Winter Nats Final Analysis

UTR-1.0-logoAs 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.

 

Reflections on Winter Nats

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My husband, my son, and I are sitting on the plane heading toward home. It’s been a great few days in Scottsdale, and now it’s time to get back to life as we know it in Atlanta.

When I heard that my son had been selected to play in Winter Nationals, I was excited for him and hoped he would get the chance to compete against some of the players I had been reading about on ZooTennis and other junior tennis media outlets. I figured it would be a great experience for him to see what it feels like to play at that level, but, truth be told, I wasn’t sure he was of the caliber to hang with those boys. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

This tournament experience definitely felt different . . . for a lot of reasons. It’s rare for my husband to join us for tennis travel, so that was really nice. We got to spend some quality time together watching our son compete.

And, this was my son’s first tournament since committing to play at Santa Clara University next year. There’s something pretty special about seeing your child wearing his college gear on the tennis court. I found myself getting even more emotional than usual as I started thinking about what the next few years have in store for him.

On top of that, we all got to spend time with 3 other incoming Bronco families, which was amazing. The 4 boys

Kamran, Morgan, Robert, & Connor
Kamran, Morgan, Robert, & Connor

clicked pretty

Dinner with the Broncos
Dinner with the Broncos

quickly, and we parents did, too. As we said our goodbyes to each other, the parents all agreed that our sons are in for such a great experience and that we’re lucky to have each other as a support network in the coming years.

And, for me, it was fun to get to see so many of the college coaches and chat with them about the upcoming season. Every time I get the chance to be around these men and women, I am reminded why playing college tennis is such an admirable goal for our kids. These coaches understand what tennis has to offer a young player, and they are passionately committed to helping these kids grow from the experience.

Also, I got the chance to see some old tennis buddies like Ross Greenstein, meet some PA readers in person like Cindy Good and Mike Gealer and Richard Schick, and chat with one of my tennis idols Tracy Austin whose son was also competing in this tournament.

Tennis Parents Lisa & Tracy Austin
Tennis Parents Lisa & Tracy Austin

Another real treat was seeing one of my husband’s childhood friends and his family who were visiting their family in Phoenix. They came out to watch my son play, and the guys got to catch up on decades of missed time!

Long-time friends
Long-time friends

And, despite what others had told me, the Boys 18s was run incredibly efficiently. Tournament Director Sally Grabham did an amazing job at communicating via email with the players and parents prior to the start of the event. She kept the tournament website updated and made sure we all had the information we needed. During our time at Scottsdale Ranch Park, matches ran pretty close to on-time, the tournament desk volunteers accommodated player requests to delay subsequent matches when their earlier matches ran long, the on-site medical trainer was very knowledgeable and effective (he was kept very busy!), and the on-site stringers worked quickly to keep up with all the broken strings. The officials at my son’s site were quick to respond to any problems but kept their distance when not needed, a testament to Tournament Referee John Bramlett. There were plenty of practice courts available at no charge for the boys to warm-up though I did hear from another parent that one of the girls’ sites was charging a fee. We wound up staying at one of the suggested hotels, the Hampton Inn & Suites Scottsdale/Riverwalk, and it was quiet, comfortable, and convenient.

Before the tournament started, Universal Tennis Ratings did a pre-event analysis of the competitor list for each age group, ordering the players based on their UTR (click here to see the list). As expected, my son fell in the bottom half of the list though pretty close to the middle of the pack. His first-round singles match was against the player ranked #19 on the list, a boy who was not seeded but probably should’ve been. It was a very close match, but my son pulled out the win. In his next match, he played the boy ranked #14 on the list who was seeded. My son won the first set, lost a close second set, then, sadly, had to retire the match early in the 3rd set with an injury. But, he was competitive with this boy. For maybe the first time, I was realizing my son is definitely at the level of these other players and has earned his way into these tournaments through his hard work. Had I been underestimating my son’s ability on the tennis court? Maybe. But, if I had, this tournament definitely put an end to that mistake. In his final match of the tournament, my son played the #39 player. My son won the first set 6-3, stayed on serve until the end of the 2nd when his opponent broke then held for the set then took the 10-point match tiebreaker 10-8. It was a tough loss, but, once again, I was reminded of my son’s ability on the tennis court and that he belonged at that level.

I think I mentioned before that my son was playing doubles in Scottsdale with one of his future Bronco teammates. Well, seeing the two of them in their SCU shirts giving hand-signals and high-fives between points was just a glimpse into the future for me.IMG_3886 I can’t wait to be at the matches cheering for them as they compete for their school. All of these kids have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to reach this goal of playing college tennis, and now their dreams are becoming a reality. Amazing!

At one point during the tournament, I received a Facebook Message from the parent of a 12-year-old player asking me what is the benefit of playing these national events. I had to think for a minute before responding. For the younger players, it truly is about gaining national ranking points and having the chance to compete against kids from around the country – both valuable but not absolutely necessary in the scheme of things. Honestly, I’m not sure I would’ve spent the time and money to travel across the country for this tournament when my son was younger because (1) he wasn’t at that level yet, and (2) he had plenty of opportunities to play competitive matches within our section. But, for someone who lives in a less-competitive area or for someone who has the financial resources, why not? There are worse places to be in December! That said, for the 16s and 18s, especially for those who are in college recruiting mode, Winter Nationals is a great way to get exposure to so many college coaches. Many of the ones I spoke with are still looking to fill roster spots for Fall 2015 while also looking ahead to future years. They were splitting their time between the 16s and 18s sites, hoping to find those players who would be the right fit for their various programs.

After my son lost his final match of the tournament, I texted my new friend, Cindy (the one who brought us the coolers and goodies),

Lisa & Cindy
Lisa & Cindy

to let her know we’d be leaving the next day. She replied, suggesting that I go back and read the interview Colette Lewis had done with me for TennisRecruiting.net back in 2012 (click here). Cindy wrote, “I know you are proud but re-reading that article now it is amazing what he has done.” So, I took her advice and read it. Cindy was right. I had forgotten where my son was tennis-wise when we first started this ParentingAces journey. He has definitely come a long way in a short time. And, if nothing else comes of this website, I hope it will at least give other parents and junior players a glimpse of what can happen when a child stays committed to a goal and his/her family stays committed to supporting that goal. I’m here to tell you it is definitely worth the sacrifice!

Winter Nats So Far

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What an amazing couple of days it has been so far in Scottsdale!

My son flew from Atlanta to Phoenix by himself on Christmas day (the rest of us were still celebrating with our extended family down in New Orleans). He got himself to the airport in Atlanta, arrived in Phoenix, took a cab to our hotel in Scottsdale, then met up with one of his Southern Section buddies to hit. The next morning, he connected with two of his future Santa Clara University teammates, Kamran and Connor, to hit and check in for the tournament. Later that afternoon, he hit with Kamran again, then joined his family for dinner. My husband and I didn’t get to the hotel until close to 9pm. It was a long day!

About a week before the tournament, I got an email from a ParentingAces reader letting me know she lives in Scottsdale and offering to help us with anything we might need. I took her up on her offer, asking if my son could borrow a cooler to use on court during the tourney. She graciously volunteered to drop it at our hotel for him. Well, not only did she drop off the cooler, but she also brought us a huge cooler filled with Gatorade, orange juice, bananas, oranges, granola bars, pretzels, and all sorts of other snacks. On top of that, she left a case of bottled water for us. What an amazing gift! I called her to say thank you, and she explained: “I’m the team mom for my kids’ various sports, and whenever we travel to a tournament, my first stop is Costco to load up on drinks and snacks. I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if someone could have that stuff waiting for us when we arrived?’ so that’s what I did for you!” Cindy, you have no idea how awesome a surprise that was and how much we are enjoying all the treats! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Yesterday was Day One of competition. My son had arranged to warm up for his 11:30 first-round match with Kamran at a local high school. I briefly met Kamran’s dad at breakfast before heading to the courts. The boys were decked out in their Santa Clara gear – Go Broncos! It was chilly but the sun was out, so we figured the weather would be pretty perfect by the time the boys started their matches, and we were right!

When we got to the tournament site, Connor was on court, and his parents and one of the Santa Clara assistant coaches, Aaron, were watching court-side. My husband and I introduced ourselves and spent some time visiting with them, getting to know each other a bit. Once my son went on for his match, we headed to his court to watch. Aaron and Connor’s parents came over, too, after a bit. Then Kamran went on the court right next to my son, so we got to watch him play, too. The 4th Santa Clara incoming freshman in the tournament, Robert, was scheduled to play as well. It was great for my son to get to meet so many of his future teammates and for my husband and me to meet their parents!

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many college coaches on site yesterday. They were there watching their 2015 recruits but also scouting players for future years. I’m always amazed at the camaraderie among these guys and love seeing them laugh together and share their war stories.

After the singles, my son and Connor were scheduled to play their first-round doubles match together. They seemed to communicate well with each other and pulled out a solid win to move onto Round Two. All I kept thinking was how cool it was to see these two young men on the court together as a preview to their next four years. The emotional mom side in me kept popping up as I watched them play. It truly warmed my heart!

Last night was the little parent get-together I had organized at a local sports bar. I wish I could report that we were over-run with attendees, but that wasn’t the case, sadly. I’m not sure why more people didn’t come, but I’ll keep trying in hopes of getting the parents away from the grind of competition and into an environment where we can get to know each other better.

So, now it’s the morning of Day Two, and I’m sitting in the hotel breakfast area, drinking my second cup of coffee, and looking forward to another beautiful day in Scottsdale. Good luck to those of you with kids competing here this week!

 

Winter Nationals

Image courtesy of Long Island Tennis Magazine
Image courtesy of Long Island Tennis Magazine

 

So, who’s going to Winter Nationals this year? We are, for the first time, and it’s my son’s last opportunity to play a National Level 1 tourney before he ages out of the juniors altogether. He’s pretty excited for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is it will give him a chance to meet some of his future Santa Clara University teammates and to spend time with one of the assistant coaches who will be there, too.

This is the first time we’ll be flying somewhere specifically for a tournament, though, and I realized there is still much to learn about how to navigate these types of situations. I posted a question on the ParentingAces Facebook page asking about booking flights, specifically the return flight, for tournament travel. As always, y’all came through with some very helpful advice, and I wanted to share it here for those who aren’t on Facebook.

My specific question was: When you have to fly to a tourney, how do you decide when to book your return flight? Here is some fantastic Tennis Parent Wisdom:

  • I’ve always used Southwest, which lets you cancel flights & not lose money (keep it in the ‘bank’ for future flts, with no fees/penalties, and so i’d book 2-3 return trips, spaced throughout the tourney based on worst case, mid-case, and best-case scenarios. Then, set phone calendar alerts to cancel as well as to get boarding passes based on what happens. that procedure worked well for us — love to hear what other people have used! You can book as many one-way flts as you want. Book one RT, and then book your returns. Just keep super good records of your Confirmation numbers, and keep ALL of your emails showing your cancelled flts, price and associated confirmation number so you don’t lose track & forget to use the money within the next 12 months. ALSO: if you get the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card, you can earn great points towards the flights. ALSO: if you use SW enough, you earn a Companion Pass, which lets your player fly FREE. I have always had no problem reaching that, maybe it’s from using my Southwest Visa card for EVERY single purchase, though, i’m not sure. One thing is for sure: using Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Visa card has been a huge boon for us, saving us tons. I pay it off in full every month, and literally use it for almost every single purchase. (And NO, i don’t work for or have any connections with Southwest!)
  • When they lose!  🙂 I book one-way tickets and usually get good prices from Priceline, Name your own price, for the flight home.
  • To the last day. The one time you don’t, they will make it to the last day and you know how hard they worked to get there. So, then you will purchase the change fee which will prove to be a lot of money.
  • One day longer than they have proven to stay in that level tournament in the past.
  • I fly Southwest if at all possible. I book two return tickets. One for midway through the tournament and one for the end. Since Southwest has no change fees I cancel the one we don’t need and use those dollars to buy the next round of tickets. You have a year to use travel funds and can’t beat the no luggage fees!
  • Buy one way tickets, buy the return when ready to do so!!
  • I assume she will make the finals. Always. Anything else and you shouldn’t be flying to a tournament.
  • Usually the last day. If she’s out before then we go do something fun like go to the beach if it’s Clay Courts, etc. I made hotel /plane reservations for the full length of tourney.
  • A tennis parent veteran once gave me this advice: I used to book just past half way. When you book the end of the tourney and they lose early, paying the change fee stinks. When you book to come home early (Wednesday or Thursday) and they have a great tournament, paying the change fee is much easier to take.

The official selections for Winter Nats should be posted online today. For those of you waiting to hear, you can go to the TennisLink page for your child’s age group, click on the Selection Process tab, scroll down to the Endorsement List for your particular section, then look to see if there’s a green dot next to your child’s name. If there is, congratulations, your child is in! If there’s a yellow dot, your child is an alternate. A dark grey dot indicates your child wasn’t eligible to play, and a red dot means your child has withdrawn from the tournament.

Good luck, and if you’re going to be in Scottsdale, I hope you’ll let me know so we can meet in person!

 

4th & 5th Listening Meetings at Winter Nationals

Two listening meetings were held over the past two days during the Winter Nationals in Arizona, a tournament that will, ironically, disappear from the schedule if the 2014 changes remain as is.

I received emails from attendees at both meetings, each of which had 40-50 people in attendance.  It seems that the parents, players, and industry folks (Brad Stine, Jack Sharpe, Mark Bey, Steve Bellamy, Kevin Kempin, Gordon Bellis, Timon Corwin, Tim Mayotte, Antonio Mora) who were in attendance were well-versed in the changes and had no qualms about speaking their minds to Tim Russell, Kurt Kamperman, and Dave Haggerty.  Several parents and players spoke out about how they would NOT have gotten a college scholarship under the new system.  One mother told the room that although her first son will be playing Division 1 tennis next year, she has pulled her other two sons out of tennis because she doesn’t subscribe to the format.   Russell responded with a comment that was akin to “OK.”   Kevin Kempin, CEO of Head and a member of the 2013 Junior Competition Committee, said, “I have yet to hear a single compelling argument for any of these changes and I have been listening for a long time.”

The theme of the first meeting on Wednesday night seemed to be parents pleading to not have any cuts.  Those in the know seemed to be preaching a longer pause on the changes and a fresh look at the tournament calendar.  Parents complained of just playing the same kids over and over in their section and made it clear that if that was going to be what tennis was, then they were out.  One parent said “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and if there is anything that is consistent, it is that the USTA is always changing and always frustrating players and parents.”  She continued, “You should do this right and do it once and for all.”

Tennis Channel founder Steve Bellamy and Tim Russell certainly had their issues in the room.  The situation climaxed when Bellamy asked Russell if he thought that 90% or more of the players, parents and coaches were against the changes.  Russell said no, and the room started to get angry.  Then Bellamy asked Russell, “If the majority of the tennis industry were against the changes, would you still be a proponent of keeping them?”  Bellamy repeatedly asked, and it was clear that Russell wasn’t going to answer the question.  One father from NorCal, Gordon Bellis, aggressively challenged Russell to answer and the evening reached a new climax.  When Bellis asked Russell what he was supposed to do with his daughter (she is 13 and won the 18 NorCal Sectionals this year) for competition now that the National schedule was slashed so deeply, Russell responded that maybe she should start playing with adults.   The room went into an uproar.

At Thursday’s meeting, led by Kurt Kamperman and Dave Haggerty, USTA finally acknowledged that parents are overwhelmingly opposed to the changes.  One gentleman who had been at Wednesday’s meeting asked for a show of hands of who was opposed, and every single hand went up.  Kamperman and Haggerty made no attempt to argue otherwise.  The same question was asked the night before in Tempe and every hand went up there as well.

Haggerty and Kamperman made it clear that they were not responsible for the changes and people were respectful, although one exclaimed, to applause and laughter, that they wished Patrick McEnroe and the people who were responsible could be there to face the fire.

Antonio Mora asked Haggerty, who was once CEO of Head, Inc., what he would do if 90% of his best customers hated a new line of products.  At that point, another  parent spoke out and said that she wanted them to say they were committed to fully restarting the process. Haggerty then said there would be substantial changes. Kamperman tried to back away from that a bit, saying that the sections needed to be on board and that we needed to get with our section presidents to vote in favor of what we want. At that point, he was interrupted and and politely told that was a bunch of bologna, that the process of approving the changes had been very political, that arms were twisted (acknowledged by them), that section presidents had ignored their constituents, that the vice-chair of the old committee who is the chair of the new one has said there will only be tweaks, and that they were now in the position to be the arm-twisters and needed to take control.

Those who attended expressed their appreciation to Haggerty and Kamperman for listening and taking the time out of their busy schedules to meet with the parents.  The attendees also made it clear that they hoped the listening would lead to action.

I urge everyone to attend one of the remaining “listening” meetings and/or to email LetUsKnow@usta.com with your thoughts regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes.  If you need a refresher on the exact changes or dates of the meetings, please click on the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.

3rd Listening Meeting at ITA Coaches Convention

ITA Coaches Convention handout

The link above is to the handout given to attendees at yesterday’s “listening” meeting at the ITA Coaches Convention in Naples, Florida.  The pages are reversed – my apologies for not being able to figure out how to edit them in Adobe – so be sure to scroll to Page 2 for the details.  NOTE: Lew Brewer just emailed me a cleaner version of the handout which I’ve linked to above.

The meeting was led by outgoing USTA president, Jon Vegosen, and incoming USTA staff liaison to the Junior Competition Committee, Bill Mountford.  Lew Brewer was also in attendance.  For more information on the meeting, please see today’s ZooTennis post by clicking here – Colette was there and gives a very thorough analysis.

One thing I still don’t understand is how USTA can say one of the goals of these 2014 changes is to push competition back into the sections while it makes NO PROVISIONS for the sections to add tournaments to their schedules.  Can someone at USTA please explain that one to me?  It’s a question I plan to ask at the “listening” meeting in Atlanta next month.

I urge everyone to attend one of the remaining “listening” meetings and/or to email LetUsKnow@usta.com with your thoughts regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes.  If you need a refresher on the exact changes, please click on the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.

Quota Insanity

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More unintended consequences?  Thank you to Antonio Mora, Emmy-winning journalist and tennis parent, for sharing the following information with all of us:

In the boys’ 14s of the upcoming Winter Nationals, the boy ranked 211 in the country on the day entries closed, did not make the cut. But the player ranked 955 (!!!!) was selected, even though almost 90 higher-ranked players were excluded. In the girls’ 18s, the player ranked 333 didn’t get in, but #965 did. In the boys’ 16s, the player ranked 204 didn’t make the cut, but #442 did. Boys 18s, 288 out, 713 in. Girls’ 16s, 250 is out, 731 in.

How does this happen? Kids who aren’t highly ranked managed to squeeze in under their section’s quota. Under current rules, only sixty kids out of the 128 are accepted through quotas, but it still creates the huge injustice described above. Imagine what will happen if the 2014 changes go into effect and 112 kids are selected through sectional quotas. It will mean the USTA is doubling down, dramatically increasing the importance of the quotas that are creating the injustice, and extending the injustice beyond supernationals to regional tournaments as well. (The impact of the future doubling of the quotas will be very mildly softened by a strength component that’s being added into the quota calculations in 2014.)

Another irony is that the USTA is eliminating Winter Nationals in 2014. One of the arguments given to support that decision is that very-low-ranked kids are getting into the tournament. Talk about circular logic: the USTA creates the quotas that lead to low-ranked kids getting into a tournament, and then they kill the tournament because the low-ranked kids got in!

Having a minimal quota per section (two players) is understandable so all sections are represented. But why, if the USTA is truthful in saying that the 2014 changes are focused on “earned advancement” and on “the best playing the best,” would they take a clearly flawed quota system and make it worse in 2014?

Full disclosure: a few of the kids who weren’t initially selected will get in this year’s tournament if the USTA doesn’t give out all eight of its wild cards or as selected kids drop out. Also, my son didn’t make the first cut even though he would have done so comfortably if quotas and wild cards didn’t exist.

It’s Lisa again.  If you agree that USTA needs to re-think the 2014 changes to the junior competition schedule, please take the survey on the right side of this page, plan to attend one of the remaining listening meetings, and/or email your concerns to Letusknow@usta.com.  For a complete list of articles relating to the changes, click the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.

And, if you’re interested in an alternative, click here to see what TennisRecruiting.net is offering in 2013 – a National Showcase Series of tournaments that are open to any US resident and will count toward a player’s Tennis Recruiting rating (though will only count toward his/her USTA ranking if the player competes within his/her own section or district).  It’s a great start!