Southern Connecticut JTT Provides Unique Spin With 8 and Under
James Maimonis, Communications and Engagement Coordinator | March 30, 2017
WESTBOROUGH, MA- Southern Connecticut is home to the largest Junior Team Tennis (JTT) league in New England as well as one of the most coveted leagues across the country. With a base of committed coaches and coordinators as well as the wealth of opportunities in age and ability levels it offers it players, the league is in demand and building the future of team tennis.
Southern Connecticut, like most JTT leagues, boasts a variety of teams ranging from 10-18 years old through both the championship and local tracks. However, it’s the unique 8 and under league that gives beginner players the authentic ‘team’ atmosphere they can only experience in Southern Connecticut.
“It’s 8 and under Junior Team Tennis that has brought a whole new level of popularity to the sport,” said Susan Riordan, Southern Connecticut League Coordinator. ADVERTISEMENT “To watch these young kids actually get to play the game and compete with other teams says so much about how far this sport has come.”
“One of the many reasons 8 and under is so important is because kids no longer have to wait until they are ‘big enough’ or old enough’ to compete,” added Kendra Becker, JTT coach at INTENSITY Club, which offers year-round JTT programming. “With the appropriate sized court and equipment, they can learn, play and compete, so let's let them,”
The 8 and under JTT league uses red balls, smaller courts and a modified scoring system, but keeps true to the traditional JTT team model.
With 60-70 players per season, the 8 and under league has grown tremendously in its seven years. Each year, more and more clubs form teams and begin to see the value of getting their kids in the door from an early age.
“When kids get a little older and are competing in individual tournaments, going to other clubs individually can be a little nerve-racking,” Becker said. “So by starting this process early and with their friends and their coach there with them, it makes this just a normal part of learning to compete.”
Jason Thomas, Director of Junior Tennis at Chelsea Piers, in Stamford, has been running 8 and under JTT since the club opened back in 2012.
“JTT was a very influential part of my personal development as a player, so offering the program to our players at an early age was always a priority of ours at Chelsea Piers, Thomas said. “JTT gives young players an opportunity to compete in a fun, team oriented environment not found anywhere else in the sport of tennis. My coaching staff and I place an emphasis on helping every player in our program to love the sport and JTT is a great tool for us to accomplish that goal.”
Teaching such young kids a brand new sport can bring its share of challenges as well. From losing on a regular basis to forgetting where to stand on the court, it’s only natural for beginner players to slip up. But it’s imperative to these players’ growth and development that the coaches find a healthy balance of guidance and freedom to provide them the optimal learning experience.
Some of this coaching is even done during matches, a feature exclusive to the 8 and under level.
“At this age it’s easy for them to make mistakes like forgetting the score, starting on the wrong side of the court, forgetting whose turn it is to serve or make incorrect line calls,” Becker said. “The coaches are there to help but it's also important to let the players try to figure out some of these things by themselves. It’s all part of the learning experience for them.”
“Our goal is to teach them how to find victories every time they step foot on the court, even if they lose the match,” Thomas added. “Kids want to win, plain and simple. Teaching them how to compete, give their best effort and to respect their opponents isn’t always easy but is far more important than forehands and backhands.”
Although 8 and under JTT is primarily geared towards teaching fundamentals in an authentic team format, the league does offer top teams the opportunity to compete for the state championship. One to two winning teams each season are invited to square off for the 8 and under crown.
Norwalk Grassroots Tennis and Education took home last year’s 8 and under state championship.
Thus far, 8 and under Junior Team Tennis has been a massive success in Southern Connecticut from developing young players to acting as a pipeline for older JTT teams. USTA New England hopes to expand 8 and under JTT beyond Southern Connecticut in the coming years to give more players the opportunity to learn the game in an organized setting.
“We see how much fun these kids have playing JTT and we know how beneficial it is to their growth and development,” said Jon Kostek, USTA New England Youth Play Manager. “The sooner we can get kids to pick up a racquet, the sooner they will gain the invaluable experiences that come with playing team tennis.”