Read the bios of your favorite pro players and chances are they first picked up a stick before they even turned 10. (If you don’t believe me, take a look at this ridiculously cute photo of a young Rafa!) So why not introduce your wee ones to the best sport on earth? Getting started young has many long-term benefits for all playing levels, not just those who aspire to be a grand slam champ – it enhances coordination, teaches sportsmanship, strengthens bones, and can be a real confidence booster…not to mention is fun for the whole family and a great way for kids to make new friends! Added bonus: the cost of playing tennis is on the lower end of the sports spectrum, so read on for what you’ll need to know before you take junior to a court.
Even with all the energy they have to expend, future champions 8 and under would have trouble conquering a regulation court. This group plays on a shorter court that measures in at 36’ x 18’ (roughly one-quarter of a full-size court), with the net being 2’9” at the center. Combine shorter courts with shorter players and you’ll want to stock up on balls that are slower and have a lower bounce so they can stay within their strike zone. The USTA recommends using RED balls, such as the Gamma Quick Kids 36. (Tip: Gamma’s Quick Kids line makes it easy to keep junior balls straight by printing the court size on the ball.) And of course, your young one will need his or her first stick. Try racquets between 17” and 23” to determine which best suits your child’s height and strength. All of the major racquet brands carry scaled down sticks so your budding Cibulkova can get a racquet that resembles mom’s or dad’s, such as the Wilson Blade 21. Or maybe they’d like to take the route Stan the Man has in the past and keep their favorite cartoon character around in some way for good luck – like Wilson’s Dora the Explorer or Sponge Bob Racquet, both available in 19” and 21”.
Players in the 9-10 age range also play on a smaller court, theirs being 60’ x 21’ for singles play, and 60’x 27’ for those giving doubles a shot. The net raises a few inches to 3’ at center, and players graduate to an ORANGE ball that allows for a bit more bounce than a red, but not as much as a green or yellow. Generally speaking, a racquet in the 23”-25” range such as the Prince Tour 25 Junior Tennis Racquet is the best option for getting them started during these years, and you can find a suitable stick for as low as $19.
Our tweens and teens (11+) will feel all grown up when they give it a go on a full size court with a stick that’s between 25” and 27”, almost as big as an adult’s. But before they start taking over the courts completely, the USTA recommends that they still play with a junior ball that bounces at a more comfortable height. GREEN balls have 25% less compression than a yellow ball, which keeps the ball at the appropriate level as they master controlling the ball. This also helps to prevent awkward or even harmful technique development which is of course crucial for beginners still learning the basics.
If you’re not sure where to find shorter courts for your child or are looking to sign them up for a junior camp or even league, youthtennis.com can help you find what you’re looking for in your local area. Court equipment such as the ONCOURT OFFCOURT MultiNET Mini 9’ Tennis Net is also available for purchase so you can get your game on anytime, any place.