Category Archives: Competition

Tennis Scoring Abbreviations – The Hidden Consequences Will Impact Everyone

Chuck KrieseI have a guest post from a man I am honored to call a friend and mentor, Coach Chuck Kriese.  

With all the changes going on to the scoring system in collegiate and the junior tennis this is a MUST read.  We need to think long and hard about how changing the scoring system changes the game of tennis itself, and the lasting impact those changes will have.

 

For 141 years, the consistent barometer for marking levels of playing abilities, determining the rites-of-passage to new levels and the measuring of every competitor’s achievement has been the fascinating and challenging scoring system of tennis.  Traditional Tennis Scoring is now under assault as there is an attempt to change or abbreviate it at nearly every level.   The stated motive by the ITA and the USTA has been to attract more participation and the building of larger fan-bases at collegiate events.

As the 10-pt Tie-Breaker is now being used regularly instead of a learning-packed 3rd set for matches in junior tennis, No-ad Tennis is being bled into our youngster’s events as well.   In the college ranks, strong opposition by coaches and players was not enough to prevent the ITA from finally forcing it through.  Regardless of an ugly 4-year battle, the ITA made it a rule anyway for 2016.  Players and coaches complained in unison, but the end result was for coaches to do-it-or-else.   Multiple junior events are following suit this year with a narrative by USTA that suspiciously states, “Our kids need to play no-ad to get ready for college tennis.”  REALLY!!!    It is time to take notice!

The unintended consequences of such changes to the fundamental structure of tennis does much greater harm than is noticed on the surface.  Youngsters and Collegians are getting skewed and random results.  More harmful is that they don’t learn the depths of the game.  Seemingly, the path is being paved for abbreviated tennis to go into other levels of tennis. Since experimentations are already commonplace at the junior and collegiate levels, it might not be a stretch to assume that it soon becomes experimental at Grand-Slam and Davis Cup events.  The plan seems to be that in a few short years our youngsters and collegians to be integrated into acceptance of abbreviators.  Unfortunately, making things ‘easier to pick-up also makes them easier to put down!’

The fall-out of trying to make tennis easier could be far reaching and be impossible to reverse.  The following list shows 10 reasons why ‘Hard to pick up has also been proved as hard to put down’ and why Traditional Tennis Scoring and this great game have survived the many up’s and downs since 1874.  Other sport’s scoring systems have never been able to compare in depth nor in genius.  The scoring system of tennis is the game’s ‘most precious heirloom.’  It must be protected as such.  The following list represents the brilliance of our game’s wonderful scoring system.  Maybe it is not too late to let our tennis voices be heard.

  “Honor our Game – Protect Traditional Scoring!!!”    

Like many aspects of tennis that seem simplistic on the outside, the depth and intrigue of its scoring system have inspired and challenged players for 132 years.  Successes or non-successes have been benchmarked and gauged by its accuracy of measurement.  Its’ genius has presented the ultimate challenges to the body, mind and spirit of the competitor.  It is a most precious heirloom and should be respected as such.  Consider the following:

Traditional scoring is a fair, accurate and time-tested barometer for the many skill-sets that it takes to win in tennis. Skills to overcome ‘pecking orders’ and to go through the normal ‘rites-of-passages,’ for tennis levels have been assessed by consistent measurement for over a hundred years.  These give critical guidelines for player development.  Randomness and skewed results greatly harm developmental process.

Tennis is a game of simultaneous scoring opportunity for both offense and defensive postures. Thus, the need to win by 2 points instead of one per-game is paramount!! The 7th point of no-ad is of double-jeopardy value and is actually worth two games instead of one.  (eg. This overloaded value is easily understood when the set-score is 4-2 and one point makes it either 5-2 or 4-3;   however, the same weight is true every time a player loses the 7thSadly, the benefits gained from dishonest line-calls are enhanced because such weight is given to the 7th point of the game.

Fitness is a Corner-stone for Success in Tennis. Abbreviations to traditional scoring dilute and minimize the elements of conditioning and endurance of mind, body and spirit; therefore, results are often skewed.  Best USA athletes will not be inspired by dumbing down the physicality of the great sport of tennis!!!

Conversion Point (3-in-a-row) mastery is a critical skill-set for success in traditional scoring – The length of every game in no-ad scoring is 4-7 points. Also, no-ad requires the winning of only 1 point in a row for success. Those multiple situations that require very disciplined skill-sets to solve are minimized by no-ad. The skill of ‘War-Zone Endurance’ or the ability to carry and defend a lead is critical for success in tennis.

Abbreviated scoring promotes random momentum swings and neutralizes the small differences in the better player’s skill base.  Traditional scoring is designed for small differences of skill to become a big advantage as a match unfolds. This is where separation of players takes place. Early war-zones that are won usually set the tone for the match; however, no-ad diminishes that hard-earned separation earned by the stronger player.  Momentum that is well-earned by the better player is usually minimized.

Point Construction and a well-rounded game are highlighted by Traditional Scoring. No-ad accelerates false parity between levels without the deeper mastery of skill-sets usually required for advancement.   Abbreviated scoring rewards Ball-striking skill more than Point-construction skills.

Traditional Scoring produces great drama in the closing out of each game, set and match. The bi-product is usually heightened excitement. No-ad and abbreviated scoring dilute these opportunities for drama as one false crescendo after another is manipulated by the scoring system and not by skill-sets.

Players and Coaches want to play regulation tennis! They want to play the same system that professionals have used for 132 years.  They do not want to mark improvements nor important rites-of-passage that are manipulated by hybrid scoring methods.

No-Ad is not a rule of tennis – No-ad was originally invented as a novelty experiment during the tennis boom of the 1970s. There was no research done before its implementation into competitive arena. It has always been marketed as a ‘Time-Saver.’ Research in the 1980s prove that is causes more 3-set matches.

When we use traditional scoring, we are ‘Honoring of the game’ and protecting a precious Heirloom. Abbreviated forms of scoring will not sustain interest nor do they inspire players for the long-run.

Please  Do Your Part to Protect and to Promote Traditional Scoring….Ask our tennis leaders to do the Same!!!

Chuck Kriese was the coach at Clemson for 33 years and retired as a hall-of-fame coach in 2008. He has returned to collegiate coaching ranks at ‘The Citadel.’  During Kriese has been named to 4 national-coach-of-the-year awards.  He has coached 5 players to Junior Grand-Slam titles and 4 other second place finishes.  11 of Chuck’s players have risen to top 100 spots in the ATP and WTA.  He has authored four published Tennis books and has co-authored 2 others on Clemson sports history.  His 36 years of collegiate coaching produced 34 All-Americans, 4 national sr. Players of the year, 16 top 10 teams.  He is a former USA national Coach; Junior Davis Cup Coach and technical Director for SE Asia Tennis. He continues to teach, coach, to write and to give motivational speeches for coaches and young people.  To learn more about Coach Kriese visit his website www.ChuckKriese.Net.


The Importance of Every Ball


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As the leaves turn colors and the temperatures get colder players begin scrambling to indoor courts in the Pittsburgh area.  When I train players outside everyone get spoiled because there is ample time, courts, balls, and opportunities.  That all changes when you go indoors during the school year when both time and space become limited.  Most people look at this as a negative but I choose to look at it a different way.  I believe training indoors when resources are limited teaches players the importance of hitting every ball with a purpose.

When a player truly knows the value of each and every ball they hit their mind becomes locked in.  And when they become that engaged a coach has both their mind and body.  As I always tell the players, “the real practice doesn’t happen out here, it actually happens inside your head.”

Thank you cold months for teaching us the value of hitting every single ball with a purpose…


How Accurate is the Universal Tennis Rating System?

I have blogged about the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) System before (Ratings vs. Rankings)  and I believe it is an unmatched tool for coaches, players, and parents to accurately see just how good they really are in comparison with everyone from professional players across the world to anyone in your backyard.  I know many college coaches are using UTR to evaluate how a player would fit into their line-up, top collegiate players are using it to see if pro tennis is a dream they should attempt to pursue, and junior players are using it as the measuring stick to see if they really are improving at a faster rate than their peers.

With the all the undeniable valuable surrounding UTR people still ask, “How accurate can the Universal Tennis Rating System really be?”

Well just this week I did a case study of my own to answer that very question using the results of the Pennsylvania AAA State High School Singles Qualifying Tournament here in Western, PA.  Once the tournaments concluded and all finals results were published I logged into UTR and looked up the ratings of every single player who attempted to qualify.  I put each player’s rating number next to their name on the draw sheets and looked to see if the actual results mirrored what each player’s respective UTRs were.  What I discovered in doing this was nothing short of amazing!

In AAA High School Tennis in Western, PA there are 4 conferences or sections.  Each section holds a singles qualifying tournament in which the top 4 players in each (16 total) move onto the next round where they square off to complete and qualify for the state tournament.

In looking at each player’s UTRs in the 4 section tournaments the outcomes mirrored the UTR ratings perfectly.  In all of the section tournaments the player with the highest UTR finished 1st, second highest UTR 2nd and so on.  The correlation between actual results and UTRs were beyond coincidence!

Section 1

Section 1

Section 2

Section 2

Section 3

Section 3

Section 4

Section 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was intrigued so I continued my case study on to the next qualifying round.  The second qualifying rounded consisted of a tournament where the 16 best high school tennis players in Western, PA square off to qualify for the State Championship Tournament.  I thought if anywhere the Universal Rating System would not predict results would be here where players are so closely matched.  Out of all 16 matches played in the entire tournament 14 of them mirrored results the UTR ratings would have predicted.

Qualifying Championships

Qualifying Championships

So what about the 2 matches where the lesser rated player won?  This must mean UTR is not accurate, right?

Well, what I discovered in these two matches supported the accuracy of the Universal Rating System even more.  The first match in which the lesser rated player won had a margin of 0.04 difference between the two competitors.  The second match had a difference of 0.27.  I think It is pretty safe to say these players were very evenly matched and neither was the favorite.  What was even more interesting was the same player was involved in both of those matches, signifying that perhaps this was a breakthrough tournament for her.

After closely looking at the UTRs of players in a competitive tournament setting it just reaffirms to me how accurate it is.  I’ll be continuing this experiment in a few weeks by looking at the Universal Ratings of all the players who will be competing in the Pennsylvania State Singles Tournament in a few weeks.  Stay tuned for the findings…


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.”

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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.


Coach Slezak On American Tennis Radio

I had the honor to be the featured guest on American Tennis Radio today.  My coaching friend and mentor Chuck Kriese hosts this weekly podcast on the UR10s Radio Network.

We spent the hour talking about coaching, high school tennis, and principles of good coaching. You can listen to the recording below.

 

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Why Top Juniors Should Play High School Tennis

JV Tennis 2014High School Tennis gets a bad wrap in the world of junior tennis.  For top players it is looked at more of an activity as opposed to being a legitimate competitive sport.  It is often viewed as a waste of time for a variety of reasons.  For instance, the training is not rigorous, competition is weak, matches do not count towards rankings, and it is “a factor” but not “the factor” in getting recruited by a collegiate team.  Each school, coach, and situation is different so these generalizations are not always true however often times this is the viewpoint players and their parents have.

Whether you are a top player or not, there is much to be learned by taking the time to understanding what I am about to say.  By the end I hope you will see what high level players have to gain by competing in high school tennis.

Before I digress into the topic I want you to understand this is not going to be your typical sales pitch for high school tennis.  Certainly being a part of a team, socializing, competing while representing you school, etc. are all wonderful reasons to be a part of your tennis team.  But what I am about to tell you is much deeper and valuable in terms of developing a tennis champion.

IMG_1876I look at high school tennis, and for that matter all of junior tennis, as developmental.  Players should be learning and growing all the time.  They should learn from big wins, easy wins, bad losses, and tough losses.  The bottom line is they should be developing and growing constantly.  Everything should be approached with the mindset that it is as an opportunity for growth.  I believe we often lose sight of that and think this win or that loss is the end-all and be-all because we get so emotionally invested.  Keeping the big picture in mind and looking at everything as a developmental opportunity is a much more productive and healthy paradigm for the long haul.

The general rule of thumb for scheduling a player’s competitive year is The Rule of Thirds.  In a nutshell this means a third of the matches should be above a player’s current ability level, a third at their level, and a third below.  This allows players to assume all three roles (underdog, even, and the favorite) and associated balances of pressures in match play.

One of the BIGGEST mistakes made in the career of a junior player happens when they start winning and begin “playing up.”  The natural instinct is to keep moving them forward and playing them “up” in tournaments.  When they win it makes sense to want to quickly advance on to higher levels, and they should, but only a third of the time.  The mistake happens by forgetting to still play down a third of the time.  You see when a player “plays up” there is no real pressure because they are not expected to win, they get to assume the role of the underdog.  And always assuming the role of the lesser player is dangerous and detrimental to development.  Playing up provides the opportunity to grow but it does so without the burden of pressure.  Playing down below your level may not always be physically challenging but it most definitely is mentally challenging.  As the favorite player there is a tremendous burden because they should win and there is a big difference between “should win” and pulling off an “upset win.”

When playing down the athlete is placed in a “nothing to gain, everything to lose” situation.  They have the burden of pressure and must learn how to work through it in order to win.  In other words they must learn how to live up to expectations.  The idea that the player can gain nothing from this type of match is absolutely false because what they do gain is real lasting confidence.  When a player assumes the role of the favorite and wins, they cement lasting confidence and practice the routine of winning.  As the saying goes, “There is no better way to learn how to win than to actually win.”  These memories are critical to being able to hit the recall buttons in future tight match situations.  In essence, competing while playing the role of the favorite player practices how to win in pressure filled situations.  This is actually the little known secret to avoid choking in big time matches.

So where does high school tennis fit in for a high performing junior?  If the player is truly high performing, high school tennis is most likely in the bottom third of their competitive level and would be considered playing down.  Those high level players would enter each and every high school match knowing they are the favorite and their opponents are gunning for them with nothing to lose.  They know the local newspaper and everyone watching is expecting them to win each and every time they take the court.  They know the pressure of expectation lies completely on them.  That is a tremendous amount of pressure that you just don’t get from playing better players and assuming the underdog role all the time.  And being the favorite is a role top players must learn to fulfill to continue to develop as a player.

A high performing junior might go an entire season winning most matches 6-1, 6-2 but I guarantee there will be some moments where they are tested.  And in that handful of trying times throughout the season players learn how to win and get comfortable assuming the uncomfortable role of the favorite.  Nothing builds lasting confidence like coming through when expectations are high.  That lasting confidence will lead to big developmental gains and breakthroughs in future tight matches.  You see when that player is in a big match down the road they will have something to draw on mentally where they know, that they know, that they know, they can come through when the pressure is on.

Knowing that do you see how high school tennis can be a tremendous developmental tool for high performing junior players?

 


Loving Tennis or Hating to Lose, Which Comes First?

Most believe that people typically fall in love with the game of tennis and then become competitive at it.  In that exact order.  As if a player falls in love with the sound of the ball hitting the strings and out of that love develops into a fierce competitor on the court.

I want to pose the idea that more often than not the exact opposite of the above scenario occurs.  I believe the best tennis players develop because they are great competitors first and foremost.  They simply hate to lose at anything and it is their strong dislike for losing that initially fuels the necessary motivation to improve at tennis.  And then it is only over the course of time they fall in love with the complexity involved in the game of tennis itself.  It is because of this belief that the role of competition in developing a player is is of the utmost importance.  Hating to lose first is what fuels the motivation for improvement and eventual love for the game.

Young Coach Slezak

Young Coach Slezak

Let me tell you the story of how I first was introduced to tennis to support my point…

I was an active and athletic kid.  I played lots of sports (baseball, hockey, etc.).  I also absolutely hated to lose at anything.  I even remember playing video games and hating to lose at them.  My friends and younger brother were also very competitive and we challenged one another in everything.

My introduction to tennis was unique.  Like I said I played lots of sports but tennis was no where on my radar.  No one in my family or anyone I knew even played tennis.  Then Uncle Joe came into my life…

Around 8th grade my best friend Brian’s grandmother passed away.  It was a tough time for his family and his Uncle Joe had moved to Pittsburgh from Chicago for the summer.  Uncle Joe was an older gentlemen and a tennis player.  He loved to play tennis but he had no one to play with so he took Brian and I to the courts, stuck us both one one side of the net, and told us to keep the ball in so he could get some exercise.  He would playfully taunt us when he won or we messed up.  I have no idea if the taunting was just his personality or not but it was absolutely brilliant!  He literally got Brian and I to hate losing to him so much we kept wanting to play more.  We didn’t love playing tennis we just hated, and I mean hated, losing to Uncle Joe.  We would never pass up the opportunity just for the chance to play tennis and shut him up with a win.

Even Younger Coach Slezak

Even Younger Coach Slezak

My friend and I would walk to the tennis courts and practice with each other for hours and then challenge Uncle Joe in the evening.  We got pretty darn good with zero instruction.  It got to the point where he would have to challenge us one-on-one.  I literally hated to lose so badly that I would get up at 6:00am in the summer and play tennis with Uncle Joe before it got too hot just for the opportunity to beat him.

The interesting thing was that initially I had no interest in the game of tennis itself but over time, once I dug deeper into the game because I wanted to learn how to win, I absolutely fell in love with it!  I have never put down a tennis racket since that first summer and my drive to improve and win very much influences my coaching philosophy still to this day.

I think hating to lose really does come first for most people.  It is only in their tireless pursuit of avoiding losses they discover the wonderful complexity of the game of tennis and eventually then fall in love with it for a lifetime.

When I coach I look for those attributes of being a competitor first and a tennis player second.  I know I can teach anyone to play tennis but special things happen when a player is motivated internally by achievement needs and hating to lose.  As my friend and mentor Chuck Kriese says, “If you strongly dislike losing and really like winning then you will be pretty good.”


Developing Weapons on the Tennis Court

As my good friend and mentor Coach Chuck Kriese says tennis is a “High Beta Sport.”  I have blogged before that tennis is really an eye-hand combative sport.  It is like two gladiators walking into the arena and only one gets to leave victorious.  Tennis is a civilized form of eye-hand combat and there is no time clock, which means you must finish your opponent off.  We really are asking our players to be sophisticated gladiators or polite boxers.  It is not often people think of tennis this way but it is exactly what happens out there when two players take the court for a match.

Kitchen KnivesLet me provide an analogy for you.  Going into the gladiator arena would you rather have two 3-foot swords or one 5-foot sword and one 1-foot sword?  Even though both total up to 6 feet I know I would much rather have the 5-foot sword combination. Think of all the advantages and how much easier it would be to hurt your opponent with the longer sword.

Here is how the analogy relates to tennis players.  If your forehand and backhand are equally good that is wonderful.  However, imagine if your forehand or your serve are significantly better than all your other strokes.  In that case you have a big weapon that can be used to hurt your opponent with often.

I am not saying you should neglect developing the weaker parts of your game, because if your backhand is weak you need to make it stronger.  What I am saying is that if you have developed a weapon like a big serve or forehand use it and develop your game plan around using it often.  Many times players focus all their efforts on improving their weaknesses but never continuing to improve upon their strengths and that is a mistake.

And if you happen to come up against an opponent with a big weapon you had better make sure you do everything you can to avoiding getting hurt by it.


New Balance High School Tennis Championships

There is a groundbreaking annual tournament that will be launching this summer!  I say it is groundbreaking because it finally puts High School Tennis at the forefront of the Junior Tennis World…

New Balance is sponsoring the first annual National High School Tennis Championships.  It is going to be a top-notch singles event and anyone is eligible to enter as long as they competed on their school’s varsity tennis team.

The tournament will be held in Boston, MA July 21-25 at Harvard University.  During that week 64 Boys & 64 Girls will compete in a compass draw to determine the best High School Tennis Player in the country.  The winners will be receiving a wild card into the ITF International Hard Court Tennis Championships at the JTCC in College Park, MD.  New Balance is subsidizing the costs and providing some pretty amazing amenities to the player selected to play.  You can enter online at TennisLink and the tournament ID# is 450042714.

Players will be selected based on their Universal Tennis Ranking (UTR).  If you have no idea what UTR is I suggested reading a post I wrote some time ago about the difference between Rating vs. Rankings.  And because they are using UTR as the means of selection it will have no impact on player eligibility in Pennsylvania High School Tennis, I know because I am on the committee and asked…

Finally, take an hour out of your day and listen to my friend Lisa Stone interview Bruce Shilling from New Balance and Bill Mountford from USTA who are spearheading the ground breaking High School Tennis Championship.

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The Secret 80% of People Do Not Know

I am going to let you in on a little secret.  It may be the most actionable piece of information you ever hear for developing a champion athlete.  And if you really use the secret you’ll be doing things different than 80% of the people in youth sports.

The secret is to think in terms of Long-Term Development.  You see I would venture to say that 80% of people think about things in the short-term.  They think about doing well in the tournament next week or cramming in lessons and training right before the varsity tennis season starts.  They want results “right now” and are constantly looking for the short-term fix.  This is the reason you see junior players bounce from program to program and pro to pro.  When something is not working “right now” they think the answer is to make a short-term change.  This is the mentality of about 80% of people out there.

Long-Term Development

Now contrast that with a mindset of Long-Term Development.  This mindset is nothing more than planning from the very beginning for the long haul and mindfully aligning everything in an effort to reach that goal far off on the horizon.  It is characterized by a growth mindset, slow and steady progress, making little improvements each day, and not getting caught up in short-term successes and setbacks.

Planning for the long-term is not easy because it takes a great deal of wisdom and foresight.  In the world of tennis this would be taking a 7-year-old and developing him or her to become the best they can be at 20+ years of age.  Along the way taking no shortcuts and committing to believe and trust in the plan.  In my experiences those who have had the most success were also those who committed to the idea of long-term development from the very beginning.

If you think about it, regardless of the sport, you are really only competing against 20% of everyone involved.  Right off the bat, about 80% of the people are only focused on the short-term and that means in the long-term they really have no chance to do something special.  If you have the mindset of long-term development, you are only competing against the other 20% of people who are thinking the same way as you.

Having the mindset of long-term development will give you the edge when it matters most in an athletes career.