Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Do I have to play up to be bumped up in USTA League - Interesting Tennis League Stats

In USTA League play, a player may play at their established NTRP level or subject to some limitations, they may play up a level.  This is done for a variety of reasons including:

  • The higher level team is short on players and needs spots filled
  • The player wants to play with their friends that are on the higher level team
  • The player is bored at their level
  • The player thinks playing up will help them be bumped up

The last reason listed is a commonly held belief and it does have some truth to it.  When you play up, you are likely playing higher rated opponents and when you do that there is more opportunity to improve your rating.  However, it is not a given that playing up will improve your rating and result in a bump, in fact, if a player is not ready for the next level and just gets continually blown out, their rating could go down.  For example, winning an at-level match 6-3,6-3 may be better than losing a played up match 6-3,6-3.  If the player isn't ready for the next level, this can also make for uncompetitive matches which isn't good for any of the players involved.  Sometimes playing at the right level and improving from competitive matches is a better way to improve your rating.

All that said, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at bump data to see what we can tell about bumps and playing up and any correlation between them.

What I did was to look at the computer rated players that were bumped up at 2014 year-end and how many played up in a 18 & over or 40 & over league.  Here are two charts showing for each gender the number of players bumped up that played up and didn't.

First the men:
We can see that the majority of bumps up are at 3.5, 4.0, and 4.5 and a fair number to 5.0 too.  But the percentage that play up decreases as the level goes up.  Of the bumps to 3.0, 91% played up but at 4.5, the percentage is just 38%.

Now the women:
While the raw numbers and distribution for the women is different, there are a lot more players bumped up to 3.0, the decreasing percentage that played up is evident here too with 80% playing up to get bumped up to 3.0 and 52% at 4.5.

So does this mean you have to play up to get bumped up?  Certainly not, large numbers of players are bumped up that don't play up.  But especially at the lower levels it appears more of those that are bumped up do play up than don't.

And one could make the argument that these players that play up would have been bumped up anyway.  To check this, I used my Estimated Dynamic NTRP Ratings to look at a few players that played up and compared their average match rating in at level vs played up matches.

One man that was bumped up to 4.5 that did better in his 4.0 matches, a 4.20 average, than his 4.5 matches, a 3.87 average.

A woman that was bumped up to 3.5 did better in her 3.5 matches, a 3.38 average vs a 3.03 average playing 3.0.  But another one bumped up to 3.5 did better in her 3.0 matches, a 2.94, to a 2.86 3.5 average.  Note she was bumped up due to a good run in playoffs at the end of the year.

Now, this is just looking at a few players, but it appears that playing up can help you get bumped up, but in some cases, players get bumped up in spite of playing up as they actually do better playing at level.

So, if you feel the urge to play up, stop and think about it first and try to make sure that you really are winning most of your matches at your own level, perhaps even doing so easily.  If you aren't, playing up may actually hurt your chances to be bumped up.