By E.J. Crawford
For kids starting a sport, there is no greater deterrent than a lack of success. If kids struggle early on, the chances of their continuing to play are slim. If the equipment is expensive, they’ll turn elsewhere. And if finding courts and fields to play on is difficult, the likelihood they stay with the sport naturally decreases.
“First and foremost, kids want to have fun,” says Kirk Anderson, the USTA’s director of training for youth tennis. “They want to play with friends, have success and enjoy the activity they’re participating in. That’s what 10 and Under Tennis such a hit—it incorporates all these elements.”
10 and Under Tennis is changing the way kids learn—and learn to love—tennis. Designed specifically for children, 10 and Under Tennis incorporates elements of the QuickStart Tennis play format by scaling tennis to size for its youngest players, with smaller courts, lighter and shorter racquets, and slower-moving and lower-bouncing balls that allow kids to have success the first time they take to the court.
Unlike previous models of teaching the game to beginners, 10 and Under Tennis is neither expensive nor hard to play. Racquets and balls are produced by most major tennis manufacturers and can be found for under $20. (Go to 10andUnderTennis.com for more.) And finding a place to play is as simple as walking out to your driveway or local playground. With 10 and Under Tennis, any flat surface can be a tennis court. Chalk or tape can serve as the lines of the court, a net can be comprised of two chairs and a line of string, and the red foam ball recommended for those 8 and under is a lot easier on a garage door than the standard yellow tennis ball.
“It’s never been easier to introduce young kids to the ultimate lifetime sport—tennis," says Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive for Community Tennis. “10 and Under Tennis scales the sport to the size of children. With the right sized racquet and slower and lower-bouncing balls, kids can step outside and start playing right away, making tennis the new pick-up sport."
And best of all, parents don’t have to be tennis pros to get their kids involved. The right-sized equipment of 10 and Under Tennis makes it easy for anyone to get out and hit, meaning your kids can be outside playing real tennis in no time.
Of course, knowing a few ways to get your kids started never hurt. So with that in mind, we sat down with Anne Davis, the USTA’s national manager for recreational programs and a coach with more than two decades worth of experience working with kids, and she provided these fun, easy, can’t-miss games:
There is no simpler—and more fun—way to get your child started in tennis than rallying back and forth.
To start, all you need are:
1) The boundaries for the court. In this case above, the sidelines are the lawn, with a line drawn in chalk down the middle to simulate the service boxes and natural lines in the driveway to serve as the baselines.
2) A net or an improvised net. An improvised net can easily set up with two chairs (or garbage cans, trees, etc.) and either caution tape—as shown in the picture above—regular tape or even a piece of string or jump rope. Pop-up portable nets are also available through tennis manufacturers, and to capture the very basics you can simply draw a line on the ground (see photo above) and rally over the line.
3) Right-sized racquets. Preferably 21- or 23-inch racquets for beginners.
4) A red foam or low compression ball.
Rallying is the most basic element of tennis. And by using a foam or low compression ball that moves slowly through the air and bounces low to the ground, your child will be able to rally early on and enjoy playing real tennis. (For information on all equipment, including racquets, balls and pop-up nets, go to 10andUnderTennis.com).
Splat is a great game for learning ball control. It can be played with an adult and a child or two children. The game starts with the two players, each holding a racquet, facing each other and standing about 4 feet apart. A target (in this case a red foam tennis ball) is placed on the ground directly between the two players. Player 1 bumps the ball up, trying to hit the target. If Player 1 hits the target—splat!—he gets a point. If Player 1 misses the target, Player 2 moves in and, after one bounce, also bumps the ball up in her attempt to hit the target. If she misses, it’s Player 1’s turn again, and so on.
This should be a continuous motion game, with the only break coming when one of the player splats the target on the ground. (In addition to a single tennis ball, the target can be a pyramid of tennis balls—three balls in a triangle, with a fourth ball placed on top.)
Rally Me is a great game to get your kids on the move and to teach them how to control and place the ball. Mark out a boundary with chalk or tape—a boundary roughly the size of a service box is recommended (21 feet by 13.5 feet)—and get two players (either two kids or one adult and one child). Player 1 bumps the ball up in the air anywhere within the boundary. Player 2 then has to run and bump the ball up before it bounces twice. This is a continuous motion game, so the two players keep going until the ball (a) lands outside the boundary or (b) the ball bounces twice.
Roof Ball can include as few as two players and as many as six if you want to get the neighborhood involved. To play, you need racquets for all players, a house with a slanted roof and a foam ball. The game starts when Player 1 serves the ball up onto the roof (but not over the house) and moves to the back of the line. After the ball rolls down off the roof, Player 2 lets it bounce once, then hits the ball against the garage door and moves to the back of the line. The play keeps going with each subsequent player hitting the ball against the garage door and moving to the back of the line until someone misses the door or the ball bounces twice. The player who misses or allows the ball to bounce twice gets a strike; three strikes and you’re out. The ensuing point then starts with the next player in line serving onto the roof.
Make sure to use a foam ball in this game to ensure there is no damage to the house, and also make sure each player moves to the back of the line quickly and orderly after hitting so everyone is safe. And enjoy—this is a high-energy game that teaches skills and is great fun for a group.