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Mailbag: Introducing Kids to Tennis 09/16/2010 - 2:11 PM

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My husband and I wanted to introduce our 9-year-old twin boys to tennis, so we took them out to the high school courts with a couple of our old racquets. It was a disaster. They couldn’t hit the ball over the net, not even once, and after 10 minutes they were begging us to go home. We’re not looking to groom the next Roger Federers, but we’d like them to give tennis a chance and maybe get to enjoy it enough so eventually they’ll want to play family doubles with their dad and me. Are some balls better for kids than others and what kind of racquet should they start with?—Laurie

You used the wrong racquets, wrong balls, and even the wrong court, Laurie, but your timing couldn’t be better to get your twins into the game. Check out this promo for the recently approved 10 and Under Tennis.



During the U.S. Open last week, the USTA announced a sweeping rule change to downsize the equipment and courts for kids ages 10 and under. Beginning in 2012, all 10-and-under tournaments around the globe will be played with slower balls on smaller courts, and kids will be encouraged to use lighter and shorter racquets. The format was endorsed by the International Tennis Federation earlier in the summer and adopted by the USTA board during the Open. Patterned after the USTA’s three-year-old QuickStart program, it will become the new standard for kids’ tennis.

The idea behind 10 and Under Tennis is that the game is only fun when you can rally. That’s practically impossible for most kids on regular courts with regular equipment. It’s frustrating for a kid when he tries to cover a court the size of Montana, swing a racquet that takes both hands just to pick it up, and hit a ball that bounces higher than he is tall. We wouldn’t ask a kid to ride Lance Armstrong’s bike, so why ask him to play with Roger Federer’s equipment and on his court?

Other youth sports already have versions for kids, from Little League baseball to Pop Warner football to youth soccer. A Little League diamond is roughly two-thirds the size of the Major League version, and the bats kids swing are much lighter so they can get them around. Youth basketball is played on a smaller court with a rim that’s 2 feet shorter and a smaller ball that kids can handle, control and shoot. Youth soccer is played on a smaller field so the players touch the ball more often.

Millions of 10-and-under kids play those sports’ organized leagues, while currently only 10,971 play in the tennis equivalent, USTA-sanctioned tournaments, according to Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive of community tennis. “A lot of communities have more kids playing soccer than we have in the entire country,” Kamperman says. “Kids struggle finding a passion for a sport designed for adults.”

Under the new rules, kids ages 5 to 8 will play on a 36-by-18-foot mini-court, about a third the size of a standard singles court, with a lower net and foam or low-compression felt balls. Nine- and 10-year-olds will play on a 61-by-21-foot court with a regulation-size net and slightly faster low-compression balls.  

The USTA also has a specific guideline to measure kids for the proper racquet: The racquet should be no longer than the distance from their fingertips to the ground when they’re standing with their arms at their sides. Generally, recommended racquet lengths are from 19–23 inches for kids ages 5–8 and 23–25 inches for 9- and 10-year-olds. The adult standard length is 27 inches.

We recommend that you opt for the biggest head size you can get for your beginners. It will improve their chances of hitting the string bed from the get-go. Here are some models to consider, divided up by length:

• 19 inches: Dunlop Aerogel 300 Jr. 19 (87-sq.-in. head); Wilson Sponge Bob or Wilson Dora the Explorer (82 sq. in.)

• 21 inches: Prince Airo Ace 21 (92 sq. in.); Yonex RDiS 21 (85 sq. in.)

• 23 inches: Head Agassi or Steffi 23 (105 sq. in.)

• 25 inches: Prince Airo Ace 25 (107 sq. in.); Babolat Nadal Junior 140 (105 sq. in.); Wilson Federer Collection 25 (105 sq. in.)

The obvious question is why has it taken tennis so long? Tennis is a sport that resists change. There have been only a handful of ITF-mandated equipment rule changes in the last 100 years. They came only when the ITF felt it was necessary to protect the game’s integrity, as when it abolished too-long racquets and spin-crazy spaghetti strings.

There has also been pushback on the 10-and-under rule by some top coaches, who complain it will force their protégés to dumb down their tennis. But Kamperman points out that this group, which he figures consists of less than 1 percent of kids, still has the option of playing up in the 12-and-unders on full courts with regular balls. And some 40 percent already do, he adds.

As the legitimate new standard, the rule will help recruit and keep more children in the game. So even if your kids never decide to play in a sanctioned tournament, at least they’ll be more successful on the doubles court with mom and dad.


 
29
Comments

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Posted by fuzzy balls 09/17/2010 at 02:35 PM

this isnt an improvement and wont get more kids into tennis. i hope they dont mess up courts with these alternate lines getting in the way of a standard court. more coddling of kids. when i play with my kids [4&10] we just play from the service line. we play doubles with an adult on each side. there already is quickstart courts that i play with my 4yo on with foam balls. and fwiw, my 10yo has more fun with a ball machine on a standard court hitting ball after ball trying to figure his stroke out than actual game play... which the basic stroke is essential to game play

Posted by SadSmiles 09/17/2010 at 04:16 PM

one more thing I would like to add. It is important to take kids and have them hit against the wall. One aspect through which you can improve so much. I would like to see middle school/HS kids to play more often against the wall just to improve consistency and footwork.
Any other ideas??

Posted by Marko Polo 09/17/2010 at 04:35 PM

This is what they have in England and they have not been able to produce players!!!!!!!! This is definately not make tennis more popular in US. They should go and see 7yr olds playing tennis in Europe???!!!!! They are at the level of 11 year olds in the US.

Posted by tennis guy 82 09/17/2010 at 06:20 PM

I am very glad to see that the USTA is taking the issue of American tennis seriously and this is A move that at least shows efforts are being made to better sell the sport.

However, I do not see this as a solution. There are 3 main reasons why kids tennis is not nearly as popular as our main sports here in the US: it isn't truly a "group" sport, most parents suck at tennis, and because of those other 2 reasons, it is cost prohibitive. This is only opinion but here is my logic:

1.)Group-Aspect: kids sports often start unintentionally...a parent tells the kids to go outside and play in the yard, a ball is introduced and voila, instant playtime. I remember playing baseball in my back yard with frisbees for plates and old tennis balls for baseballs; all the neighborhood kids would play together wherever there was enough room to swing a bat and run. It was the thrill of playing together and doubles is not a true team sport. Kids are therefore exposed at a young age to the team sport aspect and they are also learning the techniques of that sport in a low-key, low-pressure way.

2.)Parents suck: "Let's toss the ball around the yard"...I'm sorry but nearly every mother and father can throw a ball or kick a ball without looking too stupid. Even shooting some hoops is less threatening for a parent that has had no exposure to the sport, save for maybe some gym classes long ago. Tennis? Well, what average parent feels comfortable trying to "have a rally" with their son or daughter OR to put a different angle on it, what parent after working long days wants to load up some balls in the car, find a tennis court and try to not look stupid swinging a racquet? It is just easier to jump outside and throw a football around.

3.)Money: Tennis is not as easy to just start playing, kids can't really play as teams, their parents suck because it wasn't really a popular sport for them growing up and so you are left with a sport that requires lessons at the local club ($$$). To boot, the sport is generally considered "upper class" and high society and MOST average people are not those things and don't want to immerse themselves in THAT whole stratosphere.

This is a GROSS over generalization of what's going on, but I didn't have much time to respond in detail. My idea for popularizing the sport...try to make tennis more of a spectator sport at the local level. Kids want to emulate-get some satellite level tournaments, keep the tickets free and pour even more money into programs such as 15 love. That's how I got my start.

Posted by Gerry 09/17/2010 at 07:00 PM

I, too, doubt that this will make tennis more popular among kids in the US. At least not in the short term. But, I DO believe that if the smaller courts and racquets and less bouncy balls are used for player development in the 10 and under population we will produce better players. The USTA player development people subscribe to the philosophy that it is important to instill proper technique before kids start their growth spurts at around 11 or 12 years old, when strength training and tactics are emphasized. When small kids are playing with balls that bounce over their shoulders and have to hit balls the distance of a regulation court they adapt by finding techniques that allow them to compete. They stand way back, they use 2 hands on the backhand, they never come to the net for fear of being lobbed or passed, they don't learn proper serving technique because it has little advantage when you are 4'8". Kids who find success in the 10s by adapting to the huge court take these skills into the 12s and are frequently reluctant or unable to change to a game more suited to their size. We are using natural selection to create a bunch of giant 10 year old pros.
There is a "survival advantage" for 10 year old baseball players or basketball players on small diamonds/courts/hoops to learn good technique for throwing, hitting and shooting but this would not be so if they played with a 60 foot pitcher's rubber or a 10 foot basket.
The USTA is already using a very graded approach to player development, including Quick Start. Hopefully, an American US Open champion in 2025 will credit Quick Start tennis for his/her success and then the popularity of tennis will improve.

Posted by JPW 09/17/2010 at 07:17 PM

Sure, Quickstart may get more kids playing...but I would suggest that this is simply another way for USTA to line its pockets (notice the reference above highlighting the sheer #s of kids playing tennis vice other sports). Quickstart's sales pitch is that most kids give up on tennis because its too hard therefore, why not make it easier? In truth, most give up on it because they can't afford to keep up with the kids who have well-to-do parents. That won't change with court size or equipment changes. Exposing more kids to tennis may mean that we'll have a larger pool of talent to develop. However, if the resources aren't there to sustain the talent from the lower socioeconomic groups over the longer term, then the point is moot (recall my saying that the real point was only to line USTA's pockets). IMO, US tennis will continue to fall off the international map as our for-profit USTA falls short of competing with truly developmental "federations" abroad. That said, I'm for 8U Quickstart but not 10U (too difficult a transition for kids to graduate from foam/mini-equipment to then playing sizable, strong, pubescent 12-yr olds)--regardless, this still won't resolve the funding support issue.

Posted by Gerry 09/17/2010 at 07:25 PM

JPW-I think that while good 10 year olds can play on a normal court with normal racquets there is a big advantage to slightly less bouncy balls. I've seen it with my own son when he plays with other 10 year olds with dead balls. The moonball that bounces over a kid's head and hits the fence is neutralized and balls are more likely to be struck in the proper contact area instead of at shoulder level.

Posted by Spalding 09/17/2010 at 09:12 PM

This is messed up, i have seen ten year olds who can compete with kids on middle school teams, because of this they now have to play in 12's

Posted by West 09/17/2010 at 10:25 PM

Finally the USTA is on board with the scaled down equipment and courts. I am a certified tennis coach and have been using the smaller courts and adjusted equipment for the last 10 years with fantastic results. With small children using the regulation sized courts and equipment this produces poor stoke mechanics and technique from having to over-compensate for the larger court, higher bounce and too long of a racquet. Many of these kids develope very extreme western grips and other technical issues to handle the high bounce and struggle to develope an all-court game. Many European countries have been using this method for years now with great results. There are always exceptions to the rule and the answer is simple in these cases: for the more advanced juniors we let them move up into a higher age group. This change from the USTA is good thing.

Posted by AgassiDenko 09/18/2010 at 08:37 AM

And the wussification of the U.S. continues...wonder why we keep slipping against others in tennis, math, economy, etc.

Posted by Steve 09/19/2010 at 04:40 AM

WOW! What a tough gang! This is so clearly the way to go, I am just stunned at the kicking/screaming. Good on the USTA for pressing forward DESPITE the obvious glut of intransigent curmudgeons. Of COURSE this makes sense!

Posted by Wilto 09/20/2010 at 09:53 PM

West and Steve obviously work for the USTA.

Posted by ab 09/20/2010 at 11:16 PM

hi

Posted by Tennis Dad in Florida 09/21/2010 at 10:03 AM

Quickstart seems like a great way to introduce kids to tennis and help them develop their skills before they use a full court, real balls, and regular size racquet.

But, DO NOT FORCE ALL KIDS TO PLAY QUICKSTART!

Come to any Local/Super Series 10 and under tournament in Florida and you will see 8, 9, and 10 year- old kids excelling with regular sized racquets with real balls on a full size court.

I have an 8 year-old that has been playing USTA 10 and under tournaments since he was 7. He started out in Rookie tournaments and he worked his way up to Super Series events. He is ranked in the top 150 in Florida. Why should he be forced to play Quickstart tennis or move to the 12 and under division when he is only 9 years-old (the mandate begins in January 2012)?

GIVE US REAL CHOICES! Just use Quickstart tennis is Rookie tournaments where it should be! Give real trophies and points for these Rookie Quickstart events and this will encourage participation.

The 10,971 number used by the USTA as a 10 and under participant number is WRONG! Just in the State of Florida we have had over 6,000 kids play in at least one 10 and under tournament in the past year.

PLEASE, GIVE US REAL CHOICES!

Posted by West 09/21/2010 at 09:54 PM

That's funny. No I don't work for the USTA. I guess progressive tennis didn't really work out that well for players that were developed through this system such as Justine Henin. Also Roger Federer must not know what he talking about when he promotes progressive tennis. (Sarcasm!)

Posted by Dunlolp Maxply 09/22/2010 at 12:24 PM

From what I have seen, the scaled down courts and "rally balls" have the effect of basically increasing the average length of rally for beginning players. I have not seen what effect on double faults the smaller court has.

However, even though the average length of rally may go from essentially "0" (i.e. a double fault or missed return) to about 2 or 3 shots, I mean, I don't know what to say, other than I doubt the connection between more 2 or 3 shot rallys at age 9 will somehow project out to more kids playing with regulation equipment at age 12.

To put it another way, by far one of the most populated segments of the tennis population has to be what I would call "sub-set juniors." At my club, far and away the most attended clinics are for kids under age 11 or so, who cannot yet consistently make it through service games without a couple of double faults, and who cannot yet rally well enough to construct competitive points. These sub-set kids (because the can play, but now well enough to really play a set) are having fun in their (mostly group) clinics, but many drop away because they never really become "players"

I have talked to many a parent about this, and as my brother and I both played national junior tournaments and in high school and college, and my two sons have started in junior tournaments as well, I have some experience.

I tell parents there is something I call "the longest year" -- maybe its more like two years. Anyway, there is that time period where you just have to have the kid play at least 4 days a week, preferably 5 or 6. I don't care how small you make the court, no 10 year old can go from no experience in tennis to being able to play a competent set by playing one day a week -- even if that one day a week is a private lesson with Patrick McEnroe.

The bottom line is that for generations, kids under age 10 who play 4, 5, 6, or 7 days a week have progressed to being true players. Even when they were stuck with heavy wood rackets with virtually no hitting area. If making the game easier was the key, wouldn't you expect to see better junior play with the new equipment? A basic $20 junior oversized racket now is far superior to the best wood racket of all time. Yet, you don't see a general increase in the standard of play for 10 year olds, do you?

For the same number of generations, regardless of equipment, kids who play once a week, or maybe three times a week during the summer, do not get a real handle on the game until about the teenage years, and that is only if they consistently play from say, age 7 to 13 or 14.

You don't need to change the equipment, you need to have more parents invest more time. And that year or two can seem like an awfully long time, especially when you kid has played 5 days a week for a couple of months and still cannot beat kids who are only playing 1 day a week, which is basically how it goes.

This is, of course, separate and apart from the whole "junior development issue" to the extent that means production of champion players. There literally is no connection at all between beginner play and whether or not we have more Agassis or Samprases.

By the way, with all due respect to Tennis Dad in FLA, if there are 6,000 kids playing U10 sanctioned tournaments (not including jr team tennis) I would be shocked. There are no more than 600, if that, playing in SoCal, and this is easily checked because all matched are entered on TennisLink. For Florida to have ten times the participation of SoCal would be surprising to me. Not impossible, but surprising.

As for Jr. Team Tennis, by the way, as far as I can see it is quite a success. Basically, it is a way of increasing the amount of tennis played from one day a week to two, or a couple of days a week to three. Either a 50% increase or a 33% increase, either way it actually ends up producing kids who can play sets.

Kids who play 4 days a week or more usually advance beyond Jr. Team Tennis entry level skill after about a year.

A long way of saying, its not the structure, its the hours.

Posted by Dunlolp Maxply 09/22/2010 at 12:24 PM

From what I have seen, the scaled down courts and "rally balls" have the effect of basically increasing the average length of rally for beginning players. I have not seen what effect on double faults the smaller court has.

However, even though the average length of rally may go from essentially "0" (i.e. a double fault or missed return) to about 2 or 3 shots, I mean, I don't know what to say, other than I doubt the connection between more 2 or 3 shot rallys at age 9 will somehow project out to more kids playing with regulation equipment at age 12.

To put it another way, by far one of the most populated segments of the tennis population has to be what I would call "sub-set juniors." At my club, far and away the most attended clinics are for kids under age 11 or so, who cannot yet consistently make it through service games without a couple of double faults, and who cannot yet rally well enough to construct competitive points. These sub-set kids (because the can play, but now well enough to really play a set) are having fun in their (mostly group) clinics, but many drop away because they never really become "players"

I have talked to many a parent about this, and as my brother and I both played national junior tournaments and in high school and college, and my two sons have started in junior tournaments as well, I have some experience.

I tell parents there is something I call "the longest year" -- maybe its more like two years. Anyway, there is that time period where you just have to have the kid play at least 4 days a week, preferably 5 or 6. I don't care how small you make the court, no 10 year old can go from no experience in tennis to being able to play a competent set by playing one day a week -- even if that one day a week is a private lesson with Patrick McEnroe.

The bottom line is that for generations, kids under age 10 who play 4, 5, 6, or 7 days a week have progressed to being true players. Even when they were stuck with heavy wood rackets with virtually no hitting area. If making the game easier was the key, wouldn't you expect to see better junior play with the new equipment? A basic $20 junior oversized racket now is far superior to the best wood racket of all time. Yet, you don't see a general increase in the standard of play for 10 year olds, do you?

For the same number of generations, regardless of equipment, kids who play once a week, or maybe three times a week during the summer, do not get a real handle on the game until about the teenage years, and that is only if they consistently play from say, age 7 to 13 or 14.

You don't need to change the equipment, you need to have more parents invest more time. And that year or two can seem like an awfully long time, especially when you kid has played 5 days a week for a couple of months and still cannot beat kids who are only playing 1 day a week, which is basically how it goes.

This is, of course, separate and apart from the whole "junior development issue" to the extent that means production of champion players. There literally is no connection at all between beginner play and whether or not we have more Agassis or Samprases.

By the way, with all due respect to Tennis Dad in FLA, if there are 6,000 kids playing U10 sanctioned tournaments (not including jr team tennis) I would be shocked. There are no more than 600, if that, playing in SoCal, and this is easily checked because all matched are entered on TennisLink. For Florida to have ten times the participation of SoCal would be surprising to me. Not impossible, but surprising.

As for Jr. Team Tennis, by the way, as far as I can see it is quite a success. Basically, it is a way of increasing the amount of tennis played from one day a week to two, or a couple of days a week to three. Either a 50% increase or a 33% increase, either way it actually ends up producing kids who can play sets.

Kids who play 4 days a week or more usually advance beyond Jr. Team Tennis entry level skill after about a year.

A long way of saying, its not the structure, its the hours.

Posted by Dunlolp Maxply 09/22/2010 at 02:11 PM

Odd that my post entered twice. In a couple of years of posting this was the first time I got an error message saying "typepad cannot accept" the first time, but it appears to have gone through anyway.

Posted by Edward Sullivan Biden 09/29/2010 at 08:43 PM

When I play my 6 year-old son I can really dominate on the smaller court.

I haven't dropped a set all year!

Posted by Oscar Meyer-Wiener 09/29/2010 at 08:48 PM

Here in Texas a new professional tennis circuit for midgets is developing thanks to these new smaller courts. It began as an offshoot of midget wrestling.

Posted by Eric 10/02/2010 at 01:05 PM

So many negative comments from people who either a) don't have any experience or recent experience trying to teach young kids to play; b) would rather tennis continue its slow-albeit-'noble' death spiral rather than change any of its cherished rules.

My boys are 4 and 6 years old and I am now trying to teach them to play. They'd been begging me for a year or two, but I would only initially take them out to play racquetball first. I got this idea from my junior chess coach, the one whose teams have won multiple national championships, who advised me to start my kids on checkers first.

I've taken them to play about 4 times in the past month. With regular balls, I can see how discouraging it is for them. 1-2 shot rallies at BEST. Hitting a ball on the move is no easy feat. Soccer, basketball, even kickball and 4-square are a lot more fun and easy to pick up at that age.

Look, I am a huge tennis fan and player (4.0, play singles 1-2 times a week). I'm enough of a traditionalist/snob that I threw up in my mouth a little when I first contemplated starting them on racquetball first rather than tennis.

But heeding Dunlop Maxply's call to take my kids out to play 5 times a week for a year with little improvement sounds like torture for me and my kids. Tennis is simply not an organic thing for under-10 kids to play. I myself didn't start playing with the parents or taking lessons til I was 11.

Hitting with the foam balls has greatly extended the rallies and made it more fun for my boys. If time is money, investing in a $99 QuickStart net
http://www.amazon.com/Gamma-First-Foot-Black-Yellow/dp/B00165V2A0/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286037233&sr=1-1-fkmr0
(which I plan to do ASAP) seems like a small price if we can make a lot of the early play much more fun.

Posted by Wafto Weefie 10/15/2010 at 05:09 PM

I set up the playpen with a tennis court inside for the 1 1/2 year old twins - Wilson and Babolat.

Posted by Chris 10/24/2010 at 10:17 AM

Why is it taking so long for another blog... Its been a month, what happened to every friday >.>

Posted by adam 10/29/2010 at 12:05 AM

why the hell is is taking so long for the next gear blog?

Posted by MagicHipple 10/30/2010 at 10:45 PM

rip...gear guy

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