This junior tournaments 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 Midwest Section.
Junior 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.
USTA junior 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).
Midwest Section Tournament Levels
Level 5 – Single Day Showdown
Level 5 tournaments are for beginner players and are usually round robin and non-elimination formats. Round robin tournaments mean that even if your child loses they will still get the opportunity to play multiple matches. This is valuable experience when your child is first starting out trying to play competitive tennis. The more matches they are able to play, the better they will get at matches. It can take a while for practice play to translate into tournament play and the ability to play multiple matches no matter what will speed up the process. I suggest playing these tournaments if your child is new to tournament play and hasn’t played much competitive tennis.
Section Level 4 – District level 3 and 4 Tournaments
The Midwest Level 4 tournament is the majority of the tournaments offered by the state. It is designed for intermediate to advanced players and is your standard weekend tournament. While this probably should not be your child’s first tournament this is a great place to test your kid’s tennis and get them into competitive match play. The level of the players in this tournament can vary greatly and will give your child the opportunity to test their game on a wide range of players and really get a feel for their game. I would sign your child up for a level 4 if they have played a few level 5’s or other tennis competitions (like High School Tennis or Junior Team Tennis) and want to take tennis more seriously or if they are already an avid player and are looking to play more competitive tennis.
These are level 3 national tournaments that are held in the Midwest every year and are for top-ranked players. While they don’t offer as many points as the level 1 and 2 tournaments they do still have national and Midwest ranking points on the line and thus have a very high level of competition. It’s no easy task getting into one of them, and you usually have to be in the top 100 in the section to play in one.
Midwest Level 1 and 2 tournaments can also be National level 1 and 2 tournaments. These tournaments are for the most advanced level of player and where the best in the country come to compete.
Which Tournament Should Your Child Play
If your child has little or no experience playing in tennis tournaments but is an avid tennis player, then the first one they should try is an L5. 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.
If your child plays a USTA tournament every now and again then I would suggest they play L4’s. Although L4 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. L4’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.
A Level 3 tournament is geared towards advanced players and is where they can test their skills against a wide range of players and build their match toughness. This is where you can really start to test your child’s skill and see how far they have come as well as what still needs some work. I would suggest putting your child in a Level 3 if they have had a bit of success in level 4’s and are looking to take their game to the next level.
Midwest Hybrid System
The Midwest Section has started to incorporate Universal Tennis Ratings (UTR) into their player selection and seeding process for tournaments. Meaning that if your child does not play all that many tournaments but still has a high UTR rating, they can still get into big tournaments off their UTR. For a detailed explanation of UTR check out our article here. Going off of UTR for selection is highly beneficial because it helps kids who do not have the means to travel and play a lot of tournaments to stay relevant and still compete. It also means that if your child gets injured and can’t play for a bit, their chances of getting into tournaments won’t suffer as much. Using UTR can also help kids looking to play up an age division get into tournaments they would not be able to get into off their ranking for that age group. For more info on how the USTA standings/ranking system works you can check out our article here.
The selection process for tournaments takes the highest ranked players who sign up for a tournament. For a draw of 64 players, 44 of them would be taken of USTA standing and 20 of them would be taken off of UTR rating. For 32 person draws the numbers are halved, so 22 players are taken off USTA standing and 10 are taken from UTR rating. For seeding 50% of the seeding is done based on USTA standing and then the remaining 50% is done off of UTR rating.
If you would like to sign your child up for a USTA tournament you can do so here!
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