If you’re a tennis fan, you’ve probably seen the ads on the Tennis Channel where kids try to kick a ball down a full-sized soccer field, shoot baskets on an NBA hoop, and play tennis on a full-sized court. It doesn’t work out very well, and kids leave with sad faces.
Yet when 28,000 boys and girls were asked why they played sports, in a study by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the top answer was for “fun,” followed by “to do something I’m good at” and “to improve my skills.” (“Winning” didn’t even make the top 10.)
Lighter racquets, smaller courts
The USTA is trying to make tennis more fun for youngsters with its new 10 and Under Tennis Initiative, providing a combination of lower-bouncing balls, shorter, lighter racquets, and smaller courts. With the new racquets, kids learn proper grips and stroke techniques from the start. Smaller courts build confidence because players can get to more balls. The end result is kids learn the game more easily and have fun. The USTA’s hope is that kids enjoy it so much they’ll keep coming back.
The Memphis Public Tennis Centers (MPTC) has taken on the 10 and Under Tennis initiative this year. The first step was to paint “blended” lines on all outdoor and four indoor courts at public centers. The new lines, painted a shade lighter than the court, provide boundaries for the modified courts without interfering with the full-sized court (designated with white lines).
“This is the future of junior tennis,” notes MPTC Executive Director Stephen Lang, “so we want our kids training on the right courts.” He believes kids and adults will quickly get used to the blended lines and the tennis community as a whole will benefit.
Summer camp teaches skills
The NJTL Summer Tennis Camp at the Memphis Public Tennis Centers will put the blended lines to good use. Starting June 6th through July 29th, the Summer Tennis Camp is open to kids ages 4 to 14 and will use the 10 and Under Tennis format at all locations. (Older teens use full-sized courts.)
Teaching professional Glenn Williams, who works with 10 and under kids at the Wolbrecht Tennis Center in East Memphis, supports the change.
“I hope it works out because I think it is really good — for their age and their attention span.” The new format also allows kids “to progress very quickly and feel good about themselves,” says Williams.
“What often happened was that kids would try tennis, then leave it to go to another sport, coming back to tennis later. Maybe now, with this new approach, they’ll stay with it.”
Joe Schmulian, teaching pro at the Wellworx Sporting Club, agrees. “I don’t know why tennis was the only sport that didn’t adapt to kids, but I’m glad they are doing it now, because the kids really love it. They are not intimidated anymore.” He also likes that the format lets them interact more with each other instead of just the instructor.
The goal is to make tennis more accessible for young kids, so they’ll learn the game and keep on playing. Some will go on to high school or college teams a few even the pros. All will benefit from getting exercise. First Lady Michelle Obama has even endorsed the 10 and Under Tennis Initiative as part of her Let’s Move project.
So, if you are looking for summer fun for the kids, think about 10 and Under Tennis. And while at the tennis center, pick up a racquet yourself. The MPTC has a full schedule of clinics, leagues, and lessons for adults. Tennis is a sport for a lifetime — get swinging.