There is no doubt that playing tournaments is an essential part of a player’s development. Before starting your tournament journey there are several factors that need to be considered. In many cases, making the correct choice will not only accelerate development but will increase the chance of having a positive competitive experience. Below are the five key factors parents/players should consider when designing their tournament schedule
How many tournaments a player participates in during a 12 month period is important for their overall development. If a young player (Under 12) plays too many tournaments they will be sacrificing their technical advancement. If a player plays too few tournaments then they will be missing out on a competitive experience.
A general rule of thumb is below
If a player's age is 12 he/she should play 12 tournaments per year
If a player's age is 14 he/she should play 14 tournaments per year
Please note – the number of tournaments played in a 12 month period is important BUT the number of matches the child plays is even more important. If a player plays 12 tournaments and loses in the first round every time then the player has only played 24 matches (12 singles and 12 doubles). This number is too low. If a player is competing in 12 tournaments per year the played should be exposed to approximately 60 to 70 matches.
AITA conducts junior tournaments in the following categories -
Talent Series – entry level tournaments, designed to introduce the player to competition.
Championship Series – catering to players who have played tournaments for a period of 12 to 18 months or more.
Super Series – players in these events will start to travel interstate for competitive opportunities. Designed to accommodate players ranked in the Top 200 in the nation.
National Series – interstate travel is generally required.
Nationals – the pinnacle of AITA events.
So what tournament category should a child play in? If they are a beginner or new to tournaments they will have a more enjoyable experience if they initially compete in Talent Series events. Theoretically players should be of a similar playing level hence competition should be close.
There are times to “gain experience” to allow player to play in a higher than normal tournament category this will expose the player to the requirements needed to compete at a higher level. This should be done sparingly as motivation, confidence and self-esteem can be negatively impacted.
Another important component to determine what tournament category a players should participate in is the player’s win/loss ratio. In general if the player is regularly having a 2/1 win/loss ratio then it may be time to start playing a higher tournament category. Parents, it is important that you keep a count of this win/loss ratio as I have found that having this balance of wins and losses will see a gradual building of confidence and motivation in players.
The idea of “playing up” an age group does have merit in certain circumstances however this philosophy is frequently misused and ends up effecting the player’s development and overall self-esteem.
Accelerate Tennis recommends players are only allowed to play up into a higher age category if they are in the Top 100 of their proper age group. This ensures the players win the matches they are supposed to win against players in their age category. Winning the matches you are supposed to win is an essential skill that players need to develop. As stated previously playing up an age group for “exposure” is fine but no more that 25% of the time.
Tournaments can serve as a valuable development tool. As a player progresses to the under 16/18 category, the coach will be more inclined to design a periodised training schedule for the player. This plan takes into account all aspects of a player’s development including tournaments.
At Accelerate Tennis we divide tournaments up into two categories. Play through tournaments and Peak tournaments. A play through tournament is designed to see if players can apply new skills, maybe they are coming back from an injury, maybe they are low in confidence. The coach will not do a special preparation for this tournament. A peak tournament (for professional players their peak tournaments are the Grand Slams) is where the coach will do a special preparation and this is where periodisation comes in. Coaches will taper down a players schedule, fitness will be more tennis specific and a specific tournament outcome is targeted.
If I were to design a 12 month tournament schedule for a Under 16 year old player, I would have him/her peak for 4 events per year (2 of the Nationals and potentially 2 ITF junior events) and the remaining 12 play through tournaments would be (3 local Championship series – for application of skills in a competitive environment and 9 Super Series/National series events – expecting a 2/1 win/loss ratio).
A yearly tournament schedule may seem ideal however this is impractical. Throughout the year the player will face ups and down and as such the tournament schedule will need to review on a regular basis. At Accelerate Tennis, players are given a 3 months schedule in advance. This invariably changes due to the performance of the player. If a player is under performing or coming back from an injury, putting the player in a lower level tournament to re-build their confidence may be the best bet. If your player is exceeding your expectations and attain better than expected results, putting the player into a high category event may be a smart move.
The player may, at the last minute get into a high level tournament and as such will surely play and take advantage of this opportunity.
Furthermore, it is so important for players to know what tournaments they are playing and when. This serves as the biggest motivator for many players to train hard if they know they will be playing a tournament in the near future.
As you can see, tournament planning is done with the best intentions however this tournament planning is generally not adhered to.
There are many factors to consider when designing a tournament schedule. Listen to your coach, be flexible with the schedule and understand that learning to compete is the most important trait a tennis player can have, A simple and effective way of ensuring that tournaments are a positive contributor to development is the following philosophy -
TRAIN – COMPETE – REVIEW
By following the above statement and working with an experienced coach, the competitive qualities needed to progress to the higher levels of tennis will be developed.