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USTA Florida Q&A: Junior and 10 and Under Tennis Rule, Tournament Changes

March 9, 2011 12:51 PM
The emergence of USTA 10 and Under Tennis featuring the QuickStart play format in Florida is rapidly changing the way children are introduced to the game, and has kids flocking to junior tennis programs at facilities across the state. Due to rule and tournament changes at both the USTA national level and the USTA Florida Section level, it is also changing the way children ages 10 and under will compete in tournament play in the coming years.

The USTA Florida Junior Competitive Council is still in the process of developing plans for 10 and Under Tennis competitive tournaments in 2012 and beyond, but USTA Florida recently sat down for a Q&A with USTA Florida Junior Competitive Council Chairwoman Cindy Harkins, who is also the park supervisor for Seminole County Leisure Services and Red Bug Lake Park in Casselberry, Fla., outside of Orlando. Harkins discusses rule changes for 10 and Under Tennis and further changes being considered, and why recent changes were made for ages 12-18 designated draw sizes, and for endorsement rules for Florida junior players to USTA national tournaments.

The charge for the USTA Florida Junior Competitive Council is "to promote and monitor junior competitive tennis in order to provide the best competitive pathways for players of varying ability levels so they can develop to the highest competitive level possible." The Florida Junior Competitive Council is comprised of high performance coaches, tournament directors, parents and collegiate coaches. The council monitors both national and sectional tournaments and rankings and collects data to assist in detecting trends. 

The Council has led many junior competitive changes over the years, including in the early 2000s changing the rankings from the STAR ranking to the Points ranking system, changing draw sizes and monitoring draw sizes for strength and competitiveness, and eliminating the player endorsement policy for national tournaments on a trial basis with the intent to monitor the impact on the Level 4 and 5 tournaments.

Questions for the Q&A with Harkins were culled from recent parent, tournament director and coach queries, and from USTA Florida staff and volunteers:

Q: Why did the Junior Council reduce the designated tournament draw sizes? 

Harkins: The tracking data showed the strength of field for the tournaments was not competitive and in many instances the draws were not filling up. For instance, the February 2010 designated, one of the strongest, had the following draw size and last-ranked player in: 
Boys 18: 61/395; Boys 16s: 64/261; Boys 14s: 64/209; Boys 12s: 57/248; Girls 18s: 64/333; Girls 16s: 64/338; Girls 14s: 50/322; and Girls 12s: 53/205. 

Fifty percent of the draws did not fill. This year the same tournaments had the following:
Boys 18: 32/73; Boys 16s: 32/69; Boys 14s: 32/78; Boys 12s: 32/75; Girls 18s: 32/82; Girls 16s: 32/82; Girls 14s: 32/80; and Girls 12s: 32/121.

The strength of the seeds also improved from 2010. In order for players to develop and improve they need to play in highly-competitive matches. The USTA High Performance Development staff recommended a ratio of 3 out of every 4 matches to be competitive (6-4, 6-4 or closer defines a competitive match). On an average, the Level 4 and Level 5 Florida tournaments had a competitive match ratio of 1 out of every 4. Previously there were far too many 0-0 matches to benefit either player.

Q: Can you please explain the endorsement, and the reason for the endorsement requirement, and the benefit to Florida players?

Harkins: The change to the endorsement policy was made after careful consideration by monitoring rankings and tournament participation and gathering valuable data from the national and sectional levels. Input was also provided by both the college and high performance coaches. In previous years with the STAR ranking system, the endorsement process was also limited to players who played within their age division in a certain number of specified tournaments. Those tournaments had a strong strength of field and players benefited from the more competitive matches.

When national followed the Florida Section and went to a rankings by point system, the council made the decision to open the endorsement procedure without any limitations. In recent years the level of competition has dropped drastically and more players were traveling and incurring large expenditures in order to obtain better rankings and in some instances chasing points. The council feels very strongly that Florida has an outstanding competitive base to provide the necessary competition to develop strong players. In short, our best Florida players should be playing our most competitive Florida tournaments. By requiring players to play in a Florida tournament in order to receive an endorsement to a national tournament, this makes the Florida tournaments more competitive. This is evident by the improved strength of seeds for the January sectional and February designated from 2010 and 2011.

Q: Will the same players always get into the tournaments?

Harkins: No. In a 32 draw with a full feed-in consolation there will be eight players who receive zero points, another eight players who receive 18 to 38 points. At the Super Series level a player can earn 23 points for winning one match and up to 183 points for first place. Players who perform well at the lower level tournaments will incur enough points to surpass the players who are not winning matches and earning points at the designated and sectional levels. 

Q: Regarding 10 and Under Tennis, why is USTA Florida making it mandatory for all 10s division Rookie tournaments to use the orange ball on a 60-foot court?

Harkins: USTA and ITF rules for tennis adopted the 60-foot court and orange ball for 10 and Under Tennis competition beginning in 2012. Studies show that players develop quicker and develop better technique by using the age-appropriate equipment and court size. The Junior Council decided to introduce the new 10 and Under Tennis components at the Rookie level for 2011.

Q: What if a child is a great player and can play on a full-size court, but is only 8 years old? What will be left for them?

Harkins: Because a child can play on a full-size court does not necessarily mean it is the best method to develop technique and strategy, but this decision is best for the child's coach and parent. In studying the current top 10 and under players, most are already playing up in many of the tournaments. This option will still be available for players if their coach and/or parent feel they are ready to compete on a full-size court with a regular compression ball.

Q: Will all the 10 and Under Tennis tournaments eventually be played on a 60-foot court with an orange ball? 

Harkins: The Junior Competitive Council has formed two task forces to study the 10 and Under Tennis components and develop the best plan for the Florida players for 2012. The hope is to have a decision by April 1, 2011.

Q: Are these 10 and Under Tennis rule changes only taking place in Florida and why?

Harkins: The rule changes are taking place throughout the USTA. Some sections have adopted the rule change completely for 2011, and others are still developing plans for implementation.

Q: Why are these changes being made at 10 and Under Tennis tournaments, and what are the pros and the cons?

Harkins: The changes are so players can develop and compete on age-appropriate courts with the proper equipment, allowing them to become stronger and have a more complete game. The pros are just that: learn faster, develop better technique and strategy and have more players being more successful at younger ages. The cons are the difficulty in getting the infrastructure in place and the challenge to the teaching pros to have multi-level programs with different balls, courts sizes, etc. 

Q: Aren't these 10 and Under Tennis rule changes only for beginner or recreational players, and not tournament players?

Harkins: No. High performance studies show players who learn and compete on the age-appropriate size courts with the proper equipment develop quicker with better techniques and match strategy. As an example, a 9 year old who develops into a good basketball player isn't moved to a pro size court with a 10-foot basket to compete.   

Q: If my child is 8 years old but can play full-court tennis with a yellow ball, why shouldn't (s)he be able to?

Harkins: This year the Rookie tournament level is the only tournament that is using the orange ball and 60-foot court and does not allow players to play up. If a parent or coach feels their player is too strong for the younger age division and the 10 and Under Tennis components, they can play the child up in the other tournament levels.

Q: Why can't the USTA offer both 60-foot and 78-foot court 10 and Under Tennis tournaments?

Harkins: Currently Florida is offering both. The recommendation from USTA national Player Development is to have a balance of 80 percent orange ball on 60-foot court, and 20 percent green ball on 78-foot court. 

The 2011 USTA Florida Junior Competitive Council is chaired by Harkins, and included council members Maria Cercone, Bill Clark, Harry Gilbert, Robert Gomez, Jason Pardon, J. Webb Horton, Rick Workman, staff liaisons Ann Brown and Andy Gladstone, and staff consultant Bobby Curtis.






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