A lot of parents are confused about the different grades of tournament available for kids to register in. It can be hard to know which tournament is the right one for your child, what determines whether your child will be accepted and the rewards for performance at the event.
i2c’s Head of Performance coaching, Adam Wharf, is the ideal person to explain the ins and outs of tournaments in the UK.
Tennis(24/7): In the spirit of starting at the very beginning, lets first be clear on what you think – is competing in tournaments a good goal for junior players?
Adam: Yes, I think it has to be a definite goal. Most children get involved in activities to play that game and obviously, the game of tennis involves a scoring system. We’re also lucky enough to have different levels of competition and accessible competitions. So, yes! I definitely think it should be a goal for kids to learn how to play and to play competitively at whatever level that they choose to. I think it’s very important.
Tennis(24/7): At what age would you think that parents could look to start putting their kids in tournaments?
Adam: I think the answer obviously is, it depends, because different children develop at different ages. As a sport, we are lucky enough to have a “mini” stream with mini rackets, balls and courts so children are able to pick up a racket and play a version of our sport from the ages four and five. I think the hard thing is that the way in which our competitive structure is put in place.
We’ve adapted the court size, the balls and the rackets but we’ve never really adapted the scoring system and mentally how difficult the game of tennis is. It can be quite mentally challenging for very young children. I think we have to be careful about that – it isn’t actually discussed very often.
Tennis(24/7): Regarding mental preparedness, what signs could parents look for to judge whether their child is mentally ready for tournaments?
Adam: I think parents have a massive role in setting up their child to compete. That means setting the tournament up and setting the tournament environment in terms of the support network. That’s what I would look at. If your child is not showing any adverse reaction and they are really enjoying it, win or lose, then I would say, “Yes, okay no problem”.
However, everyone needs to understand that some children may just find the tournament environment really scary. At age six, it might scare them, just because they are aged six and they don’t like it very much. So, then I would be a little bit more cautious and go slowly.
Additionally, I think different children are ready for the tournament environment at different times. Some six-year-olds might be quite confident and happy when they lose. A lot of kids can be playing matches – this is very common – and they don’t know whether they have won or lost when they’re shaking hands! They’re totally unfazed.
I would also look for tournaments that aren’t run traditionally with only winners and losers. I would look for clever tournaments, normally they’re local tournaments – so, they’re maybe not a higher grade level but they might be but run with prizes for different things rather than just the winning or losing. These are a great idea if you have a child that might be highly competitive or get overwhelmed by the tournament process.
You may not know that you can also start your own tournaments if you really feel that there’s a gap in the market for a tournament to reward something that isn’t just winning or losing – or winning and losing for different reasons.
Tennis(24/7): Would you say that tournaments are just for the kids who are “serious” about tennis – those who play two or three times a week? Or, do you think that kids who play once a week can and should do tournaments too?
Adam: Yes, tournaments are for anybody at any level and I would always hope that you can find those tournaments pretty locally to you. I would really hope that most tennis clubs run internal events for children that just play once a week or maybe less than that. Maybe they just play in the summer and so they should be able to go and play tournaments that are organized at your local club or at another local club very nearby.
Tennis(24/7): What do the different tournament grades mean? I’ve seen grade sevens, I’ve seen grade sixes all the way up to grade ones, what do those grades mean?
Adam: I think it’s really interesting because graded events have gradually come in over the years and more and more grades have been created which at times can lead to confusion.
The reality is that the tournament grades start at grade 7 and go all the way to grade 1 [highest]. Really the grades are simply to indicate a standard. The governing bodies who put the grading systems in place were worried that beginners were turning up to tournaments and maybe they were playing against people that were too tough for them. They weren’t getting a sort of fair match, they were getting beaten very easily and that was putting them off competing. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable.
So, they [the LTA] have introduced the grading system where grade 7 is introductory tournaments, which can be played at your local club. Grade 7s don’t have to count for any particular ranking, they can be run in a looser format. For instance, they could be timed tennis and things like that. Hopefully, you will, therefore, play against people that maybe aren’t playing so much tennis, maybe at the start of competing. Also, at those events you hope that there is a bit more help – maybe they’ve never scored a tennis match before and they need help with scoring and people organizing that are aware of it.
Whereas the grade 1 event is classified as a national event. You may need to travel to that national event because it might be on the other side of the country to where you live and that would be aimed at national standard tennis players. Maybe the best 32 boys or 32 girls that there are in the country. That would be the highest echelon of the junior game.
Tennis(24/7): If I’m a parent starting out, what is the first thing that I’m going to do? What am I going to look at? I’ve decided we’ll do a tournament, what am I going to do?
Adam: The first thing that I would do as a parent is to go to my coach, whether it’s your own coach or the coach of the club, and ask for advice. I think that parents are trying to get through this themselves and it’s really difficult.
You may need to pay for an hour of their time or half an hour of their time so that they can explain or advise on which tournament and where you think that they should play. Bring a laptop with you and go through the LTA website so that they can guide you through that process. I do believe that parent’s need professional help and that should come first and foremost from your coach.
Tennis(24/7): Okay, so your coach will tell you what grade might be right and give you a helping hand to register for a British Tennis Membership so that you can book the tournament?
Adam: Yes, the LTA probably has what I would say is one of the best tournament structures in the whole of the world. You can go online, you can search every single tournament, every single age group. You can enter online but because it is so comprehensive, sometimes I believe it can be a little complicated.
Tennis(24/7): Will my child’s coach book the tournament and will they be present?
Adam: The coach can’t actually put your child into a tournament, unfortunately. If I had a magic wand to change something, then I would really like to change that!
What a coach can do is set a tournament schedule. So, you the parent can see the tournament schedule that the coach has set and then go to each of those tournaments and enter it. That is what I would massively advise – that the coach sets the tournaments. I recommend that you have a meeting with the coach to understand their thought process behind the tournament recommendations for your child. Then, unfortunately, you will have to do the legwork of entering it.
Then I would again discuss with the coach about coming along to the tournaments. Some people say, “Oh I see my coach, or I pay my coach for their hour which they have with them or the group classes that they’re having with the coach, so therefore as a parent, I expect them to come and see them play at a tournament.”
I understand that thought process to an extent, but from a coach’s perspective, if they go to a tournament they lose their day’s earnings and they will have to pay their travel expenses to get there and back. I don’t think it should be expected by parents.
If you want your child’s coach there, then I would arrange to pay them their day rate and get them there. If they do go without being paid you should be very, very grateful and thank them. It’s a massive thing that they’ve done for your son or daughter.
Tennis(24/7): What’s the difference between ratings and rankings?
Adam: This is another thing. First of all, I think it’s really important to understand a little bit of back history. Previously there never used to be any rankings. There only ever used to be ratings.
The rating bands run from 10.2 – 1.1. A rating is something that you get and it only changes once periodically.
The reason they do that is to give you a period of time to develop yourself, develop your game, play some matches, play some similarly ranked people and if you beat a number of those people then your rating changes over a set period of time. That used to be twice a year then it was four times a year and now it could even change six times a year.
Whereas a ranking is 1 to 100 or 1 to 1,000. That can change from week to week. If I play a tournament one week and I do well in that tournament then maybe my ranking could change based on those results. A rating is longer term whereas a ranking is something that changes every week.
Tennis(24/7): How much attention should parents pay to their ratings or their rankings when they’re just starting out?
Adam: As little as possible as long as they can get into some tournaments – particularly some tournaments local to them. So they really need a ranking or rating in order to enter the tournament. As long as they can enter the tournament and play and they enjoy playing and the experience has been good – then I wouldn’t worry any more than that.
Tennis(24/7): What role does that rating and ranking play in children getting into the tournament?
Adam: It becomes a little bit more of a problem when there is a limited number of people that are accepted into one tournament. Maybe there are only 16 places available and 25 people have looked to enter that tournament – then the organiser must choose the people with the highest rating or ranking. Then the highest ranked or rated people will get selected for the tournament and you may not be able to play in that event. That’s when it becomes more important in terms of entering into a tournament.
Tennis(24/7): Do you think you should try to play in a tournament every weekend?
Adam: I would hope not. There’s got to be a balance somewhere. Every weekend, 52 weeks of the year would not be balanced. Professionals would only for example play somewhere between 20-30 tournaments a year. Yes, they’re a week long but then I would say really as a maximum two weekends per month.
Tennis(24/7): What should your child aim to achieve at a tournament?
Adam: That’s a really good question. I think that it may depend a little bit on the child. There has to be some level of enjoyment at whatever level. When you listen to the player interviews at Wimbledon and you’ll still hear the professional saying that they’re out there and enjoying themselves. I think that’s a massive lesson that everybody has to learn and sometimes that’s quite difficult to do.
Also, from a development point, if they can play and learn things about themselves or about their game. Or they can then discuss those goals and talk that through with their coaches in order to try and see where they can improve themselves.
If you can combine those things, then I think that that is a great start point.
Tennis(24/7): What goals would you suggest that children are asked to focus on when they play in a tournament? Would you recommend tactical goals, strategic goals, development goals or wins?
Adam: I think it’s obviously very dangerous to focus on winning, but I think that we can’t get away from the fact that winning and losing is part of what happens. Tournaments are a competitive thing and people would like to win so it doesn’t need a further focus. I believe that to win you sometimes need a distraction and that can be to focus on the processes required in order to give yourself the best chances of winning.
Whatever that may be, whether that is your preparation, your relaxation, your enjoyment during your tactical focuses, doing what you’re working on. I think trying to win is a given so you need all kinds of different distractions behind that during the process. Maybe it’s a big cliché, but it would be something I would still try and promote and stick to.
Tennis(24/7): What feedback can parents take from a tournament and give to the child’s coach?
Adam: My own personal opinion, the best thing is to work on the statistics because it takes away the human emotional element of which there is a lot involved.
I would advise that parents get a tennis statistics app, there are multiple of them out there. You can track the matches of your child. You can do it subtly without them noticing too much. As a parent, it removes you emotionally from the match. Potentially, you don’t get so involved because you have to concentrate actually on their application or putting in statistics.
If you are the parent what I would advise is you say in your head what you thought happened before you look at the statistics. When you look at the statistics you may realize that you are wrong about what you thought. Then I would send those statistics to the coach. If the coach wants anything back from you as a parent in terms of the subtleties the statistics don’t offer, then they could always come to you with that. That’s what I would advise.
Some parents say they are unable to do statistics because they say that they get distracted. That possibly a sign that they’re getting really emotionally attached to what’s going on. They should maybe have a look at what role that they are playing when they’re at a tennis tournament.