How To Use Ratings & Rankings

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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.

Commitment

Morgan TRN page

 

It’s been a long and often grueling process, but – in case you’ve missed all my posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (!) – I’m thrilled to announce that my son has committed to attend and play tennis for Santa Clara University beginning next Fall!

He has been dead-set on attending school in California for quite a while now. Yes, there were a couple of schools in Florida on his list, but Cali won his heart last December when he first set foot on the courts of the LA Tennis Center on the UCLA campus. The weather, the energy, the level of competition, the access to professional players – all of it felt like home to him.

The only part of California we were really familiar with was the SoCal area. My husband was born and raised in Los Angeles. He and I both went to college (and he also went to law school) there. Our first two children were born there. And our oldest daughter wound up moving there for college and has since made her home there. So, naturally, my son’s college search focused on the schools in and around LA.

About 2 months ago, though, it became apparent that things weren’t moving forward with the SoCal schools as we had hoped. While my son was getting offers from schools near our home in Atlanta, those weren’t schools he was interested in attending. He was focused 100% on getting to California, so it was time to expand the search northward.

He reached out to Ross Greenstein, who has been an unbelievable resource for all of us, to get suggestions of other schools to contact. He also reached out to Grant Chen, another unbelievable resource, for input. Between the two, they sparked an interest in University of the Pacific and Santa Clara University, both about an hour from San Francisco. My son emailed the two head coaches asking for a time to talk by phone and wound up having great conversations with each of them. They each invited him to come on an official visit, which he took last week right before Thanksgiving (click here to read my post on that).

My son arrived home from NorCal late Monday night completely exhausted from his trip. He had spent 48 hours on each campus, meeting the coaches and hanging out with the team. He went to a class at Pacific, went to parties at both schools, and managed to squeeze in some tennis in between since he was getting himself ready for the National Selection L2 starting the day after Thanksgiving. It was a lot, and he was feeling the effects.

As I had promised myself, I resisted the urge to ask a lot of questions the night he got home. The next night, though, we sat down as a family and talked about his experiences at each school, what he liked and didn’t like, and came up with a few more questions that needed answers.

I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by the mature approach my son was taking to this entire process. Without my prodding, he had already written thank-you notes to both coaches. He had also come up with a list of pros and cons for each school which he discussed with us. But, he was still struggling over making a choice between the two.

The next day was pretty low-key. My son was on Thanksgiving break from school, so he arranged some match play for the morning while I spent my time in the kitchen preparing our early Thanksgiving dinner. Throughout the day, though, my son would come in to share a text exchange he was having with Ross or Grant and to discuss more details about his visits. He was hashing through his thoughts and feelings in a way that showed me he was up to the challenge of reaching the right decision without too much input from me or my husband. He simply needed us to be patient and supportive, so that’s what we tried to be.

On Thursday, my son and I packed up the car and headed to Alabama for the tournament. He talked and I listened. And listened. And listened. That night at dinner, he talked some more. I listened some more. And then I had an AHA! moment.

While he loved both schools, there were a few big differences between them, and one stood out above the rest. At Pacific, my son would be going in with a possibility of playing in the top half of the lineup; at Santa Clara, he would be fighting for a spot altogether. In my mind, why wouldn’t he want to go where he knew with certainty that he’d be playing? He’s been saying through this whole process that he didn’t want to go to a school and sit on the bench. I figured he was going to choose Pacific, no question.

Here’s where my son truly surprised me . . . he chose Santa Clara, knowing full well he’s going to have to work his tail off to earn the right to play. He wants to have to prove himself. He wants to work hard. He wants to show the coach and his teammates what he’s made of.

At first, I didn’t get it. Why make life harder for yourself? Why not choose the school where you know you’ll be a valuable addition from Day One?

Then it hit me. My son has always been the kid who had to work harder than his peers. He’s never been the coach’s pet or the star of the academy. He thrives on the challenge of overcoming underestimation.

So, Santa Clara it is. He’s going to be a Bronco. And he’s going to have to work harder than ever to earn his spot in the top 6. He’ll be one of 6 American freshmen on the team next Fall, all of whom are hungry to play, and all of whom will be competing against the 3 remaining Bronco upperclassmen for that privilege.

For now, he’s focusing on getting through his senior year of high school and becoming a better competitor. He’s reaching out to his fellow recruits and starting to form those bonds that will take him through his college tennis years and beyond. And he’s already ordered loads of Bronco gear so he can start representing Santa Clara University with pride.

And me? Well, I’m reaching out to people I know in and around Santa Clara to make sure I have a place to stay and people to sit with when I go cheer on the team. I’m researching local restaurants and shopping spots. I’m plotting how to finagle a trip to the Wine Country on one of my visits. And I’m reveling in Parental Pride over how my son handled himself during this crazy stressful recruiting process.

A couple of years ago, Ross told me things would work out the way they’re supposed to IF I could just let go and let the process unfold. I didn’t believe him at first. I wanted to stay in control. Looking back now, I’m so glad I trusted him and his advice. My son has grown and matured in ways I never could have imagined. I’ve done some growing, too. This growth should serve us both very well.

Go Broncos!

Let’s See How This Is Playing Out

About a year ago, I published an article titled Quota Insanity written by well-known journalist/broadcaster Antonio Mora. In that piece, Antonio predicted that the quota-only system of entry into national tournaments would lead to meaningless events with meaningless outcomes because the draws would leave out many of the country’s top-ranked players. Turns out, Antonio is a pretty good prognosticator. Just take a look at what’s happening in next weekend’s Closed Regional tournaments around the US and how these level 4 selections are predictive of what’s going to happen for the summer super nationals. How can you call these credible national events when a kid ranked 1736 is getting in at the expense of a kid ranked in the 200’s?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case those numbers aren’t enough for you, here’s a breakdown of all 4 Closed Regionals showing the rankings of the last players gaining direct entry alongside the rankings of the first alternates in each age group (12s weren’t included since many of the draws didn’t fill). This information came from looking at the selection process tab on TennisLink for each age group. Those kids accepted off their sectional list have an [Age Group] SEL next to their names, and alternates have a yellow dot next to theirs. In some cases it appears sections had aging up allowances and so some very low ranked kids got in from the age group below, but I ignored those kids and only counted ones who gained acceptance from their natural age group.

Last Accepted First Alternates
Boys 14 1575 234
1536 297
1485 351
1415 376
Boys 16 1874 329
1370 365
1306 423
1248 433
Boys 18 1990 384
1941 406
1732 430
1678 440
Girls 14 1510 368
1404 382
1379 405
1304 491
Girls 16 1609 381
1449 389
1432 391
1412 438
Girls 18 1706 358
1552 360
1530 397
1450 440

These are now National tournaments with no credibility whatsoever. We are going to see the same thing this summer for our national championship events. Maybe not quite this extreme, but the lists are going to look ridiculous and the kids left out are going to have a fit, and rightly so – this will have a huge impact on the Tennis Recruiting rankings as well as those from USTA.

Let me add that my son decided NOT to enter our Closed Regional because, looking at his current ranking, he didn’t think he had a chance of getting into the draw. Turns out he definitely would have gotten in and had the opportunity to gain some significant ranking points. How are parents and coaches supposed to guide these young players appropriately when the selections seem so random?

I have reached out to Lew Brewer and Andrea Norman at USTA asking for a comment but haven’t received anything yet. Once I do hear something, I’ll update this post so please check back later today. I’m hoping they can shed some light for us.

UPDATE 10:07pm 2/11/14 I received the following from Lew Brewer, USTA Director of Junior Competition: “It’s a bit too soon to make any sort of judgment about these events.  The Junior Competition Committee will be doing a full analysis of these events and will be discussing this at the USTA Annual Meeting in the next few weeks.” I still haven’t heard back from Andrea Norman.

 

 

 

It’s That Time Again

starrating

I just received notice from TennisRecruitingNetwork that its 2014 Winter Star Rating Period will begin the week of January 6 and run through the week of February 24. That means that your child’s rating for the next 6 months will be based on his/her results over this 8-week period.

For a refresher on how TennisRecruiting calculates rankings and star ratings, I’ve copy-and-pasted my previous piece from June 2012 below. Please read and share with your child and his/her coach. Good luck to all our junior players!

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.

Interviews at the US Open – Noah Rubin

noahrubin

 

If you follow high-level junior tennis in the US, you know who Noah Rubin is. Besides being the son of the fabulous Melanie Rubin – whose name you should recognize from the coverage she did for ParentingAces at Kalamazoo – he is also the brother of recent college grad, Jessie Rubin (she played for Binghamton University in New York) as well as the top recruit for the Class of 2014 on TennisRecruiting.net. His first match in the Junior US Open is later today though he did play in the Qualifier for the adult tournament, too. Good luck, Noah!

Noah Rubin

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.

Alternatives to USTA Tournaments

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I was having a phone conversation with another tennis parent yesterday – we were discussing all the stuff going on with USTA (2014 changes, 10-and-under mandate, cost of competition, issues with wildcards, cheating, etc.) and what we could do as parents of junior players to get away from it all. We both agreed that our goal as Tennis Parents is to keep our kids playing as long as possible while maintaining their love of the game (and not going broke in the process!) – a huge challenge, to be sure.

Then, this morning, I read an article on 11-year-old Florida player, Adam Neff, and the resources that his parents have provided for him at their home – 3 tennis courts in the backyard, one with imported Italian red clay, a hyperbaric chamber, a full-time coach – and I had to wonder if that’s what it takes to develop a successful tennis player . . .

Then it occurred to me that, for (I’m guessing here – no stats to back this up!) a majority of junior players who are playing in tournaments now, success is gauged by their eventual opportunities to play in college at some level.  Of course, many kids dream of turning pro, but, at some point, they realize that’s a huge stretch and that life will probably take them in a different direction, one in which tennis will always play a part we hope.  So, in terms of college-playing opportunities, what’s the difference between being ranked #50 or #100 or #150 in the juniors?  Does the #50 player get that many more scholarship offers than #100?  Is it really worth playing the Rankings Race Game or is your time (and money) better spent finding good opponents and good matches so you get better at competing?  If college tennis is the goal, then shouldn’t the aim of training during the junior years be to develop into the strongest competitor possible so coaches will want you on their team?  And, aren’t there ways other than playing gobs and gobs of USTA junior tournaments to achieve that aim?

Let’s look at some of the options . . .

  • League tennis: Playing on a team with your friends, boys and girls, is fun.  You get to cheer for each other, you have that team spirit thing going for you, you learn what it’s like to play for something bigger than just yourself.  Isn’t that a big part of college tennis, too?  Typically, league tennis, at least where I live, tends to be more recreational in nature and not really geared toward competitive players, but it is still a great way to learn how to be part of a team.
  • High School tennis: See “League tennis” above but add to that a nice way to develop an identity at school, especially if you go to a big high school where kids tend to get lost in the shuffle if they don’t do something to stand out, either in academics, sports, the arts, or some other way.
  • Little Mo: Open to US players ages 8-11, these yellow ball, full court tournaments are held nationwide with regional winners competing for the national title.  Little Mo recently added international competition, too, open to any player worldwide ages 8-12.
  • Adult “Open” tournaments: For a kid with little or no competition nearby in his/her own age group, adult tournaments are always an option.  These events pose their own challenges for junior players (what adult wants to be beaten by a 12 year old?), but they can be a great developmental tool for kids who are looking to take their game to a higher level.
  • ITF tournaments: This is a tough route to take, especially if you want to attend traditional school, since the tournaments run during the week and since we have very few ITFs in the US during the summer when kids are usually out of school [see my How ITF Junior Tournaments Work post for more info].  But, if you’re homeschooled and have the financial resources to travel, ITFs will expose you to players from all over the world, showing you what you’ll face at the collegiate or even professional level.
  • Tennis Recruiting’s National Showcase Series: While these are USTA-sponsored tournaments, they’re not all sanctioned for all players (it depends on whether or not you play within your own section).  With all the craziness and limitations around national play coming in 2014, the TRN events are a great way to play kids outside your section and still impact your TRN star rating, even if they don’t affect your USTA ranking.
  • ITA Summer Circuit: I love these events!  They’re held on college campuses across the country during the summer, and the winners of the regional events go on to play for a national title.  The tournaments are open to any ITA member, so juniors are welcome to join and compete.

Am I missing anything?  If so, please let me know so I can add to the list.  The point is that, for those who are frustrated or fed up with all the rule changes and schedule changes from USTA, there are some excellent alternatives out there.  We can all still keep our kids developing and playing at the appropriate level, regardless of what’s happening with our national governing body.