It happens all the time; someone asks you 'What level do you play at?" it's a common question and important because as tennis players we all want to be as evenly matched with our opponents and partners as possible. No one benefits as much from a lop-sided match as one that has like-leveled players. So here are my tips on how to answer that question.
Rating Systems. There are 3 known (or perhaps not so known) rating systems in the sport of tennis. First is the old fashioned;
a) BEGINNER-INTERMEDIATE-ADVANCED. Most players are able to at least begin the discussion by placing themselves in one of the three categories. BEGINNER is someone who cannot sustain a rally, and has a struggle getting serves in. NOTE: just having played for several years doesn't mean you have improved enough to be an intermediate, just like playing for the first time might not mean you are a beginner. Many beginners assume since they have been playing many years they are now intermediate players. This is not the case if you can't sustain a rally against a like-leveled player. INTERMEDIATE players can rally and serve but lack the secondary strokes of swing volleys, smashes, angles, approach shots, lobs, drop shots etc. ADVANCED players have it all plus weapons and refined tactical experience and can compete and overcome adversity.
b) ITN-INTERNATIONAL TENNIS NUMBER. This rating system requires an actual test. It is sanctioned by the ITF (International Tennis Federation) It takes about 10 minutes with one course facilitator to feed balls in a patterned way and one to record scores. It's more common in Europe than in North America. The best score is a 1, the worst is 10. It takes time but it's the one rating system that has zero opinion in determining score.
c) NTRP NATIONAL TENNIS RATINGS PROGRAM. Created by the USTA this system is the one we use most commonly in Ontario and at our club we have it posted at the front desk. Highest is a 7.0 PRO, and beginner is a 1.0. Its a self rating program based on a few sentences to describe all levels between 1.0, 1.5. 2.0 etc all the way up to Serena Williams 7.0.
How to Rate your game. I wrote an article many years ago for OT Magazine that talked about a players average and it explained how great players lose to lesser players. The issue many players have is they don't consider the RANGE of level they are capable of playing. The article talked about how important it is to have a very small window or range of play. Many players are capable of playing great as well as playing horrific. This player often thinks they are a lot better than they really are, because of those horrific days, their average (which is the true measure of their level) is very much lower than their best days. Certainly on their day they might be unbeatable at their local club, but there are many players who may never match this players best effort, but over the course of 10 matches would beat that player 6 or more of those encounters because they just never play that badly. So since most players read the NTRP and while reading it are thinking about how good they could play on their best day, they rate themselves too high. I tell players its better to undersell and over deliver and err on the side of rating yourself lower than you are. Because there is nothing worse than showing up and having to play your absolute best just to deliver a level that is expected.
Here is a link to the NTRP;
it's posted at the club as well. When you read through it, think of your worst days as well, and you will find a good medium. For example I am a 4.5 NTRP. I have played as good as the description for a 5.5 or even a 6.0, however I am confident I can deliver a 4.5 Rating level consistently and what might be the most important detail; I feel I can deliver that level of play under the worst of circumstances, not the ideal.
You can always have a certified Pro do an assessment for you if you are concerned you may not be able to properly rate yourself, they will take you through some drills and play some points against you to get a feel for you, but really doing it yourself is better since they may not know you well and that one off encounter may not be a true representation of your level.
Knowing your level though is important, and not just for the reasons of finding yourself in the best company on the court, but also for knowing your own strengths and weaknesses to help you better understand and therefor improve your game. Good Luck and let me know if you have any further questions,