As we move into the second half of the season, US Squash would like to thank you for your participation in junior squash. The growth and positive competitive experiences of thousands of players would not be possible without your engagement.
In the fall, US Squash implemented a number of changes to the junior tournament and ranking structure with the goals of ensuring the continued provision of a safe, fair, inclusive and balanced environment for junior squash competition as participation and geographical diversity continue to increase. The changes fell into three primary categories:
- Tournament structure changes, involving adjustments to the size of tournaments and the numbers/method of allocation for each tournament type nationally;
- Rankings enhancements to maintain mobility across ranking levels;
- Process/Qualification criteria improvements that, along with the rankings changes, are designed to ensure that players are competing at a level appropriate for their skill and age while lowering the barriers for families to access meaningful competitive opportunities.
Since implementation, we have received broad feedback from the community regarding the impact of these changes. US Squash staff members hosted eleven town hall-style meetings to solicit input and explain the rationale behind the structural adjustments, and there have been a significant number of conversations with families and coaches whose input has provided valuable insight on how the changes have been affecting players across all regions and ranking levels. This community involvement has been extremely helpful and appreciated. Additionally, three months of data now exists which has allowed US Squash to analyze trendlines in areas such as player ranking levels by tournament type and geography, waitlist sizes, and ranking mobility.
Community feedback and analysis of the available data has helped US Squash make some preliminary determinations regarding which desired outcomes have been achieved by the changes, and more importantly, where adjustments are necessary to achieve the desired goals for the junior tournament and ranking structure.
Desired Outcomes Achieved:
Ranking accuracy is increasing due to divisions filling at more tournaments. Many divisions in Gold tournaments have strong entry fields, raising the overall level of competition at this level which is designed for experienced players. Silver and Bronze tournaments registrations have also been increasing, with a concurrent rise in the level of play. In some divisions, good finishing position results in Silver tournaments have become a prerequisite for entry into Gold tournaments and this has also played out at the Bronze level where a good finishing position has been required to qualify into a Silver level event.
Many tournaments are being played in shorter time frames — one day for many Bronze tournaments and two days for many Silver tournaments — lowering the financial, missed school and travel burdens on families. A majority of families have also indicated a preference for shorter tournaments over potentially multiple venues, as opposed to longer tournaments located at a single venue.
The desired mobility between ranking levels is still being seen in most divisions. Players finishing in the bottom positions of a tournament level are earning fewer points than players finishing in the upper positions of a lower level resulting in players being able to develop through the levels.
Areas of Concern:
Longer waitlists are being observed in many divisions, and there is more rapid movement of players on those waitlists. The existence of waitlists is not inherently concerning, but they can indicate important areas in need of review. Many players seem unsure of the most appropriate level of tournament to enter, and players are also entering multiple tournaments on the same weekend to ensure they have an opportunity to compete. The subsequent number of withdrawals directly before the withdrawal deadline is appearing to cause difficulties for families with players on the waitlist, who have limited time to make plans for their tournament travel if they gain entry.
In certain divisions of East Coast tournaments — primarily the BU15, BU17 and GU15 divisions — the ranking points required to qualify into a tournament have been above the desired level. This means that some players in these divisions, who are finishing towards the top of a certain level of tournament, are not necessarily gaining entry into next level. Furthermore, these divisions have a larger number of ranked players, which creates more competition for positions in tournaments in general. Outside of these divisions and in other regions of the country, while there are still waitlists in many instances, the waitlisted players are able to improve their ranking by performing well in a lower level of tournament.
Increased demand for Bronze tournament competition has exposed a shortage in availability at this level. While Bronze events have been designed to be entry-level tournaments, they now represent a competitive level of play and a new entry level tournament has been emerging in some regions. This shortage has meant that some families have had difficulty entering tournaments (and therefore starting in the ranking system) or finding enough competition in their region.
Interim Changes and Areas for Further Analysis:
In response to the areas of concern listed above, US Squash will be implementing several changes to the junior tournament and ranking structure:
- Draw sizes for the BU15, BU17, and GU15 divisions will be increased from 24 players to 32 players in all East Coast Gold tournaments with a registration deadline that falls on or after January 1, 2020.
- One more East Coast Gold tournament will be added in February or March 2020. Locations and dates are currently being evaluated and will be communicated once finalized.
- US Squash will work with tournament directors to schedule additional Bronze tournaments through the remaining months of the season.
These three changes are designed to relieve some of the qualification pressure that currently exists for the most subscribed divisions in East Coast tournaments, and also provide more participatory opportunity during the season.
As more data and community feedback are collected over the coming months, US Squash will continue to evaluate the junior tournament and ranking structure to ensure it is providing a safe, fair, inclusive and balanced competitive experience for players and families. Areas of particular focus will be player entry management including withdrawals and concurrent tournament entries, tournament allocation and availability per region, player mobility through ranking points allocation and the process for the introduction of new players to the system. Changes to be implemented in the summer or fall of 2020 will be announced this spring.
While US Squash applies significant rigor to our planning and analysis in implementing changes to the competitive structure, we also understand that any change process will almost certainly be iterative and evolve over time. Essential to this process is the continued input and partnership of the squash community to help advise on adjustments needed to make the system as fair as possible and to reach the best outcomes together. We are deeply grateful for the involvement of our community as we work cooperatively to achieve this goal and sustain a system in which players are able to grow personally and as squash players through their junior careers.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Holidays from all of us at US Squash.