Bonus Points Update

After all the confusion over the Bonus Points awarded during the first new 2014 L3 event in January, I contacted the TennisLink division of Active.com to try to find out what was going on. USTA told us that it was a technical issue with the software (see the Comments under the Bonus Points article for details), so I figured TennisLink could shed some light on the problem. However, the email response I received from TennisLink directed me to Lew Brewer, USTA’s national Director of Junior Competition. I promptly emailed Lew asking him for information. He replied, thanking me for my email and directing me to a page on USTA’s website, www.usta.com/Youth-Tennis/Junior-Competition/players_and_parents/(by the way, you might want to bookmark that page to keep track of any future updates).

According to that web page, “Due to an unforeseen technical difficulty, implementation of the new 2014 Bonus Point table has been delayed.  Until the technical issue is resolved, players will earn Bonus Points using the 2013 Bonus Point Table.  When the issue is resolved all Bonus Points earned in 2014 will be updated using the new 2014 Bonus Point table.  All Bonus Points earned in 2013 will remain unchanged before and after the delay.”

I do find it interesting, however, that our Southern Section managed to award the proper Bonus Points after the January L3 tournament just a couple of days after the tournament ended. I believe other sections were able to as well. So, what is this “technical difficulty” at the National office and why can’t they resolve it? Who does it really affect? Were there some players whose rankings were negatively impacted under the 2014 Bonus Point schedule who maybe wouldn’t get into the February Closed Regional or National Selection tournament if those 2014 points applied?

I would love to hear from y’all about your personal experience with the Bonus Point reversal. Was your child impacted in a positive or a negative way? Did it make a difference in terms of getting into your Closed Regional or National Selection event?

There are still some unanswered questions in my mind. I’m hoping someone from USTA’s national office will comment here and help us understand exactly what’s going on with these pesky Bonus Point tables and the software required to get them right.

 

2014 Rule Changes

rulesAbout 10 days ago, I emailed Donna Bailey who is on the committee to write Friend At Court (click here for the current version) to ask her where someone might find out about any changes made to the tennis rule book at the start of a new calendar year. She advised me that changes are listed at the beginning of the print version handed out each year (yes, I emailed her a follow-up question to find out exactly where we can pick up our copy and will let y’all know as soon as I hear back from her*) as well as on the USTA Officials webpage.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for you and your child to have a working knowledge of these rules. We have faced several situations over the years where my son has been called upon to quote Friend At Court to an on-court official when a conflict has arisen. Please be sure to show these changes to your junior player and make sure he/she understands how to apply them in a match situation. Share this information with your junior tennis contacts so everyone walks onto the court playing by the same rules.

To save y’all the frustration of trying to locate the information on the USTA site, here is what’s posted for 2014:

Summary of Important Changes for 2014 Edition of Friend at Court

  • ITF Rules of Tennis

[p. 4] New USTA Comment 1.2 explains the proper positioning for singles sticks on a court.

[p. 11] USTA Comment 15.1 addresses the question of whether both members of the receiving team may position themselves in the deuce court on the first point of a set. Since players may stand anywhere on the court, the answer was changed from “no” to “yes.” The underlying rationale of the answer remains the same—the spirit of Rule 15 gives the server the right to know which member of the receiving team will receive serve the first point of a set or 10-Point Match Tiebreak.

[p. 20] New USTA Comment 26.7 explains that a player may not claim a hindrance when the player leaves the Playing Area to return a ball and someone or something on the adjacent court (such as a player or ball) interferes with the player.

[p. 24] New USTA Comment 27.12 explains what to do when players were supposed to play a 7-Point Set Tiebreak and they mistakenly started playing a 10-Point Match Tiebreak.

[p. 24] USTA Comment 27.13 deals with the situation when the players are supposed to play a Coman Tiebreak but instead start playing a conventional tiebreak. The answer was changed to conform with Rule 27b, which requires the mistake to be corrected immediately.

[p. 27] New USTA Comment 30.3 provides officials a sensitive way to address situations involving suspected coaching in a language that the official does not understand.

[p. 27] The ITF added new Rule 31 to provide a framework to players to use “player analysis technology.” The term, which is defined in new Appendix III.[p. 31], applies to “smart” equipment such as rackets and clothing that are capable of collecting, storing, analyzing, and transmitting data. Such equipment must be approved for play by the ITF in accordance with its Review and Hearing Procedures described in Appendix X. The prohibition on coaching during the match circumscribes the use of the information during the match.

[p. 38] Appendix VII, which describes 10 and under Competition, now includes a provision that allows Timed Matches.

  • xiThe Code

[p. 51] A sentence was added to Code 32 that states that when players cannot agree on the side from which a disputed point started, the players should toss a coin to select the side. A corresponding revision was added to FAC Comment VII.A-1 [p. 143] and FAC Comment VII.D-1 [p. 156].

  • USTA Regulations

[p. 61] Examples on how to properly record scores of a match using a short set format were added to USTA Regulation I.E.3.

[pp. 71, 74] USTA Regulation II.A.1. contains a revised list of tournaments and events that the Director of USTA Junior Competition or his designee seeds pursuant to USTA Regulation IX.A.4. The list reflects the new USTA Junior National Tournament structure.

[p. 98] Revised FAC Comment II.D-3 includes a reference to consolation match formats and how their formats affect minimum rest periods as an additional factor for a Referee to consider in scheduling matches in Junior tournaments.

[p. 122] New USTA Regulation IV.D.15. provides that an off-court official has a reasonable amount of time to reach the court to impose a penalty under the Point Penalty System even if one or more intervening points have been played by the time the official arrives. Any intervening points played stand as played.

[p. 142] New USTA Regulation VI.G.provides a framework for the use of Red, Orange, and Green Ball Tennis in Adult and Senior Division events.

[pp. 171 et seq.] USTA Regulation IX was updated to reflect significant changes to the USTA Junior National Tournament structure and schedule. The following new Tables were added in USTA Regulation IX: [p. 182] Table 19 (Sectional Associations’ Minimum Quota and Total Quota for USTA National Championships); [p. 184] Table 20 (Singles Draw Format for USTA National Championships); [p. 187] Table 22 (Selection Process for USTA National Masters); [p. 188] Table 23 (Selection Process for National Sweet Sixteen); [p. 191] Table 24(Selection Process for USTA National Selection Tournaments); [p. 192] Table 25 (Regions for Closed USTA Regional Tournaments);[p. 194] Table 26 (Draw Formats for Closed USTA Regional Tournaments); [p. 195] Table 27 (Selection Process for Open USTA Regional Tournaments); [p. 196] Table 28 (Draw Formats for Open USTA Regional Tournaments); [p. 197] Table 29 (Selection Process for USTA National Spring Team Championships); and [p. 202] Table 33 (Ranking Levels or Sectional Ranking Tournaments).

xii[p. 206] USTA Regulation X.A.1.b.ii and FAC Comment X.A-1 were amended to double the potential number of Category I USTA National Championships in the Mixed divisions by adding 25s, 45s, 55s, 65s, and 75s.

[pp. 211-212] USTA Regulation X.E was revised to add several new categories of National Ranking Tournaments in the Adult, Senior, and Family Divisions, including:
• ITF tournaments held in the United States;
• Category III USTA Tournaments; and
• Adult/Senior Team Events.

[p. 216] New USTA Regulation X.J. and FAC Comment X.J-1were added to provide greater transparency and clarity as to the eligibility criteria and selection process for representing the USTA at ITF international team competitions in the Adult and Senior Divisions.

[p. 235] USTA Regulation XVII.D.3 was amended to update the sanction fees for USTA National Tournaments.

[pp. 244-245] Amended USTA Regulation XIX shortens the process and procedure by which the Association considers proposed changes to USTA Regulations. The change returns the Association to the one-step process it followed before 2012.

*Per Donna Bailey: All certified officials for 2014 will receive through the mail a Friend At Court, at no charge to them, by the end of January each year. Anyone else can contact Net Knack Tennis Awards and Gifts (I don’t know the price) and they will sell them a book. People can copy the book off the USTA website under Officials (it takes a lot of paper if you copy the whole book).

Note from Lisa: the 2014 Friend At Court is not yet available from NetKnacks.com but the 2013 version costs $6.75

 

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.

More Slashing of Opportunities

slashing swordIn case you haven’t heard (!), USTA changed the national junior competition schedule, effective January 1, 2014.  A big reason for the change, according to USTA, is to drive competition back to the sections instead of having so many big national tournaments requiring travel all over the country.

Those opposed to the changes, including Yours Truly, kept asking USTA what it was doing to ensure the sections would step up and fill in the gaps.  We never got a clear answer.

And, now, that which we feared – that sections would not take on that task but would actually slash competitive opportunities instead – has come to fruition.

I found out this week that the Southern California section is taking a big step in that direction (click here to read the information posted on its website which includes a link to a Comment form where you can share your opinion before the plan is finalized).  Traditionally, all SoCal “designated” tournaments (comparable to our Bullfrogs in the Southern section) have had open draws.  That is, any player who signed up got to play.  And many of the age groups wound up with 128 or 256 draws played over two consecutive weekends.  However, beginning January 1, 2014, Southern Cal will limit its designated draws to either 96 or 64 players (I’m still not clear on how they’ll make that decision for each event), in essence eliminating the opportunity to compete at that level for hundreds of juniors.

The reasons SCTA gives for the reduction in draw size have to do with weather delays (it rains, on average, 16 days a year in Southern California), lack of enough large facilities, and difficulty in completing the large draws over two weekends – all valid reasons. However, the fact that these reductions come at the very same time as the reduction in national play opportunities under the 2014 changes seems short-sighted.  Isn’t this the time that sections should be increasing opportunities to compensate for what’s happening at the national level?

Interesting to note is the fact that a member of the 2013-2014 National Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee (the one responsible for passing the new 2014 national schedule) also chairs the committee in the SoCal section responsible for these designated tournament draw reductions.  She obviously understands that the sections are supposed to be picking up the slack left by the national reductions; however, instead of making sure her section added competitive opportunities for its players, she pushed through this major slashing of opportunities in her own backyard.  I just don’t get it!

To put things in perspective, at this year’s Southern California Anaheim Designated, 166 boys and 105 girls would not have gotten to play if the SCTA had limited the tournament to a 64 draw.  And the Boys 16s are going to be hit the hardest since that is typically the group with the largest number of players. The 16s is usually the first age group where college coaches are watching players to scout out future recruits. What will these reductions do to the chances for the kids “on the bubble” in terms of being seen by these coaches?

Let’s also consider the issue of players who are trying to prepare for aging up to the next division.  I’ve been told that the SoCal section is trying to figure out how to accommodate juniors who are in that situation, but, for now, there is nothing on the SCTA website to indicate there will be spots in the draws for these players.  I hope that changes before the smaller draws take effect.

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?

 

 

Where Do My Tournament Fees Actually Go?

flying-dollar-bills

A question was recently posted on Twitter that caught my attention: Approximately what percentage of the entry fee goes to the host site in USTA junior tournaments?  It’s a question I’ve been pondering for quite some time, especially since all this talk started about cutting draws at tournaments and the impact that would have on Tournament Directors and local communities.  So, I contacted my local and sectional USTA junior tennis staff members as well as some tournament directors who run local, sectional, and national events and asked them to answer a few questions for me.  Here’s what I found out . . .

1. For sanctioned tournaments, how much does the tournament director pay to USTA for sanctioning fees?  Do those same fees apply to non-sanctioned events?

These fees vary by section and by district.  In order to host a Georgia-sanctioned tournament, there is a $35.00 sanctioning fee per event plus a head tax of $.50 per player.  For National Level 1 events, the fee is $100 per age group.  For National Level 2 and Level 3 events, the fee is $100 per tournament.  For Southern Sectional events, the fee is $35 (plus Active fees).

For a non-sanctioned tournament in Georgia, the fee is $100 per age group plus the head tax which varies based on the level of tournament.

2.  Who pays for officials?  Is it the Tournament Director?  If so, is there a set daily fee?

The tournament pays for everything, though at some of the bigger events, USTA may contribute toward the costs of running the tournament.  And USTA mandates the required number of officials based on the level of the tournament.  Every community is different with regard to umpire fees.  Some do a flat rate, some a per hour rate, some a mixture of both.   The rates vary as well, anywhere from $12/hour on up.  Tournaments are also responsible for hotel rooms and travel expenses, and sometimes meals for the officials, again depending on locale.  Nothing is standard. There are no volunteer officials.  They are all paid.  It is important to note that the Tournament Director may not also be the Tournament Referee.

3.  Who pays for tournament gifts (t-shirts, towels, water bottles, etc)?

The tournament pays for everything.

4.  Who pays for trophies or other awards?

Typically, the tournament pays for everything.  However, at certain larger events, like our own Southern Closed, USTA may provide the awards and player gifts.

5.  Who pays for court fees?  Balls?

The tournament pays for everything.  Court costs are dependent on location.  What’s interesting to note here is that, while the cost of balls has gone up in recent years, sanctioning fees and tournament entry fees have basically stayed stagnant, cutting into the profit margin.

6.  Does the tournament director have a say over how many days an event can last?  Does he/she have a say over draw size?  Does he/she have a say over whether the tourney includes both singles and doubles?

Most events fall into categories or levels and those levels or categories determine pretty much everything from draw size to length of play.

State, Sectional, and National events have specific regulations for specific events, so it’s pretty much cookie-cutter.  All events of the same designations (e.g. a National Open, or Southern Bullfrog, or GA Level 3) should all be the same, unless the individual sanctioning authority makes an exception.

In Georgia, Level 4 events have some choices since there has to be room for “regular” tournaments.  It’s up to the tournament to determine which age group events they want to hold, if they have doubles or not, the court surface, whether or not to provide certain amenities, etc.

The sanction period is still determined by USTA Georgia.  The length of the tournament, the number of events, and the courts available are all considerations in setting the draw size.   The USTA Georgia Sanction and Schedule Committee has to approve the details, including draw size.

In recent years, USTA Georgia has been disincentivizing tournament directors from offering doubles by charging an additional head tax on each doubles team plus mandating that trophies are provided for first and second place finishers in each age group, thereby increasing expenses and reducing net profit for the tournament directors.  The additional tournament fee of $3.00 for doubles goes directly to TennisLink as opposed to the tournament itself.

7.  Is there an additional fee for having a tourney listed on TennisLink?

No.  That’s part of being a USTA sanctioned event.  (I’m not sure about Unsanctioned events, but I  assume the only reason to have one listed is to take advantage of the entry system.)

8.  Does the $3.00 TennisLink fee go to USTA or TennisLink or the tourney director or someone else?

TennisLink is administered by Active.com under contract with USTA.  The fee is retained by Active.com for their services and is therefore non-refundable.

————

USTA sets minimum and maximum tournament fees that can be charged.  It also specifies how many trophies are to be awarded in each age group.  In order to host a tournament, the tournament director must be part of a USTA member club or organization.

If there’s a day or two of bad weather, that can drastically cut into the tournament’s profit.  Officials are expected to stay on duty during rain delays, increasing the overall expense in that column of the balance sheet.  If bad weather persists, sometimes the director decides to move the matches indoors, increasing court costs for the event, too.

Some tournament directors rely on volunteers to staff the tournament desk and to perform other duties over the course of the event.  Others, though, prefer to hire paid staff, again increasing expenses and decreasing their profitability.

The key, it seems, to running a profitable tournament is finding some sort of sponsor to help offset the costs outlined above.  We recently went to a Southern Level 3 tournament in South Carolina sponsored by Dunlop.  Not only were the players treated to a really nice long-sleeved tournament t-shirt, but they were also each given a reel (not just a packet!) of string.  In addition, the tournament provided complimentary lunch for the players at each tournament site both days of the event.

I was hoping to be able to give you a hard-numbers breakdown, but there are so many variables in terms of related expenses that it’s really impossible to do that.  The bottom line is that very little money goes to USTA from junior tournaments.  The vast majority of the revenue goes directly into the tournament’s bank account with all related expenses coming out of that same account.  While some of the larger national events turn a sizable profit for the tournament director, most local and sectional tournaments wind up being a very small source of income for those running them.  Some directors have figured out ways to reduce costs, such as ordering t-shirts in bulk for the entire year and doing the same with trophies.  While a great cost-cutting measure, having the same shirt or same trophy at every tournament can eliminate the unique personality that many tournaments (like the old Bowls) try to develop.  Ultimately, though, a tournament’s success is gauged NOT by its profit or loss but rather by the satisfaction of the players and their families and their willingness to return year after year.

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.