Jana and Jordan Waring (she’s Czech, he’s American; they live in Barcelona) have six children, but only one plays tennis. Yet 11-year-old Isabel makes up for all the others. A year ago, she ranked among the top 10 under-10 girls in Spain, where Isabel
has spent most of her life. She plays in Tennis Europe events as a Czech, and is registered with the Lawn Tennis Association, as she has competed in England. Isabel enters about 20 tournaments a year, and often has to play “up” in a higher age bracket—12s in nationals, but the 14s in local and regional tournaments. It’s not like she inherited her court expertise; her parents are recreational players. “We’re pretenders, not contenders,” says Jana, chuckling.
The Warings heard about Universal Tennis two years ago, and it came up again last spring when an event in Brussels invited Isabel to play. The tourney advertised the fact that it sends its results to UTR
. The Warings learned more about UTR, and concluded, “This is amazing—they factor in the competitiveness
of the opponents,” Jana recalls. “It was exactly what we were looking for, because Isabel was entering events and just winning much too easily. It was crazy. We came to Spain and had no idea what events she should play. With UTR, we uploaded the ratings of the entrants, and quickly saw that these people were too weak! It’s mind-blowing how helpful UTR is for parents. It makes it easy for us to say: ‘This tournament—no.’ This tournament—yes, let’s go there.’ Isabel will lick her wounds after the first match, but it’s great competition.”
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Many junior players in Spain are equally selective about what events they enter and what categories they place themselves in, but for a different reason. “In the under 14s, there are certain tournaments where you know you will win a lot of matches, and get a lot of points toward your national ranking,” Jana explains. In Barcelona, where the Warings live, there is strong competition. “But you take a step outside of Barcelona, and you’ll find events where the number of points you win is the same—but you’ll be playing much weaker opponents,” she notes. “So people tournament-shop. Doing that can produce a top-ranked junior, even though it in no way reflects her development as a tennis player.”
Playing more tournaments garners more points. That incentive has driven many Spanish families to have their children over-compete. “If you are playing 35 tournaments per year and four matches per weekend, that’s 140 matches a year!” Jana says. “Not even the pros play that many!”
The International Tennis Federation’s report on players’ injuries led the Spanish federation to create new rules capping the amount of match play for juniors. Starting in January 2018, under-12s can still play as many events as they want, but the federation will only tally points from the eight best results of the first 14 tournaments played. Even winning a fifteenth event would accrue no points. “It’s going to be even more important to select the right events,” Jana says.
Aside from tournaments, UTR has also made it easier to find good practice partners for Isabel. “I now have a list of boys and girls, people with whom I can say, ‘Can we set up a little something?’” Jana says.
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The Real Federación Española de Tenis
(RFET) offers in-kind financial help to top-ranked juniors, which of course creates an incentive for their families. “We have met parents whose children play way too much, in order to collect as many points as possible,” says Jana, “and to get the coveted financial help from the federation. And the even-more-coveted college scholarship in the States. The RFET has an extremely low budget so there’s actually very little help in terms of finances. They offer training centers for the top juniors, but don’t provide money. You have to go through their system to benefit.”
Isabel Waring plays in a different world, guided by UTR, which is now receiving some results from tournaments in Spain. “Everything counts, not just what points you win,” Jana explains. “I go into an event with slightly more realistic expectations. This is very peace-inducing to me. I can see that Isabel will probably not win this event, but she will see how she needs to improve. You have to distinguish very carefully between a tennis player and a match player. Isabel is getting closer to being a better match player. It lets us focus on her improving. That’s enough.”
Federations worldwide are welcome to submit their results to UTR. Click here for more info.