Stop Chasing Points & Start Chasing Ratings

“The moment a player starts worrying about their ranking the is moment they stop improving” is a wise old tennis saying because it is true.  As soon as a young athlete begins focusing on what they are ranked instead of improving 1% each time they train or compete they lose focus of the long-term process.  They end up with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset and development comes to a grinding halt.

Allow me to paint a picture about our current junior tennis landscape.  The points per round and ranking system in USTA junior tennis looks really good on paper, after all it is exactly what the ATP and WTA tours are doing.  The problem is children are smart and they know the most important thing is the points they earn and the ensuing ranking they get because it is ultimately what qualifies them for bigger tournaments.  And like I said before this all looks good in theory but the problem is the players are not chasing improvement instead they are chasing points because that is what they are rewarded for.  They start looking for ways to manipulate the system and a big disparity comes into play because some players simply have the means to travel and play lots of tournaments thus have more opportunity to earn points.  I hope the bigger picture is starting to become clear.  And I want to go on record as saying that I am not against rankings because they have their place and purpose but there is a much better way to measure just how good you are…

The best way to measure how good you are is with a rating.  To be specific a Universal Tennis Rating (UTR).  I have blogged in depth about the Universal Tennis Rating System before and its benefits.  The biggest benefit is that the only way to improve your UTR is to chase improvement and prove those gains in competitive match play.  If every player was focused on improving their own unique UTR they would have a growth mindset and look at every single time they take the court as a way to improve just 1%.  And as Coach John Wooden says, “a bunch of small improvements eventually add up to be a big improvement.”


So players, parents and coaches out their stop chasing points and start focusing on improving your rating.  And If you do that you will certainly be on the right track to truly becoming the best you can be.

3 thoughts on “Stop Chasing Points & Start Chasing Ratings

  1. Bruce

    In particular, ‘Stop Chasing Points & Start Chasing Ratings’ describes the system my two daughters were in when playing junior tennis. (They’re both playing college tennis today.)

    We spent lots of money trying to gain national and Junior ITF ranking points, to help build a college recruiting resume. In the final year of my youngest daughter’s junior tennis career, we discovered many Division I coaches were leaning towards UTR as a competitive level measuring stick, and not rankings.

    I’ve since come to discover, you don’t really need to chase ratings, as they come as part of a longer term player development commitment when you play the appropriate competition (about 80% – 90% of matches against opponents that are 1 UTR placement above and below your UTR score.) This means that instead of paying lots of money travelling across the country (required to be nationally ranked), you can find players near where you live and close to your UTR, that may be different ages (junior or adult), and male or female. (This is why we could use more level-based competitions… )

    I use the analogy that chasing rankings are like taking many trips. You need to start a new trip each time you change age brackets, or move to another USTA section. Sometimes you get caught taking a few trips at once, as you can’t take ranking points with you between regions, high school, Junior ITF Circuit, or college.

    However, ratings are more like a journey. There is less of a “chase” requirement. Ratings become one lifetime journey the measures player development throughout your competitive tennis pathway — whether your goal is high school tennis, college, or the pros.

    Because tennis really is a lifetime sport, I believe UTR measures what matters throughout each segment of the journey.

  2. Reginald Smith

    What is the basic algorithm of the UTR?

    Then how do you translate UTR to reality?
    ie. If my 14 yr old son with UTR 8.0 beats a 12 yr old UTR 10.0 in match 6-1, 6-0, then another week beats another 13 yr old with UTR 9.2 6-2, 6-3.

    Lastly, do USTA area board members and local tennis coaches’ kids get a legacy UTR to make them look better than other kids, as a consequence of their dedication to tennis? It’s a lot harder for a UTR rating to go up, than go down.

    Lastly, if 32 player tournaments ie. Excellence tournaments keep the same group of players, playing amongst themselves. Doesn’t that get incestuos with the points gained by players and shields players UTRs because it’s harder to get lowered UTRs if you are considered playing nearly evenly matched UTR players.

    Something is not right about how UTRs were originated and how they are maintained.

    Lastly, if a set of kids are constant put in a pull of highly competitive kids, doesn’t it reeks of special cases for special kids and others real don’t rise above the caste system. Isn’t this similar to school systems where “we” have private and boarding school for some-where they are taught leadership and others are taught trade skills and jobs.

    Improvement, I wonder how this impacts the late bloomer and the Blessed-image of the chosen few. Needless to say, this is a sport of mind-gaming by the less atheletically-endowed. So exclusivity continues to be arranged by those holding quarters to protect the shrine.

    I don’t think the game is honored by these ploys that are more nefarious than transparent. 7 game competitiveness doesn’t translate to viable transparency to the true numbers and algorithms. The systems needs to be audited by real-independent statisticians every two months and results reviewed and approved other Tennis (ie. ITA officials) not USTA officials or anyone connected to it.

    If you waste $300 million, waste it on legitimacy of the practices implemented.

    1. Alex Slezak Post author

      You bring up some good points and I’d love to have more discussion with you. I do know that UTR is totally independent of the USTA. What I think is best about the UTR system or concept is players put the focus on getting better because getting better and winning is the only way to advance. There will always be log jams at certain levels where players must separate themselves from the pack as tennis is a pecking order sport which is tough to overcome.


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