Founded in 2014, Inspiration Academy
is a private coeducational school with high-performance sports programs in baseball and tennis. Located in the tennis mecca of Bradenton, Florida, Inspiration’s program includes 37 tennis players, aged 11 to 23. The young athletes range from starting players in the UTR 2.0-3.0 range to Division I varsity athletes with ratings above 13.0. Several college players train there when not on campus. The 23-year-old is former Syracuse #1 Amanda Rodgers
, who now plays WTA events.
The last two years, Inspiration has sent a player to Les Petiti As (The Little Champions) tourney in Tarbes, France. This event hosts the three best 14-and-under boys and girls from each entering country to compete at the highest level of international competition. It was the springboard for players like Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Dimitrov, and Murray. In 2017, Inspiration Academy sent Martin Damm, and in 2018 Jonah Braswell.
In the summer of 2017, Ashley Hobson, Inspiration’s director of tennis, decided to ensure that players and their families were familiar with the rating system that has become the gold standard among college tennis coaches
, namely Universal Tennis Rating
(UTR). He and his staff began to build UTR into the structure of their development program.
Now, each month, a list of all rated Inspiration players gets posted on a bulletin board at the academy. (There are 26 with established ratings, the rest have projected ones.) “They like to see their UTRs go up,” says Inspiration coach Whit Moorman. “Lots of kids are pretty competitive about their UTRs. It gives them motivation to succeed in tournaments, to make their UTR go up more than someone else in the academy.”
“Lots of kids are pretty competitive about their UTRs. It gives them motivation to succeed in tournaments, to make their UTR go up more than someone else in the academy.”
The ratings document both individual success and the effectiveness of the academy’s training. From August 1, 2017 to February 5, 2018, 22 of the 26 rated players saw their UTRs improve. Over the same six-month period, the academy as a whole showed a 0.33-point increase in UTR levels. A flyer titled “Inspired Success” praises the 10 kids with the largest improvements to their UTRs.
Warm-ups and drills get organized around UTRs. There are typically four players on each court with similar ratings. The highest four UTRs hit on the first tennis court, then the next four on the second court, and so on. This offers another ladder to climb: “the kids want to work their way up to a higher court,” Moorman explains. UTR replaced an earlier scheme that put players in one of three groups: Lions, Cubs, and Tweeners. But “there was considerable debate about who belonged in which group,” says Moorman. “Now, there is no arguing with the numbers.”
The academy also believes strongly in level-based play
as an engine of development. “It is widely accepted that competition against players of the same or slightly higher skill levels is the best way for players to grow,” Moorman says.
“It is widely accepted that competition against players of the same or slightly higher skill levels is the best way for players to grow,” Moorman says.
“We have found that UTR offers the best opportunity for our players to do just that.” Every month, the academy hosts a UTR tournament, open to all comers, including athletes outside the academy. There are no age or gender categories, yielding true level-based play. The events use best two-of-three-set matches in a college-type format, and allow coaching during competition, just as NCAA tennis does.
Inspiration also hosts Saturday morning match play from 9:00 A.M. to noon, open to local athletes, too. The academy has done this for years, but now these matches feed UTRs. Since the scores now affect collegiate recruiting prospects, participants are “even more focused!” Moorman says. Recently a parent flew in from California with a child who had failed to gain entry to a USTA national tournament in Florida. The youngster, with an 11.0 UTR, came to the Saturday morning session. “He just wanted someone good enough to play,” Moorman says.
The UTR events also open opportunities for kids who don’t qualify for state-level tourneys. A 16-year-old British boy at Inspiration with an 11.9 UTR doesn’t qualify for Florida events because he is an English subject, not a legal resident of Florida. The UTR events enable him to get good tournament matches anyway.
Inspiration Academy finds countless possibilities with an objective measurement system. “We could measure changes in UTR after implementing new drills, workout regimes, coaching techniques, and mental focus activities,” Moorman says. “Inspiration sees that the scores can allow a unique opportunity to even compare the impact of full-time training vs. part-time training, or groups experiencing different training regimes.”
“The opportunities to evaluate our players’ growth are endless,” says Hobson. “We are excited about the growth of UTR, and find it of great benefit to what we are doing. We are always trying to get better, and this is another tool to assist us.”
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