10 S N E 1? 4 reasons tennis is a sport anyone can love
Shorter nets and tennis balls designed to bounce slower and lower for younger children are used during youth lessons at Five Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook. | Ryan Pagelow
Updated: November 9, 2012 5:00PM
Tennis for the “10 and under” crowd has had a renaissance this past year, thanks in part to new rules and regulations defined by the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
What was once considered a “country club sport” has slowly transformed into an activity with mass appeal. If you’ve never considered youth tennis before, here are four reasons you might want to pick up a racquet and start playing with your kids.
KID-FRIENDLY RACQUETS, BALLS AND COURTS
When I was growing up, tennis was played with heavy (and expensive) racquets. Kids would learn to play on courts that were created for adults with regulation-height nets and balls that easily bounced over most young players’ heads. Taking a cue from sports such as baseball, which scales down play with lighter bats, softer balls and static T’s, tennis has evolved to meet young players’ needs. These days, beginners use low compression balls that bounce lower and slower, thus giving players a better chance of making contact at their level. Racquets are now designed to be lighter with smaller grips that accommodate little hands. Court sizes and net heights have also scaled down, with smaller “pop-up” courts that are less intimidating and easier to cover. “The idea is to give young players a better experience from the start,” says Leah Friedman, “10 and Under” Tennis Coordinator for the Chicago District of the USTA. “Lighter racquets, low compression balls and smaller court sizes are just a few ways we can build kids’ confidence and give them more opportunities for success.”
MORE AFFORDABLE AND ACCESSIBLE
Over the past few years tennis has become much more affordable and accessible as schools, park districts and community centers have
adopted youth tennis programs. The USTA offers a free resource guide for parents interested in learning more about “10 and Under” tennis which includes locating facilities and programs in your area. They also offer a guide to finding tennis “play days” which are designed to give kids the opportunity to try the sport in a non-competitive environment. These special play days are typically hosted by clubs, community centers and schools and are often free. If you’re interested in having your child try tennis, but don’t want to invest in a racquet right away, talk to your local tennis club or pro shop. Often they have “loaner” racquets for kids to try out or offer previously owned racquets at a reduced price.
FOSTERS SPORTSMANSHIP, SELF-ESTEEM
Unlike any other sport, tennis requires players to be their own line judges and referees. “My kids learn early on that tennis is a lot more than just making contact with the ball,” says Mary Melton, a youth tennis specialist and coach at the 5 Seasons Sports Club in Northbrook. “We often discuss the importance of sportsmanship which includes accurately calling lines and keeping score.” Another issue Melton emphasizes is learning how to work hard for every point. “You’d be surprised how many players are too nice and call out balls in, so as not to upset their opponents,” says Melton. “Often it’s these kids who need the most encouragement to be confident in their play and believe in their own abilities.”
From 3-year-olds to 93-year-olds, anyone can play tennis. Whether it’s entering a parent/child tournament, playing mixed doubles with spouses or organizing a round robin during your next family reunion, tennis is a wonderful activity the whole family can enjoy together. After all, there have to be reasons that zero points in tennis is actually called “love.”
For more information about youth tennis and the USTA’s “10 and Under” initiative, visit www.10andundertennis.com.