Myth-Busting the NTRP Rating System

We’re often asked or seeking what level we are when looking for potential practice partners or signing up for a tennis program. From beginner to professional, these are valid questions to help ensure we match well with the person we decide to get out on the court with. Now, to be fair, a professional will likely not be concerned with these ratings as they are the pinnacle of the hierarchy. If you’re a touring pro, or even former pro, you have that badge attached to you saying “I can hang with pretty much anyone.”

For those of you that aren’t grinding it out at training facilities/clubs or academies, it would be useful to have a better understanding of the rating system and where you fall into it. One of the biggest concerns I hear as coach is that players are too often dissatisfied with the level of tennis they experience. Someone is either too good, not good enough, a waste of time, lied about their level, or wasn’t sure about their level and embellished a bit. Sometimes a player feels overwhelmed by the level of a class they signed up for, while others may feel like they are above the class and are not getting a good value. So how can we address these issues with a little more clarity?

First, let’s define NTRP. NTRP stands for National Tennis Rating Program. It was developed in 1978 by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to identify and describe general characteristics of tennis-playing ability using a numerical indicator from 1.5 (beginner) to 7.0 (touring professional) that break down the skills of each level in 0.5 increments. 

Oftentimes, players get lost in these numbers and wonder how they should rate themselves. We can break this down very easily by having four main categories; Newbie, Recreational, Competitive, and Professional

A Newbie is someone just joining the sport with absolutely no technical experience or knowledge of the scoring system. It doesn’t matter how athletic or how many videos you’ve watched; if you don’t know what 15-Love means, or can’t hit a stroke from both sides of your body (forehand and backhand), then you are considered a Newbie (between 1.5-2.0)

A player that falls into the Recreational category is someone that can hit all the main strokes that are used in tennis, which include the forehand, backhand, volley (FH & BH), serve, and overhead (smash). These are players that generally know the scoring system and most of the rules of tennis. Ie: what a foot fault is. They may not exactly know how a tiebreak works, or when to switch sides, but they can rally and play points if they wanted to. This falls into the range of 2.5-3.5.

A Competitive player knows all the rules of tennis, has competed in some form, whether it’s a league, ladder, or tournament, and can hit all the main strokes competently. These players are starting to develop their mental and tactical skills while learning strategy. Competitive players generally train their skills year round. Some instructors and coaches may fall into this category. The range is between 4.0-5.5. 

The Professional category is pretty self explanatory, it’s for someone that plays tennis for a living. However, there is a small caveat. Players that are not on the professional circuit can fall into this category. For example, hitting partners that aren’t ranked, high performance coaches, former collegiate players, former professionals, and so on. If you play open level tournaments and are consistently winning a round or two, you can place yourself in this category. Realistically, if you are on the lower end of the professional scale, a touring pro may not find very much value practicing with you, but you can at least keep up in a rally in some form and maybe steal a point here and there. The range is between 6.0-7.0.

To sum up this system and test if these categories make sense, simply ask yourself: if we take emotion or social status out of the equation (I really want to play with this person or join this class because I feel…) then would I enjoy and benefit from playing with this person or joining this class? That’s not to say a Recreational player should NEVER play with a Newbie or a Competitive player NEVER practice with a Recreational. It’s simply to help manage expectations when deciding who to play with or what program to sign up for. 

Regardless of what category you fall under. I hope you get out there and play! And if someone doesn’t meet your standards, try to feel compassion before anger. 

See you on the courts!

PS. Check out the NTRP Self-Rating Helper to help find your NTRP level as well as whether you are a Newbie, Recreational, Competitive, or Professional.