When you’re learning how to play sports, there’s usually a learning curve, baseball has Little League, football has Pop Warner, and tennis has … well you’re about to find out.
There are currently 40 million youth participants in sports in our country, and over 99% of them, don’t play tennis. So the United States Tennis Association, USTA, decided to take action.
“We looked at the data, because numbers don’t lie, and we saw that we didn’t have the participation we wanted with youth and we said, ‘we need to do something to change that dynamic,’ and in essence, reinvent tennis. And we had an ah-ha moment and decided we need to kid size tennis,” said John Vagosen, 2011-2012 Chairman of Board and President US Tennis Association.
For years, children were expected to play on an adult sized court with an adult sized racket. So in an effort to bring more kids to the sport, the USTA created “Ten and Under Tennis” now called, “Youth Tennis.”
Youth tennis uses a smaller racket and a low-pressure ball that won’t bounce right over the kids’ heads. The court has been adjusted too, downgraded to either a 36 or 60-foot size. All of this gives the players an actual chance to rally back and forth, which makes it more fun.
“We kind of dabbled in it for a number of years, but about 5 years ago made the commitment to blended lines,” said Gary Foiles, Park Manager for the Naperville Park District. “We were able to expand at Knoch Park and at Naperville Central on all 12 courts. This year, we’ll be doing the courts at Ashbury and Ranchview and the intention is to add the 10 and under lines when they get repainted.”
With an increasing interest in the game, the Naperville Park District developed a relationship with the Naperville Tennis Club, setting up extra classes for their instructors.
“So we’re teaching the staff how to do games and make it fun, but yet the kids are learning the strokes, they’re learning the form, they’re the footwork all in the form of the game versus standing in a line and doing specific technique things,” said Naperville Tennis Club Instructor, Barb Rueth.
So far the kids involved with the program are “having a ball.”
“Starting out on lower courts, at lower ages, it really helps you develop the technical side because the court isn’t too big for you. It’s not too big to run around, it’s not too much room to cover, it doesn’t give your opponent more opportunities, and so it’s just built for your body style,” said ACE Academy player, Kindra Woodman.
Youth tennis is the future of the sport, and the USTA is hopeful that it will produce an American champion within the next ten years.
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