As with many other sports, the road to professional success begins at an early age. Aspiring tennis pros in the US have played on their high school team to develop their skills and make themselves known to coaches at collegiate programs. Even if a player has no plans to turn pro, playing tennis in high school is an excellent way to develop physically, mentally, and socially.
Universal Tennis, the organization behind the sport's gold standard UTR Rating, is working extensively with nearly 10,000 high school coaches across the US. In fact, high school athletic associations in 27 states use Universal Tennis as their official platform.
The UTR Rating places every tennis player on a scale of 1.00 to 16.50 to indicate their skill. The algorithm considers the opponent's rating and games won, rather than a pure win-loss record, making it a more accurate assessment of current skill level.
According to Universal Tennis, the quality of match results and data becomes less reliable the closer to grassroots the sport gets because coaches at these levels do not have the technology and platforms to keep track of results. In the past, most high school players' results would go into the coach's notebook and rarely land on websites or local newspapers. Universal Tennis changed this by providing a platform to record high school tennis results and assess progress with a unified rating highly reflective of a player's skill relative to their peers.
Over the years of elevating and innovating the high school game, Universal Tennis has used two approaches: top-down and bottom-up. In the top-down approach, Universal Tennis works with high school athletic associations in various regions to mandate the adoption of the UTR Rating and platform in their member schools. Doing so standardizes seeding within the associations and avoids roster unfairness and stacking while giving players credit for their matches, especially if they aim to continue the pathway to the next levels of the sport, collegiate and/or professional.
"High school tennis administrators have long been searching for a way to utilize data to help organize tournaments and maintain the integrity in the sport," says Lindsey Atkinson, director of sports of the National Federation of State High School Associations. "Universal Tennis has really stepped up and become a leader as an organization that provides these analytics and has been universally adopted from the novice level up to the professional ranks."
In the bottom-up approach, Universal Tennis works with the individual coaches of high school programs and encourages them to get their teams activated on the platform. All schools have already been loaded into the system, only awaiting activation by the high school tennis coach. Once they register and activate their team, coaches can add players to their roster and view schedules and results in the system.
Activating a high school team is free, but Universal Tennis also offers a Performance High School subscription which gives coaches the ability to organize unlimited Verified UTR events throughout the year using the tournament and event management software. Performance High School subscribers run events to generate revenue for their programs through camps, fundraisers, and even by hosting pickleball (which is also available on the Universal Tennis platform). The additional revenue can be used to pay for program equipment, including racquets and uniforms for students from low-income families. Universal Tennis recognizes that tennis is rarely a top funding priority for high school sports programs, so the supplemental income can make an impact.
Moving forward, Universal Tennis aims to grow the number of states using its system for high school tennis from 27 to all 50. Reaching that goal would mean that the UTR Rating will be used in all high schools nationwide, creating an environment where young players can accurately track their results and play against competition of an appropriate skill level. It also allows scouts to more easily identify standouts and approach them earlier, which is a huge factor in choosing the right college and achieving success at the higher levels of the sport.
"We're certainly excited for the future of high school tennis in the United States," says Chase Hodges, Universal Tennis Vice President. "We look to continually invest in high school tennis and be the elite leader in rating, event organization, and player development at the junior levels. Universal Tennis is working to partner with more organizations at the state and school levels to drive adoption of our world-leading rating system and scoring platform."
Name: Ben Makarenko