Rod Heckelman's career
started in 1966 when he began his five-year role as a teacher at John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch in Carmel Valley, California Later he opened as the resident pro for Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch on Camelback in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 1976 he took over as head pro/tennis director at the Mt. Tam Racquet Club in
Larkspur, California, and added the title and responsibilities of general manager in 1982. In 2010 he was awarded “Manager of the Year” for the USPTA NorCal Division and the “Manager of the Year” at the USPTA World Conference.
He has written several books including, “Down Your Alley” in 1993, “Playing Into the Sunset” in 2013 and most recently, “250 Ways to Play Tennis.” He also produced the “Facility Manager’s Manual” and the “Business Handbook for Tennis Pros,” which is distributed by the TIA.
Ratings... Where Are We Going?
By Rod Heckelman
Isn’t the competition of tennis played on the court? When did we begin to believe that our rating as a tennis player supersedes the journey of improvement as a player? Goals are always great motivators, but should a player’s rating be at the top of the list? The most popular venue in the world of tennis; leagues, have put a new emphasis on when who and where we play. That part comes with the nature of league play. But league play has also resulted in a tremendous amount of focus on ratings. It’s to be expected then, that the rating system would be challenged and reviewed to see if there might be a better method. Also, to be expected, some discourse and conflict in that challenge. Today we have two ways of rating, the older NTRP and the newer UTR. Now the fun/war is just about to begin.
The USTA, which is morphing the NTRP, has gone head-to-head with new upstart UTR. This new program, which is already a part of the pro tour, college play, and most junior competition, is trying to make its way into the club and recreational groups. There is likely to be some bloodshed in this new battleground, but good or bad, there should be some progress to address the many issues ratings have created.
In the beginning, many thought ratings would do for tennis what the handicap system did for golf. People of all levels could play together and enjoy competition made more equal due to having a handicap. The problem though, which was very obvious, is that in golf you play against the course, not the opponent. In tennis, you could be spotted five games and up 40-love on your serve, despite that, you are not 5 games and 40-love better, you could still be a 3.0 playing against a 5.0 player and quickly lose the match. Bobby Riggs made a ton of money using this erroneous logic. There is also the fact that in tennis, you are essentially playing the ball and the quality of the action of that ball. That aspect of tennis represents both the level of players on each side of the net, but the enjoyment of that match.
So, ratings can’t resolve most of the difference in play, but maybe they can help with the organization and social interaction of tennis. The people behind the UTR system have discovered that if the ratings are truly accurate and current, programs and events can be more productive for everyone, despite age, gender or athletic skills…after all, it is the ball you are playing. This could really help with social events and the organization of events. Anything we can do to create a bridge to accommodate players interacting is a win.
But ratings, in general, can also, no matter what system is used, throw a curveball for many people. It can inadvertently separate friends, family, and long-time partners. It can also make for the judgment of others to be ultimately based on their level of play and not their compatibility. Imagine you have a Super Bowl party, but to make the party more professional, you announce that those who really know the game will be provided one room, those who sort of know the game, another room, and finally, those who just want to be there to enjoy the atmosphere of the event can have a third room. The first time you host this party, many might enjoy this type of organization but do this a few more times, and that separation will likely diminish attendance. Again, an example of good intentions inadvertently separating people and impacting the growth of the party…or our case, the growth of the game.
There is no question that ratings have paved the way for better and more equal competition. But they have unfortunately also created an off-court arena of competition. Recruiting for teams, maneuvering to have a well-positioned team, or just some feeling ostracized from the game due to age, injury or a lack of time/money to work on improving their game. This new attempt to have ratings become a positive tool is well-worth the exercise. Let’s all hope that good things come from this process and the growth of the game will be helped through this effort. One thing is for sure, it is well worth exploring and appears to have great potential, no matter who wins the rating war.