The British Tennis Competition Landscape in 2021
Simon Haddleton, i2c’s Head of Tennis at the Shrewsbury Club and a qualified tournament referee, explains the UK’s competition landscape.
There has been a lot of change in the UK’s competition landscape in 2021. We caught up with Simon Haddleton, i2c’s Head of Tennis at the Shrewsbury Club and a qualified tournament referee, to explain recent and forthcoming changes. Simon provides all the need-to-know information for coaches and parents to get kids into competition.
If you are a tennis player, parent or coach involved in competing or running competitions in the UK, you will find this an invaluable source of information.
Partial interview transcript
Richard Marklow: [00:00:24] Simon, I always feel you are Mr. Competition. I always feel that about you. And I know you’ve been involved in competition pretty much all of your working life. And so can you just tell everyone about your involvement in competition over the years?
Simon Haddleton: [00:00:43] Yeah, of course. I have been involved in tennis – and in particular competition – literally all of my working life since I was about 15. So I was really lucky to to start myself playing tennis at my local club kind of wealth, which is a little small local club and in a nice little town. But the head coach that James Ray had a great system of training the young players up to become young coaches or young organisers. And when I was 16, I actually went on one level one with Richard [Marklow] at the University of Warwick all those years ago and also qualified as a competition organiser just because really I love tennis and lots of my friends at the time had jobs and Waitrose and you know what other sort of supermarkets. But, you know, I just love tennis and really wanted to get involved in tennis. So when I was 16, 17, I sort of worked that kind of work on a typical Saturday mornings. We ran matchplay sessions for the for the juniors on a Saturday afternoon and it sort of went from there. James also ran the park at Victoria Park in Leamington Spa, which is about 15 minutes away. That had ten, ten calls in the park. And when I was 17 and could drive, I used to drive over there on a Sunday when the Orange tournament at grade five or whatever. And I just loved sort of being part of tennis, being able to watch the matches, being able to talk to the parents. And that was it. That’s where it started.
Simon Haddleton: [00:02:22] I then went to university when I was 18, went to Sussex, studied economics and politics. But during my first time at Sussex, I realised very quickly that although I was I was at university and I was obviously there to get a degree, I wanted to continue doing some form of work in tennis because ultimately that’s what I really enjoyed. So I started working for Tennis Sussex at the local LTA office, and I also launched my business Way to Play, which grew whilst I was at university and basically managed competition programmes for venues. So lots of coaches don’t really have time, don’t really have the inclination to win tournament programmes. So I established a business that went into the clubs and worked in partnership with the clubs to run their competition programmes. And throughout my time at university, I frequently used to sit in the library pretending to revise, but actually just dealing with parents and and emails and and so it grew. From then after I graduated, I went full time into the business and eventually we grew to about 40 clubs around the country running a variety of different competitions from grade three. So week long competitions all the way to great success. It was at the time before the LTA change the most recent rule change in about two thousand and fifteen. So it was one match plays and ratings were sort of really high up on people’s agenda.
Simon Haddleton: [00:04:01] So the business was heavily focussed around that and it was just great.
Simon Haddleton: [00:04:06] I had a lot of sort of young young referees like myself that love tennis, that, you know, just love being involved. And we just used to go around and get a lot of tournaments.
Richard Marklow: [00:04:21] I always love going to your tournaments. I always feel like they are very calm and really well organised.
Richard Marklow: [00:04:39] Can you just talk about how competition is part of your role now?
Simon Haddleton: [00:04:47] Yes, I joined Inspire2coach as Director of Tennis at the Shrewsbury Club about five years ago. We’ve developed a coaching programme and a philosophy at the club which is centred around competition.
Simon Haddleton: [00:05:13] So we use competition as much as we possibly can to provide the children with the opportunity just to practise their tennis and to make some friends. Competition is the cornerstone of the programme at the Shrewsbury Club.
Simon Haddleton: [00:05:28] We’ve done some great things. We’ve done some really good team competitions. We just to try and get the children playing competition as early as possible to make it normal and to make them have a good experience and to want to keep keep practising.
Simon Haddleton: [00:05:53] One of our big plans is this summer we ran the Battle of Shropshire, which was an informal competition we ran as a direct replacement for this year’s county championships [cancelled due to the COVID lockdown]. That was really cool and really, really good fun. So just trying to use competition as a vehicle to encourage people to continue playing is really important to me.
Richard Marklow: [00:06:16] Great stuff! So, the world of competition doesn’t really stay still for very long, does it? And there’s been many changes over the years and there’s some pretty big changes coming up over the next next few months. So can you talk us through those those changes?
Simon Haddleton: [00:06:32] Yeah, the LTA’s structure and plan of competitions goes in cycles. Say probably every five years. There’s quite a big overhaul in the rules and we’re coming up to a period now where there’s going to be some pretty big changes. The first one I think it’s important us to touch on is the one introduced last year when the LTA changed the competition age groups. So previously it was a pretty confusing system where there were two seasons. One was September to March, one was April two to August and players moved up twice a year depending on when their birthday was.
Simon Haddleton: [00:07:23] It was also always really confusing. Parents would ask things like, “my kid’s in year six, this other kid that’s in year six – why are they playing a different ball colour?” And you’d have to try to explain that the other kid was born in September and your child was born in May… It was all really confusing for parents, coaches, players.
Simon Haddleton: [00:07:43] So from last year, they [the LTA] changed the rules to the year of birth. So, the age group now runs from the 1st of January to the 31st of December and now you know, if you were a 2012, you play mini orange this year, if you were 2011, you play many green this year It’s much more straightforward. That’s a really positive change. Obviously, with any change, there’s always going to be a bit of disgruntlement at the start. So for those players that moved in September and then had the birthday in December and, you know, they were a bit short-changed because they only got a few months in a particular ball colour, but I think in general and moving forwards in the longer term, that’s going to be a really, really positive move forward to help people understand exactly what age group they’re meant to be playing.
Richard Marklow: [00:08:50] Any any advice for coach on that or about finding out information and just not being ahead of the game with it all?
[00:09:02] On all of our player registers, we just have the player’s year of birth so it’s really straightforward for us to know what year of birth they are now and therefore what ball colour they should be playing.
Simon Haddleton: [00:09:18] The LTA have also relaxed the stipulations of what ball colour you should be playing or have to play. So, previously it was a very strict; if you were born in this year, you had to play orange, you weren’t allowed to play green, whereas now it’s slightly more relaxed and slightly more the the coach in the parents as well. Just get as much information as you can. And I would like to see less players in the year of birth and keep them all in these groups.
Richard Marklow: [00:09:49] And then so the other one that we need to talk about today is the world tennis number? Can you talk about the rationale behind that?
Simon Haddleton: [00:10:03] The world today tennis number is probably the biggest change in British tennis or even international tennis for a long, long time. Previously, they’ve [the LTA] had the rating system and they’ve tweaked that, but this is an absolute overhaul of the the British tennis rating system and will be brought in as a direct replacement for the current ratings.
Simon Haddleton: [00:10:31] Currently, anything that’s determined by ratings; so any tournament acceptance or seedings, grade four and five, that the currently done on rating will now be done on the world tennis number.
Simon Haddleton: [00:10:47] The world tennis number is an international number. It’s been established in line with the ITF and other leading tennis nations, with the idea being that it will create just one tennis language across the world. So everybody in the world will all have a world tennis number. And no matter where you go in the world, you will be able to play matches that will all be recorded for world tennis number. And everybody will have the same number will be universal. So you will know where you go that you’re playing somebody of a similar level.
Simon Haddleton: [00:11:21] The main reasons, I think, why it came about in the UK; firstly, the traditional British rating system went from 1.1 to 10.2. – there were 22 stages – with the idea being that 1.1 players should be the best players in the country. So Andy Murray should be a 1.1, those guys that play on the professional tour should be a 1.1 and it should go from there. As it transpired, there were lots of people, even some 14 or 15 year olds, reaching the 1.1 Level in British tennis without anywhere to go when they’re very young and actually they were and obviously they weren’t as good as the people on the tour.
Simon Haddleton: [00:12:15] It was too easy for players and parents to manipulate the system and move down [improve] their ratings. So the world tennis number is going to have a lot more stages. So still, the best players in the world will be a 1, but the beginner players will start at 40 and in the UK they’ll start a 40.9 because in the UK they’ve decided that will be one decimal place. Although there’s 40 stages, they’ll actually be 400 stages because they’ll be point one or point five just to make it a little bit more accurate.
Simon Haddleton: [00:12:55] So the idea being that it will be you’ll be able to, throughout your life, move along the scale and get better, whereas before you got to a 1.1 and that was it and there were a lot of them [1.1 players].
Simon Haddleton: [00:13:08] The next, really, for me, the really exciting change that is going to make it a much better system is that it’s going to be a dynamic system. The British rating system moved four times a year to move once at the end of each season and set August and March.Then there was something called a midseason run in the middle of the seasons so a player can move down the list and move down the rating, a maximum of four times a year.
Simon Haddleton: [00:13:39] What that meant was that once a player had achieved their six wins, quite often they stopped playing. So quite often they’d get their six wins in the first couple of weeks of the season, they go, “Oh brilliant, I’ve done my job, I’ve not going to bother to play anymore”. Whereas the world tennis number being a dynamic system, it’s going to change on a weekly basis. So you can change every single week, you will go out, you move along, you know, either towards one or you will move toward 40 based on your results every single week.
Simon Haddleton: [00:14:17] And it operates differently. It doesn’t just look at your win loss ratio. Did you win the match? Did you lose the match? It operates using an algorithm that works out your expected score. So it will work out what it thinks the score will be between you and your opponent based on your world tennis number. And you will then be rewarded or you will move the other way based on your performance against the expected score. So if you’re expected to beat somebody two sets to one and it’s meant to be close and you end up beating them two sets to love, then you’ll move that you’ll move along the scale a bit more, but also if you’re expected to lose in straight sets, but actually, you play well and you’re really competitive and you lose on the match tiebreak, you will equally be rewarded for that because your performance is better than the algorithm thought it was going to be.
Simon Haddleton: [00:15:15] So with the world tennis number, the emphasis isn’t just on winning or losing. It’s more about performance and and looking at that set level of you will get rewarded if you do take somebody that’s perceived to be better than you to a match tiebreak, because ultimately that’s quite a good thing. When I look at our children that are playing matches, it really upsets me sometimes when they’re playing somebody that’s a lot better than them and they played the best match their life and they’ve lost on the tiebreak 11-9. And they come up and they’re crying and they’re devastated because they’ve lost. I’m trying to say, well, you know, you didn’t expect to win that, “Isn’t it great that you got to a tie break and you got so close? What a great effort”. And they really struggle to understand that. But now the world tennis number will take that into consideration and they’ll get rewarded for that. That’s a really positive thing.
Simon Haddleton: [00:16:13] The idea being that it will provide real time information. So every week it will change, so every week it will be accurate. Whereas the rating system before just changed every four times a year, once a quarter, it wasn’t particularly accurate.
Simon Haddleton: [00:16:34] So with this system that’s dynamic, it changes every week. It will encourage people to play and it will reward people for being competitive even if they’ve lost matches, which I think is really cool.
Simon Haddleton: [00:16:49] Another thing about the world tennis number is that while the focus of British tennis in the last three years has been more towards singles and previously there’s been no no separate measure for somebody that just wants to play doubles. But there’s lots of players out there and especially lots of club players that just don’t want to play singles. And before there was never any measure of that.
Simon Haddleton: [00:17:25] So the world tennis number now will have a separate singles and a separate doubles number. So if all of those players in the clubs that play in the county leagues or play in the district leagues, all of those matches now, as long as they’re recorded on the system, all of those matches will still go towards the world tennis number. All of these people that have been sort of alienated and excluded from the rating system are now going to be included into this one system.
Richard Marklow: [00:17:57] When all this when do we start?
Simon Haddleton: [00:18:01] It’s been delayed a little bit with COVID. It was meant to be in place about 12 months ago. There’s been a lot of advertising, a lot of marketing, a lot of information out there from the LTA over the last couple of weeks. So I think it’s going to come in place as of April or May. And the LTA do now seem to be pushing a lot, putting a lot of information out there and making sure people understand it, because as soon as they they flip the switch, they [the LTA] will get all of the historic results from the last three or five years and put it into the system so everybody that’s got any history of playing will have a world tennis number straightaway. I think that’s really cool. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, say two juniors that are both 6.1, they they definitely won’t have the same world tennis number. They will have a different world tennis number based on their results, based on the algorithm, based on who they’ve played and how many sets they’ve won.
[00:19:15] So, you know, I think for me, that’s going to be really interesting to see who gets what world tennis number, actually what the quality of their matches have been like over the last five years.
[00:19:39] Obviously, you know, just like the age group changes, with any new system, there’s going to be a period of time where it sort of beds itself in. So, you know, I think for the first first few months, they’ll be pretty big swings with someone’s world tennis number when they start competing and the results start going into the system. And then after a period of time, it will all sort of balance itself out. People will find their happy medium of where they really belong, and then it will be a bit less volatile.
Richard Marklow: [00:20:14] So as a referee, what does the world tennis number mean to you as a referee?
Simon Haddleton: [00:20:21] It will change how we do the draws, so how we accept players into the draw. So for grade 4 and grade 5 competitions, that’s on rating first and ranking second – so that will change. The system that we use, tennis tournament planner, that will change to use world tennis number for the acceptance, which I think is going to be a bit clearer, because quite often in the tournament, sometimes a 16 player draw, you could have 30 players with the same rating. And it seems unfair that 14 of them all miss out. So, you know, this is going to be a bit more transparent.
Simon Haddleton: [00:20:59] And also, I think it will I’m pretty certain it will see the return of match plays. In the past, match players have been really popular in the rating system, getting people to to get their wins. Personally, I love match plays because they just give you two or three guaranteed good quality matches against somebody of a similar level. So, you know, I’d be really pleased if match plays do come back.
Simon Haddleton: [00:21:27] The world tennis number will have something called a game zone. So that will be the system and the algorithm working out what other numbers you will have a competitive game with. So let’s say you’re well, numbers 35, your game zone might be 32 to 37. What that’s saying, is, you know, you can go to any tournament anywhere in the world and you can play somebody in that range and have a good match. So I think that match plays are going to are going to come back and are going to become really popular. So even if you’re the lowest world tennis number in the match play, there’s still something to gain if you if you win all of your matches in straight sets. And so I think that’s probably going to be the biggest shake up.
Simon Haddleton: [00:22:26] And obviously the doubles, the introduction of the doubles is going to be really cool because there’ll be so many so many club players that have never had a rating. I never really understood it and finally they will be able to have some form of measure of how they’re progressing. So I think that’s going to be really good as well.
Richard Marklow: [00:22:41] Seems a lot clearer, doesn’t it, which is which is great for everybody. So when we talk about now that changes, there’s also a new competition management system coming in. So could you explain how that how that new system will work?
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