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Quick Start Tennis Sweeping the Country

October 31, 2007 06:11 PM

Tennis is one of the only sports in which the playing field and equipment are not scaled down to size for young kids learning the game. The US Tennis Association Player Development and Community Tennis departments, in collaboration with the Tennis Industry Association, USTA and PTR (both tennis teaching organizations), and tennis equipment manufacturers, are doing something about it.

 

During the recent Tennis Teachers Conference held in New York City, the everyone was clearly excited about this new push to give young kids a quicker and easier start to learning tennis. Appropriately, it is called “Quick Start.” Some people may recognize it as “36-60”, the name given during its testing stage. Several sessions were devoted to Quick Start during the conference, and it’s easy to see why this is such a hot topic.

 

Imagine putting Little League baseball players on a major league field and expecting any kind of success, or putting a full-size basketball into the hands of a seven-year old.

 

“Why didn’t we do this before?” was the question they asked themselves.  It’s been done in parts of Europe for at least 20 years, and the USTA’s research about why we don’t have more American champions at the professional level led them down this path. Their vision includes training as well as a competitive structure. A launch across the country is scheduled for 2008 that will include sanctioned tournaments.

 

‘We want to increase the number of kids 5-10 years old playing tennis, and we want them to like it and retain it,” said Kirk Anderson of the USTA. “It’s playing to learn rather than learning to play.”

 

It’s the instant success that makes it so appealing.  Kids use foam balls on a smaller court and are able to rally right away. Many of the world’s best players began their careers playing a mini version of the game. In fact, the National Junior Tennis League of Trenton has been using this system for several years, and it has been very successful.

 

“We had to come up with a unique way of teaching basic skills and work on things like hand-eye coordination and ball placement to kids in our after-school program in a school gym,” said executive director Dan Faber, “as well as make it enjoyable for the kids. So we came up with this game-based program utilizing the arc of a basketball court and portable nets. The kids love it.”

 

The USTA saw what the Trenton program was doing and included them as a pilot for its new teaching method. There are various-sized rackets and three types of balls based on a child’s age, size, and ability. Only when they have control do the kids move to a full-court and a regular tennis ball.

 

“I’m 100 percent behind this,” said Faber. “I’ve seen the results and I know it works. Kids feel a sense of success. Every other sport is the same way.”

 

A 36-foot court is utilized for 8-and-under kids and a 60-foot court for children ten and under. A number of mini courts can be set up on a regular court using small portable nets and caution tape and positioning them so that balls are hit across the width of a typical court between the doubles sidelines. For the 60 foot court, a regular court is just shortened using tape. And kids can do their own ball feeding, which allows for more kids on one full-sized court.

 

For children 5-8, the racket length should be 19”, 21”, or 23”, a foam ball should be used, and the net height should be reduced to 2’9”. For children 9-10, the length should be 23” or 25” with a low compression ball and a regular net. Many coaches have used short rackets and transition balls, but they have not always been combined with a smaller playing area, a lower net, a more appropriate scoring system, or a change in their teaching methods. It has also become apparent that kids like playing on teams, and that’s how they learn other sports.

 

The USTA says that kids younger than 5 can also begin playing using a 19 inch racket and a foam ball. And, surprisingly, they also recommend that kids who have already started to play on a full-size court should go back to playing on a 36 or 60 foot court, depending on their age, so that they can learn the tactical and technical skills of the game easily.

 

We will all be hearing more about this in the coming year. In the meantime, more information can be found on Growingtennis.com (news you can use), and most tennis manufacturers offer the equipment for sale.

 

(reprint from Ann LoPrinzi's tennis column 093007)

 

 

 

 

 

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