Greene Publishing, Inc.
Tennis, a game for young and old, can be played with as few as two people, whether they want to burn up the court in a serious singles match or just hit a few balls back and forth.
George English, who heads up the United States Tennis Association (USTA) for this region, visited the Madison Rotary Club to talk about promoting tennis in Madison County – specifically, a version for “10 and Under.” With childhood obesity reaching ever-higher rates, and physical education classes disappearing from public schools, English and Madison City Commissioner Ina Thompson discussed introducing children, ages five-to-ten, to the sport. They would both like to see children get involved with something fun that would lure them away from the computers, the television and the video games…and tennis, modified a little just for them, might be the ticket.
The problem before with trying to get younger children interested in the adult version of the “sport of kings,” is primarily the size of the court – quite a chunk of real estate for little legs to cover. The net is too high for little ones, the long-handled tennis racket is unwieldy, and the balls are hard to hit…and hard, if anyone got hit in the head by a high, fast lob. Younger children were more likely to quit in frustration than develop any real interest in the game.
Taking a cue from other children’s sports, like T-ball, where equipment is scaled down to make it easier for smaller hands to grasp, the new “10 and Under” tennis in America is following a trend that has already been going strong for 20 to 30 years in most of Europe.
“10 and Under” tennis uses a court half the size of an adult court with a shorter temporary net, for children aged five to eight. The rackets are shorter and the tennis balls are made of Nerf-ball like foam. They don’t bounce as high, but they are easier to hit as the younger ones learn the basics of the game, particularly the eye-hand coordination of swinging the smaller racket and making contact with the ball.
“10 and Under” will also grow with them, with a slightly larger court and heavier balls when they reach the nine/ten-year-old-group. Later, when they reach the adult-sized game, they will have already acquired the basic skills, and had fun while doing it.
Fun is the main purpose of the “10 and Under” tennis, English and Thompson emphasized several times. The intricacies of a “top spin” and other trick shots will come later, if they want to get into more serious, competitive tennis. “10 and Under” is mainly to get them started, on a court that is more their size, using the age-appropriate equipment, where they can have fun and are more likely to develop a life-long interest.
Another advantage of “10 and Under” is its portability. It does not require a tennis court, just flat area anywhere, indoors or out. Temporary tape can mark off a court on a gym floor, a school cafeteria floor, or a parking lot, and a temporary net can be set up for play. Scaled-down rackets, lighter balls, children who want to play and a few adults to teach and encourage them are all that are needed to begin.
With a grant from USTA, Madison has acquired about $1000 worth of equipment. Now “we need some enthusiasm,” said Thompson. “We’ve got to get the interest going first…we need to get the parents and the community behind it for it to take off.” The parents need to be positive and encouraging, not critical and demanding.
There is a workshop for parents who would like to “score points with their kids,” Saturday, Sept. 8, from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the NFCC Gym. The registration fee is $15 per person, and those participants will receive expert instruction and all the materials they need to coach, organize and help “10 and Under” tennis take off and find a place here in Madison.
For more information, visit usta.com/oncourttraining, contact George English at (850) 510-6585 or email him at English@florida.usta.com, or contact Ina Thompson at (850) 445-7755. To register online for the workshop, go to www.madisonworkshop.eventbrite.com