Bonus Points Update

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

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

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

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

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

 

A National Schedule & Ranking System That Makes Sense

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

The key points to this proposal are as follows:

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

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

Philosophy

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

Tournament Structure

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

Five levels of national events as follows:

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

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

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

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

What are the advantages of all this?

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

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

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

New National Seeding Rules

A couple of days ago, I saw a post on my Facebook newsfeed from USTA’s Junior Competition folks announcing seeding changes for National tournaments.  Apparently, I’m one of only a few people who saw the post or knew anything about it.  When I posted the link to the changes on the ParentingAces Facebook page, which also feeds to my Twitter, I got very little feedback from anyone . . . that is, until the seedings came out for this weekend’s Regional Segment tournaments!

Apparently, the biggest change to the seeding criteria has to do with using a separate Singles Seeding List – which does not include any doubles ranking points – to seed the singles draws.  For the doubles draws, there is now a separate National Individual Doubles Seeding List.

The only problem I see so far is that there are no lists by those names currently on TennisLink, so what did the Tournament Director’s use for this weekend’s events?

Thanks to Antonio Mora and a few TD’s, here’s a quick explanation of what the new seeding rules actually mean:

1)      The usual “combined” standings will determine who gets into a tournament.  In other words, doubles will matter for that.  That’s a good thing, in my opinion.

2)      A new “seeding” list for singles (although the USTA has not followed its own rules and it’s called a “standings” list on Tennislink) will determine who gets seeded in singles.  Doubles points will NOT count for this.

3)      A new “seeding” list for doubles (again, the USTA is currently not calling it that on Tennislink) will determine the doubles seeds.  Singles points will be irrelevant for this.

4)      I believe it will be up to the individual sections to decide whether they want to follow suit.

5)      The language that gives the USTA power to alter seeding already existed in some form.

6)      I still don’t understand some of the discrepancies in the points some kids have when you compare the three current lists (doubles, singles and combined).

Even though doubles will continue to count for selection purposes (i.e. who gets into the tournament), Antonio expressed his concern that this move de-emphasizes the importance of doubles, which flies in the face of stated USTA goals.

One TD expressed the following: “The biggest problem with this scenario is not that the seeding change was made, but that it was not communicated to the tournaments.  When a substantial procedural change occurs, it is best that all involved be informed.   While informing the player may be easier said than done, certainly notifying the directors should have been an early order of business, not an afterthought.”  He goes on to say, “I don’t see that this seeding procedure will discourage doubles play because selection to each tournament will still be done using the ‘combined’ standings and not the ‘singles seeding’ list.  Being selected for a tournament is certainly more important than being a singles seed, since you can’t be seeded if you aren’t selected.”

Honestly, the biggest concern I have over this latest rule change is the lack of communication behind it.  The only way I knew about it was because I happened to be logged into Facebook when it came across my newsfeed (by the way, the USTA JrComp Facebook page has fewer than 150 “Likes”).  Given the recent outcry by the tennis community as a whole over the behind-closed-doors methods used by USTA to create the 2014 Junior Comp schedule, you would think USTA would’ve been sensitive to the fact that a heads-up over the seeding rules changes might be important.  I am still at a loss to understand HOW or WHY USTA isn’t more communicative and open and forthcoming with its members, especially with all the simple electronic methods at its disposal.  I keep asking the question and hope, one day soon, to be able to report the answer.

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.

Quick Guide to the USTA Website

Even the Higher-Ups at USTA will admit that their website is difficult to navigate.  Well, really, that’s an understatement.  USTA has gone to great lengths to put some very helpful information on their site – the problem is that the average visitor can’t find it!  So, in the name of identify-problem-create-solution, below is a list of links to some of the information I’ve found to be useful in navigating the world of Junior Tennis.  You might want to print out this list and keep it handy then add to it as you discover more sub-pages.  If you have found any other useful articles at USTA.com, please add them in the Comments section below.

USTA Section Pages: www.usta.com

Click on the Find Your Section box in the top right corner of the homepage to determine in which section you live, then click on the appropriate link below.  Your section page will likely have a tab at the top titled “Juniors” or “Junior Players” – click there to get information on Rules, Points Per Round (for ranking purposes), Tournament Schedules, Junior Team Tennis, and more.

USTA Junior Competition Page: www.usta.com/juniorcompetition

All of the information listed below can be found under the Players & Parents Link on the Junior Competition page:

  • Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/USTA JrComp

Twitter: @USTAJrComp

USTA College Tennis page: http://www.usta.com/collegetennis

You can find the American college rankings at the bottom of this page—kind of fun to keep an eye on!

Going to College or Turning Pro: Making an Informed Decision (10/2010): http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/USTA%20College%20Varsity%20Analysis%20of%20College%20vs%20Pro%20FAQ.pdf

International Player Study & FAQ (4/2010): http://assets.usta.com/assets/1/15/USTA_Intl_SA_FAQ_FINAL_CLEAN.pdf

      • Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/USTAPDCollegeTennis

Twitter: @ustacollege10s

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/ustacollege10s

Forever Friends

My dad is the one 4th from the left. His opponent/friend from yesterday is on the far left.

This week, I’m visiting my parents in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I grew up.  Yesterday, I had the chance to go watch my 74-year-old dad play tennis against his long-time friend and rival in what has become a once- or twice-weekly ritual.  These two guys have been competitors since childhood.  They have also been friends since childhood.  They played against each other in the juniors and with each other in college.  Yes, the level of tennis has changed over the years.  Neither one moves too well these days.  Neither one has the piercing groundstrokes that once defined their games.  And neither one has lost the desire to win when facing the other across the net.

On the court next to my dad and his friend/opponent was an 18-year-old high school senior who is preparing to play Division 3 tennis for Sewanee University in the fall.  We struck up a conversation.  I asked him if he knew one of the seniors on my son’s high school team, Danny.  He did. Not only did he know Danny, though, but he told me they have been friends since the 10-and-unders and have been competing against each other ever since.  He went on to tell me about their most recent match, in detail, describing how the 3-hour-and-45-minute match in the extreme summer heat and humidity had taken his last reserves so that, even though he won, he went on to lose handily in the next round of the tourney.  He also told me what a great guy Danny is and how excited he is that Danny’s getting to play D1 tennis next year.  He is truly happy for – and proud of – his friend.

This is what junior tennis can do – it can create life-long friendships that originate on the courts but extend way beyond them.  My dad has recently re-connected with several of the other guys who played with him at Tulane.  They rehash old matches, tell their “war stories”, and reminisce about their glory days.  The friendships that started on some green clay courts 60+ years ago have survived graduate school, marriage, children, divorce, illness, and tragedy.  I hope my son has these same stories of friendship to share with his kids and grandkids some day.

Are Junior Rankings Truly An Indicator of Future Success?

Rafael Nadal

I read a very interesting post this morning on ZooTennis.com showing the top 10 men and women currently playing on the pro tour with their highest junior ITF rankings.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

Now it would be interesting to see a study on how many Top 10 ATP/WTA players over the past 15 years were never top 10 in the juniors. I’ve done a tiny bit of that research on the current ATP/WTA Top 10s and here’s the numbers, with the player’s highest ITF singles ranking in parentheses.

1. Novak Djokovic (24)
2. Rafael Nadal (145)
3. Roger Federer (1)
4. Andy Murray (2)
5. David Ferrer (-)
6. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2)
7. Tomas Berdych (6)
8. Mardy Fish (14)
9. Janko Tipsarevic (1)
10. John Isner (93)

1. Victoria Azarenka (1)
2. Maria Sharapova (6)
3. Petra Kvitova (27)
4. Agnieszka Radwanska (1)
5. Samantha Stosur (27)
6. Caroline Wozniacki (2)
7. Marion Bartoli (2)
8. Na Li (20)
9. Vera Zvonareva (3)
10. Andrea Petkovic (36)

The one that jumped out at me was Rafa’s 145 ranking.  145???  Really???  Is anyone else shocked by that number?

To me, it simply reinforces the idea that players develop at their own pace.  That how a player performs at age 10 or 12 or even 16 may not be a true indicator of their eventual up-side potential.  That continuing to work hard, staying passionate and purposeful during practices, may pay off in the long run.  That writing off a player at a young age because he or she isn’t tall enough or strong enough or fast enough or disciplined enough could be a huge mistake.  That, in terms of junior player development, each kid goes at his or her own speed.  That the kid who is #145 in the juniors may wind up being #1 as a professional.

It reinforces my belief in my own son’s ability to continue growing as a player and realizing his tennis dreams.  Each new day brings new opportunities to improve.  Each drill session, each fitness session, each practice set, each high school match, each tournament bring new opportunities to get better and better.  Who knows what the end result will be?  All I know is that, as long as my kid keeps working hard and maintains his passion for tennis, I will be there cheering him on to victory.