Familiarize Yourself With the 2017 Junior Competition Changes

Note from Lisa: I am reposting this article with the addition of information on changes to doubles format in national tournaments. Please read this entire article and click on the links to see the USTA documents detailing the changes. Be informed!

A tournament director, a coach, and a Tennis Parent walk into a room . . .

What happens when you get a group of tennis folks together and charge them with coming up with a world-class junior competition structure? Two years and countless meetings later, you get the 2017 USTA Junior Competitive Structure (click here)!

USTA’s Junior Competition Committee is staffed by Bill Mountford and consists of members from a range of tennis backgrounds and involvement. The list includes at least one tennis parent, a couple of long-time tournament directors, several coaches, and others who have a lifetime of experience in the sport. They have worked long and hard to come up with a system of tournaments to meet the needs of junior players of all ages and levels.

It’s crucial that parents (and coaches) understand these changes and what they mean in terms of planning your junior’s training and tournament blocks in the coming year.

One major change that has been a source of debate for many years now is the dilemma juniors face when aging up to the next age group. Prior to January 1, 2017, when a player aged up, all of his/her ranking points in the lower age group just went away. The only way a player could age up AND maintain a ranking in the higher age group was to play up and win matches. Now, though, USTA has made a provision for the lower-age-group ranking points to count at a rate of 20% in the higher age group which should allow players aging up to qualify into higher-level tournaments as soon as they reach the new age division. While some committee members fought for a higher percentage based on what’s allowed in other federations, the 20% seems to be a decent compromise that will take care of most juniors as they move through the various age groups. For more on this new policy, click here. I haven’t been able to find the Points Per Round table for 2017 but will add the link as soon as it is available.

It’s important to understand this new “points counting up” policy in order to fully understand how selection will work for national tournaments moving forward. According to USTA, “the first National Standings Lists of 2017 will look significantly different than the last lists of 2016 because all of the next-younger division players will be appearing on the next-older division lists with 20% of their points. This also means that next-younger division results will be a part of the selection process for all national junior tournaments that use National Standing Lists, including for the first time all USTA National Championships.” The link above shows an example of how the points system will work – I encourage you to do the math for your child(ren) before year-end so you can plan accordingly.

USTA is also introducing additional national tournaments in 2017 to give more juniors the opportunity to play at this high level. These include:

◊ USTA National Indoor Championships, to be held in late November, in support of the vast number of players that play and train indoors during the winter months and in recognition of the prevalence and importance of indoor play. It also will expose players who play less frequently on this surface to one that is widely used in college tennis and provide a college recruiting opportunity just after the mid-November signing deadline when coaches learn whether they have openings in their lineups.

◊ USTA National Spring Championships as a National Level 1 Gold Ball tournament. For many years the “Easter Bowl” has been one of the strongest tournaments on the national schedule, and this designation returns the event to the highest-level national ranking status. The BG18 tournament will continue to be an ITF tournament, governed by ITF Regulations, but the top finishers will receive Gold, Silver, and Bronze Balls.

◊ USTA National Level 3 Tournaments which will be sanctioned up to 6 times per year in each division. One or more tournaments will be held in these date blocks with up to 192 total draw spot offerings in each division.

◊ Split of USTA National Spring Team Championships, creating a separate tournament for 18/16/14 division players and 12 division players. The split will create a more age-appropriate event for 12 division players that includes more in this division able to compete (96 boys and 96 girls). It will also permit both events to have a tournament format that mirrors the college tennis dual match format.

With the addition of these events, USTA has decided to eliminate the Level 4 regional tournaments and to replace them with National Level 3 Tournaments that are held on weekends that have no other concurrent national tournaments. The USTA’s reasoning behind eliminating the L4s is explained here: “While concurrent National Selection and Regional Tournaments were intended to give players that could not make it into the National Selection Tournaments an opportunity to earn their way to a higher level, the pathway wasn’t perceived as a reality and introduced one of the most complex aspects of the previous structure – entering multiple tournaments and the Freeze Deadline – the date by which a player must decide whether to remain on the alternate list of the higher-level tournament, or commit to the lower level tournament.”

The 2017 National Junior Tournament Schedule offers more date blocks on which national tournaments are held, particularly National Level 3 Ranking Tournaments. The Committee has concluded that more options for play on the calendar will permit players to choose a schedule of national tournaments that best meets the varying academic demands, work schedules, and Sectional requirements that are different for every player and family. The intent is to provide a menu of options that allows players to make customized decisions about their development. I urge you all to study the new schedule below and make the appropriate choices for your junior.

Beginning on Page 3 of the document located here, you can learn about the format, selection criteria, section quotas, and various levels of national tournaments being presented in 2017. Take a close look at the selection process for each level of tournament – they are different, and you need to have a clear understanding of how players will be chosen to participate.

USTA has also taken this opportunity to make some recommendations to Sections on how to create and run junior tournaments. I was most excited to read the last bullet point about educating parents, an issue I’ve been asking – begging! – for since my son started playing tournaments. I’m hopeful the sections will take advantage of the resources available and put on more parent-education events. Let me go on record that they are welcome to use anything I have posted or published on ParentingAces (as long as they ask me first)!

• Commit to fully adopting the alignment principles of the USTA’s Youth Player Progression, entry-level tournaments that are non-elimination and non-ranking and permit non-members to participate, and all aspects of competition (tournaments, USTA Junior Team Tennis, and Play Days) that utilize right-sized equipment, courts and balls.

• Sanction more tournaments, with an emphasis on increasingly localized play at the lower levels in all age divisions.

• Experiment with different tournament formats for younger players and lower level tournaments, including most importantly events that can take place during one day and a half-day periods.

• Experiment with ROG match formats at entry-level Yellow Ball and higher tournaments. • Incorporate and emphasize team competitions, not just in the USTA Junior Team Tennis arena. This includes promotion of participation on Zonals teams, sanctioning inter- and intra-sectional team competitions that model a collegiate dual match and count for rankings, and holding competitions on college campuses.

• With the assistance of USTA Player Development and USTA Youth Play, educate parents and coaches on the pathway, as well as the optimum amount of match play, training, participation in other sports, and rest.

The final change I want to point out is the relocation of several national tournaments. Winter nationals for the boys and girls 16s and 18s will move to the new USTA mega-facility at Lake Nona (FL) beginning in 2017. And rather than splitting the boys 12s and 14s national hardcourts between Texas and Arkansas, they will now both take place in Mobile, AL. There have been rumors about moving other major tournaments to Lake Nona as well, but there have been no official announcements so far other than these.

I know this is a lot to digest, but I really do encourage you to take some time and read through all the information carefully. You might be able to avoid some unnecessary travel and spending if you plan well and mix in some of the new UTR events along the way (click here for their schedule of tournaments). Please remember that this is a journey, one that needs to be mapped out well in order to steer clear of roadblocks. If you have any questions or need clarification on any of these changes, please post them in the Comments below, and I will do my best to address them.

NOTE: There has also been a change to the doubles format used in many national tournaments – they will now be echoing the format used in Division I college tennis matches, one 6-game set using no-ad scoring. This is a change that many predicted when the NCAA and ITA approved the doubles format modification in 2015. I fear this will have a negative impact on doubles development for our juniors. Click here to see the entire document (doubles changes are in Table 2 on Page 6): NtlJrTournRegulations-asof01012017

Editor’s note: Here is a list of the 2017-18 USTA Junior Competition Committee members

Baron, Ivan S. (tournament director)Florida
Bey, Mark (coach)Midwest
Boyer, Christopher (parent)Southern California
Boyer, ScottNorthern
Chamberlain, Michael PeelSouthern
Ehlers, Ellen (tournament director)Southern California
Grant, Geofrey (parent)Florida
Lawson, TracySouthwest
Lebedevs, Peter (Chair) (parent, tourney director)Southern
MacDonald, Paul (coach)Midwest
Minihan, LisaMissouri Valley
Notis, Brian Eric (coach)Texas
Pant, AjayMid-Atlantic
Roth, Claire (long-time USTA volunteer)Intermountain
Rothstein, JeffEastern
Sasseville, Robert (tournament director)Southern
Walker, Thomas S (tournament director)Midwest

Editor’s Note: For those interested, here is a list of the people who served as volunteers on the Junior Competition Committee in 2015-16, the one responsible for creating the current (2017) Junior Competition structure (with their tennis role in parenthesis):

  • Andrea Norman (Committee Chair, tournament director & long-time USTA volunteer)
  • Peter Lebedevs (Committee Vice-Chair, tournament director)
  • Robert Sasseville (tournament director)
  • Geoff Grant (tennis parent)
  • Mitch Alpert (long-time USTA volunteer)
  • Ellen Ehlers (tournament director & long-time USTA volunteer)
  • Paul MacDonald (former college & pro player, current coach)
  • Maria Cercone (tennis parent, coach)
  • Rick Meyers (former college & pro player, coach, USTA volunteer)
  • Claire Roth (long-time USTA volunteer, long-time ITA volunteer)
  • Sally Grabham (tournament director)
  • Ignacio Hirigoyen (former college & pro player, college coach)
  • Larry Newton (coach)
  • Andi Brandi (coach)
  • Mark Bey (coach)

13 thoughts on “Familiarize Yourself With the 2017 Junior Competition Changes

  1. “The only way a player could age up AND maintain a ranking in the higher age group was to play up and win matches.”

    And people have a problem with this? Are there really people out there who feel they are entitled to play up without earning the spot.

    Want to play up? Start at the level 5s and earn your points.

  2. Seems like a good idea to me. Will encourage kids to play in their natural age group longer instead of rushing around trying to accumulate points in the higher age division – effectively trying to play 2 age groups at once. Seems reasonable to think a kid ranked 10 in the 14’s would naturally fall into the 16’s between 100 and 150. This is the way the rest of the world does it and it seems to work pretty well.

  3. Overall significant improvement over the system we have been stuck with the past few years. Many more options for the kids and it appears a lot of good new events.

  4. Is the counting up just at the national level? Sounds like a good idea for the large sections too. I remember the year before aging up, my son would play 25 or more tournaments-mid to lower sectionals in the upper age and top sectionals in the current age. If players weren’t ranked in the top 150 in the section (our section has 1500-2000 sectionally ranked players in each age and gender group) in the older age before they aged up, they would struggle to get into tournaments the first 6 months after aging up. Since tourneys took 1/8 of applicants from younger age, it was easier to get in even the higher tourneys when they were in the younger age. However, since they were not really ready to play up the high tourneys, usually they did not go deep.

    I really appreciate the addition of 5 level 3 tournaments with a 32-64 draw at each location. In our section, to earn national level 3 points, players play either a 128 draw tourney outdoors in winter (during the school year!) or a 160+ tourney in 90 degree+ humid weather in the summer-week of misery for parents and players alike. To have the opportunity to earn those same points with a smaller draw and less missed work and school and without playing in cold or steamy weather is like a dream come true. I know there were level 2 tourneys with 32 draws before but it was hard to earn enough national points competing against so many other sectional players in the two nat 3s and 4 nat 4s in our section-even one of the Nat 4s was a 128 draw. Then we would see players from smaller and/or weaker sections who played 32 draw sectional championships; they were ranked 3 or 4 in their section and 100-150 in the nation; they’d easily get in Nat 2s but have records like 2-25 in national play outside their section.

    USTA national does use quotas for the large sections for the national level 1s but the Nat 2s had always been based on NSL. With 6 Nat 3 in 2017, players can forego the large sectional tournaments-maybe just play 2 out of the 6 and play the Nat 3s instead to get into the Nat 2s and national championships. Some of the Nat 3s are even a closer drive than sectional tournaments in our large 9 state section. Certainly the new schedule gives players a lot of choices. Only wish it came sooner!

    When my son visited colleges out of section and met recruits from other sections, we were surprised that players in other sections could play 1/3 to 1/2 the number of tournaments and earn the same star level and similar USTA national ranking. Their tennis budget probably also was half the cost, and fewer were homeschooled-maybe the blue chips were virtually schooled, but 4 stars in those sections didnt have to go that route. In our section, 11th grade 4 stars averaged 20 or more tournaments a year. I hope with this more Nat 3s, counting up, etc that players in the larger sections will be able to reduce the amount of tourneys played.

    I hope in the future the USTA national junior committee will also look into some changes for the high level national team events; it really isnt fair to have 7 players from small and weak sections which means some 2 stars get to play in a national 1 tourney, when only allowing 7 players from the large and strong sections to play-that does not even cover all the 5 stars-it may only cover the blue chips. Maybe two small/weak sections should be combined into one team, and the strong or larger sections should have 2 teams, e.g. Zonals has multiple teams for larger sections but not the national team 1. This is how different it is to earn 250 national points in a large section vs a small or weak section; Scenario A) player wins 7 main draw matches over 4 days with many opponents being 4 or 5 stars in Nat 4 sectional tourney 2) two 2 or 3 star players from a weak section play each other in a national lvl 1 team event and the winner gets 250 points from beating a single 2 or 3 star player-loses other 3 matches. I wish the larger sections would add counting up, reduce draws, and then have a few UTR wildcards to cover the truly talented players who would be excluded if the sectional draws were cut in half. There are unseeded players that make it into the semifinals of some of the extremely large tourneys but those would get in with a UTR WC; most of the extra 64 players lose quickly in the early rounds.

    It is also important to note that while ITFs are not included on the national schedule, US players do earn USTA national points for playing ITFs in the US-again that gives players more choices.

  5. As a result of these changes to the selection process for USTA National Championships, these top junior tournaments will no longer pit the best players in the nation against each other. The Sectional Endorsement Lists (SEL) should be the only list used to select players at these events, because each section knows who their best players are regardless of any given player’s national rankings. The SEL lists players who succeeded locally and some of the players who are high on this list have soundly and consistently defeated or competed well with players with higher national rankings but who rightfully have a lower ranking on the SEL. The new changes will allow players who didn’t succeed at the local level, but had the funds to travel to distant L2 or L3 national tournaments with weaker draws, to be selected into the National Championship tournaments. The USTA is flat out wrong on this one, and they have just substantially weakened the upcoming draws of the top junior tournaments. This new selection criteria gives young players from somewhat less fortunate backgrounds no reason to even believe that the USTA is interested in their development and helping them become the best that they can possibly be. The USTA has just double-downed on destroying any hope of American tennis becoming great again by making it difficult for a very important segment of society, where, I believe, the next great American players will come from. This is yet another example of the USTA getting in the way of greatness.

    The following is the very excerpt that explains the new changes to the selection process for USTA National Championships:

    • New Selection Processes for USTA National Championships. While the intent of the existing schedule to drive play back to the Sections rightly set the standard that players should succeed locally before venturing to play nationally, the shift from many players selected from the National Standings List (NSL) into USTA National Championships to no players selected from the NSL was too severe. It weakened tournaments on the national schedule, narrowed choices for some high-level players who rightfully sought to play national tournaments for their development, and had an adverse impact on strong Sections with smaller quotas. The new selection process seeks to have a better balance to both encourage Sectional play, but also to value L2 and L3 national play. To that end new selection processes have been put in place for 2017 that seek to correct these issues. This includes re-introduction of the NSL and qualifiers from National Level 2 Tournaments as a pathway. It also includes treating the selection processes of the smaller 64-draw tournaments (Spring and Indoors) slightly differently.

    1. John. The draw sizes of National Championships were increases to accomodate the additional selection criteria. The number of quota or SEL spots are the same as 2016 and those were increased significantly from 2015. I think you’ll find the weakest players in these events as measured by UTR/TRN will have been players at the bottom of their sectional lists. Under the new system on the 32 seeds get 1st round byes and everyone else plays a non-seeded first round match which I think benefits everyone.

  6. I totally disagree with you John. Some sections are so weak, that their number #4 player is a 2 star, In some sections, there are only 2-3 players in each age group that have a prayer of a chance of beating the #20 player in So Cal, Florida, etc. Other sections are so strong, that almost every player in the top 50 to 75 is a 4 star to blue chip. Now players in strong sections can earn their points at the 6 Nat 3s to get in the 4 Nat 2s to have a better chance of getting in or being seeded at Nat 1s.. Sometimes top 100 TRN players from strong sections would end up on waiting list for the 32 draw Nat Selections; they were much better players than the guys who earned their National points placing high in the top sectional tourneys in weak sections; those guys could be ranked 150-200 USTA just from doing well at high level sectionals and then they would lose badly to kids ranked in the UsTA 300s from strong sections. When you play a 128 draw sectional tournament, and only the top 4 really get much in national points, and 20-30 of those 128 are 4 star or better, it is hard to earn national points in sections-so much competition between similarly talented players that it is not the same 4 players placing each time. If anything, national tournaments are weakened by quota systems that give a minimum number of entries to weak sections. Again I reference the national team event where the weak sections sent 7 players with the players outside the top 2 probably being 3 star or less while there were 5 star players who didnt get a chance to play national team from the strong sections. At the national team events, players earned 250-275 points for each win regardless of whether their opponent was a 2 star or blue chip. My opinion is there should not be any 2 or 3 stars at Nat 1s or 2s. For example, there is one guy who regularly get in Nat 1s and 2s due to his sectional ranking but he is 1-10 vs 4 stars and no wins vs 5 stars and blue chips. I could name a dozen, maybe even 20 players in our section that couldn’t get in some tourneys he got in, but have a better than 50/50 ratio vs 4 stars.

  7. Each section sends their best players via SEL. Stronger sections get many slots; weaker sections get very few slots. Problem solved.

  8. John A. problem may be solved for level 1s (but not national 1 team!) with sectional quotas but level 2s are all NSL. The new Nat 3s will give players an alternate way to get in Nat 2s that may be easier or shorter than playing in their own sections. Players from strong sections barely get in as alternates to Nat 2s and then beat some seeds; current NSL is irrevelant as many players can earn a good enough ranking to get in Nat 2 just from placing in tourneys in small weak sections because it is hard to earn national points at large sectional tourneys in strong sections. The new Nat 3s are a good way to improve a player’s NSL will possibly spending less time and $ than playing in section. Some of the Nat 3s are closer than sectional tournaments to many players. Sometimes out of the way cities get top sectional tournaments. Choice and alternate routes are good.

  9. I wonder if the USTA Junior committee that came up with the schedule has any parents of publicly schooled players on the committee. I was excited to see there were Nat 2s and Nat 3s scheduled near Atlanta. However, the National Committee scheduled a 4 day Nat 2 in May during final exams week for players in the Atlanta area. I guess there will only be homeschooled or virtually schooled players at the Rome GA Nat 2 site. Some of the highest ranked players in the South do attend public school and have exams scheduled on those tournament days. Usually the Nat 2 was held on Memorial Day Weekend. Last year there was a conflict because both the Nat 2 and the GA Qualifier were both scheduled for Memorial Day. This year neither are. I thought USTA National was scheduling more Nat tourneys over holidays so players would miss less school. There is a Nat 3 in May too that might conflict with AP exams. Why did the USTA Nat Committee move the tournament from Memorial Day? The tourney size was increased from 32 to 64 so it is a day longer. If it was on Mem Day weekend no school would be missed for most GA players. GA players account for 35-40% of the top players in the South.

    I was hoping my son would miss less school playing national tournaments because some were smaller draws than sectional tournaments. Each year more players leave excellent public schools because of tennis conflicts. How can we expect tennis to grow in popularity if it is impossible to balance school and tennis?. Most of the points are on the last day of the tournament. A player cant get in Kzoo unless he is going deep in a lot of sectional tournaments which means missing a lot of Mondays and now even Tuesdays. USTA needs to make it easier for public school students to play. USTA is already competing with ITFs for the top homeschoolers. Some of the high level sectional tournaments will become weak if USTA loses both the iTF players and the best players who attend public school.

    1. Personally I think we should give the committee credit for dramatically increasing the amount of choice and tournament oportunties at the national level. There are always going to be school conflicts given schedules are different all over the country. A large part of the South returns to school in early August. Combine that with the fact that National events cannot conflict with major dates blocks reserved for important sectional events and we have a schedule that most people should be able to work with. In a 64 draw event 4 players make it to the final rounds. That doesn’t seem like a major impediment to attending regular school. You didn’t miss much school under the old model but then again there were virtually no national opportunities. There will always be some trade offs.

  10. As for the update and the change in the doubles scoring format, I was told that the changes are the result of pressure from the USTA Sports Science Committee and the concerns that kids are playing too much. This is ridiculous and if they are concerned about overtraining and overuse injuries then I’m not sure that a change in doubles format for L2s will have an impact. How about an “off season” or why only L2s and not L3s? A lot on national points will be awarded for essentially random outcomes in closely competitive matches. If we really want to develop juniors’ doubles skills no ad sets to 6 won’t get it done. Heck, there is a chance that each player doesn’t get a chance to serve twice. This is just another example of the powers that be at USTA National missing the boat and not being in touch with what players and parents want but unfortunately they don’t seek the opinions of the stakeholders in junior tennis.

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