By E.J. Crawford
In a decision that will fundamentally change the future landscape of tennis in the United States, the USTA passed new rules governing competition for 10-and-under tennis tournaments during its Semi-Annual Meeting in September. The new rules require that 10-and-under tournaments be played using slower-moving and lower-bouncing balls, on smaller courts and utilizing shorter, lighter racquets.
This move follows the International Tennis Federation’s rule change that was passed in August, and will take effect on January 1, 2012. It applies to all USTA-sanctioned events for children 10 and under.
“We’re very excited about what this change means to the future of tennis in the United States,” says Lucy S. Garvin, outgoing Chairman of the Board and President, USTA. “Competition is an important element of learning and growing the game, and now all children 10 and under will have the proper platform with which to compete.”
10 and Under Tennis is designed around the same concepts as Little League Baseball and other youth sports such as soccer and basketball, all of which use equipment and field/court sizes scaled to the size of young children. And with the smaller courts, lower-bouncing balls and smaller racquets designed for those 10 and under and used in the QuickStart Tennis play format, kids are able to rally and play the game early on. That makes tennis fun and increases the likelihood that kids will come back to play again and again, improving their skills with each trip to their local court.
“Scaling tennis down to the size of children will promote greater participation and ensure that young kids will be able to play tennis much more quickly,” says Kurt Kamperman, Chief Executive, Community Tennis, USTA. “This rule change to the competition format for kids 10 and under is critical to the long-term growth of our sport, and ultimately will help us develop new generations of players and champions.”
The specifications for the revised system hold that all tournaments for those ages 9-10 be played on 60-foot courts using orange low-compression tennis balls and regulation nets (3 feet at the center) or, for those more experienced and more skilled players, on 78-foot courts with green lower-compression balls. Tournaments for those 8 and under are to be played on 36-foot courts using red foam balls and nets at a height of 2 feet, 9 inches.
“There have been hardly any changes to tennis in its history, and this one is major,” says Dave Miley, Executive Director, Tennis Development, ITF. “People maybe don’t understand the significance of it, but you’re changing the court and you’re changing the ball that’s being used. It’s significant, and it will allow us to compete more easily with other sports and other activities for the time and attention of 10-and-under children. My dream is to see a dad who’s never played tennis going out and playing with his kids. That’s how we’re going to grow the sport, by making it more accessible.”
The change in tournament format by both the USTA and the ITF was reached after weighing the benefits for beginners as well as recurring and high-performing youth players. Studies have found that competition, when conducted in a welcoming environment that allows for multiple play opportunities, enhances kids’ enjoyment of the game. Moreover, the QuickStart Tennis play format fosters proper technique and enhances strategy, key components to success in competitive play.
For that reason, the change has been endorsed by USTA Player Development and supported by the Tennis Industry Association and teaching pros throughout the country.
“Competition is at the very heart of our sport,” says Patrick McEnroe, General Manager, USTA Player Development. “And learning how to play tennis the right way, with the right strokes and the proper technique, is beneficial for kids both now and into the future, whether they pursue the game recreationally or at the very highest levels.”