Let's work together to increase participation in this great game of tennis! I came across a few shocking junior tennis stats recently in relation to tournaments. According to the USTA, 38% of junior players drop out of tournaments after playing their very first tournament, 45% of players drop out after playing their second tournament, and 76% drop out after playing their fifth tournament. There are many possible explanations for these numbers. Perhaps the player has only played tennis at that point in their life, and hasn’t developed other all-around athletic skills from other sports, such as soccer and basketball, which in turn, may be hindering their tennis abilities. Or, maybe the player has a very poor technical stroke foundation, and they need to go back to the drawing board to clean up their fundamentals to eliminate unforced errors. Perhaps the player is not very mentally and physically tough, and they haven’t learned how to appropriately deal with adversity and losing, leading them to quit when things get challenging.
In my experience, one of the major reasons that players get discouraged and don’t play another tournament is that the player is registered for the inappropriate level of tournament in the first place, specifically if it is a regular yellow ball tournament. For example, I have seen numerous situations over the years when a new tournament player registers for a Level 5 or 6 tournament for their very first tournament. Unfortunately, they should be playing Level 7 and 8 tournaments at that point in their development. It is the responsibility of the parents and coaches to be correctly informed, and set their junior players up to have the best possible chance of having some success, build confidence, and establish enthusiasm and love for the lifelong game of tennis, especially from a young age.
I am a huge advocate and supporter of the new 2018 Player Progression Pathway, which now requires players ten years of age and younger to start in orange and green dot tournaments before advancing up to yellow ball. However, below I provide a continuation of that pathway, specifically focusing on the regular yellow ball tournaments. Please note that this pathway is simply meant to be a general guideline, and may need to be adjusted on an individual basis when necessary. Also note that a particular player who previously progressed to a higher phase at one age division may need to restart at a lower phase upon aging up into a new age division. Here at HAT, we recommend that players start to age up to the next division 4-6 months prior in order to get a “running head start” in that age group.
A Recommended Regular Yellow Ball Tournament Road Map for Junior Players
Phase 1 (Beginner Colorado State Level Player): L7
Phase 2 (Intermediate/Advanced Colorado State Level Player): L6
Phase 3 (Intermountain Sectional Level Player): Intermountain L5's, L4's, L3's (and L6's at both current age group and one age group up on an as need basis)
Rules to Graduate
66% rule (2/3 win/loss) demonstrates a player is in the correct phase.
If winning percentage is higher than 66%, the player may move up to Phase 4.
If winning percentage is 33% (1/3 win/loss) or lower, the player may need to move back down to Phase 2.
Winner in a L5, Winner/Finalist in several L3’s and L4’s (at least 3-4)
L6's are played in the current age division in this phase primarily to stay match tough, continue to learn winning habits and work on improvements learned in practice. L6’s may also be played at a higher age division (one age division up) to gain match play experience and points against older players.
Phase 4 (National Level Player): L3’s, L2's and L1’s (and Intermountain L4's, L3's on an as need basis)
Rules to Graduate
66% rule (2/3 win/loss) demonstrates you are in the correct phase.
If winning percentage is higher than 66%, the player may move up to Phase 5.
If winning percentage is 33% (1/3 win/loss) or lower, the player may need to move back down to Phase 3.
Winner/Finalist/Semifinalist in several L3’s, L2’s, and L1’s
Upon graduating from Phase 4, players enter Phase 5, and thus become international level players competing against other players from all over the world on the ITF Junior Circuit. In Phase 6, players then transition into becoming a world class professional player competing on the ITF Pro Circuit, while Phase 7 is the ATP/WTA Tour level.
My hope is that if more parents and coaches follow this pathway for the yellow ball tournaments, especially at the beginning of junior players’ tennis careers, the stats provided by the USTA with regards to tournament player retention will improve drastically over time. Please leave your questions and comments below, or you can always contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you on the court (or at a tournament)!