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.
That’s exactly what’s happening. I found out last week that UTR will be used once again for selection and seeding in the 2015 New Balance High School Tennis Championships as well as for seeding in the US Open National Playoffs.
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.