Monday, March 18, 2019

New survey from the USTA - 40 & Over league and 4.5+ level

I received an e-mail today with a survey regarding the 40 & Over USTA League.  I don't know if this was targeted towards select players, perhaps those recently playing in a 40 & Over, or went to a larger audience.  FWIW, the 40 & Over league in my area just had our last weekend of play before we have local playoffs the next two weekends, so the timing does seem related to that.

Some of the questions included:
  • Format of the matches, 2 singles / 3 doubles vs other formats like 1 singles / 4 doubles or 1 singles / 3 doubles.
  • Whether to keep 40 & Over 4.5 a plus league (allowing 5.0s) or make it a straight 4.5 flight.

The second question may have been shown because it asked my level so it was a pertinent question for me.  I'm not sure what a 2.5-4.0 would have been asked.

Did you get the survey?  If so, what questions did it ask you?

Update: I learned that the survey went out to players currently 39 or older and some of the questions were tailored based on the level played.  That is consistent with some of the comments I've seen on my Facebook page.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Seattle area 40 & Over USTA League nearing completion - Local playoffs in just over 2 weeks!

It is only the first week of March, but in the Seattle area our 40 & Over league is nearly done with its regular season and local playoffs are in less than three weeks.  As such, some teams have wrapped up playoff spots while others are still being hotly contested.

For those following along, you may remember that last year our local playoffs had, for most levels, only each sub-flight winner and one second place team across all sub-flights advancing.  That gave teams pretty thin margins during the regular season as one bad match, perhaps with some of their best players missing, and their playoff chance could be gone.

The challenge last year was with the growth of USTA League in Seattle, the court demands to run local playoffs had grown to the point that it was difficult to get one or even two clubs to provide enough courts in one weekend for all the matches to be played.

Thankfully, this year we are back to the top-2 teams in each sub-flight advancing to local playoffs.  Our League Coordinator, Jill Borgida, came up with the idea of a "wildcard weekend" the week before local playoffs to get the first round of matches in reducing the burden for the actual local playoff weekend, and coordinated with clubs to get their support for those matches so all the matches can be played!  Thanks Jill!

The schedule does have quite a few different facilities being used so there isn't a central club or two where someone can camp out and watch all the matches, but I think the players are ok with that if it means more teams make playoffs and more players get to play.

Note, the new 18-39 co-ed league has also been run concurrently with the 40 & Over and its playoffs are also taking place at the same time, so that made securing courts a bit of a bigger task as well.

If you see Jill, be sure to thank her for her efforts on this, and please do thank the clubs for their part in making their facilities available.  Many of these are private clubs and they aren't obligated to do it, so let's make it all run smoothly so we can continue this model in the future.

As for the playoffs themselves, I will be doing reports to help teams scout opponents and plan their line-ups, and also look back at my simulations from the start of the year to see how well they predicted the teams to advance.

And with the 18 & Over league just about to start, it is never too early to start planning for that season and my flight reports, team reports, and simulations can be valuable tools for that.  And of course, I can do individual reports for any player at any time.

For those not in Seattle, all the reports I note above are available for players from any section or area and with your league getting ready for playoffs or perhaps just getting ready to start, I'd love to hear from you.

Contact me (ratings@teravation.net) if interested in any reports, or leave a comment here or on Facebook with your thoughts on the new playoff format for this year.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Example Flight Simulation Report - Comparing pre-season to current simulation for a Seattle 4.5+ sub-flight

I just introduced a new flight simulation report to show the most likely records for teams based on thee strength of their roster and schedule in their flight.  This report is a nice complement to the flight reports I do that show full roster and top-8 averages for each team.

For the new report, there is no better way to see how it works than to give an example so here is one of the 40 & Over 4.5+ sub-flights in Seattle, showing what the pre-season simulation predicted, and what the simulation currently predicts based on matches played so far.

TeamPre-SeasonCurrent
MI-Dawson5-37-1
NTC-Dalkin7-16-2
CP-Laursen6-26-2
HBSQ-Anderson6-25-3
EDG-Ko5-35-3
BETC-Nguyen3-54-4
MC-Mark2-62-6
RTC-Setoguchi0-81-7
PSC-Charters1-70-8

There haven't been too many surprises, the teams have the same or just one different for their predicted finish except for Mercer Island that has done better than expected and is now predicted to win the sub-flight where pre-season were in a tie for fourth.

The reason for this swap is they got a 3-2 win over NTC with one win in a match tie-break.  If that goes the other way, the current prediction is more in line with the pre-season one.  It can be a very fine line between the top team and a 3rd or 4th place team.

If you would like more details or are interested in any report on a flight, team, or individual, contact me.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Introducing a new report - Predicting flight winners/standings with USTA League regular season simulations

I haven't written in a couple weeks and that is because I'm been busy cooking up a new report!

Last year the USTA introduced a new format for Nationals that led me to come up with a new way of simulating the results from flight play and identifying the most likely record for each team, and the chances of all possible records.  I used this to predict who would advance to the semis with the new format with a fair amount of success.

Now, I'm offering reports with the same sort of simulation for regular season flights.  The report will show the most likely record for each team and thus a predicted flight winner and chances of being top-2 where the top-2 advance on to playoffs, but also show the other records each team ended up with in the simulation and the chance of that occurring.

I can do these simulations at any time, pre-season or during the season, the latter taking into account the current record and changes in player's ratings.  The simulations are done by taking a representative strength for each team from a top-N average from my Estimated Dynamic NTRP Ratings, and then simulating the full schedule a million times with a random variation in how a team performs relatively to their representative strength.

Naturally, who specifically plays and the match-ups go a long way to determining team wins and upsets can occur as well, and some teams with new unrated players are hard to predict, but the simulations give a very good idea of how things will end up.

Here is an example from one of the 4.0 sub-flights in the 40 & Over league here in Seattle last year showing the final record compared to the pre-season predicted record.

TeamActualPredicted
PSC-Coe8-18-1
CP-Katz7-28-1
BC-Antezana6-34-5
BELL-Caldwell5-46-3
BTA-Smed5-47-2
FC-Basha4-54-5
EDG-Namba4-55-4
MC-ODB Blasters3-61-8
IND-Nomads2-72-7
GC-Murray1-80-9

We can see the simulation predicted the correct record for 3 of the teams and was just one off on 4 of the others, and no more than 2 off for any team.  Given all the variables involved, I'll take being within one game on 70% of the teams and off no more than two games as good prediction accuracy.

If you are interested in getting a flight simulation report, contact me and I'll get you more details and pricing.  Note that this is a new report so I'm offering it at a very low introductory price so get one now!

And if you are just wanting to scout your flight, I continue to offer Flight Reports, pre-season or in-season as well, that give you summary information on each team including overall and top-8 averages and for teams that have played matches, played averages by court.

Let me know what you think!

Monday, January 14, 2019

2019 USTA League Nationals Dates and Locations

Update: I have learned that the resource I got the schedule from (linked in the original blog) was not accurate and the official schedule for 2019 Nationals should be published by the end of this month.  I don't know how much it will differ from what I wrote before, but stay tuned.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Poll: USTA League teams in plus leagues being discouraged from stacking - New regulations on their way?

It is reasonably well understood that in USTA League play, there is no special meaning to court 1 vs 2 vs 3 (except for plus leagues, see below), and captains are not obligated to play their best players on the lower numbered courts.  Even with that understanding, many captains do play relatively straight-up with stronger players on court 1 and/or weaker players on court 3.

What this leads to though is some captains to stack their line-ups to try and get the 3 court wins necessary for a team win even if it is at the expense of a near guaranteed loss of the other 2 courts.  They reason it is better to get their best players on say singles 2, and doubles 2 and 3 where they can win, than play straight-up and risk any of those players losing a court resulting in a 3-2 loss.

Some find stacking distasteful, others see it just as part of the strategy of team sports.  After all, in football don't you try to identify your strengths and opponent's weaknesses and maximize the situations were you have an advantage?

Despite some not liking stacking, it is accepted that it is allowed and part of the game.  But when the plus leagues were introduced several years ago, the problem got worse.

Plus leagues, or more correctly plus flights/levels, are where a team is allowed to have a few next level players on their roster.  This generally happens in 40 & Over at the 4.5 level and 18 & Over at the 5.0 level.

For example, a 40 & Over 4.5+ team can have three 5.0's on the roster, and two can play in a given match.  There is a further restriction though, the 5.0's must play on court 1, either both in doubles or one in doubles and the other in singles.  The idea being that you want to try to have competitive matches for all players so requiring the 5.0's to be on court 1 helps ensure they play each other.

The problem is, if team A plays their 5.0's together in doubles and team B has one in singles and one in doubles, what is the incentive for team A to play their best available singles player on court 1 if they think or know they'll face a 5.0 there?  From a strategy standpoint, if they play that strong singles player on court 2 they can't face a 5.0 there and have a better chance of winning a court.

The problem gets worse if a team doesn't have 5.0's on the roster or available for a match.  Again team A has no reason to put their best 4.5's on court 1 to potentially face 5.0's, they'd be better off playing them on court 2 so they don't "waste" their best players in a likely to lose scenario.  Some captains have gone so far as to play 4.0's playing up on court 1 to sacrifice those courts.  This is generally not done out of spite or anything, it may just be that due to availability a 4.0 has to be in the line-up, and if they are likely to lose anyway, it might as well be against the opponent's best giving the other courts a better chance to win.

While stacking can make sense from a team strategy standpoint, it also means that a court or two is likely not going to have a competitive match.  Since a key reason for level based play is to try to have competitive matches, this can leave a bad taste in one's mouth, especially if someone had to drive an hour each way for a match and is paying a guest/away team fee to play what may be a 30 minute 6-0,6-0 win.

Apparently, in at least one area of the country, there have been enough complaints about these uncompetitive matches that a notice was sent out to captains saying that the intent of the plus leagues is for the plus players to play each other, and stacking with players playing up on court 1 goes against the spirit of the league.  It ended asking that captains stop the practice of putting 4.0 players on court 1 in a 4.5+ flight.

The notice even hinted that this was something being looked at by USTA National and that changes to the regulations may be forthcoming if the issue continued or got worse.

I can see both sides of the argument.  A team without 5.0's is already at a disadvantage, so any rule that forces them to not sacrifice on court 1 just increases that disadvantage.  But this is "just" recreational tennis and the goal is competitive matches so it isn't fair to someone to make the trip for an away match that isn't competitive.

I think there are probably a couple options to fix it.

One is to acknowledge that plus leagues do bring meaning to the court number, and make a simple change that not only must plus players play on court 1, but players playing up cannot play on court 1.  This doesn't completely remove the stacking arrow from a captain's quiver, but would help avoid the gross mismatches that can occur.  And certainly a team isn't going to have more than five players playing up.

A second solution is to remove court 1 rule entirely, and let a captain play their 5.0's on whatever court they want.  This would introduce more strategy to line-ups, but would likely result in 5.0's playing each other less of the time.  But a team that is stacking would have a harder time matching up their 4.0 against the opponent's 5.0 so it would be an improvement.

A third option is a hybrid of the two, and more complicated so I'm sure the USTA would never do it, but bear with me a minute.  Keep the rule that requires 5.0's to play on court 1, but also require that both captains declare before exchanging line-ups if they are playing two, one, or zero 5.0's that day.  If the teams are not playing the same number of 5.0's, the team playing more of them is allowed to play the difference on a court other than 1.

For example, team A has two 5.0's but team B has one.  Team B must play their 5.0 on a court 1, but team A only has to play one of their 5.0's on a court 1, the other may play on any court.  If team B had no 5.0's, then team A could play both their 5.0's on any court.

This third option still gives captains the ability to strategically stack, but give the other captain the ability to adapt with their plus players to try to avoid uncompetitive matches.

What do you think?  Is this a problem?  If so, what is the best solution?  Vote in the poll below.  Or leave a comment here or on Facebook.


Should the rules be changed regarding stacking in plus leagues?

No, it is fine as-is, let captains stack even if it results in uncompetitive matches
Yes, change it so players cannot play up on court 1
Yes, remove the rule requiring plus players to play on court 1
Yes, change it so plus players can play on any court if the opponent doesn't have a plus player
Created with PollMaker

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Unhappy with a USTA League regulation? Submit a change proposal!

Those that are regular readers of my blog know that USTA League Nationals introduced a new format in 2018.  It was well received and for the most part a success from everything I heard, but I had noted there were what I considered some shortcomings with the tie-breakers in the regulations when applied to this new format and they did come into play a few times.

I wrote about my concerns several times before and during the events, and along the way learned there is a process to get regulations changed.  So rather than just be a bystander complaining about something that I thought was wrong, I decided to try to help fix the problem and submit a proposal to change the regulations as it relates to the tie-breakers.  For others that may be interested, I'll outline the process and key dates.

As you can imagine, regulations changes have a well thought out process to ensure proposals are complete and meaningful, there is adequate time for review and input, and then the responsible committee can weigh all the input and make a decision.

It all starts with the proposal itself, and in fact anyone can submit a proposal with one caveat.  Proposals must have the support of a section.  So I went about contacting Adam Hutchinson, the Director of Adult Competition in my section, and floated the idea of a regulations change proposal.  It turns out he'd seen a case or two within the section where he thought the current tie-breakers got things wrong, so he was supportive of the effort and I got the thumbs up to proceed.  I also learned the deadline to submit a proposal was November 1st, and since I was doing this in October as Nationals were being played, I had to get busy.

There is a standard form to fill out that asks for a description of the current regulation, proposed change to the regulation, and rationale for the change.  There are then a number of questions asking how the change would affect participation, positively impact league players, and a request for empirical information supporting the need for the proposed change.

I completed this form, reviewing most of the 2018 Nationals events and discussing how my proposed changes would have affected the standings and been more equitable, and coordinated with Adam on reviewing it and tightening a few things up, and got it submitted in time.

What happens after this is all proposals are collected and then distributed to the Section League Coordinators in each section, the NTRP Oversight Group, and League Committee for their review and comment, their comments going to the Regulations Sub-Committee.  The latter committee goes through all the proposals and comments, potentially making edits to create final proposals which are then voted on at the Annual meeting, typically held in March of each year.  Those proposals that are approved then go into the new regulations for the following year, although there are provisions for changes to go into effect sooner with approval.

So, the proposal I helped submit has been or will soon be distributed for review and ultimately voted on in March of this year.  If approved and adopted, it would go into the 2020 USTA League Regulations document.

If you have a burning desire to submit a regulations change proposal, you can do it too!  I should say though that I was cautioned that frivolous changes are not well received, and having to work with your section to get support is a filter on that.  But if you have a reasonable idea for something to improve league play with a regulations change, there is a process to follow and I encourage you to do it if you feel so inclined.  You should start by contacting your Section League Coordinator and running the idea by them, then getting the appropriate forms to fill out.

My thanks to Adam for the support, and to Darcy Cobb at National for pointing me in the right direction and assisting with getting the proposal submitted.  I hope my proposal is approved, but regardless I'll know I made an effort and it was considered and reviewed.