The folks at Universal Tennis Rating are making it even easier to find the right fit when it comes to college recruiting.
UTR Fit is a new feature added this week – you can quickly search for all college teams where a college-bound junior’s UTR is above the college team’s number 6 player. You can further filter the search by Gender, State, Division, Conference, and Public vs. Private universities.
NOTE:Be sure to read all the way to the bottom of this article for a very special offer from UTR for ParentingAces readers!
While the Universal Tennis site shows the ratings of all players on a team’s roster, college coaches don’t necessarily field their lineups in order of UTR, so Fit isn’t a perfect tool in terms of determining where a junior might play in the actual lineup. Also, as recruiting consultant Oscar Miranda points out, most college coaches aren’t looking to recruit a #6 player; rather, they are looking to recruit players for the middle to top of their lineup. In that sense, juniors are better off looking for colleges where their own UTR falls somewhere toward the middle of a team’s top 6 players. So, while the current UTR Fit tool doesn’t specifically allow you to search for the average playing roster’s UTR – just as the UTR Fit doesn’t specifically return teams where a junior’s UTR would project them potentially in the top/number 1 position (though wouldn’t that be a great feature for future iterations?!?!), the Fit tool can narrow the field for junior players and help them target the best schools based on their own playing ability and that of the existing team members. Take it from me, with over 1000 college tennis programs out there, having the ability to narrow the field is a huge advantage during the recruiting process!
I asked Bruce Waschuk, CEO of Universal Tennis, a few questions to help clarify how the new Fit feature can best be used:
Lisa: What was the impetus behind adding the Fit feature to the UTR website?
Bruce: Our Team at Universal Tennis is always looking to improve our services and the functionality of the UTR system in an effort to promote level-based play. We believe that if event organizers can improve their ability to group similar levels of tennis players together, that the participants will more likely enjoy their matches, and improve their tennis skills faster.
Although the UTR system was not designed to be a college recruiting system, we understand that hundreds of college coaches use UTRs to determine if a prospective student-athlete is at the appropriate playing level for their team. And in turn, thousands of juniors, and their parents, use the UTR as a measuring stick to determine if college tennis is for them, and which teams a recruit would be a good playing level fit.
Our developers just added a new UTR Fit feature to our system, that allows someone to see within seconds, if their UTR would be at a high enough level to make the starting lineup of a college roster. The College Search report allows UTR Premium Plus subscribers the ability to see all the schools where their UTR is above the level of the sixth highest UTR roster player. From here, the subscriber can filter the school listing by state, public/private, conference and division.
Each college coach will have their own criteria for what they are looking for in a recruit, as well as the UTR level the prospect should be. We believe the UTR Fit tool provides a very quick reality check when setting level of play expectations a junior may have when starting to plan for college tennis.
Lisa: At what point in their junior careers do you recommend players begin relying on this feature to help them with their college search?
Bruce: We’re not in the position to say when a junior should start planning for college tennis, as our Team isn’t focused on the college recruiting process. This is one of the reasons we enjoy reading the many articles on this subject that get posted on your ParentingAces.com website. However, we would recommend the following article to help juniors better understand what type of college tennis experience best suits their interests: “Right Team, but Wrong Guy—How making the starting lineup can backfire” by Eric Butorac
Lisa: What tools do you see UTR adding in the future to make the college search easier and more reliable for juniors?
Bruce: We are working on a variety of tools and services that should help juniors enjoy tennis more through level-based play, chart their development, and show off their game to college coaches.
A few of these include:
UTR Events: Expect many more events in 2017 where juniors can play against current college players within a level-based event.
UTR Doubles: Our new individual rating based on doubles results will be released within weeks. Doubles is kind of important for college tennis.
Player Profiles: We just introduced the ability for UTR subscribers to claim their player profile. Lots of new profile features are planned, which will provide notifications, alerts, and communication among other UTR profiles, including college teams.
Video: The online world is embracing video at a rapid pace. The UTR system is planning to accommodate links to matches for parents to watch their kids, coaches to provide match play feedback, and college coaches to be able to quickly view prospective recruits.
College recruiting is difficult and complicated with rules that seem to change every year. The more tools junior players have at their fingertips to help avoid making a bad choice, the better. UTR Fit is a great addition to a player’s recruiting arsenal.
Now, as promised, here is a great offer for y’all from UTR (just click on the graphic below to go directly to the offer). Be sure to take advantage quickly as it expires the end of February!
For the past I-don’t-know-how-many years, we’ve all been conditioned to look for tournaments on TennisLink or the ITF Juniors site, right? Well, it’s time to change how we search for and select tournaments for our junior players.
With the widespread popularity of UTR events (click here for an in-depth explanation of UTR and how it works), many of which are not USTA-sanctioned, we all need to get into the habit of going to UTR’s tournament website, too, when planning our junior (and college) player’s competition schedule. There are some incredible events popping up around the world that use UTR for selection and seeding and that use UTR’s back-end software as well (that’s what we used for #TheSol). Because these events are NOT sanctioned by USTA (which simply means the tournament director did not apply for sanctioning, and, therefore, the results won’t count toward the players’ Points Per Round ranking), they will not appear on TennisLink. The results will, however, count toward the players’ rating on Universal Tennis which is being used more and more by college coaches during the recruiting process.
For those of you new to UTR, here’s how the tournament page works:
Register your player(s) with UTR by clicking here. Click the box to accept the UTR Terms & Conditions, then click SIGN UP. Easy peasy! You also have the option to proceed as a Guest if you just want to see what it’s all about! Note: if you are registering more than one player, you will need to use a different email address for each one. Also, be sure your name, city, and state are identical to those displayed on your UTR rating page.
Once you’ve registered, you will go directly to the list of tournaments where you can search by country, state, and date. You can also search by tournament name if you know it.
When you identify a tournament that is of interest, click on VISIT TOURNAMENT to go to that event’s web page. There you’ll be able to find more detail on the event such as types of divisions, a list of players (if the tournament director has chosen to reveal it – it’s up to each TD to make that choice), draws once they’re posted, and any updates on the tournament itself.
To register for a UTR tournament, simply click on the REGISTER FOR THIS EVENT tab at the top right of the tournament page. At that point, if you haven’t already registered your player in the UTR tournament system, you’ll be prompted to do so before you can register for the specific event. There is NO COST to add your player to the UTR tournament system. There will be a cost, however, to register for the tournament itself. You’ll then be redirected to the tournament entry page where you’ll check which divisions you’re entering, add any contact information required, check the box to agree to the terms and conditions, then click on REGISTER FOR THIS TOURNAMENT at the bottom of the page. Next, you’ll be prompted to enter your payment info, and, voila, you’re done!
One of the features I really like about the UTR tournament system is the tournament director’s ability to email all the players with any updates or changes. As a parent, I always found it frustrating that the onus was on me to continually check a tournament’s TennisLink page to find out if the draws had been posted or if my son’s site had been changed or for any of a number of other important bits of information. With UTR, the TD simply has to click a button to email all entrants, making it very simple to keep the lines of communication open.
I realize it takes time to build new habits, but I encourage all of you to bookmark the UTR tournament page and get used to checking it on a regular basis for new events in and around your area. UTR is here to stay and is offering some real positive alternatives to the status quo in junior competition. Let me know once you’ve tried the site – I’d love to hear your feedback. I’m already a big fan!
I don’t even know where to begin in writing about this past weekend’s Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In tournament . . . aka #TheSol. I find myself at a loss for words as I attempt to describe exactly what transpired in Pikesville, MD at the Suburban Club. It was a junior tennis tournament, yes, but I feel as though we experienced something way beyond your typical weekend of matches.
I’m not going to re-tell my Sol stories here – y’all can read my previous posts and listen to my podcasts to get a feel for who Sol Schwartz was and why we wanted to create a tournament in his honor. I guess the best thing to do is simply to recount the weekend to the best of my ability and hope that those who were present will chime in with Comments to add depth of meaning to what was surely the most special tournament I’ve ever attended.
I arrived in Baltimore on Friday afternoon, and Melanie Rubin, who was part of the planning committee, picked me up on her drive in from Long Island, NY. We went directly to the Suburban Club to check out the space and figure out how best to set up for the weekend. After hanging our tournament and sponsor banners, we grabbed a quick (albeit very late!) lunch at Panera (how appropriate given the hundreds if not thousands of meals I ate there during my son’s junior tennis years!) before meeting Sol’s sisters-in-law, Laurie and Sherri, back at Suburban to complete the player goody bags and figure out our strategy for the next morning’s tournament check-in. Melanie and I had our stuff spread out all over the pro shop but finally got organized to the point where we felt comfortable leaving for the night. We stopped by our hotel to check in and unpack, grabbed dinner at a local sushi spot, then both fell asleep to the sights and sounds of the Olympics on tv.
The next morning we got up early to dress, eat breakfast in the hotel lobby, and get to Suburban before the players started to arrive. When we got to the club, there were already a few players warming up on the courts, and Sol’s mother-in-law, Ina, was waiting for us outside the pro shop. Once Eric, the staffer on duty, arrived to open up, we got to work with tournament director Salman Bader from UTR organizing the draws, player credentials, goody bags, t-shirts, and drinks. As each player checked in, Ina was in charge of handing out their credentials, I checked them off the player list, and Melanie handed them their goody bag and tournament shirt. They were then free to go warm up or just hang out and wait to be called for their first match.
Let me talk about the player goody bags for a moment . . .
These were NOT your usual junior tournament player gift! Here’s what every player got – inside of a racket-sized nylon backpack from Holabird Sports:
Full-color player book
Under Armour socks
$10 Holabird gift card
Packet of Genesis string
Bryan Brothers poster
Autographed photo of Noah Rubin
Player patch from 10sBalls.com
Magnets from Holabird and Kassimir Physical Therapy
Miscellaneous other items such as pens and stickers
At promptly 9am, the first matches were sent on court amid blue cloudless skies. The weather couldn’t have been any more perfect. Sol was working his magic from above! With 32 players, we had 12 matches at 9, another 4 at 10:30, and then a nice break to enjoy the delicious lunch provided by Steve’s Deli.
During lunch, it was amazing to walk around the club and see kids sitting together, parents sitting together, and Sol’s friends and family taking it all in. In most tournaments once your child’s match is finished, you’re rushing off to find them something to eat so you can get them back for the next round. Not so at #TheSol! We wanted to honor Sol’s commitment to creating a sense of community around junior tennis, and providing lunch on site was just one way we accomplished that goal.
Round 2 took place in 2 shifts after lunch, and Day 1 finished around 2:30. Many of the players hung around to hit a little more, but most went their separate ways as Melanie, Salman, and I cleaned up and got everything ready for Day 2. That included going back to the hotel (and my laptop!) to set up a Facebook page (click here) for the event and get the gazillion photos (click here and here) Melanie had taken uploaded! That night, Sol’s wife, Ilene, and her sister, Sherri, took us to dinner at one of their favorite Italian restaurants. Let me just say that the wine and brownie sundae were especially delicious!
We didn’t have to get quite as early a start for Day 2 since matches weren’t scheduled to begin until 9am. That said, when we arrived at Suburban, the courts were filled with players warming up, and the grounds were filled with parents, coaches, and spectators out to support this amazing event.
The weather forecast for Sunday was pretty iffy, but we got the matches started on time. Unfortunately, the rain came in right in the middle of our final round of singles, so we brought all the kids into the pro shop for a special surprise: a FaceTime Q&A with Noah Rubin! He was gracious enough to take a little time away from his US Open Qualies preparation to chat with the players and answer their questions about how he trains, what he eats, what’s in his tennis bag, and balancing all the demands of a professional tennis player. The kids (and parents!) loved having the chance to talk with him!
As soon as the Q&A finished, Steve arrived with the day’s lunches, so we encouraged everyone to go ahead and eat while we waited for the rain to clear out. The staff at Suburban went to work helping get the courts playable, and by 11:45 we had the kids back out there.
It didn’t take long to crown our first winner: Kaitlyn Chalker from Marietta, GA! She was smiling from ear to ear as she heard about her prize from Wilson: 2 rackets, a pair of shoes, 6 sets of string, a 12-pack of overgrip, a racket bag, and 2 outfits of her choosing.
A bit later, the boys winner was decided: Ramanaidu Kotnana from Ellicott City, MD. Ram also got the same Wilson prize package and was so excited!
But, we had 5 separate draws in this tournament, and the winner and runner-up for each draw received a prize. Our main draw runners-up got a $50 gift card from Holabird Sports (in addition to the $10 card in their goody bags). The winners of the other 3 draws each received a $20 Holabird gift card plus an additional small gift, and the runners-up received packets of string, hats, and socks. All of the awards were made possible through the sponsors we secured for the event.
We got a second bout of rain before the rest of the singles matches could finish. Thankfully, Suburban has a bubble with 4 courts, so we moved the rest of the matches indoors. By that point, the outdoor courts were sufficiently soaked, and we made the unfortunate decision to forego the afternoon’s doubles exhibition matches. The weather continued to worsen throughout the afternoon, so in retrospect it was a very good call.
All that was left was to clean up and get to the airport for my flight back to Atlanta. Sol’s family and the club staff helped out, and we left Suburban looking as though it had never been invaded by 32 players, their coaches and parents, and about 50 additional volunteers and spectators!
As I said, it’s difficult to put into words how this event felt. Even so, here are a few short (unedited – editing is outside my skillset!) interviews with some of the parents and players – as well as Sol’s wife, Ilene – to give you a better idea:
With massive amounts of help from Universal Tennis, I’m really hoping to make #TheSol into an annual event as well as to take it to other cities around the US. I think we have found a tournament formula that works! In all my years of schlepping to junior tournaments, I’ve never seen one where everyone just seemed happy to be there throughout the entire weekend. People were even smiling during the repeated rain delays. I’m not sure if it was allowing on-court coaching, the compass draw format, the player badges and goody bags, or what, but these kids had a great time and exhibited impeccable sportsmanship. And guess what? We had no officials other than our tournament director . . . nor did we need them!
A huge thank you to everyone involved! To our planning committee – Melanie Rubin (Tennis Parent), David Hirshfeld (Holabird Sports), Randy Jenks (Universal Tennis), and Rob Hubbard (Sam Houston State University Head Coach). To our sponsors – Presenting Sponsor Holabird Sports; Division I Sponsor Wilson Tennis; Division II Sponsors 10sBalls.com, Universal Tennis, Kassimir Physical Therapy, ParentingAces, Judie Schwartz, Rob & Robin Hubbard; Division III Sponsors Melanie Rubin & Family, Ilene Schwartz & Family, Michael Sellman & Family, Jason & Laurie Sklar & Family, Lisa & Matthew Stone & Family; In-Kind Sponsors ArrowBar, Genesis String, Lucy Prendeville, The Bryan Brothers, Steve’s Deli. To the staff at the Suburban Club – Ross Coleman, Jim, Brad, and Eric. To Sol’s family – Ilene Schwartz, Dori Schwartz, Evan Schwartz (thanks for the crabcakes!), Judie Schwartz, Cyndy Schwartz, Steve & Lisa Schwartz, Jake Schwartz, Josh Schwartz, Ina and Jeffrey Legum, Sherri & Gary Kassimir, Ali Kassimir, Laurie & Jason Sklar, Skylar Sklar, Landon Sklar, and Dari Jo Sklar. To Sol’s friends who came out to support the tournament. And, most of all, to Sol for inspiring us to do better.
Finals match results (Name followed by Universal Tennis Rating):
The article below originally appeared on the Universal Tennis Rating website and is reprinted here with permission.
Youth tennis today is a staggeringly expensive chaos. Globally, hundreds of tennis tribes speak scores of different languages, with no shared way to determine who is actually good at the game–or how good–outside of a couple thousand men and women on the pro tours. Chasing points to beef up “rankings” teaches kids to game the system, seeking out weaker tournaments and opponents to crush. Developing a top junior player can now cost families more than $100,000 per year and mean “attending” an online high school, plus seeing teenagers move away from home. The junior tournament circuit has become an unfair, discouraging, and dysfunctional grind that disheartens thousands of young players. Their natural love for the sport is getting buried under a well-intended system that, unfortunately, just takes the fun out of the game.
In the United States, the status quo has been turning off young tennis players at an alarming rate. A telling statistic is the “churn rate”: in a given year, 38 percent of those who play one USTA-sanctioned tournament quit and don’t play any more. Why not? Maybe they got killed in the match and felt discouraged. Or won but had such a weak opponent that it was no fun. Many junior players who have played multiple events are burning out—and dropping out. Perhaps they tired of jumping through hoops to advance, or their parents became weary of spending buckets of cash and seeing their children miss school to enter tennis events.
What’s needed is a welcoming, supportive structure that keeps young athletes—and experienced adults—engaged with the game, rather than driving them out of it. There is a solution, but first we need to understand what isn’t working now.
Rankings and “Points per Round”
Worldwide, most all competitive tennis gets organized around rankingsystems, from juniors to Intercollegiate Tennis Association events to the professional tours. First of all, we must understand that rankings are notratings. Rankings merely place things in order—first, second, third—relative to each other. We can rank the top 10 ski slopes in Malaysia, but that doesn’t mean any of them are good places to ski. A rating system, on the other hand, is pegged to a verifiable scale. When Consumer Reportspublishes its ratings of 25 dishwashers, the numbers reflect measurements made by extensive testing of the machines. Rankings are simply a pecking order, while ratings reflect an actual metric, a single scale that has a meaning independent of the items rated.
Hence, being a highly ranked tennis player in some regions of the world may not translate into a whole lot of tennis skill: you might be tennis’s version of the best ski slope in Malaysia. Meanwhile, even the 41st-best ski trail in Switzerland could offer some excellent downhill.
Rankings of tennis players nearly always derive from a “points per round” (PPR) computation. PPR is the currency of competitive tennis. Whatever organization is doing the ranking—and there are many—decides to award certain numbers of points for reaching certain rounds of certain tournaments. In general, there’ll be more points for surviving to later rounds, and more points at stake in stronger tournaments. However, tournaments awarding the same numbers of points can still vary widely among themselves in strength.
Therefore, to maximize your cache of PPR and attain a high ranking, your incentive is to find weaker tournaments where you’ll face lesser competition and so have a better chance of reaching a later round. Making it to those weak tourneys, though, may require travel—sometimes lengthy, expensive travel—so chasing PPR can become a costly project. Nonetheless, it propels those who can afford it to higher rankings than their tennis skill might warrant. In theory, tennis ranking and bank account should not be correlated, but in practice, they often are.
Note, too, that chasing points runs contrary to the time-tested path for developing tennis talent: playing challenging matches and events that test your game and stretch its limits. The athletes at the top of the sport on the ATP and WTA tours are there for many reasons—and one important one is that they immerse themselves daily in this kind of challenging environment, whether in demanding practice sessions or tough matches.
Tournaments typically use PPR-based rankings to select their draws and perform seedings. Yet, since PPR is such a shaky index of actual tennis ability, such selections and seedings often tend to be inaccurate and unfair.
Separating Tennis Players by Age and Gender
The USTA’s junior tournament program divides young players into four major age categories, for boys and girls aged 12, 14, 16, and 18 years or younger. The intentions are good: have kids play other kids their own age, and we should get fairly even matches, since everyone will be at a similar level of physical development, and all have had a chance to play the game for about the same length of time, as they share similar “dates of manufacture.”
Sounds good, but unfortunately this breaks down in practice, as children develop physically and athletically at vastly different rates. Two 12-year-olds can have less in common as tennis players than do a 12- and a 16-year old. Consider the following anecdote.
In 1983, a talented 17-year-old Southern California boy reached the quarterfinals of an 18-and-under tennis tournament in Los Angeles. He was startled when a curly-haired 12-year-old walked out to play him. It was a kid named Pete Sampras. Sampras turned out to be a human backboard who got everything back, and defeated his much older, much bigger adversary. The next year, at the same tournament, a 13-year-old Sampras again beat the same player (who later played varsity tennis in the Ivy League). Clearly, the two lads’ tennis skills were unrelated to their chronological ages.
An extreme case? Yes. But it begs the question: is separating players by age really the best way to organize a youth tennis tournament? Research has shown that it does little, if anything, to produce competitive matches. What the age-graded system does do is make it difficult for kids to find good matches, since it rules out all of humanity except those within two years of one’s own age, in most cases. Imagine the problems an adult player would face if she decided to play only women between 35 and 37.
Gender barriers do something similar: they make it harder to find a good match. At the pro level and in college tennis, males clearly have larger, more powerful bodies: they hit harder and move faster. But in most of junior and adult tennis, size and strength are only two factors. There are so many variables that affect someone’s level of play, and his or her sex is only one of them. Most any adult man can bring to mind at least one woman who is his equal or better on the court (if stumped, think Serena Williams). And talented girls who live in areas that are not tennis hotbeds can have a real problem finding good competition when restricted to girls of their own age.
Tennis pro Calin Mateas of the Weymouth Club in Weymouth, Massachusetts, is the father of an excellent junior girl, Maria Mateas(UTR 11.72), who at 16 years of age ranks among the top 50 18-and-under females in the world. “It’s very tough to find people for Maria to train with, especially girls,” he says. “Maria trains with boys. USTA New England has helped me in trying to find girls for her to hit with. That’s good, but sometimes they live far away. It can be easier to drive a short ways and play with college boys. But NCAA rules forbid college players to play against high-school players in an organized practice. So you have to arrange something outside of official practices.”
In March, Maria traveled with her father to Porto Alegre, Brazil, where she was the #5 seed at the Juvenil de Tenis de Porto Alegre, an International Tennis Federation (ITF) Grade A event. Although the trip cost more than $2,500, playing there was important to maintaining Maria’s high ITF ranking. “You have got to play these tournaments to stay in the top 50 in the world,” her father explains. “That ranking is what assures you entry to the junior Grand Slams.” Maria reached the quarterfinals in Brazil before losing to the #2 seed, Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine. A worthwhile tournament, but aside from the expense, such travel makes regular high school impossible; Maria studies at the online Laurel Springs School.
Benefits of Level-Based Play
1. Greatly reduced travel costs. Level-based play dramatically lowers the cost of playing high-octane tennis. Strong players—in fact, any players—can find a challenging match in their own city or local region by entering the UTR system. Doing so slashes the travel budget—airfare, hotels, meals, ground transportation—for tournaments staged at a distance from home. Instead, athletes can thrive at local events organized around similar UTRs, like the UTR Boston Open in Boston. Between tournaments, they can easily set up challenging matches that stretch their games.
Consider again the case of Maria Mateas. In the Boston area, where the Mateas family lives, there are plenty of players who could give her a strong match: they just aren’t girls aged 15 or 16. (Or, for that matter, 17 or 18.) But at the second annual UTR Boston Open last fall, Maria defeated a secondary-school boy, Ryan Nguy (10.41), before losing to Brian Yeung(13.09), a Harvard junior and varsity player.
If age and sex barriers were removed, she could practice daily with tennis peers and compete frequently in metropolitan Boston, driving 20 miles and spending a few dollars instead of flying 5,000 miles and spending thousands. The UTR system could easily pair her with many suitable partners, with the match scores feeding Maria’s UTR.
2. Accelerating the “tennis maturation” of young players’ games. The development of a junior like Maria Mateas would likely accelerate due to the variety of opponents that level-based play opens up. She would face not only young athletes of both sexes but older women and men with years of court experience and tennis savvy. Level-based play re-integrates the tennis world, bringing seasoned adults back onto the court with rising juniors of any age or gender.
In his paper, “The Need for a USTA/ITA Player Rating System,” Harvard men’s coach Dave Fish notes that 13- and 14-year-olds do not learn the subtleties of the game as quickly from peers with similar styles as they would, for instance, from playing the club champion who looks like a hack but never misses. Contrast this with a comment from a collegiate player who had grown up in the French rating system: “As a 12-year-old, I was good enough in French tournaments to play with adults and older juniors. They sliced me; drop-shotted me, hooked me, pushed me around, and always tried to intimidate me. By the time I was 15, I had seen it all and knew how to play tennis.” —Damien Lacombe, former Virginia Commonwealth University player.
3. Keeping families and communities together. Level-based play via UTR also lets junior players live at home with parents, siblings, and friends—and go to school in their local communities. The current practice of uprooting young athletes to cultivate their tennis games is not necessarily efficient or effective. Worse, it disrupts family and social bonds that are crucial to a teenager’s coming of age. Class time (if any) and schoolwork become secondary to tennis training—if they aren’t derailed completely. Moving away from home also disconnects young athletes from their local teaching professionals, who have often successfully mentored them for years. Meanwhile, it’s expensive, physically draining, and time-consuming.
4. Democratizing tennis. The enormous financial savings of level-based play could revolutionize the future of the game. With few exceptions, turning promising kids into high-level players has become a pursuit limited to wealthy families. Imagine the vast impact of using UTR to create easy access to competitive matches for thousands, even millions, of young people currently shut out of this world because their families have only modest means.
Athletic talent is actually quite a democratic thing—it’s evenly distributed across all strata of society, from the underclass to the wealthiest. Reduce the cost of competing to 5 or 10 percent of current levels, and watch what happens. In a diverse country like the United States, armies of young players from Latino, African American, Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all manner of European and global immigrant cultures would join middle-class, working-class, and impoverished Anglo girls and boys on the tennis courts. In one generation, tennis participation would explode, from recreational games all the way to the pro tours. This isn’t mere speculation, but an evidence-based forecast based on what has happened elsewhere. In France, for example, where level-based play prevails, the number of players and the development of excellent athletes has, on a per-capita basis, far outstripped the United States. The prevailing system in France is producing 12 times as many junior tennis players per capita as the age-based American system. The French are simply getting a much bigger bang for their buck (or Euro) than the Americans are.
5. Incentives that build tenacity. Won-lost records are a crude and often misleading way to evaluate players.There is a vast difference, for example, between winning a best-of-three match 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, versus 6-0, 6-0. Yes, on rare occasions, a 6-0 set can actually be a closely fought battle of six deuce games. But in general, three tiebreakers indicates a far closer match, and the player who loses it deserves more credit than the one who surrendered 12 straight games. The UTR system provides a more sensitive barometer, because the losing player gets credit for every game won, rather than simply a “loss.” Thus, if you are down, say, 6-1, 4-1, you still have ample incentive to keep fighting for every game, as each addition to your games-won column will enhance your rating. The UTR system cultivates tenacity by rewarding it.
6. Removing incentives to manipulate the system. Building a UTR from match scores against specific, rated opponents gives a more precise, accurate, and honest index of tennis skill than accumulations of PPR. UTR rewards good play rather than the notorious practice of “gaming the system” to artificially inflate one’s ranking. Such gaming undermines player development by encouraging practices—like seeking out weaker draws—that actually impede improvement at tennis. Furthermore, such incentives reinforce undesirable personality traits like manipulative behavior. Chasing points by finding “soft” tournaments and feeble opponents siphons off time, energy, and even money from building one’s tennis game. This, too, hinders improvement. Chasing points often becomes an exorbitantly expensive practice that means traveling a lot and playing more tournaments, rather than playing better ball.
These are a few benefits of level-based play. There are many more. Finding ways to foster level-based play globally could revolutionize the game of tennis—dramatically, and in very positive ways. The simple, accessible tool of UTR is a lever that can do so—expanding participation, cultivating skilled players more quickly and easily, and bringing more fun to the court for all. Level-based play works. The data are in on this, and you don’t even have to take our word. Just ask the French.
I first heard about Universal Tennis Ratings a couple of years ago when I was asked to have one of its founders, Dave Howell, on my radio show. At the time, UTR was just starting to gather steam. The professional players were in the system, but UTR still had spotty data on junior and college players. Dave and his team were making every effort to build a following by engaging parents and coaches and others to report dual match and tournament results so that UTR could be a reliable tool for evaluating players.
Flash forward to December 2014. I had Harvard Men’s Coach Dave Fish on my radio show TWICE that month to talk about UTR’s use in college recruiting as well as during the Winter National Championships. After seeing my son use UTR to help make his final college decision, I knew this was a tool that was going to continue to gain momentum in the junior and college tennis world.
I reached out to Bruce Waschuk at UTR to get his thoughts on how this rating tool can be used more extensively in junior competition. We talked at length about the need for more level-based play a la the French system and how more and more USTA sections are adding this type of tournament to their calendars. NorCal has been way ahead of the curve in this regard, offering many opportunities for junior players to compete against a variety of age groups based solely on their Universal Tennis Rating. As Ben Ncube discussed in last week’s radio show, this type of level-based play ensures more matches, better competition, and the possibility of a smoother development curve.
Bruce also discussed UTR’s goal of including high school matches in its ratings which is a daunting task given the massive variety of rules and structures in the high school tennis world. I offered to send him data on my son’s high school team so that I could see firsthand what’s involved. It’s pretty simple, really. UTR emailed me a Google Doc that included explicit instructions on recording the match results and where to send them. It’s as easy as filling in an Excel document with player names, state, and scores then emailing the spreadsheet to the folks at UTR. Within a day of submitting my data, the information showed up on the UTR website, so these guys are pretty quick to turn around the submissions. Bruce told me they are trying to find parents and coaches around the country who are willing to collect and submit the match results for every high school team in the US. If you’re interested, please let me know, and I’ll put you in touch with the appropriate contact at UTR. As I learned at the USTA conference this past November, USTA is making a real effort to engage high-school-only players in competitive play outside of their school teams. Including these players in UTR is a step toward reaching that goal.
In terms of the US Open National Playoffs, Bill Mountford at USTA told me that the aim of using UTR to seed players this year is to include one more tool to ensure competitive matches for all entrants. Because of the nature of the Playoffs – any player aged 14 and older can enter – it’s crucial for the seeding to make sense, and using only NTRP, USTA, and ITA rankings just hasn’t worked as well as USTA had hoped. I asked Bill if we were going to see more junior tournaments using UTR for selection and seeding, and he replied that USTA is committed to using as much information as possible to make its events competitive and developmentally-appropriate for all players at all ages and levels. I’m feeling hopeful that we’ll start to see more UTR-based events in the coming months.
FYI, UTR does offer a free membership that gives you access to its basic information such as rounded-up ratings, search capabilities, and player profiles and records. For a small monthly fee, you can also view extended ratings (to 2 decimal points) as well as save your searches and notes. A slightly higher fee gives you expanded access to college players and rosters – for those of you with high school juniors and seniors, I definitely recommend this option.
If you’ve had experience with level-based tournaments, I would love to hear from you in the Comments below. After speaking with both Bruce and Bill, I am confident that UTR is here to stay and could be one of the most useful tools we’ve seen for our kids’ development in quite a while.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the folks at Universal Tennis Ratings did some extensive pre- and post-event analysis of this year’s Boys and Girls 16s and 18s Winter Nationals draws and outcomes (click here for their online work).
In addition to the numbers, UTR co-creator Dave Howell provided the following in-depth analysis:
Upsets abound . . . or maybe not so much!
Scrutinizing the main draw of the Winter Nationals B18s, you can find 17 matches which went against the seedings. Seems like a lot, but on closer inspection only 5 of those matches were contested by players whose ratings (UTR) were farther apart than 1.0. And even among those, some were mere hundredths of a point outside the 1.0 UTR standard. It’s fun to look for these things, but is there anything to be ascertained from all this that can lead to improving player experience? What are your thoughts?
One more thought . . . about 1/3 of main draw matches were played by opponents whose ratings were farther than 1.0 apart. Another way of putting that is 2/3 of match opponents were within 1.0 of one another. That sounds pretty good.
The upset trend continues in G18s, but not really.
Again, if you look strictly at lower seeds and unseeded players knocking off higher seeds, you come away thinking there are a high number of upsets, 16. But the UTR summary only found one upset. Which means over 98% of the time the higher-rated player won when the match-up showed players to be more than 1.0 UTR apart.
Another look at total matches inside vs. outside 1.0 shows almost half the matches (48%) were outside 1.0. This indicates a pretty wide range of levels for this event. On top of that 61% of those matches outside 1.0 were Decisive*.
Only 43% of matches inside 1.0 were Competitive*. We’d like to see better than 50%, but this percentage is almost 3 times better than competitive matches outside 1.0, 15.25%. I’m pretty sure these players can do better.
*Competitive, Routine, and Decisive Matches: A match is considered Competitive when the losing player wins more than 50% of the minimum number of games needed to win the match. Similarly, a match is considered Routine if the losing player is only able to win between 34% and 50% of the minimum number of games needed to win the match. Lastly, a match is considered Decisive if the losing player is only able to win less than 1/3 of the minimum number of games needed to win the match.