© Ella Ling

Nadal fan

Draw for All - increasing participation at grass roots

For anyone growing up and playing tennis in Britain in the 1980s, the Volkswagen Ratings were a part of everyday life. Everyone playing in tournaments, juniors and seniors, had a rating and were guaranteed at least two matches against players of roughly their own standard, even if they lost their first. Based on the successful French system and designed to encourage players of all ages and standards to play the game and keep playing the game, it was hugely popular for several years and increased the base of players across the country.

For a number of reasons, it seemed to die a bit of a death in the late 1990s but in 2013, it is back, albeit in a new guise and with a new hope to inspire more people to get involved in the sport. Jeremy Dier, the brains behind the original scheme, has introduced Draw for All, a new scheme he hopes will increase participation at grass roots level.

“I know so many people who lose their first ever match 6-0, 6-0 and then never play again,” said Dier, a former national junior champion. “I want to try to eliminate that feeling.”

There is already a system of tournaments in place in Britain but Dier feels the lack of co-ordination between events, especially in terms of scheduling and the events they offer, is holding things back. Moreover, too often players enter a tournament and play someone far better in the first round, perhaps scarring them for life.

Britain’s “system” – run by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is continually criticised for not producing enough champions but while Dier is someone who does not feel systems produce champions, he also feels that if you build a broader base, then the chances of more, better players coming through is increased.

To that end, each tournament will have the same format, with those players losing their first match automatically going into a second draw, from which they could go on and win more matches and eventually, a prize for their section. Dier will stick with the new points-system for ratings, which ranges from 1.1 to 10.2, rather than the old-style (-30 to +40) and so far more than 60 tournaments have signed up, with the hope being that 200 are on the list by 2014.

To make it more attractive to adults, events will be open to players aged 15 and up, and will be two sets, with a Champions tiebreak (first to 10) if the sets are split. Sudden death deuce will also be used, helping clubs to know how much court time to allocate and potentially, to increase draw sizes as a result. Dier said he also plans to run under-15 tournaments, though juniors are well provided for with age-level events of their own.

The LTA, Dier said, had been helpful in giving him the contacts to build the system but at the moment, there is no indication that it wants to get involved in a more permanent, structured way.

It is an interesting new take on a tried and trusted formula and the real surprise is that the VW ratings went away in the first place. Having played for many years in France and seen their superb club structure and tournament structure, Dier is a big advocate of their way of doing things. If it gets more people playing the game, already a big aim of the LTA itself, then that can only be a good thing.

More information can be found at http://www.drawforall.com/ and the circuit is due to begin in earnest in April.