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Houston Teaching Pro is a 10 and Under Tennis Convert

May 21, 2013 07:21 AM
Lothringer with a couple of his 10 and Under Tennis students.
By Dana Czapnik, USTA.com
Cary Lothringer, head tennis pro at Carlton Woods in Houston, was not an early adopter of 10 and Under Tennis.
He wanted proof that it worked, that it really would get kids playing and staying in the game. And the only way to get the proof he was looking for? To try it out on his own son.
"The 10-and-under matches that I grew up playing were 60-ball rallies, all moon balls, all lobs, standing against the back fence, wishing your racquet was five inches longer to get at all the balls bouncing over your head," Lothringer says, laughing.
At a recent Orange Ball tournament – for kids 10 and under, played on a 60-foot court – Lothringer saw something very different.
"I’m watching an 8-year-old feeling confident, serving and volleying, coming in behind his serve, trying to knock off a volley because it’s working," says Lothringer. "He’s actually winning points doing it. It’s been eye opening."
That 8-year-old was Grant, Lothringer’s son.
Though Grant has had a tennis racquet in his hand since he was in diapers and very well may have succeeded without the youth equipment, Lothringer has found that his son has excelled at the sport so much faster since adopting 10 and Under Tennis.
"He’s got a continental grip on the serve, he’s hitting with spin on the second serve, he’s hitting short balls, approach shots coming to net, volleying, overheads," says Lothringer, an All-American at Pepperdine in the early 1990s and a former touring pro, evaluating his son’s skillset while working with Orange balls.
Lothringer was cautiously optimistic in assessing 10 and Under Tennis years ago, placing blended lines – the lines for 36- and 60-foot courts on top of the traditional 78-foot court – on several of the courts at Carlton Woods and testing the new equipment with his own students. But he hesitated to embrace the initiative, waiting to place blended lines on all courts until he could see if the program actually worked.
What he found was astonishing.
At Carlton Woods, Lothringer doesn’t necessarily work with the nation’s next big tennis stars. He teaches young children, whose experience and athletic ability are commensurate with the athletic ability found at most tennis organizations throughout the country. Some are gifted athletes, but most are somewhere in the middle.
"It is so difficult to get kids at a young age to try to judge the speed of a regular yellow ball and how it’s going to bounce," Lothringer says.
He found that even bouncing and catching drills were difficult for many of his young players.
Once he introduced the Red (36-foot court) and Orange (60-foot court) 10 and Under Tennis balls to practice, everything changed. Kids were beginning to move away from the organized feeding drills and were actually able to rally with Lothringer and each other. He credits this to the lower arc and fewer variances on the heights of the balls, which makes it easier for kids to predict where the ball is going and to get their racquets on those balls.
"It made it so much easier for the kids to feel like they were playing, to actually rally balls back and forth," he says. "I definitely noticed an immediate improvement with all skill levels, which was fantastic."
One pupil of his stands out in particular.
Emma began taking group and private lessons with Lothringer when she was 8 years old, after her parents had struggled to get her involved in other sports, and before Lothringer adapted the 10 and Under Tennis model.
"Emma is definitely not a speedster," Lothringer says, "and covering the court or getting to a ball that was bouncing high or fast, those things are just huge negatives for her."
She was just on the verge of walking away from another sport when Lothringer brought Orange balls to one of her lessons.
"The Orange balls were a godsend for her," he says.
What Lothringer couldn’t have realized when he was using the traditional yellow tennis ball was that Emma had exceptional hand-eye coordination and an acute ability to read strokes.
"I would have never known how well she could repeat a stroke because we never got to that point," he says. "Her judgment of ball recognition and getting her feet in the right place were playing such a huge impact. I knew those were problems, but I had no idea if you could get those things in place, you have a kid who could literally rally 20 to 30 balls at a time with ease."
Within months, Emma began competing – and winning – matches in local Orange Ball tournaments.
"You just watch somebody who felt tennis was just another activity she wasn’t going to be good at and now it’s her sport," says Lothringer. "It’s her activity to do after school. It’s her way of getting exercise. It’s the only thing she likes doing in her spare time. This is a really powerful example of how 10 and Under allowed Emma to participate in tennis and feel in her mind like she was improving and flourishing."
So, is Lothringer a 10 and Under Tennis convert? In a word, yes.
All the courts at The Woodlands now have blended lines and every kid that enters the club is introduced to the sport through 10 and Under Tennis. If parents are skeptical when they first bring their kids for lessons, as Lothringer once was, he points to Grant’s and Emma’s successes and how that sense of accomplishment has helped them fall in love with the sport.
Now it’s common to see parents playing tennis with their kids on courts with blended lines and group 10 and Under Tennis lessons around the grounds of Carlton Woods.
As Lothringer says, "Talk about getting kids in the game!"
For more on 10 and UNder Tennis and the USTA's youth tennis initiative, and to find a program near you, go to YouthTennis.com.


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