How Do I Decide If I Am A Novice, Satellite Or An Open Player?
Rallying With The
Executive Director

Knowing the appropriate play level for an adult or youth is an important part of welcoming new players to the game and retaining existing players. If you self-rate too high as an adult, you might find yourself stuck at a higher NTRP level than appropriate waiting for the computer to move you down.
If you think your child is ready to play a satellite tournament because of some success in novice events, he or she may be rudely surprised by a double-bagel outcome from a much better opponent. Either experience may dampen the player's spirits or cause him or her to leave the game. How can we avoid those situations?

I believe the answer to both questions is to go "old school". Or, in the name of a popular movie from 1985, let's go "Back to the Future". Serve, Stroke and Volley (SSV) is an on-court skill-level test created by Neil Johnson in the '70s. I believe SSV is the solution to many of our play level concerns. Please allow me to explain how SSV works and then why I think SSV can help us integrate new players into our sport easier and smoother and retain current players in our existing team, league and tournament programs.

SSV is tennis's equivalent to football's Punt, Pass and Kick or baseball's Pitch, Hit and Run. SSV is done on a tennis court and is adaptable for Red, Orange, Green and Yellow Ball participants so it is suitable for all ages and skill levels. The player being tested hits serves, groundstrokes and volleys into specific cross court and down the line areas marked off on the court with temporary or permanent lines. The player earns points from each stroke because of the control and power of each shot. There is a tester that feeds the balls and a scorekeeper that records the points of each stroke. The final part of SSV is a timed seven-line drill run on the court resulting in a mobility score for the player. SSV takes 10-15 minutes per player to administer.

A beginner would likely score SSV 0-59. Professional players score SSV 180-200. Division I players for schools, like UCLA and USC, score SSV 170. The national average for varsity high school players is currently SSV 120.

If I controlled a tennis facility, this is how I would use SSV. Every new player that joined would be evaluated using SSV. Once I knew the player's SSV, I'd place the person in a group of players with similar SSV scores so the competition would be appropriate. SSV works across ages and genders so I can mix generations and sexes, creating more play opportunities. I'd test my league players so I would know what the SSV scores of my 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5 and 5.0 NTRP teams were. If I had an SSV 125 man who wanted to play on my 4.5 men's team and their scores ranged from 130-140, I'd direct him to the 4.0 team.

I would like to see our junior events, like team tennis and tournaments, have an SSV basis too. If we could evaluate our junior players in SSV, we could group the players in SSV levels of play. Instead of novice, satellite or open tournaments, we could have tournaments for SSV 60-69, 70-79, and so on. Rather than intermediate or advanced Jr. Team Tennis (JTT) competition, we could have JTT SSV 80-89, 90-99, etc. SSV would take the guesswork out of what level to play. SSV would not replace NTRP or A, B, C levels; it would merely compare a player's SSV level to other players with an SSV level and match like with like. Because SSV is age and gender neutral, you could form mixed teams if you didn't have enough players of a specific age or gender to have good competition.

Please let me know if you would like an SSV demonstration at your tennis facility. SSV answers a lot of questions about how to arrange skill-level based competition and also gives a player a guide for what to improve to be a better player, be it control, power or mobility. Contact me at, or (310) 208-3838 Ext. 240.

Let's grow the tennis pipeline with SSV, not PVC!

Bruce Hunt
Executive Director
Southern California Tennis Association
Neil Johnson
760 781-5182