The Los Angeles area is fortunate to be home of not only theSouthern California Tennis Association (SCTA), but also to an abundance of tennis professionals. A famous tennis coach once jokingly said Southern Cal tennis pros are a dime a dozen, and there is hardly another area in the United States that is so saturated with ordinary teaching professionals. And then there are those who stand out, who see their profession as more than just a way to make money. Who teach and organize and dedicate their time with a purpose. Meet Nicole Robbins, aka Nikki, leader of Nikki’s Tennis Crew, and outstanding tennis professional at Weddington Golf & Tennis in Studio City.
A local Southern California girl from Los Angeles, Nikki spent most of her life playing tennis in Studio City. Playing number one at Campbell Hall High School in North Hollywood and from there progressing to a tennis scholarship at Northern Arizona in Flagstaff where she played on the Varsity tennis team for four years, Nikki learned the ins and outs of winning tennis matches. But she didn’t stop there. After graduating in 1989 with a degree in Sports Psychology, she returned to her roots, The Racquet Centre of Universal City and started teaching full time.
As Director of Social Activities, running many tournaments and events, she has given trophies to Venus Williams and The Bryan Brothers – highly regarded Southern California tennis celebrities. After taking over as Director of Junior Development Nikki spent the next ten years teaching and playing tennis tournaments. She was ranked number one in Southern California in the ladies 25's singles, mixed 5.5 (with her student Mike Rosett) and number three in 5.5 singles.
After The Racquet Centre of Universal City was turned into a shopping mall Nikki relocated to Weddington Tennis, formally known as Studio City Golf and Tennis, and that’s where she makes an impact in the tennis (and personal) life of so many kids and adults. She says “I enjoy teaching all levels of tennis and specialize in beginners - intermediate, where many students have gone on to successful college careers. I also work with developmentally delayed children.”
Nikki's teaching philosophy is that tennis is a skill that will last a life time, at all levels and can be enjoyed by young and old. She instills in her students a solid foundation of skill and strategy. She says “Every student has a different learning style and I always try to adapt to their needs. That often means to say the same thing many different ways so my students understand what is being taught.”
And how about the private life of Nicole Robbins? When she is not teaching on a tennis court, Nikki enjoys the martial arts (kung fu and tai chi), and skiing. She also speaks Spanish and is attempting to learn how to play the piano and speak French. But tennis is entrenched in her life like no other activity. Her organization, Nikki’s Tennis Crew offers a wide variety of tennis programs for adults and children, such as private and group lessons; Quickstart programs for juniors; Captaining of USTA League teams; tournaments; special events and camps. Wilson Sporting Goods, one of the major technology companies in the sport of tennis, has asked Nikki to be on their Advisory Staff. She is holding this position since 1989.
Nikki is in good company at Weddington Golf & Tennis. Not only is this semi-public club home of the California Social Tennis Network, but it is also known for a number of celebrities that were seen playing tennis there lately, like Will Ferrell and Jon Lovitz. And one of the most famous tennis players of all time is known to use the golf driving range every once in a while: Pete Sampras.
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The Southern California Tennis Association (SCTA) is based at the UCLA Campus in Los Angeles. The SCTA is one of the 17 USTA sections and offers a large Adult League tennis program throughout Southern California. Every year, Adult League players come to USTA League tennis matches with certain expectations that may not be based on the realities of the computerized ratings system.
SCTA Adult League Coordinators at the 2011 Farmers Classic ATP tournament at UCLA
USTA (United States Tennis Association) Adult League players participate in League tennis matches with certain expectations based on what their individual understanding of the system is. Since many players do not really have a thorough understanding of what’s called the NTRP rating system, this can be cause of conflict and frustration. NTRP stands for National Tennis Ratings Program and is the USTA’s proprietary system of calculating and displaying an adult player’s accurate skill level.
Purpose of the NTRP Tennis Ratings Program The USTA says on their Tennislink suite of web applications under NTRP: "The primary goal of the program is to help all tennis players enjoy the game by providing a method of classifying skill levels for more compatible matches, group lessons, league play, tournaments and other programs."
The premise is that the powers to be at the USTA want to make the league tennis experience competitive and enjoyable for as many players as possible by leveling the playing field as good as an almost 100% computerized system can allow it. Not an easy task with ½ million players involved. They can’t always make everyone of those players happy. But the number of players who think the system is fair and the matches are competitive and enjoyable is reportedly astounding.
SCTA Adult League Coordinators at the 2011 Farmers Classic ATP tournament at UCLA
Computerized Self-Rating of League Tennis Players The computerized self-rating web application is the first point of contact for a new player or for someone with an expired rating. The more accurate the answers to the self-rate questions are the better the chances that a player will end up with the correct ratings level. Self-rate yourself too high and you may not be able to win very many points, let alone games. One may also find that their opponents are upset because they are not in a competitive match. Players who self-rate themselves too low are in danger of being disqualified for beating up on lower level players too easily. The different play levels within the NTRP ratings system are displayed in an easy to read diagram, the Player Guidelines.
Registration on a USTA Adult League Team Getting on the correct USTA Tennis League team is an important part of providing a competitive and enjoyable match play experience. Players and Captains know when they are playing at the right level and the problems they can create for themselves and their opponents if they don’t. The player registration process on a League team happens online on Tennislink.
Match Play and Dynamic Tennis Ratings Dynamic ratings are being calculated nightly for the USTA’s Adult and Senior League divisions only. The ratings of players allow predicted scores. When the actual score of the match differs from the predicted score, the dynamic ratings of all the players are adjusted slightly in the direction of the actual score. This can create situations where players lose a match but their rating increases because the score was close or they actually won when they were supposed to lose.
Tennis Ratings Levels are Based on a Figure in One Hundredths of a Point Although players usually only see their whole level number, such as 3.0, 3.5, 4.0 etc., behind the scene the computer calculates all ratings in hundredths for the adult and senior divisions. Example: a 3.5 level player may actually have a rating anywhere between 3.01 and 3.50. This shows that a high 3.5 player with a rating of e.g. 3.47 may actually be well on her way to becoming a 4.0 player. Also, a low 3.5 player with a rating of 3.07 may be in danger of slipping down to a 3.0 level.
When do USTA League Tennis Matches Create Conflicts? The situation is predictable. Players are out of level and may or may not know it. The case where a totally over-level player beats up on lower-rated players is actually quite rare. In a conflict situation one side is often not realizing they are playing at a level higher than their ability and they’re meeting opponents at the top of their level. A reality check is appropriate here and better information would go a long way for these players.
Year-end Ratings for Adult League Tennis Players Towards the end of the year the NTRP Tennis Ratings Program has, through the calculation of daily dynamic ratings information, a pretty good picture about a player’s rating. They initiate the Year-end ratings calculation, which pulls more data in, adds the results of Championship matches, and creates Benchmark ratings that are filtering down in to the community of hundreds of thousands of tennis players and adding to the accuracy of ratings. Year-end Ratings are good for 3 years (2 years for those aged 60 or older during the League year).
Is there Room for Improvement for League Tennis Ratings? There certainly is. Beginning with the accuracy of the self-rating process, following the way daily ratings are calculated, and trying to eliminate sandbaggers and other non-standard match play dynamics, there is always room for improving the computer element in the process. One of the main areas for improvement, however, may just be better information for the average player. Alejandra Ordonez, SCTA’s Section League Coordinator for Adult Leagues says: “Although a ratings appeals process is in place, the more the players understand the system, the better they are able to see the bigger picture and help improve that very process.”
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And then there is another side of Ronita – founder of Sports Explorer in Los Angeles, a USTA Community Tennis Association. The Mission of the organization is to be a “…champion for active and healthy communities of all ages and backgrounds through athleticism and wellness education. “ The founder’s vision for this non-profit organization is to provide a healthy footprint in the community and promote a “conscious pursuit of a healthy lifestyle for all.”
Ronita’s premise is that the L.A. High Schools are not a healthy environment for kids and what is needed are healthy activities to create a positive, nurturing, stimulating, and livable community. Her vehicle for achieving that goal is the sport of tennis. Since 1999, when Sports Explorer was established, the organization has evolved from bringing tennis to kids at High Schools to involving adults and whole families in the healthy tennis lifestyle. Teaching tennis to kids at the Crenshaw High School is still their largest program, but the organization is participating in adult World Team Tennis, organizes its annual “Taste of Tennis” fundraiser extravaganza in May, and is enjoying a long standing partnership with local tournaments.
The annual BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA plays a special role in those partnerships because as the 5th largest tournament in the world it lends itself to playing a special role in the fundraising strategy of Sports Explorer. The local LA tournament, Farmers Classic, is also playing a big role in the programs of Sports Explorer.
Many High School juniors volunteer for “A Taste of Tennis”, Sports Explorer’s Annual National Tennis Month Celebration and Scholarship Fundraiser. They will be candidates for the Sports Explorer Scholarship as members of the Crenshaw High School Senior Leadership Team. The requirements are volunteering and participation at A Taste of Tennis with their family members at the active living community event.
Ronita Elder is also trying to reach adults who want to play tennis. She is quoted as saying “Southern California is thirsty for tennis”. More and more adults see the health benefits of tennis as a sport and a lifestyle. Sportsexplorer.com states that “Sports Explorer believes in the power to change lives through sports and nutrition at any point in your life.” If money wasn’t an object, Ronita would carry that message all over the world. Going global is her dream and she has already taken groups of tennis players to Brazil and China, where they played in events like the Bejing Senior Open.