January 9, 2011

Criticisms of Current Rules: Part III: No-Ad and Super-Tie Breaker Scoring

I wholeheartedly agree with the ITF including doubles at all junior events. It tremendously contributes to the overall development of junior players. However, the use of the No-Ad scoring and the Super-Tie Breaker for third set is not beneficial.

There are three goals that should be considered in making a rule change:
1. The Process Goal for the player’s developmental learning.
2. The Product Goal to establish an even playing field.
3. The Fan Goal to attract and appeal to the spectators.

In junior tennis, the Process Goal is not satisfied by No-Ad scoring. The players do not learn the discipline to labor through the lengthy, war-like games that are the key to becoming skilled in tennis.

Perhaps the most important key to achieving high level of success in tennis is developing the skill that it takes to manage the momentum of traditional scoring. Traditional scoring is multi-dimensional. No-Ad scoring is not.

Likewise the Product Goal is not satisfied either, as the best players lose some of their edge in regards to their mental, emotional, and physical skills. All advantages are neutralized by the immediate fluctuations of momentum and pressures caused by the No-Ad system.

With traditional scoring, the subtle separation that a slightly better player has in his or her skills becomes a large advantage during the match. With No-Ad scoring, however, even a big skill separation is potentially nullified with the quick gains and losses of momentum.

The Fan Goal is not being satisfied either. The No-Ad scoring system eliminates the drama and suspense of a player being able to put together three consecutive points.
The traditional scoring system is an heirloom of tennis. It is unique in the sports world. It tests the player’s ability to group points and convert games. This deep skill should not be compromised. The athlete should impact the outcome of each game, not the scoring system.

Key momentum fluctuations are drastically impacted by the use of No-Ad scoring: For example, a 30-0 lead gives the player 16:1 odds that he/she will have a game point in No-Ad scoring. Likewise, a 30-15 lead gives a player 8:1 odds that he will have a game point.

At other key times, the impact of one point unfairly loads the deck as well. The critical 7th game is a good study of this. A 4-2 lead can turn into 5-2 or 4-3 based on a net cord or a bad line call. Even though this is the most obvious example, all game points are worth two games.

In tennis, it is fascinating when players with a similar skill level are competing. The winner must be able to closeout his or her opponent at the end of the match by gaining mastery over his or her nerves. No-Ad scoring takes this dimension away from the player’s developmental process.

Lastly, major tournaments should never be determined by the use of a 10-Point Tie-Breaker for the third set. For example, at the 2008 US Open Junior event, there were 23 doubles matches on the boys draw. 17 of these were decided by a Super-Tie Breaker. This demeans a great achievement and is not a good indicator of the better team.

There should be a valid reason for that the No-Ad system and the 10-Point Match Tie-Breaker to be used for Junior ITF events. Mostly likely, they were implemented with the hope that it would prepare junior players for its use in professional doubles. There is, however, no evidence that there is a carry over value. Most doubles players in the professional ranks are singles players who did not advance far enough in the singles rankings to sustain their career.

The No-Ad system in professional tennis was implemented as a compromise to prevent doubles from being dropped from the tour. Since then, however, it has remained extremely unpopular.

Tournament owners have ignored a simple scheduling solution. Before playing any singles matches, they may consider playing two rounds of doubles on the first two days of the event. Thus, players can use the doubles matches to ready themselves for singles competition, and the first two days can be dedicated to fan appreciation and kids clinics (perhaps even conducted by the doubles players). After these first two days, tournament owners would only have to take care of the remaining 4 doubles teams.

A bad rule is much like a bad politician. Both are easy to put into place, but the ramifications can be long lasting. And once in place, the bad rule or the bad politician are very hard to remove.

The integrity of the game is founded on a level playing field. The physical, mental and emotional skills of tennis should be the sole criteria that determine the outcome of a match, rather than a well timed injury or bathroom timeout. Furthermore, No-Ad scoring and the 10-Point Super-Tie Breaker impairs the crucial role of momentum in the sport. Players and coaches who spend thousands of hours of preparation and training to execute their skills deserve the best chance to win.

Criticisms of Current Rules: Part II: The Bathroom Break

Bathroom Breaks are being used as strategic tactic to break momentum in matches. Most tennis players would agree that there is rarely a need to use the bathroom once the tennis match starts. During a match, there is, typically, a greater concern for water replacement than excessive urination.

On rare occasions, diarrhea may be a factor. Diarrhea might be considered an acute injury. Urination is not. Perhaps the best rule for bathroom breaks may be to only allow it at end of split sets.

In a comparison, it would be unimaginable to see the situation in a boxing match where one boxer has delivered enough body punches to have his opponent leaning into the ropes - ready to submit. Then the player who is under duress, suddenly call for a trainer to give him medical attention or to call for a bathroom break. Likewise, in a tennis match, it often takes over an hour of steady shot selection and pressure to weaken an opponent.

The current rules for tennis should be adjusted to eliminate such disadvantages for the player that who has diligently worked to gain momentum.

Criticisms of Current Rules: Part I: The Injury Timeout

This is a three-part essay regarding disagreements that I have with ITF tournament rules.

In 2010, I attended 19 ITF events, during which I witnessed several matches won by abusing the rules with well timed injury or bathroom timeout. Also, I have concluded that the No-Ad and Super-Tie Break systems create topsy-turvy results. Upon questioning multiple of fellow coaches and players, I have heard many similar sentiments.

The issue that may be of most immediate concern is the abuse of
the rule for
Injury Timeout. The existing rule for on-court injuries may be of good intent, but it has been grossly abused by multiple players on the ITF Junior Circuit.

Faking injuries is now a very common method to change to momentum of matches. Its abuse is noticeable to all coaches and players and many spectators.

Momentum is the most powerful force in sports, and it is very hard to earn, fairly, through good tennis tactics and skilled play. During a tournament, there are some occasions where there may be a legitimate injury – a player has been hurt enough to stop play. However, even when a legitimate injury does happen, it should not be weighted so heavily as to cause an unfair disadvantage to the healthy opponent.

In no other sport are athletes penalized by their opponent’s injury or lack of conditioning. In a tennis match, a player’s health is rarely in peril.

Here are a few recommendations to remedy this issue:

A. A distinction made between an acute and chronic injury.
Chronic injuries and pre-existing injuries should never be treated on the court. Acute injuries are different, but there should still be some consideration for the concerns of the healthy player and the preservation of the momentum that he or she has earned.

B. A one-game penalty for a player that calls for a trainer.
This would eliminate bogus injuries, but still be a fair trade-off if for the player who is seriously injured.

C. A trainer can only be used during the normal change of sides.
If a trainer is needed, the normal 3 minutes for treatment would be fair under these circumstances. If the trainer is called for during a change of sides break, then the athlete should have to wait to be treated during the next change of sides break. This would not disturb the momentum of the match.

D. Cramping should not be considered an injury.
It is, rather, a symptom of poor conditioning.

The decision making burden, concerning what is and what is not an injury, should not be put on the referees or the trainer at the site. This leads to an inconsistency of assessments. Officials and trainers will usually conservatively error on the side of the injured as they fear making a mistake. Therefore, a consistently enforced rule should be in place to take subjectivity out of the situation.

January 4, 2011

Article To Read

This is an interesting article by Jonathan Zimmerman regarding why he thinks American students still lag far behind Asian students in standardized test scores. Influencing children to work hard and overcoming setbacks is much more important than promoting their self-esteem.