by TennisRecruiting.net, 18 February 2011
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Change has finally arrived.
Last March, the USTA approved changes to junior tournaments and rankings at the national level. New draw sizes, new draw formats, and a reduction in the number of tournaments that count for national rankings are all on tap for 2011. All of these changes went into effect at the beginning of 2011.
Why were these changes made? What are the goals that motivated the changes?
Lew Brewer, Director of USTA Junior Competition, took time out to answer some of the more common questions about the changes.
Questions and Answers
TennisRecruiting.net (TRN): Last fall, the USTA announced changes to national junior tournaments and rankings for 2011. Could you talk about the broad goals and principles behind this move? What is the USTA trying to achieve?
Lew Brewer (LB): These changes have actually been in the works for several years. The USTA conducted surveys of players, parents, coaches, and volunteers in 2008, and we identified strengths and weaknesses in the system.
With that input in place, the Junior Competition Committee identified several goals:
- tennis should be more affordable at the national level
- there should be more time during the year for training
- reserve time in the calendar for sectional events
- ensure that players can earn national rankings without having to travel extensively or miss school
- players should earn the right to compete in national tournaments by first having success in sectional events
We talked about these goals - and the policies that we have put in place to achieve them - on our website.
TRN: Let's take a look at the USTA National Championships first. Can you give us an overview of changes to the premier USTA events?
LB: The biggest changes came for the 14s. We are changing the structure of the Championships for the 14s division to make them more like the 12s. Draw sizes will be reduced from 192 to 128, and they will use the compass draw format. The national championships for the 12s have long been compass draws of 128, and that format should be just as successful for the 14s.
The smaller draw sizes in the 14s should make for better tournaments - the 14s nationals have historically included players with lower national rankings than the other age divisions - the smaller draws should help with that. Also, the compass draw format will guarantee these kids four matches.
For all age divisions, the number of USTA National Open qualifiers that gain automatic entry into the USTA National Championships is being reduced from 3 to 2 for each tournament - and those spots are being shifted to wild cards. That changes should improve the strength of the championships by moving the number of players from each section back towards their quotas.
TRN: One of the biggest changes seems to be modifications to the Level 3 tournaments - now called USTA Regional Tournaments. Could you summarize those changes?
LB: One of the issues discovered in our surveys was that our national schedule covered too much of the calendar. With so many national tournaments spread out across so many dates, there was a lot of conflict between national and sectional events.
Starting in 2011, we have tried to formalize the Level 3 tournaments so that we do not have a hodgepodge of different events at different times. These events - the USTA Regional Tournaments - will now take place four times each year in at eight sites simultaneously across the country. They will all have draw sizes of 32 so that they can be completed over a 3-day weekend.
Scheduling these smaller tournaments concurrently around the country should reduce travel costs, minimize work and school missed, and allow USTA Sections to more effectively plan their schedules. It should also allow for more training time for juniors.
TRN: You mention the draw size of 32. The USTA National Opens and Regional Tournaments all now have draw sizes of 32 - with the exception of one set of summer tournaments that have draw sizes of 64. Can you talk about that?
LB: As I mentioned above, a draw size of 32 allows for a tournament to be completed in three days. These smaller draws should lead to more time in the classroom, and it should also make playing in these tournaments more affordable since the number of travel days is compressed.
These smaller draw sizes should also make for stronger tournaments - and encourage play at the local and sectional level. Playing in a national event should be prestigious - with the larger draw sizes, there were players without national rankings that were getting into these regional and national tournaments. We want to foster a system of earned advancement - players should compete and win at the local and regional level before they play in these national tournaments.
TRN: I can certainly understand the advantages of the smaller draw sizes, but those smaller draws also lead to less opportunities to earn points for national ranking. What do you think about that?
LB: That goes back to the notion of earned advancement. There was a general belief that earned advancement was diminished with the current system - that there were kids trying to compete nationally who would have been better-served by competing regionally. People complained that there was a sense of entitlement - kids were playing in national events who had not earned their way.
We have hopefully changed the system to encourage local and sectional play. The majority of kids should now be playing matches closer to home - and players will need to win consistently at each level to move up towards competing nationally.
TRN: The number of tournaments that will contribute towards a junior ranking is going to be reduced from best-of-8 to best-of-6. What impact will that change make?
LB: By reducing the number of tournaments that count towards national ranking, we hopefully reduce the pressure to spend money to travel and compete constantly. That was another complaint that we often heard from parents: "It seems like some kids play 50 tournaments to get eight."
Reducing to best-of-6 should allow for more training time - and make it easier for players and their families to plan their tournament schedules.
TRN: We have heard people complain that players who had low national rankings under the old system will lose their rankings and not even qualify to compete in their larger Sectional tournaments. Do you think those concerns are warranted? LB:
We are certainly watching for any unintended consequences, but we don't think those concerns will necessarily play out. We publicized the system long ago so that everyone could understand the system, and we think that people will find their way.
It may be true that less people are ranked nationally, but, again, we think that earned advancement - working up through local, regional, and national tournaments - will be much healthier for junior tennis.
TRN: Thanks for answering our questions. You have articulated the goals and changes quite clearly, and certainly everything sounds quite reasonable. What kind of feedback are you getting about these changes?
LB: No one likes change and we have heard mixed comments. The junior competition committee thinks that these changes should make a number of things better without having a negative impact. We think by the middle of the year players will be competing in the appropriate events.
It is not like we just made these changes out of the blue. These changes are the result of years of work from a number of people - with input from all of the stakeholders. The USTA Executive Committee, which includes representatives from every Section, unanimously approved these changes. We also tried to give people plenty of notice that these changes were on the way for 2011.
Players will adjust to the new structure and rules. We are carefully watching how things unfold. Now that the first set of USTA Regional Tournaments have been played, we were happy to see that the matches were much more competitive. There were not so many 6-0, 6-0 matches. We fully expect everyone to be happier with USTA junior tennis once they get used to things.
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