Monday, September 5, 2011

To ALTA or to USTA, that is the question

There seems to be a snobbery in Atlanta about ALTA vs. USTA: I don’t know how prevalent it is, but I’ve heard rumblings that – some believe – winning an ALTA City Championship is (somehow) superior to winning a USTA City Championship. I think that this attitude is naïve and reflects ignorance more than anything else.

Of course, ALTA is a huge tennis program (indeed it’s an institution here in Atlanta), boasting upwards of 80,000 members. But did you know that Atlanta’s USTA membership is the largest of any city in the country as well, more than 42,000 strong. Both leagues’ members are divided into divisions and levels, by ability and/or age group. But as I’ve written before, USTA is inherently “fairer” because of its NTRP rating system, which rates each individual player on a team, vs. ALTA’s “rating” system, which only rates teams (not individuals). Therefore, in ALTA, one can experience gross mismatches in ability at virtually any line in any given match (and all too frequently does), especially in mixed doubles – an amalgamation of men’s and women’s teams’ ratings, initially – which can get even further out of whack when a team divides. For instance, a high B team may be made up of some low level A, some high level B and some lower level (B or C) players but - after a season of playing together - all of its players will earn a high B mixed doubles rating. If the team is later divided into two teams – e.g. because some of its players cannot effectively compete at the high B level – then the lower level players are hampered by having a higher level rating, and it can take several seasons of losing for them to find their appropriate level. However, in USTA, since individuals are rated, lower rated players can leave to join a lower level team (and vice versa) without penalty.

Additionally, while ALTA is a terrific tennis program, it’s only available in Atlanta whereas the rest of the country has USTA. Besmirching the nation’s tennis program seems rather parochial, doesn’t it? Besides, once you’ve won an Atlanta City Championship in ALTA, you’re done whereas Atlanta’s USTA Champion (and usually runner-up) can go on to compete at the State, Sectional & National level!

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