How many times have you seen the draw of a tournament and thought about the age group of that tournament?
Why sometimes (or most of the times) the age group appears the same, irrespective of which tournament (U-12/U-14/U-16) your child is participating in?
Well, as per the rules –
If your child is 12 years of age, they can play U-12 to U-18
If your child is 10 years of age, they can play U-12 to U-16
If your child is 8 years of age, they can play U-12 to U-14
If your child is 6 years of age, they can play U-12
What does this lead to?
Many numbers of times not a very evenly balanced level of play. We did a quick survey of the data that is available and were not surprised to see the average age of participation in random tournaments that we checked.
We mostly found –
That for TS-7/CS-7 boys playing U-16 tournament average age of participation was anything from 12-14. We hardly noticed a 16-year-old playing a U-16 tournament.
TS-7/CS-7 U-16 girls participation at times was inadequate. Not enough entries! At times we found many main draws to be very short. The average age here was 11-14.
If we went lower in age categories U-14 or U-12 we found average ages to be lower. For instance U-14 category it was mostly 8-11-year-olds playing with each other. In a way U-10 sort of tournament.
This kind of system around us exists and is suitable to encourage children to play many tournaments, gain maximum points as best of 6 is counted in each category. However, it starts and ends just there. What about the value delivered from this system?
Level of play is one such benchmark which can determine the value that your child can gain from a particular tournament. As a parent, you must have noticed the following –
1) Your child gets an older opponent and struggles because he/she is young, it could be an 8-10-year-old playing 12-14-year-old type of scenario
2) Your child wins because the opponent was young, just the opposite of point 1 above
3) Your child’s level of game drops because of lack of rhythm that he gets playing a young child – it happens sometimes
4) Your child defeats an elder opponent because he did not give him the level of play the elder one would have liked (same as point 3 above) to get some game going.
Most of the matches from qualifying rounds to almost PQs are played within the four combinations mentioned above. Isn’t it? How many times your child does reach a QF/SF being too young in that age category by defeating kids who are +/- 2-3 elder? Let’s say a 10-year old winning a U-14 tournament? Not very often. If it does happen, you need to watch out for the average age of that tournament. It could be low. Very rarely a 14-year-old will lose to a 10-year-old.
Now let’s go towards one good matchup possibility –
Your child gets the same level of an opponent and match is worth watching. Here age of these two children could be around +/- 1 year of difference but not too broad.
The point we are trying to drive today is the level of the matchup that TS7/CS7 type of tournaments has to offer. Our children might be gaining in ranking points and hence good rankings, but if the level of the matchup is weak most of the times, it is going to add less overall long-term value.
Afterall after a match, you must go back home to your teams working on the areas of improvement. Imagine if your match note reads – “My child could not return slow serves” OR “Did not get the speed and rhythm to play his/her shots.”
It is most painful for tennis teams to work on this somewhat unproductive development. Why should someone for instance practice picking up slow serves? How is that going to benefit long-term growth?
Challenge for parents? How do we attempt to get a quality level of match play under tournament circuit we have for our children when we are starting and not qualified to play SS/NS.
There is no easy way of doing it, but it can still be chalked out. Here is what can probably be done –
1) Pick and choose tournaments which are more productive and don’t look at them only for ranking and points.
2) Maybe it’s a good idea to play one category up but this does not always work as a 10-year-old can play U-16 tournament too!
3) Back to point 1 above – how do we define the productivity level of a tournament? Watch the acceptance list closely, and if you feel that there are too many young kids in for your child in that tournament, it’s time to opt out. However, if you have some kids of the same age (+/- 1 year) as your child then maybe it’s a good idea to play that one and hope for a good draw – that is to get a good opponent early on.
Let the thought of an easy draw not lure you too much. It has overall less productivity and less value in it for your child’s development.
If you have some time today to read our past articles you can pick one up which talks about how many tournaments a child should play in a calendar year and then add this thought of good productive tournaments on top of it. That article is here.
We hope it will start making some sense.