This tournament guide mini-series will help you navigate the tournament landscape no matter where you live in the U.S. Today we will be focusing on the Eastern Section.
Tournaments are an important part of any players regimen. Without the competitive atmosphere where there is something on the line, it will be tough for your child to learn how to fight off nerves and play their best in tight matches. I know we’ve all seen this scenario. It’s a big match and your kid just practiced yesterday and was looking great. During warm up everything looks just as good. Your child is hitting the ball cleanly, and their strokes are on point. But then as soon as the match starts it’s like watching a different person. They start pushing the ball as if they’ve regressed a year or more in ability and it only gets worse as the match goes on. Eventually, they lose the match, and you can’t help but wonder why it happened and what needs to be done to get over these mental barriers.
Unfortunately, the only way to get better at this is to continue to put your child in these situations until they start to get comfortable with them. However, you can speed up this process by allowing your child the highest chance of success early on. Early success will give them the confidence they need to play up to their actual level in a match. This is why playing tournaments can be so important. If used correctly then you can boost your child’s match confidence and mental toughness allowing them to win when they need it most.
In this article, we will go over the different types of tournaments in the Eastern Section and when to play each one.
USTA tournaments are split into five different age groups 10&Under, 12&Under, 14&Under, 16&Under, and 18&Under (“Under” is sometimes referred to as U. For example 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U, 18U). Your Child is eligible to play in tournaments their age and older. If your child is 13, they can play 14U tournaments and up. On the first day of the month of your child’s birthday, they are no longer eligible to play in an age group younger than them. For example, if your child is 14 going on 15 and their birthday is in March. On March first, they would no longer be allowed to play in 14U tournaments. (Note that 10U tournaments follow a different framework which I go over in our youth tennis progression post).
An L3 tournament is meant for beginner to intermediate players and is the best place to start for kids that are not used to a tournament atmosphere. It is a round robin tournament meaning that even if your child loses they will still get the opportunity to play multiple matches. It is easy for kids to get discouraged when they go to a tournament that is 2+ hours away just to lose in 20 minutes. That’s why L3 round robins are so important. Not only do they get the valuable experience of playing multiple matches with different kinds of players but, you spare them the discouragement of being sent home right away. Take note that these tournaments do not count towards ranking and are simply a fun way to ease into a tournament atmosphere and gain experience. They are open to everyone
The L2 tournament is for intermediate players. These tournaments are filled with players of quite a few different levels and can be a bit of a gamble regarding how many matches your child will play. Even so, it is still an excellent way to test how far your child has come and to see what parts of their game start to break down when the pressure is on. These tournaments are usually single elimination but sometimes have consolation rounds. Wins in L2 tournaments DO count towards your child’s eastern and regional ranking, although don’t expect your child to gain too many ranking points from these events. L2O’s (or L2 Opens) are open to everyone while L2R (or L2 Regionals) are open only to kids from the region.
The L1b tournament is for intermediate to advanced players. This is where you can start to test your child’s skill. There are plenty of experienced players in these tournaments, and you should not sign your child up for one if they don’t have any tournament experience. These tournaments are usually single elimination but sometimes have consolation rounds. They do count towards your child’s eastern and regional ranking, and you can rack up a nice number of ranking points with wins in large tournaments. L1b’s may be open to everyone or only to kids from the region.
The L1 tournament is for advanced players only. There will be fierce competition at any L1 and the best in the area will likely be there. If your child has a top 200 ranking in the area, this is where they should go to test out their skill. Winning one of these isn’t easy, but there can be a lot of ranking points won if your child does well. L1a’s are worth slightly less ranking points than L1’s because they run during Super Six’s which are described below.
This is where the cream of the crop play. These events award players both national and sectional points. You also must be one of the top 32 ranked players who sign up to get into one. It’s no easy task getting into one of them and you have to be high on the food chain to play in one. These tournaments are closed to Eastern residents and US Citizens.
So the next question is which one should your child play? Well, I’ve broken it down based on tournament experience.
What Tournament Should Your Child Play?
L3- If your child has little or no experience playing in tennis tournaments then the first one they should try is an L3. Even if they end up easily beating all the competition, having a good first experience is essential to building confidence and keeping your child wanting to play tennis. Even more important, if they start to get nervous and lose, they at least have the opportunity to play multiple matches. The more matches they play, the more they will be able to start to overcome their nerves in matches.
L2- If your child plays a USTA tournament every now and again then I would suggest they start playing L2’s. Although L2 tournaments can be a bit of a gamble regarding the level of the competition, it is important to start gaining some tournament experience where a loss means you are going home. These tournaments will allow you to gauge how your child plays when the pressure is on. L2’s are also great places to start if you are looking to get your child some experience with playing kids in the next age bracket.
L1b- If your child plays on a high school tennis team and has played in multiple tournaments then it is time to try out some L1b tournaments. Here your child can start to test themselves against some of the better players in the area and start to earn some real ranking points.
L1/L1a- If your child plays on a high school varsity team, plays tournaments on a regular basis, and consistently gets to finals of L1b’s then it’s time to try out L1’s and L1a’s. This is where the best in the area come to play, and it will be the best place to test your child’s skills. If they do well here, then they can start to build a ranking and possibly get invited into super six’s!