Oracle ITA Masters Photo Gallery

I have so much to write about last week’s Oracle ITA Junior and College Masters tournament, but it’s going to have to wait until I get back to Atlanta! In the meantime, I thought I’d share some photos from this amazing event. A huge thank-you to Oracle, Malibu Racquet Club, the ITA, UTR, and all the other sponsors who came together to shine the spotlight on junior and college tennis!

You can click on the thumbnails below to view a larger image. You can also hover over them to read the captions.

 

A New Way to Search for Tournaments

Image courtesy of indianagrace.org
Image courtesy of indianagrace.org

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

 

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.

USTA & ITF Rankings on TennisRecruiting.net

You may have noticed the recent addition of both USTA and ITF rankings on your child’s TennisRecruiting.net (TRN) profile. I asked TRN’s Dallas Oliver why they decided to add this information, especially given all the confusion over USTA rankings and point tables in 2014. Here is his response:

“Don’t read anything into the timing. Coaches (and others) have asked for us to show USTA and ITF rankings on our profile pages for years. We think this will be good for Tennis Recruiting. Since it is easy to find players on our site, we thought our site would be more valuable as a jumping-off place for people to find all information about a player – not just Tennis Recruiting information. We hope to add Universal Tennis to the list at some point in the near future as well. Hopefully, people will use Tennis Recruiting as their starting point for all junior tennis information – the more information, the better.”

It is now more important than ever for your child to check his/her TRN profile on a regular basis to be sure the information is up to date. College coaches are using TRN as a first-stop, so you want to be sure your child is putting his/her best face forward!

 

 

Who’s Really #1?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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