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words: michael beattie

Tennis has long had a

reputation as a sport that
is difficult for kids to learn.
The ITF’s Tennis 10s
initiative is changing all that...

Imagine stepping out onto

a court the size of an Olympic
basketball court with a net bumped
up neck-high, playing tennis with a heavy ball
that bounces above your head most of the time.
It may sound as fun as facing an Andy Roddick
serve blindfolded, but that is the experience for
most children aged ten and under when they
play tennis on a full-size court with a standard
yellow tennis ball. But new rules, mandated by
the International Tennis Federation (ITF) ahead
of the 2010 US Open, mean that from January
2012 no tournament for players aged ten and
under will use the standard ball. Slow low-
bouncing balls will be used instead, with court
sizes also adjusted to suit the age groups.
The Tennis 10s initiative, part of the ITF’s
Play+Stay campaign, features three competition
categories to cater for a range of ages and
abilities of young players. The scheme centres
around the three traffic-light balls: red for
5-8-year-olds, orange for 8-10-year-olds and green
for 9-10-year-olds, each ball progressively quicker
and higher-bouncing than the last.
You may already see the balls being pinged
around during junior coaching sessions at your
local club, but the ITF believes their use has
not gone far enough worldwide, with most kids
using the balls in training but not competition.
“At the ten-and-under age group, pretty much
everything was yellow-ball competition,” said
ITF Participation Officer James Newman. “The

problem was you had all these kids getting quite Roger Federer takes on some local juniors
a good base, but as soon as a coach thought during the Estoril Open in Portugal
‘this kid’s a little bit talented’ – which is a very

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tennis 10s

“Tennis 10s will


improve the way we

introduce tennis Play+Stay
to young players mission
and follows similar
changes made in Tennis is easy with the right
other sports” ball, racket and court

President Francesco Ricci Bitti Tennis is fun when you

serve, rally and score

Tennis competitions can be

subjective thing – they switched to the adapted to players’ needs
‘proper’ ball, in both training and competition.”
Many junior tennis coaches were left with a Tennis is a healthy pastime

dilemma: train your students with the traffic-
light balls and hope they can ride out alien Tennis is a sport for all,
experience of competing with standard balls, so get a rating and play
or introduce the yellow ball in training to make
people at your level
them competitive at the expense of technique.
Neither choice sounds much fun for the child,
which is why the ITF has intervened. “That was
a massive problem,” Newman adds. “Not just in
Britain, but in other countries as well.”
Mini tennis, short tennis, and a host of other
child-friendly versions of the sport have existed
for years, dating back to the first use of sponge
balls and shortened rackets in Czechoslovakia
in the 1950s. The mistake is to believe that the The ITF says kids must develop by using
the correct equipment suited to their age
sight of children lobbing yellow balls back and
forth on a full-size court until one cannot reach
a shot represents the playing capabilities of
children under ten. Nothing could be further
from the truth – their bodies simply aren’t
designed to play tennis in its native adult
dimensions. Rather than making an adult sport Slower balls, smaller courts and
shorter rackets enable players
easier for children, the ITF is scaling tennis to play the game from the first
down so children can learn the adult game. lesson. Players start to play fun,
team-based matches and
“The balls and the courts are not related to 5-8 (Foam or Felt) develop good technique and use
ability, but to physiology – the size and strength years 75% slower than
a yellow ball
11-12m (36-39ft) x 5-6m (16-19ft)
Net Height: 80-83.8cm (31.5-33in)
realistic tactics.
of the average child,” Newman explains.
“We looked at the average heights of five to Players move to a larger court
relevant to their size. The ball is
ten-year-olds and created specifications for slightly faster but continues to
provide an optimal striking zone
balls that matched their dimensions, so that and the ability to implement
after the bounce the ball typically gets up to a 8-10 50% slower than
advanced tactics. Matches are
longer and children play both
height between their waist and shoulder – the years a yellow ball 18m (60ft) x 6.5-8.23m (21-27ft)
‘team’ and ‘individual’ events.
Net Height: 80-91cm (31.5-36in)
optimum height for forehands and backhands.
“Then we looked at court size. If you compare The ball is faster than at Orange
but still slower and lower
the height of the average adult to that of the bouncing than the yellow ball,
average seven or eight-year-old, you’ll see that helping experienced players to
implement advanced tactics.
the ratio is the same as the ratio between the Matches are slightly longer than
9-10 25% slower than
dimensions of a full-size court and an orange years a yellow ball Full Size Court at Orange and both ‘team’ and
‘individual’ events are played.
court, which is 18m by 6.5m. Where those seven
or eight-year-olds typically need 5.5 steps on
average to reach a wide ball on a full-size court, Once players have progressed
through the Red, Orange and
on an orange court they need an average of 3.9 Green stages they will usually be
– the same as an adult on a full-size court.” 11 ready to train and compete with a
years yellow ball on the full court.
By putting the ruling in place, effectively and
Yellow ball
Full Size Court
preventing kids from playing with standard over

balls, courts and competition formats too soon From 2012, The International Tennis Federation rules will mandate that 10 and under competition is organised using slower Red, Orange or Green balls on
in their development, ITF Executive Director the appropriate sized court, with the appropriate sized racket. Players who begin tennis later (e.g. 9 years or above) are still recommended to begin
training and competing at Red, before progressing to Orange and then Green.
of Development Dave Miley is confident

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Research shows

what the the number of kids

playing the game has

pros say
increased worldwide

since Tennis 10s
was launched


“I think the campaign is

a great idea – I think it will
get more kids involved to
play tennis”
Jelena Jankovic

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“It is very important,

slower balls. Kids with
normal balls, the bounce

is too high, so it is very

difficult to improve like
this. The slower balls are
youngsters will develop both sound technique debate. “It won’t be a choice, because they have to
much better and easier
and a love for the game early on, having seen the prepare the kids for the competitions.”
when you start” scenario work successfully in other sports. The focus of those coaching sessions may
Rafael Nadal “You can imagine in soccer: if kids were change as well, with the ITF keen to see players
practicing every week on the small pitch with serve, rally and score from the first lesson – the
the small goals and then every Saturday they mantra of the Play+Stay initiative.
played their matches on a full-size pitch, that “Technique’s still important, but that comes
would be crazy,” said Miley. “In tennis, kids were once kids have got hooked on the game – then
using the smaller courts in practice, but then we can get them playing a little bit better,” said
eight-and-under, nine-and-under competitions Miley, adding that plans for a new ball aimed at
were best-of-three sets with a regular ball on a adult beginners are in the pipeline.
regular court. They can’t cover the court, they The signs are already positive: since the Lawn
can’t get into the net, all most of them can do is Tennis Association aligned its mini tennis
lob the ball back and forth.” programme with tennis 10s in 2007, participation
“It’s definitely easier to Of course, there will always be children who has jumped from 10,000 regular players to
take to the game quickly, but Miley is certain that 23,000 this year, while the United States recorded
use lighter rackets and
they too will benefit from Tennis 10s. “We believe a 1.25 million increase in players in the first two
play with a slower ball. that players can develop better technique, less years of putting the scheme in place.
You can swing through extreme grips,” he explains. “And because of the Finally, Miley believes, Tennis 10s may help
the ball more and it just balls and the courts, they can implement tactics tennis lose its tough-to-crack reputation. “The
doesn’t fly off your racket that they couldn’t do with the regular ball.” vision we have is that, in the same way that a
uncontrollably” With the Tennis 10s initiative receiving father can kick a ball around with his kid even if
Roger Federer overwhelming approval at the 2010 Annual he’s not very good at soccer, they can go and play
General Meeting of the ITF nations, Miley tennis because the balls are slow enough that
believes they have also solved the coaching they can rally back and forth.” n

“They can’t cover the court, they

can’t get to the net, all most of them can
do is lob the ball back and forth”

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