrounding the upcoming national clay and hard court tournament selections, it’s worth taking a look in the rearview mirror as a reminder of how things used to be only a few years ago. I believe we can restore the high quality – and, yes, FUN – of junior tennis in the US, but it’s going to take some major re-thinking and additional work on the part of our national governing body (USTA) as well as the other organizations connected to US tennis development (ITA for one). A great place to start would be to include parents of current junior and college players in the discussion and planning process.

Tournament director and tennis historian Robert Sasseville wrote a very thorough history for ParentingAces of our junior competitive system. You can click here to read the whole piece. Robert also posted the following [excerpted] Comment (it’s Comment #49 for those who want to read it in its entirety) on the Clay Courts Confusion article:

In the early 80′s all players to National Championships had to be endorsed by their home section, or they didn’t play. There were no Wild Cards. Players who failed to be endorsed, whether by choice or otherwise, such as injury, had no recourse but to wait until next year.

National Championship sectional quotas totaled 100. The final 28 players were selected from the remaining sectionally endorsed players, based on player record. The one provision was that each section’s ordered endorsement list was sacred and could not be altered. In other words, the remaining players had to be taken in the order in which they appeared on the sections’ endorsement list. That meant that if alternate #2 deserved to be admitted, but #1 did not, the tournament had to decide if it was better to take an undeserving player (alt #1) to admit a deserving one (alt #2), or just go to another section and not select anyone from that section. At least the tournament got to do the best it could to get the top 100 players in a draw of 128.

Only a head-to-head ranking system, like TRN’s, can give an accurate assessment of a player’s relative merit compared to others. Until such a ranking system is implemented, it is incumbent upon the USTA to offer LARGER draws, not smaller, and offer MORE opportunities, not fewer, to make sure that “the best” actually do get to play “the best”, even if that occurs one or two rounds later in the tournament.

It’s very interesting to look around the world and see how others are doing things in the junior tennis arena. Tennis Europe (click here to go to its website), the umbrella organization for pan-European junior tennis, for example, has set up an incredible system of 300+ competitive events (compare this to the 10 or so national events per age group we have in the US) in over 100 countries for 3 age divisions: U12, U14, and U16. The idea for the oldest age group of juniors (U18) is that they’ll graduate from Tennis Europe events into the junior or pro ITF circuit, a natural progression in the development process for those who are ready. Every tournament has a qualifying draw, consolation draw, and some hospitality is provided at each event. As Geoff Grant reminded me, Europe has roughly twice the population of the US and tennis is a more popular sport, but they are running 20 times the number of national events and they are running them well. With 90% of the world’s top players coming from their system, maybe we should take note. Tennis Europe is not hung up on points chasers, but they are obsessive about providing opportunity to junior tennis players.

The key, in my opinion, to creating future US champions AND growing the game in this country is ensuring a quality junior competition structure while preserving the integrity of the college tennis system and making it a viable goal in and of itself as well as a pathway to the professional circuit. There are many blueprints from which our governing body can borrow if they are in fact committed to doing what’s best for the players and what’s best for the game.

 

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

A National Schedule & Ranking System That Makes Sense

ahamomentThere have been several comments on this blog asking what parents, players, and coaches want to see in terms of a junior competition structure – USTA has asked all of us to email them at LetUsKnow@usta.com to share our thoughts.  Some people who are way smarter than I am have come up with one proposal that just may work.  This proposal addresses the travel and cost issue, the “earned advancement” issue, the missed school issue, and the rankings issue, among other things.  Please take some time to read through it and share your thoughts in the Comments below.

The key points to this proposal are as follows:

  1. No changes to the existing Level 1s.
  2. Every section (except Hawaii and Caribbean) hosts a Level 2 and at least one Level 3 during the year.
  3. Every region(N/S/E/W) hosts four Level 2s and at least four Level 3s each year.
  4. Each section and region has reserved spots in the tournaments they host for players who do not qualify through the NSL, meaning you don’t need to be running around chasing points to get into a national event.
  5. A combined STAR/PPR ranking structure, if it is designed properly, will incentivize kids to play in the toughest event they can handle as close to home as possible.
  6. Tournaments coincide with holiday weekends where possible.
  7. National Open dates remain unchanged.
  8. Level 3 events occur in Jan/Mar/May/June/Aug/Sep/Oct.
  9. Draws sizes for Level 1s would remain the same – 192 for the two summer nationals and 128 for Easter Bowl and Winters.
  10. Draw sizes for Level 2 national opens would revert to 64 with a possible one day 32 qualifier.
  11. Draw sizes for Level 3s would be demand driven – Copper Bowl might support a 128 draw while Columbus Indoor a 32 draw. A qualifying draw would be at the discretion of the TD.

There are three parts to this proposal – Philosophy, Tournament Structure, and Rankings – and they are all inter-related.

Philosophy

  1. FUN FUN FUN – Ask any kid who played Copper Bowl, Quicksilver, the Southern or Texas Open, or St. Louis Gateway, and they will all tell you the same thing: they loved those events!  The USTA should have a FUN officer at every national event – if the kids are not smiling, kill it.  The first question on any tournament evaluation form should be, “How much fun did your kid have?”
  2. K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple Stupid – Any competitive structure needs to be simple, easy to understand, and easy to navigate. The 2014 changes fail on a lot of levels but they really fail on this metric. If an 11 year old can’t understand it, it’s too complicated.
  3. RANKINGS – ACCURATE rankings are the backbone of competitive tennis, and tournament selection must be driven by a single unified and accurate rankings structure. The beauty of linking rankings to tournament selection is that it motivates across a wide range of players. Kids ranked 400 are trying to get to 300 to get into a higher level event. The kid ranked 20 is trying to get into the top 10, and the kid ranked 2 is trying to get to 1. Any competitive structure should embrace this as a powerful motivator to keep kids in the game.
  4. OPPORTUNITY and CHOICE– The USTA should be in the business of providing opportunity and choice – as much opportunity and as much choice as the market can bear.  This is the holy grail of cost.  More opportunity and more choice will result in lower cost.  There just can’t be much argument over this. If the cost of more choice and opportunity is a few kids chasing points, who cares?

Tournament Structure

In terms of tournament structure, we would look to combine the best of the old Optimum Schedule (which had a lot of fun events and a lot of opportunity) with the best of the ITF system (which has an easy-to-understand pathway combined with a selection system that favors proximity to event). Sectional events need to flow seamlessly into the national schedule, and the section must commit to a unified competitive structure leading to national events. With that in mind we propose the following:

Five levels of national events as follows:

  • Level 5 – These would be the existing National Level 5 sectional events, but sections must commit to open entry – everyone who enters must be accommodated either through draw size or through a qualifier. Each section would be allowed to hold between four and six of these events.
  • Level 4 – These would be the existing National Level 4 events with a higher points total, but they would be selective entry events based on sectional ranking. There would be between two and four of these events per section.
  • Level 3 Open – These events would be the backbone of the national tournament structure. Each section would be expected to host at least one of these events a year but no more than three. Local communities and/or the USTA would be expected to provide sponsorship particularly in parts of the country with smaller pools of players (e.g. Northern section). Selection to these tournaments (AND THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT) would be as follows in this order:
    • For a 64 draw event:
      • 40 players from the current national standing/rankings list (NSL)
      • 6 players from the top 100 of the NSL of the age group below
      • 10 players from the sectional standing list of the host section, not selected through the NSL
      • 8 qualifiers from a one-day 32 draw event involving two pro sets (same selection process)
  • Level 3 Closed – Each sectional championship would be designated as a Level 3 event.
  • Level 2 – Like the old National Opens – four times a year with one event in the North, South, East, and West. Tournament selection here would follow the same template as for the Level 3s, but ten players from the host region (not section) not originally chosen would be accepted into the main draw.
  • Level 1 – We would tweak the order of the selection process slightly so that the first X players came from the NSL and sectional quota spots were filled afterwards.

Rankings
STAR and PPR both have their advantages – PPR encourages play and STAR is accurate – we would use them both.

Ranking points would be a combination of how far you got in a tournament (PPR) and the strength of the people you beat. The beauty of this is that it solves one of the big problems with the current ranking system:  the points advantage that the small sections currently have.  We would add an SOS factor (strength of schedule factor) to simulate that important aspect of the prior STAR system.  The idea is that a particular tournament or draw within a tournament (based on depth or strength of field) would have a factor/multiplier applied to it (ranging from .75 to 1.25 for instance) – so a relatively weak L2 tournament would be discounted in point value by some factor (e.g., PPR value x .80) – so instead of a potential 1st place value of 320 as provided by PPR, the maximum point value for this tournament/draw would be 256, and so on for every round completed.  Similarly, you may assign more value to a particularly “stacked” field (e.g., average ranking of 46 for all competitors entered) – so the max value might be 320 x 1.25 (or 400).  This would level the playing field so to speak – similar to how an RPI ranking metric works (used to rank NCAA basketball teams for selection into the NCAA tournament in March).  The SOS Factor would be determined based on the Average Ranking level of those competing in the event (using a sliding scale).  For example, average ranking in the draw of 500 or higher = .75, 400 – 499 = .80, 300 – 399 = .85, 200-299 = .90, 100-199 = 1.00 (or point value = PPR value table), 75-99 = 1.10, 50-74 = 1.20, < 50 = 1.25.  (The actual translation function for this sliding scale could easily be worked out based on the Average Ranking of the Draw in question.)

The basic thought is that this would entail simply applying an objective SOS factor to the existing PPR award values to account for the disparity in depth/strength of the draws selected around the country – and would produce a ranking method that is more equitable and more predictive (while supporting the underlying goal of encouraging more play by junior players to maintain their national ranking level).  We would also continue to award “bonus points” for significant wins as is the current practice.

What are the advantages of all this?

  1. Takes the best parts of the old system and gives back opportunity and choice and gives us back the tournaments people loved.
  2. The selection system means that you don’t have to travel far if you don’t want to in order to get a strong national ranking.
  3. The combination of PPR and STAR will give greater weight to the strong sectional events, and doing well in your section (if you choose to only play sectionally) will get you into all levels of national events.
  4. Solves a lot of the issues that the new system is trying to address in terms of cost but doesn’t kill opportunity.
  5. Encourages players to seek out the strongest tournaments that they are, or can be, competitive in as opposed to purely chasing points.

Click here to see the spreadsheet showing this proposed tournament calendar overlaid onto comparisons between 2010, 2012, and 2014.

A tremendous thank you to Geoff Grant, Steve Belsito, and many others for their input on this proposal.  Please remember: it is just that, a proposal.  It is a work in progress.  If you have information you’d like to add or specific questions, please put them in the Comments below, and I will be sure Geoff  and Steve and the others see them.  I feel very good about where this proposal is heading and am hoping that the USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee will take it under consideration instead of moving forward with the existing 2014 plan.  The devil is in the details – but this is a template we believe could be workable and supported by a broad tennis constituency.

High(er) Anxiety

A friend recently posted an article on Facebook about our local public high school, the one my son attends and from which my daughters graduated.  The article is about 5 years old – and a bit lengthy – but many of the student observations and quotes are still very applicable today.  And, re-reading it now that my son is in his sophomore year is really making me think about the path he is on and the path I am on with him as he gets further into his high school career and closer to the end of his Junior Tennis Journey.

If you want to take the time to read the article, I promise it will make you think, or re-think, about how you interact with your child(ren).  And, if it doesn’t, it should.  We are raising our children in an era of very high anxiety, very high pressure, very high expectations.  For student-athletes pursuing a college scholarship, the pressure is magnified.  Is it any wonder many families choose virtual school or home school as an alternative to this mishigas (i.e. craziness for my non-Yiddish-speaking readers)?  Read the excerpt below and tell me you don’t recognize your child or someone you know here:

A 17-year-old should not have to spend a week in the hospital for exhaustion.  Students shouldn’t have to drag themselves through each and every school week on 28 hours of sleep or take a handful of Advil to get through soccer practice or calculus class. It may not seem like it, but we’re tired.  Everything doesn’t have to be a lesson or lecture. A kid can’t just strike out anymore and get on with his life. Yes, we know to keep our eye on the ball, you’ve told us 4 million times. Head down on the golf swing—we know. So we slip. We forget.  We’re not gonna go, like, rob banks because we shank a few Titleists off into the Chattahoochee.  Sometimes we get so much pressure from so many angles we get dizzy. We juggle so many things all day every day it almost seems silly to come home and have you nag us to do our homework. We know we have homework; we’re the ones who lugged it home like pack mules. Did it ever occur to you that what you and the teachers call procrastination is just our way of taking two seconds to, like, think?  Some of us need pushing, but there’s such a thing as pushing too hard.

As I prepare to write yet another note saying my son was absent due to illness, I have to ask myself why I allow myself to compromise my own morals when in fact I am 100% in favor of my son missing a day of school here and there (as long as he stays on top of his school work) in order to pursue his passion.  Of course, one answer is because I don’t want to see my son punished academically – teachers do not allow students to make up work or tests missed due to an Unexcused Absence – when his particular sport isn’t one offered year-round by his school.  And, I believe 100% that pursuing one’s passion is the best antidote to the stress that our society breeds.  Unless the pursuit of the passion adds stress and anxiety instead of relieving it.  So the challenge, as always, is striving for a healthy balance between hard work, dedication, and commitment as well as lightness and fun.  It’s a big ask.  I certainly don’t pretend to have the answers.

A friend of mine who happens to be a licensed social worker and also has a 16 year old son says, “And not too much is said about the incredible changes and pressures for parents as we navigate all this wonderful progressive technology that makes it harder for families to connect. I’m exhausted with all the efficiency.”  It’s so true!   How are the rest of you Tennis Parents coping with this challenge?  How are you helping your tennis players find the balance?  I look forward to reading your comments.

K12 and NCAA

A ParentingAces reader messaged me this morning to tell me that K12‘s online schools have recently been put on “Extended Review” by the NCAA.  She went on to say, “It’s throwing quite a lot of us parents into a panic! So many tennis players, athletes, actors, musicians, etc. use the K12 programs (especially the free state charter school pathways), so this is insane!”

As a former K12 parent, naturally I was curious to find out what was going on.  I contacted K12 through its Facebook page to see what I could learn.  I got a very quick reply from them accompanied by a phone call from Jeff Kwitowski,  K12’s Senior Vice-President of Public Policy.

First of all, it’s important to understand that K12 has never had any of its courses rejected by the NCAA for failure to comply to its standards of rigor.  There has been NO VIOLATION by K12 to date.  Apparently, the NCAA is under increased scrutiny to ensure that incoming college student-athletes have the necessary academic knowledge and experience to survive and thrive at the university level – that’s a good thing in my opinion. They have changed their education standards for all high schools, not just virtual schools such as K12.  Click here to read the NCAA Homeschool Information sheet and click here to read the NCAA Homeschool FAQ (which also applies to virtual schools such as K12).

And, as of last week, the NCAA has put K12 under a 2-year Extended Review that could require students to demonstrate that a specific course (or courses) provided adequate engagement by the student and the teacher, and that the student achieved “college readiness” as a result of taking the course.  Please note, though, that this Extended Review only applies to students who are seeking eligibility from the NCAA to play a Division 1 or Division 2 varsity sport in college – it does not apply to Division 3, NAIA, or junior colleges, nor does it apply to non-athletes seeking admission to a college through regular (non-sport) channels.

K12’s official stance on the review is as follows:

“K12 courses have met the NCAA standards for years and, we believe, K12 courses continue to meet these standards.  However, during this extended review period, individual K12 courses completed by students will need to be reviewed by the NCCA Eligibility Center.

Our K12 counselors, advisors, and school leaders are prepared to work closely with every family to ensure all necessary information and documentation on K12 courses are provided to demonstrate they meet the eligibility requirements.

While we are confident K12 courses meet eligibility standards, the final decision will be made by NCAA on a case by case basis.   Therefore, we cannot guarantee that every course successfully completed by a student will be accepted by NCAA.”

If your child is currently enrolled in a K12 high school program, please contact your particular school’s administration to find out what steps you and your child need to take in order to ensure NCAA eligibility.  The administrators are all well-trained in helping families overcome this hiccup in the college application process.

I have emailed Mark Emmert, current President of NCAA, to ask for clarification on the potential impact this “extended review” could have on current and future K12 students.  I will update this post once I hear back from him or someone in the Eligibility Department, so stay tuned . . .