By E.J. Crawford
USTA League, the world’s largest recreational tennis league, has added an astounding 60,000 participants in the last two years to reach 800,000—a figure that is up more than 120,000 since 2007 alone—all while continuing to offer the mix of competition and camaraderie that has long been the hallmark of USTA League play.
Starting with the 2013 League championship season, that spirit will remain the same but the format will not. With an eye on long-term growth and a desire to provide the best possible experience for players, captains, coordinators and providers now and into the future, USTA League is introducing a new structure. Gone will be the monikers "Senior" (50 & over) and "Super Senior" (60 & over), replaced instead by more representative groups.
"We understand the adage, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’" says David Schobel, Director, Competitive Play, USTA. "But we also didn’t want to stand pat and miss an opportunity to make a great league even better—and to grow the sport of tennis in the process."
Under the new structure, USTA League will be divided into just two divisions—Adult and Mixed—with corresponding league types (similar to age groups). The Adult Division will consist of 18 & over, 40 & over and 55 & over league types, with a potential 70 & over league type being considered for the future. The Mixed Division will continue as 18 & over, with the potential to add a 40 & over league type in the coming years.
In another significant change, the Adult 40 & over league type will consist of two singles matches and three doubles matches, while the former "Senior" category was solely three doubles matches. The Mixed Division will continue to be contested as three doubles matches.
"We recognize people are often resistant to change, but we believe this new structure will win over any skeptics in short order," says Kurt Kamperman, Chief Executive, Community Tennis, USTA. "This is not a decision we made lightly; it was heavily researched and well-vetted in response to feedback from USTA League players. We feel these age breaks will offer something for everyone and will increase player satisfaction, thereby positioning USTA League for continued growth in the years to come."
The reasons behind the change came down to a desire to better align participants with players their own age and to better distribute USTA League participants among the three age categories, a move that will allow USTA League to age appropriately with its participants. Doing so, research suggests, should translate to more play opportunities, more participants and more competitive match play, resulting in more accurate NTRP ratings and more fun for everyone involved. As they had previously, players will continue to compete by NTRP rating within all divisions and league types, and they may continue to play in their league type and/or in a league type with a younger age group.
"Under the current model, we have players of the same ability but not necessarily of the same playing style or fitness level," says USTA League Committee Chair James "Bud" Spencer. "Plus, USTA League is a social game as well as a competitive one, and in many instances a 60-year-old and a 20-year-old may not have as much in common. The new system narrows that window to create more social commonalities. The 60-year-old may still choose to play in the 18 and over, but now we feel like we’ve presented that player with more—and better—options."