ARE YOU A PARENT LOOKING TO HAVE YOUR CHILD START PLAYING TENNIS TOURNAMENTS?
ARE YOU A PARENT LOOKING TO HAVE YOUR CHILD START PLAYING TENNIS TOURNAMENTS?
LET US HELP YOU WITH OUR STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO GETTING STARTED. (YOU'LL THANK US LATER.)
STEP 1: GET A USTA ACCOUNT
Make no mistake, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Fortunately, if you are 10 and under and new to tournament play, the USTA is willing to give your child their first year of membership free. Use the link below and don't forget the code FYFE. It will save you $20.
Download the USTA App on your phone. Input your child's USTA number and it will automatically keep track of tournaments played and allow you to search upcoming events. A super handy tool on the App is that you can keep an eye on tournaments by using the "Favorites" feature. A star in the top left corner (see photo at right) will enable you to find what you were looking at without having to go through the entire search process again. When you are looking at the tournament you want to refer back to, click the star and change it to yellow. You won't find 100 percent of the tournament details available to you on your PC view, but the App will be your new best friend for sure!
STEP 2: UNDERSTAND THE COLOR LINGO
You might hear the term "ROGY" when you first start to inquire about tournament play. It's a part of the "Youth Progression Pathway" developed by the USTA to help develop young tennis players. Players start with Red balls, then progress to Orange, Green and finally Yellow.
RED ball matches are played on a 36 inch court, with small nets and rackets that are 23 inches. In order to progress on the pathway, you are not required to play any red ball tournaments. In my personal opinion, just skip it. You've got enough to get through with orange and green that will keep you busy.
ORANGE ball matches are played on a shorter 60 inch court, with regular nets and rackets that are 25 inches. There are 2 levels of orange tournaments. You start at Level 2 and gradate to Level 1. Each level requires that you achieve 20 stars and trophies combined to move on to the next level (see chart on right). The USTA has a Player Profile Page that is updated with tournament wins and your child can see how they are doing and when they are able to move up. They can even upload their photo to personalize their page.
GREEN ball matches mean you've hit the big time. (Note that if your child is 11 they can start at green and bypass the orange ball but they cannot play yellow until they are 12.) These matches are played on a full court, with regular nets and rackets up to 29 inches.
And finally, the legendary YELLOW ball. You can now officially compete against Federer.
STEP 3: UNDERSTAND THE LEVEL LINGO
You're no longer colorblind, but you now need to master the LEVELS.
Tournaments start at Level 9 and move all the way up to Level 1.
Here's a simple guideline to match up colors and levels for beginners:
Level 9 - orange and green
Level 8 - orange, green and yellow (14 year olds only)
Level 7 - orange and yellow
Level 6 - green and yellow
So now you need to find the tournament. All tournament searches are done on the USTA website. I've included the link below. To simplify the search, these are the fields you need to enter.
-Select All Upcoming (otherwise you'll get old listings)
-Select your Region (Miami is Region 8, Boca is Region 6)
-Select your Division
-Select your Level
STEP 4: BEWARE OF THE DEADLINE
Not all tournament directors (TD) were created equal. You'll find all sorts of guys in this job. A good one can make for a great weekend. (A bad one can make your world a misery.) Get some intel from fellow parents before determining where you want to spend your weekend.
That being said, you need to be aware that there are deadlines to register. It is usually the Wednesday before the tournament. Some TDs will extend the deadline until the last minute to get as many entries as possible. Others will not. My preference is for those who stick to published deadlines. Why? Because finding out on Friday night that you have an 8AM draw is not ideal. It's better to be able to plan your weekend instead of waiting until the last minute to see when your child will play. (Some of us have other kids we need to take care of!)
Once the draws are posted online, it's impossible to make any late additions.
STEP 5: CHECK YOUR DRAWS
It's impossible for a TD to know when a tournament will start until the registration has closed and they know how many courts they will need based on entries. A nice tournament director can manipulate times if there is a special request BEFORE the draws are made (don't say you heard it from me), so it never hurts to ask.
It is most common for a TD to post times sometime on Friday. You can see the draws via the App or the Tournament Search online. The online version may have important details like rain delays, etc. that you can see on the App. It's a good idea to check both places if the weather forecast isn't looking good. Also, don't hesistate to contact the TD if you have any questions. Their number is posted for a reason.
STEP 6: FEEDBACK MATTERS
If you've had a positive or negative experience, let the USTA know. There are so many tournaments in Florida that its vital to send feedback about how a TD or particular location is doing. If no one complains, nothing changes. The tournament isn't free.
If gotten this far, I'm going to reward you with something special - my top 5 tournament pieces of advice.
1. Keep your options open until the deadline is super close. As a diligent parent you probably want to plan your calendar and book your tournaments early. Don't do it! There are often 2 tournaments close to each other that compete for entrants. You don't want to commit to a location until you have a better sense of who is registered. This is because you can get stuck with a small group or a group that gets mixed with the opposite sex if not enough kids register. Wait until as close to deadline as possible so you can make an educated choice and have the best experience for your kid. If you want your money back because your child gets sick, it's too late once the draws are posted.
2. Pack a lunch and extra clothes. If you are going to a location that you haven't been before, they may not have food on site. Depending on the match schedule, you may not have enough time to leave the property to get some food. In the hot Florida sun, you need all the energy you can get. And to avoid an emergency, mid-tournament trip to Target, pack some extra duds. It never fails that my kid spills a red Gatorade on his shirt when he hasn't brought some extra apparel.
3. You can ask a TD to separate friends/kids from the same academy. You are going to a tournament to play new kids and have different experiences. It's totally ok to ask the TD ahead of time to separate kids. They might tell you that they won't play each other in the first round, but can't guarantee it after that. That's okay. Just ask.
4. It's your kid's call (and brush up on the rules). No matter the level, tennis parents can get crazy - including me. That being said, the biggest issue at these beginner tournaments is bad calls. Prep your kid that if the ball lands on their side of the court, it's their call and they need to stand their ground, A referee can overrule only if they see the point themselves. Parents can't overrule and neither can the opponent. It's not always fair, but it's the rules, so know them.
5. Buckle up. It's a long ride. It may feel like the US Open right now, but its not. Its not easy getting out on the court all alone with no one to coach you. (What other sport can you think of that its illegal for a coach to help you during the game?). Keep the criticism to a minimum and tell your child how proud you are, no matter the result.