Monday, March 18, 2013

Does self-rating work?

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Employee | Legit Tennis Fanatic

Summer USTA season is right around the corner, and one of the questions we help to answer is what’s up with self-rating and does the system work. Many new USTA members struggle to understand the rating system, as do members that have been playing in the USTA for over 30 years! Unfortunately the system can seem quite complex, but the USTA tries its best to make the process as simple as possible…right.

Prior to the days of self-rating, the USTA used verifiers to rate players. This method definitely had its pros and cons. A good thing about a verifier was that they could review a player with a questionable rating during a match and quickly correct it. But one of the most common flaws was the short time a verifier would have to rate a player, sometimes within just a doubles group with 3 other players also being verified. So because I’m a slow starter, does that mean the verifier will rate me off of my shanks and rimmers, or because I’m just a pusher the verifier will not see that I win 99% of my matches? Thankfully to save on time, expenses, and other quarrels, the USTA developed a dynamic computer rating system where players are being continually rated based on their actual match scores (instead of how pretty or ugly our strokes are). However, without verifiers to place new players in a level, newcomers or former players returning to the league after a gap of time must self-rate according to USTA guidelines in order to register for a team.

USTA has you complete an online survey that determines 
your NTRP rating.
How this works is new or returning members that haven’t played in 3 years (2 if over 60 years old) who want to self-rate are subject to answering on the USTA website, a series of questions in all honesty and to the best of their ability about their tennis experience, and then consider what their own skill level should be according to the NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) guidelines. How could this possibly be flawed? Well, sometimes players either overrate or underrate because they answer questions too literally, don’t interpret them quite correctly, or fail to provide certain information. We continue to see players underrating themselves especially because someone recruiting them told them to rate at that level for a stronger chance of winning with their teams, or older returning players being overrated just because they once upon a time played for a college team.  

This online rating system doesn’t always ask the right questions to uncover facts such as hardly playing while on a college team or that you were only an average high school player who walked onto a mediocre college team. Or what about the difference between a junior player ranked 50 in a very populated section vs. one with the same ranking in a remote section—should they be the same? The difference between a senior 3.5 player and an adult 3.5 might in reality be more like the difference between a male 3.5 and a female 3.5. And suppose you’re a really good singles player but a lousy doubles playerthe NTRP system will treat you the same in both singles and doubles. The self-rating system simply does not account for these kinds of issues, they’re just considered the same. 

Sure there are consequences for those that underrate (or overrate). You have the occasional disqualifications here and there for being underrated, or you have some players who can’t find a team to take them because they’re overrated. There is also the issue of the spike of juniors (18 year olds not in college yet) self rating. The questions given can’t always gauge their skill level off of their smaller track record. This is why juniors can be a hot recruitment target since they are typically fast, hit harder, and can improve quickly (and we wonder why the 40 and over league was created-hmm)

Self-rating can be a tricky business, but in our next blog post we will guide you in how to self-rate. We’re curious, how do you think the USTA should self-rate? Do you think the current system we have is working? Let’s hear your thoughts.  

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