Monday, June 28, 2010

Not nearly 200

The USA Racquetball Junior Olympics (read US Junior National Championships) are going on in Minneapolis until June 30, and you can see some of the action on line via Racquetball There are a few things that strike us about the event that has 154 players competing, which isn't "nearly 200" players as suggested on the USAR website.

Where are the girls?

First, there are only 30 girls playing in Minneapolis. Thirty! Only 19.5% of the players at the tournament are girls. That's not enough. There's only four girls in U18. We've mentioned low numbers for female participation at racquetball events before but it bears repeating.

The people who should be most concerned about this are those who want to see the US women's racquetball team do well in the future, because if there's only a few girls playing, the likelihood of getting good players also shrinks.

Furthermore, the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) should also be concerned, because how can you support a pro tour with so few girls playing? The pro tour should be the top of a pyramid of players, but numbers in Minneapolis make it look like female racquetball in the USA is a column and it even seems the column is narrower at bottom than the top.

This is very troubling.

Meaningful competition

The second issue we'll raise is to consider whether junior tournaments, such as the USAR Junior Olympics, provide meaningful competition for the players. By meaningful competition, we mean matches that could be won by either player (i.e., matches that aren't blow outs).

The most important thing for a junior player is skill development, not winning. For skill to develop a player needs a challenge that is appropriate: not too difficult or too easy. That is, players need meaningful competition. Thus, a match between a highly skilled player and a novice won't be helpful to either player in terms of skill development, because the highly skilled player won't be pushed to perform well and the novice will be overwhelmed. Their match will be meaningless.

How do you tell if a competition is meaningful? We've decided to set the meaningful criterion at equal to or greater than 10 points for the loser in games played to 15, and looked at the Round of 16s in the boys draws in Minneapolis.

In the Round of 16 with boys from all over the USA, we'd expect that there should be some close matches, yes? If that was your expectation, then you were disappointed, because across four boys divisions - U18, U16, U14, and U12 - there were 10 games with the losing score of 10 or more. That's 10 of 64 or 15.6% (not counting the tie breakers, because those are only played to 11). Moreover, in 30 of those 64 games (46.9%) the losing score was less than 5 points.

If you get beaten 15-5, 15-5, you've certainly been blown out. And almost half of the games in the Round of 16 had scores like that. Thus, a lot of meaningless matches happened in the Round of 16.

You can also see this by looking at the number of tie-breakers in the Round of 16. Five of the 32 matches across in the Round of 16 in the four divisions in question went to a tie-breaker, which again suggests the difference in skill between the players was so large that the match was not a meaningful competition.

Multiple Goals

Now there are multiple purposes at a junior national event, such as the one in Minneapolis, and skill development isn't a high priority for the older age divisions, where the USAR is trying to select its Junior Team members.

But for younger age divisions, such as U10 and U8, ages at which many would argue you shouldn't be pushing kids into competitions at all, you could promote more meaningful competitions by having round robins instead of draws.

For example, in Minneapolis there are 14 kids total in the Boys U10, U8 and Girls U10 divisions (putting boys and girls together here, because the physical differences between them are small at those ages). And only a couple of their games so far have had losing scores greater than 10. Those divisions are round robins now, but with only a few players in each. Why not put them all together and have a bigger round robin division?

A round robin of 14 might be too much, but how about two divisions of 7 with a playoff of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. from one division playing the respective other finisher in the other division? This would give those young kids a lot of competition and more likely to give them meaningful competition, which should be the emphasis at their young age.

Our point here is that having competitions for kids that are just like adult competitions isn't appropriate if your goal is helping the kids develop their skills, because simply putting kids into a draw often has meaningless consequences.

Follow the bouncing ball....

1 comment:

kcs636 said...

good stuff. although the women's pros wouldn't care because less competition.