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Equipment

Q. I played tennis in college and grew up within the USTA junior system. My question to you revolves around advice for my three-year-old son. I do not intend on pushing him into tennis. However, I would like to expose him to the game and plan on having FUN with him on the court. What racquet would you suggest? I have no clue as to the options that are out there and what is age/size appropriate. I would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions.

A. Since you understand the importance of making your son’s initial tennis experiences fun, I would offer the following advice. Determine the size and length of racquet that your son can comfortably manage. Determine the approximate price range that you can afford (they range from between $25 to $120 for “good” junior racquets). And… then let him decide which one he wants! He’ll likely choose the one with his favorite colors (or whatever), and that will be great.

Naturally, once he finds the racquet that HE wants, you better get used to hitting a lot of balls with him. Enjoy!

Q. I am interested in getting an opinion on racquets for kids.

My two sons take clinics at a local club and I see little kids choking up on adult oversized racquets and big kids playing with "starter" racquets and everything in between.

My 7 year old plays with a junior racquet and my twelve year old plays with an adult racquet. How do you judge what kind of racquet kids should play with. We play 2-3 times a week. When do the raquets need to be restrung (or replaced)? The pros at our club usually hem and haw over this question.

A. Have you heard of QuickStart Tennis? If not, be on the lookout for this iniative to grow the game of tennis amongst youth players 10 years of age and under. The format is designed to match racquet sizes, ball types and court dimensions/net height to the age and size of a youngster.

Often times kids do use too heavy and too long of a racquet. As well the grip of an adult racquet is unmanageable for small hands. One method I like for sizing up a youth player is to have he or she stand with the racquet in hand and let the arm hang naturally by their side. The end of the racquet head should just clear the ground for proper fit.

Stringing is typically not that important for starter racquets until you reach the 25 or 26 inch High Performance frames. At that point they should be restrung 2 to 3 times a year and prevent their exposure to extreme temperatures.

Happy Hitting in the New Year!

Q. I run a large program for children 3 to 10 years old and racquets are available for the participants.

I have a large selection of racquets 17" to 25" long. I have found that, depending on a child's physique (other than height) and ability, I sometimes have to give that child a racquet that is either shorter or longer than recommended so that the child can successfully hit the ball. Then, when the strokes have become comfortable, give the child the appropriate racquet for his/her size. The size of the racquet can definitely make a difference in whether the child, as a beginner, succeeds or not.

Unfortunately QuickStart tennis is still not popular in many tennis clubs!

A. It is good to hear that you are using your professional experience to make some individual adjustments for your kids. The QuickStart age-racquet guidelines are just that, with the purpose to correctly match a child with their equipment, offering an easy and fun progression from day one, onwards to a lifetime of tennis activity.

Different length junior racquets have been around quite awhile, as have foam balls, short courts, lower nets and simplified scoring. The key to QuickStart are the technical refinements, and a fully coordinated interrelationship between these to properly match the current capabilities of the child. QuickStart also defines when and how a child should progress.

Clearly, some kids are big or small for their age, relatively stronger or weaker, more or less athletic, and develop upon natural and acquired abilities. Therefore, it will be important for teaching pros, recreational coaches and PE instructors to make appropriate individual tweaks around the age guidelines.

QuickStart adoption should be a priority for any facility that offers programs for young kids. The USTA is working hard to educate instructors and facilitate the process. We realize pros face some challenges in setting up the 36/60 courts and changing ball types within a teaching court environment that caters to both adults and kids.

Pros that understand the significance of QuickStart, and have committed, are already finding innovative methods to integrate. The USPTA and USPTR has many such pros, and the USTA looks to them to help share their success stories, how they handled challenges, and made adjustments. Low compression balls are a great example; many pros now have dedicated baskets of these balls because they are also great for beginning adults and Cardio Tennis classes. Low compression balls successfully bridge the gap between regulation and foam balls, and are probably the most significant innovation for helping beginning players of any age after tots.

I believe the 60 ft courts may become popular for adults to better allow singles play for seniors, those with bad knees, wheelchair players, obese players or anyone who is “mobility challenged”….which is exactly what small kids are relative to full-size courts, as they lack stride length. While kids may have tons of energy, they struggle to cover a full size court, particularly with regulation balls. A smaller court in conjunction with slower balls affords getting to more balls, providing enjoyment for anyone who gives it a whirl.

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