The USHPA NTSS Ranking System

What is NTSS and how does it determine who is on the National Team?

NOTE: This article was first published in June 2006. For the most current information refer to the current Rulebook, which can be found on the Competition page.

From Hang Gliding & Paragliding Magazine, June 2006
by Len Szafaryn

The World Paragliding Championships are held every two years and the pilots who comprise the U.S. team are selected based on the NTSS (national team selection system) rankings 120 days before the first day of the world championships [or January 1st, for world championships occuring between April 1st and September 30th - ed]. This year [2006] the selection process will be in November as the world championships for 2007 are in March. The top three to five men and the top two women in the NTSS rankings generally make up the U.S. team. Whether the U.S. gets three or five slots for the men depends largely on our international standing in November.

The purpose of the NTSS is to provide a selection process for pilots vying for the privilege of representing the United States in the world championships. In addition to the team pilots, a team leader is chosen by the pilots to participate in almost all team decisions and functions from initial preparation of the team schedule all the way through the awards ceremonies.

The team leader is a volunteer position and is usually filled by an experienced comp pilot with exceptional organizational and leadership skills. In previous years the paragliding team has been lucky enough to have noted pilots like Paul Klemond, Brett Zaenglein, Kevin Biernacki and Jeff Huey as the leader. It's a lot of effort, but all who have been involved think it's a fun and rewarding experience that many individuals look forward to repeating.

Most of what follows is taken directly from USHPA's 2006 competition rulebook. A very dedicated core group of pilots spent many hours developing these rules and they've done an excellent job in providing us a fair and understandable framework in which to evaluate performance and provide a fair selection process.

NTSS points are obtained in two ways; the first is by participating in competitions in the United States that are sanctioned by the USHPA. The second is by participating in competitions in foreign countries attended by internationally ranked pilots. The international rankings are separate from the NTSS and go by the acronym WPRS (world pilot ranking system). There is a relationship between the two systems, which we'll expound upon later.

How is the point value of each competition determined?

Every competition has two values that determine its overall net worth to the NTSS. The first value is a number that represents the quality of the competition field and is called the "points brought" number. Each ranked pilot in the field brings a certain value to the competition total "points brought." The value each pilot brings depends on his position in the current NTSS rankings. The maximum allowable value for this number is 600 and is calculated by adding the total number of points brought by the 15 highest ranked competitors entered in the competition.

Values brought are according to the following table:

Ranking Points Brought by Each Pilot
1-10 45
11-20 30
21-30 20
31-40 14
41-50 9
51-60 6
61-70 4
71-80 2

As an example, if all of the top 15 pilots in the current NTSS rankings participate in the competition, the points brought value is (10x45points) + (5x30points) or 450+150=600. That's where the 600-point maximum comes from. Few competitions have a 600-point value, but most large comps like the U.S. Nats have a value somewhere between 500 and 600 points.

One more example: Let's say eight of the top ten pilots show up and the next highest ranked competitors have rankings 12, 13, 17, 18, 41, 45 and 61. The competition's value would be calculated as follows:

NTSS Ranking Points Brought Totals
8 of the top 10 45 each 340
12, 13, 17, 18 30 each 120
41, 45 9 each 18
61  4 4
Total value of the competition: 482 NTSS points

The other variable occurs if the competition has pilots with foreign rankings. These rankings are maintained in the world pilot ranking system (WPRS). The WPRS reflects the position of the world's best pilots. Therefore the NTSS allows WPRS rankings to be spread over a wider range in order to calculate the "points brought" to competitions by foreign pilots. Simply put, we double the ranking ranges of the WPRS and attach the points brought in the following manner:

WPRS Ranking Points Brought
1-20 45
21-40 30
41-60 20
31-40 14
etc. to 160 following the same scale as the NTSS.

Once we have the competition "points brought" value, we need a system to insure that competitions with five full flying days do not award points at the same level as comps with one or two flyable days. We do that by obtaining a "competition validity" percentage, which is determined by dividing the total number of points obtained by the winner at the end of the comp by a fixed value. In paragliding comps the value is 3000 points, in hang gliding comps it's 3600. On most valid competition days, the winner will be awarded close to 1000 points. So generally speaking, three good valid PG days and four good valid HG days will result in a competition with near 100% validity.

Let's take a sample competition and go through the entire scoring process.

Top 15 Ranked Entered Pilots Points Brought
Pilot 1 US 1 45
Pilot 1 US 2 45
Pilot 1 US 3 45
Pilot 1 US 4 45
Pilot 1 US 5 45
Pilot 6 WPRS 12 45

(NTSS equivalent 6)

Pilot 7 WPRS 16 45

(NTSS equivalent 8)

Pilot 8 US 11 30
Pilot 9 US 12 30
Pilot 10 US 13 30
Pilot 11 US 17 30
Pilot 12 WPRS 22 30

(NTSS equivalent 11)

Pilot 13 US 23 20
Pilot 14 US 24 20
Pilot 15 US 25 20
Total Points Brought: 525


If the competition has three valid days of flying and the winner of the competition receives 1000 points on day 1, 920 points on day 2, and 850 points on day 3, for a total of 2770 points, and if this is a paragliding competition, the meet validity would be 2770/3000 or .92 (92%). The total points brought (525) is multiplied by 92% to calculate the winner's score. So 525x.92 = 483 points for the winner - but as an additional award, the winner of the competition gets a 10% bonus added to his score. In this case, the pilot will get the 483 points plus a 10% bonus (48) as an additional reward for winning the competition for a grand total of 531 points. Everybody else gets a score that is based proportionally on the winner's base score. So if pilot 2 ends up with a total score of 2640, his overall points obtained will be 2640 divided by 2770 (winner's score) times 483(winner's points) = 460 points for 2nd place.

National Rankings

Image title
Photo by Brett Zaenglein

Each year on the first of January the NTSS calculates the pilots' scores over the past two calendar years to obtain the rankings that will be used to calculate the points brought for the remainder of that year's competitions. Though pilots may compete in numerous competitions over a two-year period, only a pilot's top four scores are used to calculate the national rankings. The objective is to prevent pilots from becoming highly ranked just by accumulating a high quantity of scores as opposed to a high quality of scores.

While this system is explained in depth in the USHPA NTSS rulebook, we'll review the system briefly in order to provide a quick overview of how everything works. As previously mentioned, the four highest scores a pilot achieves in competition over the past two-year period are counted in his total. Of those four competitions, only two can be results from competitions outside the U.S.

Also, of the pilot's top four scores over the two-year period, a maximum of two from the earliest comp year can be included. So if a pilot's results looked like this:

Comp Name Points Earned
U.S. Nationals 500
Rat Race 525*
Chelan XC 500
Monarca 575*
U.S. Nationals 400*
Rat Race 300
Chelan XC 250
Monarca 460*

* Used for total

The total points for the January 1, 2007, ranking would be 2000. The pilot can use his two highest scores from 2005 and the two highest comps from 2006. Of course if all the pilot's scores in 2006 were higher than his scores in 2005, then he would only use the 2006 scores in figuring his total, providing of course that no more than two foreign competitions were included in the 2006 scores.

Interim rankings are published after each major competition, but only the initial rankings created on January 1 of each year are used to calculate the points brought by the pilots to each meet.

Other countries have modified versions and use different selection criteria, and there have been discussions and varied opinions about which system is best. To date, however, our system has worked well and has shown itself to be one that allows pilots equal opportunity to earn a spot on the national team.

Len Szafaryn was the U.S. national paragliding champion in 2002 and 2004, and has been a member of the U.S. paragliding team multiple times.