Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Tennis for Tots: The USTA and Its Partners Work to Right-Size the Sport for Young Athletes

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Tennis for Tots: The USTA and Its Partners Work to Right-Size the Sport for Young Athletes

Article excerpt

Spending a fair, sunny day on the neighborhood tennis court is a delightful pastime--one that people are flocking to at a much younger age, thanks to the determination of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), International Tennis Federation (ITF) and other supporting partners. Efforts made during the past three years to change the sizing and speed of the rackets, balls and courts used by younger players has had a tremendous impact on participation and retention in the sport, and by all accounts, those trends are going nowhere but up.

Right-Sizing Tennis

These days, it's difficult enough to coax children away from the computer or television in favor of active, outdoor pursuits like organized sports. Add to that the frustration a child experiences as she attempts to wrestle with an adult-sized tennis racket, navigate official-sized courts and manage erratic, fast-bouncing balls meant for seasoned players, and you'll see why tennis has not always been the most attractive sport to children.

Reacting to that reality as well as dwindling enrollment numbers, USTA developers decided something had to be done to entice more young players into the game. "By changing the ITF rules of tennis [in 2012] to ensure that kids 10 and under are always playing on smaller courts with slower balls, we have made tennis easier to play and more accessible for kids this age," says Dave Miley, executive director for tennis development at ITF. "We have adapted the product of tennis to make it more attractive to the customer, and there is no question that [tennis sized right] has been a driving force for increased participation in the United States."

The adaptations Miley mentions --bigger, slower balls and rackets, and modified court sizes--are perhaps obvious, but these changes are having an incredible impact. Balls have been designed for three distinct age groups: red felt, which moves slower and bounces lower than any of the other balls, is for children ages 8 and younger; orange felt, intended for children ages 9-10, moves and bounces slightly faster and higher than red balls; green felt has a slightly reduced bounce from the standard yellow ball and is aimed at children ages 11 and older. The ubiquitous yellow ball is used in the normal course of play. Net heights have been adjusted for the youngest set--at 2 feet 9 inches at the center--and remain at the standard 3 feet center, 3 feet 6 inches at net posts for all other ages. At www.youthtennis.com, the USTA has included diagrams of how a standard-size tennis court can be reapportioned for younger players. Children ages 8 and younger should play in an area 36 feet by 18 feet; players age 9-10 are situated in courts 60 feet by 21 feet for single play or 60 feet by 27 feet for doubles play; and youths ages 11 and older play on a full-sized court. The USTA also supports the construction of hundreds of youth-sized tennis courts across the country. In 2012, USTA helped construct and renovate more than 4,500 youth-sized tennis courts in 44 states. In all, some 10,000 kid-sized courts have benefited from the USTA's attention since 2005. Finally, the sizes of the racket face have been modified: up to 23 inches for children ages 8 and younger; 23-25 inches for ages 9-10; and 25-27 inches for ages 11 and older.

"The USTA's Youth Tennis initiative was designed to make it easier and more fun to get involved in the game, and our commitment to creating and refurbishing youth-sized tennis courts across the country has been another step toward making the sport more accessible to more kids," says Dave Haggerty, USTA chairman, CEO and president. Data concerning the results of the commitments Haggerty and Miley mention are promising. …

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