While spring connotes sunshine, blooming flowers and nesting birds, it’s also the season for USTA league tennis — meaning that during these three months, one’s wins and losses really matter. Each fall, after victorious teams have gone on to Districts, then Sectionals, and finally Nationals, the computer re-calculates everyone’s NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) rating, and it either keeps players at the same level, or it moves them up or down depending on a complicated and mostly secret algorithm — one that people may profess to understand, yet no one can explain in full.
I play 3.0 ladies’ tennis. For those who aren’t familiar with USTA, this is not an impressive level. Most “real” tennis players look down their noses once they hear I’m only a 3.0, or they’re friendly but somewhat condescending. Sure, I’d like to move up to 3.5 – what 3.0 wouldn’t want the respect that comes with the extra half-point? At the same time, other than wanting respect and acceptance, I’m actually fine with being a 3.0. The point of USTA ratings, after all, is to help people play against opponents with about the same level of ability and consistency, thus giving everyone a decent chance of winning or losing.
Non-tennis players aren’t off the hook here, though: tennis is merely my topic of the moment. The situation of a 3.0 who wants to move to 3.5, or a 3.5 who thinks this is her year to go to 4.0, is pretty much the same as that of an executive who believes she should move one level higher in the organization, and earn perhaps twenty percent more — then she would be satisfied. Or the school volunteer who calculates that, if she could only be nominated to the Executive Board, her talents would finally be recognized for what they really are. We all want to demonstrate progress, whether it’s with our tennis rating, compensation package, community leadership, the size of house we live in, or some other measure that matters to us. [Read more…]