Jan 2 2014

How To Avoid Getting Bumped in 2014

Doubles | NTRP | Rules | Singles | Team Captain | USTA       Clif Render      
A High Level Tennis Player

I don’t know about you, but I'm really looking forward to playing tennis in 2014. For the first time since I started playing tennis 6 years ago, I'll be playing at a new USTA NTRP rating level, and I can't wait to get started! Of course, I probably should have started playing at this level some time ago but for various reasons (none of them intentional), my computer rating has not changed in all that time. For the longest time, I didn’t question accuracy of the system's assessment of my abilities. Over the past year or two, however, I've had a number of people tell me that they couldn't believe that I continued to stay at my same rating level while many of the people around me (some better, some worse) got bumped up. This prompted me to spend a good deal of time researching the system and how it works in order to understand it better. So, what I'd like to do to kick off 2014 is to share a little bit of what I've learned about how the system works and how your play influences it's analysis of your abilities.

Before I get started, let me add a little disclaimer. I absolutely DO NOT endorse gaming or artificially manipulating the system in any way. Having played at a level where sandbaggers are common (are there any levels where they're not?), there's nothing I hate to see more than a sandbagger who's more concerned with winning and making it to Nationals than they are concerned with playing good competitive tennis. That being said; I still think it's beneficial for us to understand exactly how the system works, so we will all know what's going on. As a technology guy, I'm a big fan of the idea of open source, and I think that the more transparent the process is, the more enjoyable and rewarding it can be. I won't go into details on exactly how the NTRP rating system works in this post except to say that you might want to read my earlier post entitled Open Source the NTRP. It gives a really good overview of what makes your rating change over time and what your match play results mean to your overall rating.

In order to help you understand how your particular situation may be putting you in danger of (or preventing you from) getting bumped in 2014, I think the easiest way to explain the way the system works is to tell you exactly what kinds of situations are most likely to get you bumped. So, here we go. What will follow is a list of the top 6 ways to get bumped up (or down) to another rating level in 2014. Keep in mind that these tips only apply to match play that actually affects your NTRP rating. That means that play in Combo, Tri-Level, and Mixed Doubles leagues (unless you only play mixed doubles), don't count. Tournament play doesn't apply either, if you're part of the Southern Section. In other areas of the country, however, the rules may be slightly different. In Texas, I believe that tournament results do count but aren't factored in until year end results are calculated. If you’re among my list of readers from Texas, please feel free to weigh in here and correct me on this if I'm wrong. If you’re from somewhere else, check the rules of your particular state or section for more detailed specifics about what counts and what doesn't in your area. Drop me a line or leave a comment to let me know. I’m interested in knowing some of the different methods that different areas use. That brings me to the list, in reverse order of importance and relevance (to build the drama).

The sixth most effective way to get bumped up to the next level is an extreme rarity but, in those rare cases where it applies, it's sure to affect your rating. If you are fairly strong or fairly weak at your level and you're wondering just how close you are to the next level of play, DO NOT go through the appeals process unless you're really ready to start playing at that other level. Once you enter a request to appeal, there is no way to cancel or undo that request. I was actually bumped up when early start ratings came out last fall, but I appealed down just out of curiosity to see how close to the line I was. Turns out I was very close. So close that my appeal was granted, and I ended up getting to play at both levels last fall. Yaaay! Twice the tennis! I had actually intended to cancel out of the appeal process after seeing how close I was but, as I mentioned, there are no take backs. Just ask a buddy of mine who decided to appeal up to see how close he was to the next level. He got his answer and got bumped up in the process. Not exactly what he was hoping for.

Next up, the fifth most effective way to get bumped up to a higher rating level is to play Mixed Doubles only. This isn't an issue for most of us because we play in lots of different leagues during the year, but this can be a real problem for a beginner or someone who is just getting started back playing after taking a break from Adult league play. If you have not played any league tennis during the rating year then a mixed-Exclusive rating will be generated for you and that rating could increase rapidly over the course of the season (or seasons). This could, potentially, result in your getting bumped up to the next level unexpectedly. Does this ever really happen, you ask? Yes, it does. Imagine a new player who self-rates in order to play with a friend of the opposite gender. Let's say that she has self-rated as a 3.0 and is playing with an up and coming male 4.0 player. They dominate their 7.0 Mixed Doubles league due primarily to the strength of his match play. The next thing you know, she is bumped up to the next level before she has even played a single match in an adult league. A similar situation can arise if a player has taken a year or more off (possibly due to injury) and then wants to return slowly by starting off playing Mixed. If that individual's last rating before taking time off was too high then they might find themselves "easing back into it" at a much higher rating than they expected. There are medical appeals that can come into play here if an injury was the cause of the layoff but Medical Appeals are not guaranteed, and neither is the ability to "ease back into it".

The fourth best way to get bumped is to have an outstanding personal showing at State, Sectional, or National competition. Back in the day, the main way you got bumped was by being noticed playing well in competition. Part of the promise of the NTRP Rating System was that this "Performance Penalty" would become a thing of the past and, mostly it has, but not completely. While there is no way that I know of (outside of having direct access to the IT systems that store the data) for an official to change a player's rating based on witnessing exceptional play, there is quite a good bit of anecdotal evidence that certain individuals do have the ability to influence it in some way. I experienced this a few years ago, myself. I was playing Mixed Doubles at State one year with a guy for whom this became an issue. He was a good player usually but was the kind of guy who really thrived under pressure. Add to this the fact that he was an extremely athletic individual who was well built and was playing his best tennis when it counted. For these reasons, along with an unfortunate incident involving an open container of alcohol (Alabama folks can be quite sensitive about open containers of alcohol), the USTA officials began to take an open interest in him. He was notified of no formal grievance having been filed against him but; nevertheless, several officials were observed watching his matches and in one case even heard making disparaging comments about his high level of play. One official actually pulled him aside after he reported the results of one match and told him that he'd better enjoy his time at this level because they would see to it that his rating would be going up. And, in fact, it did go up. His rating hadn't gone up as a result of early start ratings previous to the tournament, but they did go up when the new year's ratings came out a few months later. Did this official actually have the ability to change my friend’s rating? I doubt it. What I don't doubt, however, is that this official did have the ability to initiate a computerized appeal-like process that caused my friend's rating to analyzed and bumped up before it would have been normally. I have no proof of this, but I have heard of similar situations with other people. And actually, just to be clear, I'm not entirely opposed to officials having this ability. I do wish they had consulted me first in this case. I could have given them a list of a number of people at that tournament that needed to be looked at more closely than my teammate did. The others just knew not to play their best while they were being watched. Now you do, too.

The third best way to get bumped is to play on a really good team. If you are playing on a really good team, your chances of getting bumped do, in fact, go up significantly. While you might not think that being on a good team should matter very much to your individual rating, believe me it does. For one thing, if you're on a really good team, you have lots of really good partners to choose from. A really good partner usually results in a really good performance which, in turn, often results in a win. Another result of being on a really good team is that the other teams that you play against are often intimidated and hesitant which will lead to errors and tentativeness on their part. Your team's reputation will bring you an immediate advantage even before the match begins. As a member of a dominant team, you will have greater confidence in your play and in the play of your prospective partners. You will be more loose and relaxed, you will worry less about mistakes and you will tend to play at a higher level. Also, because you are on a team for which winning is the norm rather than the exception, you will get used to winning, you will expect to win, and you will find that winning comes much more easily than you would have expected. Football great Vince Lombardi was famous for the quote "Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing". I've seen exceptional players labor for years at a particular rating level because of the mediocrity of their team. On the other hand, I've also seen mediocre players whose teammate’s high level of play caused their rating to be raised beyond their true level of skill. Several times I've played against an individual who has related to me the "unfortunate experience" of getting bumped up after their previous season - not because of their ability but because their team made it to Nationals. Needless to say, I did not feel bad for them.

The second most effective way to get yourself bumped in 2014 is to play (and do well) in an older age group. I am in my late 30's. I do play with some younger guys, but most of the folks that I play with are in their 40's or are older. With the recent USTA changes introducing 40 and over leagues, this has gotten to be a big thing with many of the folks that I play with. They are playing in 40 an over leagues and doing well. This is resulting in many of them getting bumped up to another rating level even though they may still be losing most of their matches in their 18+ leagues at their old rating. As one friend who plays 40 and over as well as 18 and over put it, "The younger player always seems to win." For this reason, many of my former teammates are now in the position of considering playing exclusively on older age group teams because their new rating means that they can no longer play 18+ competitively. So, be warned! If you decide to play in an older age group, you may not be able to go play back down again. Personally I think that the whole reason for the NTRP rating system should be to keep problems like this from happening. A 3.5 rated player should be a 3.5 rated player regardless of age. Unfortunately, however, I think that the age group policies of the USTA are actively working against the effectiveness of the NTRP but that's another post for another day.

And that brings us to number one. The "single" best way to get yourself bumped up to a new rating level in 2014 is to play singles and win. If you read my article about how the NTRP works then you know that the movement of your NTRP rating depends, not on whether you win or lose, but rather on how your rating (and that of your partner) compares to that of your opponent(s) and how much you win or lose by. So, in doubles, you and your partner will get a combined "Power Rating" that will be compared with the "Power Rating" of your opponents. If you win, you divide up the potential NTRP rating increase between yourself and your partner whereas in singles, you shoulder the entire increase (or decrease) all by yourself. It's like getting double credit for each question on a test - great if you're getting them right but terrible if you're not. Also, keep in mind that you don't actually have to win for singles to hurt (or help) you. Even a loss to a much better opponent can raise your rating if they "should have" beaten you by more than they did. As a team captain, this is something that I have to constantly keep in mind when scheduling my players for matches. If I have a player winning too many at singles (can you ever win too much?) then I have to make sure to stick them in at doubles periodically. I also have to try to make sure to get them on the strongest court every time, so their matches are as competitive as possible. This is often quite a challenge since lineup shuffling has become such a prevalent factor in league play, but it is something that a good captain has to keep in mind at all times. Having players who are consistently winning at singles is great but dangerous - especially if they are playing in an older age group and are winning there, as well. If you’re the one doing the winning then congratulations! Get prepared for the bump.

So, there you have it. Now you know. The six things to either avoid or embrace for 2014. Regardless of whether you're hoping to move up or move down this next year, I hope you’ll end up having a fantastic tennis season. May health, prosperity, and happiness be yours all year long! Unless you're playing me, of course. In that case, be prepared to eat felt!

Comments (15) -

Christy Christy says:

Love the title of the post. ;)

In Texas, you are correct that tournament results aren't included into ratings calculations until the end of year. The matches played at Tri-Level Sectionals for the Tri-Level tournament does count towards one's ratings. The Tri-Level tournament matches played at the local level do not.

Question: Do play-off matches carry more weight than regular season matches for ratings calculations?

Kevin Kevin says:

Some of these are valid, but some aren't.  See computerratings.blogspot.com/.../...usta-ntrp.html for more info on how to improve your rating.

Clif Render Clif Render says:

Thanks Christy! Yeah, considering our similar situations, I thought it appropriate. Smile In regards to your question about playoff results counting more than regular results, my first reaction was that they don't - at least not beyond what might normally result as an effect of playing someone with a higher rank than you. But, since I didn't have a definite answer on the subject, I reached out to Kevin Schmidt (that's his comment above) who runs a site called Schmidt Computer Ratings (http://computerratings.blogspot.com/). Kevin has spent a great deal of time reverse engineering the NTRP rating process for purposes of providing a paid rating intelligence service for the ultra-competitive in certain parts of the country. In response to my question, he wrote a blog post addressing the issue (computerratings.blogspot.com/.../...culations.html). In that post, he brings up an excellent point that I hadn't considered - Benchmark calculations. As he explains, benchmark calculations are the USTA's method for trying to keep players at one level in one part of the country even with players at the same level in other parts of the country and they are calculated based on results in playoff competition. I'll let you read his blog post for an in depth explanation of how he thinks it works but he is definitely right that your playoff performance and the benchmark ratings modifications that result will have a greater impact on both your rating and the ratings of the people you played against. Thanks for the info, Kevin.

Clif Render Clif Render says:

Thanks for the comment, Kevin, and the link. I would certainly welcome an explanation of which of my points you take issue with and why. One of the things that you mention in your post that I didn't in mine is working hard to improve your game to improve your rating. That is an excellent point that I didn't address - mainly because I felt it was a bit obvious but also because personal improvement, while essential, won't necessarily lead to a rating increase all by itself. Certainly, we want to keep improving our game as much as possible but, as I mentioned, I've seen a number of excellent players who played with "less than excellent" players for years and never saw their rating improve until they changed partners. In league play, one of the primary tactics that players use is to "hit to the weaker player". I'm not sure how much you play but if you do, I'm sure you use this tactic. Essentially, in doubles this means that your team is only as strong as it's weakest player. Whether that player is you or your partner, neither one of you can carry your team to a win without the other - no matter how good your game may be. This is also the reason for point 3 above. Playing with a stronger partner increases your chances of scoring more points per match and that, in turn, increases your chances of improving your rating - especially when you consider the psychological factors at play for both yourself and your opponents.

Kevin Kevin says:

(the first part of this comment was regrettably lost due to some unexpected server corruption. What follows is the bulk of the comment: Kevin's point by point response to the items in my post) - Clif

#6 - Very true, and like you say be careful about "checking" as if it happens, it sticks.  Do take a look at computerratings.blogspot.com/.../...rp-rating.html for more details on the appeals process and specifically new rules for 2014.

#5 - My observation has been that if you have a C or B rating from 2012 and played mixed only in 2013, you don't get an M rating for 2013 and your C/B still applies.  You'd need to play mixed only to start your USTA "career" or 3 (perhaps 2, not positive) years need to elapse since your C/B rating for the M to apply.

#4 - This is correct, but because your results in playoffs do carry extra weight per the benchmark comments I made.  But your bump up will be due to the results and the NTRP algorithm, not USTA officials selecting players to be bumped up.  I am aware of a couple "administrative" bumps that have occurred, but they are rare and most of the time, LCs are going to say "that is what the computer says" when confronted with disputes.

#3 - You mention a lot of mental aspects in this one, and that is going to be pretty specific to an individual which I can't comment on.  I will say that better teams usually advance to playoffs and there you will also play better teams which provides a greater opportunity to improve your rating given how the algorithm works.   However, when you play with higher rated partners, you are also expected to do better, meaning your rating can actually go down if you win but win closely.  The best way to increase your opportunity to improve your rating is to play with a lower rated partner and do well.  You do raise a valid point that you will sometimes not do well in this case if the weaker partner is picked on, but if the better player can't insert himself into the play, that is usually an indication that they shouldn't have their rating go up.

#2 - There is some validity to this, but it assumes the players in the 40 & over league are rated high enough that wins over them will get you bumped.  If these players are playing in the 18 & over league and getting thumped, their ratings could actually be in the lower end of the range for their level and so beating up on them in the 40 & over league doesn't improve your rating as much as you might think.

#1 - You are correct that singles reduces the number of variables involved so it is a bit more straight forward to improve your rating, but the algorithm actually takes care of the "divying up" issue.  In fact, in the right situation, e.g. when playing with a lower rated partner against two strong players, it can be easier to improve your rating in doubles.

Clif Render Clif Render says:

Thanks for the explanation, Kevin. It doesn't sound like we disagree too much. And actually, it sounds like most of our disagreements are more a matter of perspective than anything - mine as a player and captain and yours as a statistician and analyst. I found your post on the appeals process very interesting - I'm glad to see that the USTA is being a little more transparent in terms of the appeals process. A bit surprising, actually, but definitely a step in the right direction. Your observations about Mixed Exclusive ratings don't match what the USTA says about how those ratings are produced but I wouldn't be terribly surprised to discover that the policy in practice is slightly different from what they say it is. It certainly wouldn't be the first time a web site has ever gotten out of date. In any case, Kevin, I appreciate you sharing your opinions and observations both here and on your own site and I hope that you will continue to do so in the future.

Kevin Kevin says:

What is it that you've seen that says mixed exclusive would override a B/C rating from a prior year?  I haven't seen anything documented, but have seen multiple cases of players that played mixed only after having a C/B rating and still have the same C/B rating from the prior year.

Clif Render Clif Render says:

That wasn't what I said. I said that your explanation doesn't match what the USTA [explicitly] says on it's main sites -  not that the explanation is invalid. Here are two places where I ran across Mixed Exclusive calculation explanations.

- www.usta.com/.../#4363
"The last dynamic rating generated with a minimum of three matches calculated in Mixed Doubles exclusively is the year-end mixed rating (M) that will be used as the NTRP start level for the next year."

- assets.usta.com/.../NTRP_FAQ.pdf
"12. How does a mixed exclusive player get a rating?
The last dynamic rating generated with a minimum of three matches calculated in mixed exclusive is the year-end rating that will be used as the NTRP start level for the next year."

There are a number of other mentions scattered in and around other USTA Sectional sites but all say basically the same thing. No mention that I ran across made explicit mention of previous year ratings outside of the repeated mention of the "last dynamic rating generated" which sounds to me like it is referring to the dynamic rating from the year before - although it's position in the sentence does make the meaning of the phrase a bit unclear.

It certainly is plausible that, since an NTRP rating is good for 3 years, the Mixed Exclusive rating does not come into play for folks in this scenario, however, I didn't run across information confirming that anywhere. I assumed that your various analyses of the data had uncovered this little detail which is why I said that I didn't doubt the details of the calculation in practice may be a bit different (or more intricate) than what the USTA publishes on it's various sites.

Who knows? Maybe it does say that out there on the web somewhere. After having spent many years in IT and Website Development, I certainly know how hard it can be to keep content synced up across thousands of documents especially in an organization as geographically dispersed as the USTA. Regardless, I appreciate you sharing what you have seen in the data.

Clif Clif says:

Looks like my trust in your analysis was well founded, Kevin. I just ran across this. It's from 2013 but addresses this question specifically: assets.usta.com/.../2013_Regs_final_draft.pdf


1.04F(1)b Mixed results will not be part of generating a player’s year-end rating, except for those players who participate in the
Mixed Division exclusively. A player who plays in the Mixed Division exclusively will receive a published Mixed Exclusive (M) NTRP rating level at year-end unless they have a valid computer (C) or benchmark (B) rating from a previous year on file in TennisLink. A published (M) NTRP rating level is valid to play in the Mixed Division exclusively and will be in effect for players 59 years of age and under for three consecutive years and for players 60 years or older for two consecutive years or until another NTRP published level is generated.

Cathy hulsey Cathy hulsey says:

Enjoyed this!

Clif Render Clif Render says:

Thanks, Cathy! Glad you enjoyed it. There are definitely lots of things going on behind the scenes that most people aren't aware of. Personally, I think it's better for everyone to understand as much as possible. Transparency is a beautiful thing!

Steve Gulla Steve Gulla says:

I play in a 4.5 league on a team that just missed nationals. I am a singles player and won all my matches last year in the open division and over 40 division. At sectionals I won my first 7 matches over two years, only losing the last match when feeling ill and dehydrated. I was never bumped up to 5.0.

Colin Looi Colin Looi says:

Very interesting discussion. So, at year end 2014, I have a friend who was self-rated 3.0 at the beginning of 2014, played exactly 3 matches in 40+ Mixed 6.0, lost all three of them, and then got bumped up to 3.5M.
Match #1: 6-3, 6-7, 1-0
Match #2: 6-1, 6-3
Match #3: 6-2, 3-6, 1-0
Of the opponents, only Match #2 opponents got bumped up to 3.5.
This is the first time he played USTA, still learning the game. Don't know how this happens.

Clif Render Clif Render says:

That's exactly what keeps the NTRP So controversial, Colin. None of it seems to make any good sense. Keep in mind, however,  that your friend is in two of my top 5 "most likely to get bumped" categories - Mixed Exclusive and 40+. That definitely puts him in more danger than his opponents of getting bumped. If they were also playing on 18+ teams and/or on men's teams then that is probably what kept them from getting bumped. They might have been more highly ranked when they played your friend than they were at the end of the year (they could have lost a lot after playing him). His lack of quantity in match play is probably what did him in. I don't know if you know this or not but it is entirely possible that one or more of the individuals that he played were actually above the 3.5 line when he played them. Players can actually be above the line for some time without triggering any kind of corrective action. It just depends on how far above the line they are and where they are at the end of the year. If you finish the season below the mark then you don't get bumped.

All that being said, without access to the USTA's data, I can't say for certain why your friend got bumped but I do suspect that there probably is a numerical explanation that could explains it all. There is anecdotal evidence that suggests that there are individuals who monitor Championship play that can force your friend to be manually bumped up without "earning" it but I've not heard of anything like this happening during regular league play.

My advice for corrective action for him is for him to join a Men's 3.5 team that needs players and play singles. If he wins then he deserved the bump. If not then he'll probably drop back down. This can be a little depressing, though, so I'd advise also finding a 3.0 men's team (or a couple of 3.0 men's players) to practice with as a morale boost. Most would welcome having a 3.5 to practice against and it would give him a better idea of what 3.0 play is really like.

If your friend is extremely athletic, it's likely that he will soon be doing well even at the 3.5 level. If not, though, hopefully this approach will get him back to where he really should be. Unfortunately, it'll probably take him a year or so for him to get there.

Clif Render Clif Render says:

Steve, your situation is unique. Since you are in the 4.5 - 5.0 range, there are far fewer players to rank you against than there are for those of us in the 3.5 to 4.0 range. That means that a much higher percentage of the players at your level will actually advance to Sectional and National play making it easier for someone like you (whether you're trying to or not) to fly under the radar. Again, it is going to come down to what your opponents were actually ranked at the time that they played you and how the teams that advanced to Nationals actually performed when they got there. If they got completely destroyed then that will likely dilute your ranking based on the benchmark of your section versus the others. I would bet that There were far fewer people getting bumped as a whole in 4.5 in your area during those championship years.

Either way, count yourself lucky. The higher up in the rankings you go, the fewer play opportunities you will have. I have friends that have gotten stuck at 5.0 because they no longer have anyone in their area to play with. It's a 2-3 hour drive per match for them making it an extremely painful endeavor to stay involved in USTA league play. Remember that a 4.5 can play 4.5 and 5.0 but a 5.0 can only play 5.0.

Add comment

  • Comment
  • Preview