By Kevin Theos (Courtesy of Tennis Industry Magazine) On a cold and overcast Friday in the mid-1980s, a young Chicago tennis player headed to a suburban tournament. Having no car and little money, he took two buses and a train, then walked through snow to the tennis club. There, in the first round, he encountered a nationally ranked junior — and lost decisively. Then he set about the long trek home. That player was me, and that was only one of many such distant tournaments I played as a junior. Through hard work and assistance, I became a good player, but my experiences and observations have shown me that players need more competitive opportunities close to home. Most tennis organizers habitually separate players by gender and age, and only then by level, because that is how it has always been done. A better method is to first group players based on level, or their ability to have reasonably close matches against one another. There are significant advantages to focusing on level. Most importantly, it makes organized competition possible in many more communities. By having juniors and adults, male and female who are close in level competing together, more communities would be able to offer tournaments and leagues. It would also significantly benefit those who aspire to play college tennis. Players who cannot afford to play tournaments outside their community face long odds, because they play too few events to get ranked high enough to attract the attention of college coaches. And coaches have a separate problem: evaluating potential scholarship candidates located far from their schools. Having an accurate way to measure players’ skills could enable communities to host level-based events, allow players to demonstrate their skills closer to home, and assist coaches in evaluating candidates. Fortunately, such a tool is in use and has been evolving for over a decade. It is the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) system. The UTR system captures results from all sanctioned professional, college, adult open and junior events, as well as from some high-school associations, and generates ratings for beginning level tournament players all the way up to touring pros. By using UTR as one tool to assess skill level, conduct events and record scores, communities can help players develop near home, save money and enhance the likelihood that college coaches will spot them. Offering level-based competition in each community may not be the whole answer to the challenge of developing and retaining players, but it is surely part of the solution. Kevin Theos is the USTA Southern Tennis Service Representative for Alabama. He serves on the USPTA Southern Division executive committee and is the former executive director of the Birmingham Area Tennis Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.