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Editorial: 10 and Under Tennis Growing a New Generation

June 13, 2012 05:11 PM
by Andy McFarland, USTA Florida associate executive director
 
“The new generation of tennis player is here!!” 
 
After what I witnessed this past weekend at the USTA Florida Bobby Curtis Junior State Championships in Altamonte Springs, I can say that with a strong breath of confidence! Oh, we knew the USTA 10 and Under Tennis format tsunami was going hit our state ever since the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and USTA shook our sport by approving the tennis rule change for players ages 10 and under back in the fall of 2010 (the first rule change invoked by the ITF since the tiebreak rule adoption in the 1970s). 
 
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We knew it was coming, as blended lines were being painted and permanent stand-alone courts were being built in our Florida communities. We knew it was coming, once this new 10 and under rule change took effect officially on Jan. 1 of this year. 
 
And, after visiting the preeminent Florida 10 and Under Tennis tournament of the year, I can say I witnessed early signs of the 10 and Under Tennis tsunami reaching our Florida shores.
 
For the first time in the 64-year history of the Florida state junior tournament, officially named after the tournament’s founder and long-time tournament director, Bobby Curtis, the new 10 and under rule change was put into play for the 10 and under boys’ and girls’ divisions. Yes, that meant the players were competing on 60-foot blended line courts (instead of adult 78-foot courts) with orange low-bounce balls and tennis rackets extending no longer than 25 inches, while using a shorter format of scoring for the first time (sets to four games instead of six). There was a lot of grumbling and moaning along the way with this new rule change, but those that adapted to the historical rule change early certainly are benefitting today.
 
Because of the modified tennis equipment and smaller court size that equate to the size and age of younger players, what I witnessed by these young competitors was indeed “real tennis.” That’s been a bit of the bugaboo with this new rule change is that 10 and Under Tennis is just for beginners and that it’s “training wheel tennis,” not real tennis like it has been since the sport was born. Well if anyone had seen what I witnessed in just a matter of minutes of watching a host of 10 and under tennis matches, I think you’d be a believer that 10 and Under Tennis is real tennis too.
 
Here’s a bullet list of what I viewed in watching a number of 10 and under matches:
 
  • Numerous rallies that averaged easily in the double digits. These were not your typical yellow-ball moon ball rallies either. These were full swing groundies that had purpose and pop throughout the rallies.
  • Players hitting a variety of shots like backspin drop shots, one-handed backhand slice, assertive approach shots, a number of volleys at the net, offensive lobs and even a few aces were scattered amongst the players. When was the last time you’ve seen an 8-year old hit an ace with a yellow ball on a full size court?
  • Point strategy put into play during longer rallies.
  • USTA officials acting as teachers, mentors and educators offering guidance to the young players with scoring and rules.
 
Participation in our sport has been abysmal in this country in the 6-10 age bracket. In fact, roughly 20,000 kids under the age of 10 participate in structured tennis leagues or tournaments nationwide annually; less than 3,000 in Florida!
 
Our sport needed an extreme makeover to fix what was so evidently wrong. That’s what 10 and Under Tennis helps provide. Did you know when Little League Baseball (LLB) was founded in 1939, it took eight years for it to expand outside of Pennsylvania where it was founded? Did you know that girls were not even involved in LLB until 1974? Today, LLB boasts over 2.6 million players nationwide. I contend we should have that many 10 and Under Tennis players in Florida alone, but in a much shorter time span than what it took LLB to expand and grow through their sport’s culture change.  
 
Why do I think that? Three major reasons I believe we should reach those kinds of participation numbers in our sport over the next decade:
 
1.     The 10 and under rule change that modifies tennis to a younger player’s size and allows a young player to have fun and success much more quickly. Did you know according to the National Alliance of Sports nearly 70% of youth quit sports by age 13 for three main reasons: 1. the activity is not fun anymore; 2. the child is not having success at the sport/activity; 3. pressure from the child’s parents and/or coach to perform or win.
 
2.     Speaking of tennis coaches and teachers, I believe that’s the second reason our participation numbers are going to geometrically climb the next decade. Tennis has an army of certified teaching professionals and coaches the likes Little League Baseball never had. We have a built-in core group of tennis advocates, coaches and teachers that can help us retain kids in our lifetime sport by adopting this new format of play. But, like any culture change, it’s going to take time, patience and education for the non-believers to come around.
 
3.     USTA Florida Section is behind this initiative 100 percent. We introduce 10 and Under Tennis to hundreds of thousands of children in physical education classes and out-of-school programming. The parents of these children are going to be expecting tennis to be modified for their children as they migrate to public and private tennis facilities around Florida. We also provide funding to communities and public and private tennis facilities with Share the Love grants to help with the 10 and Under Tennis infrastructure.  Lastly, we will be adjusting our 10 and Under Tennis tournament structure to meet the needs of today’s players and parents to allow them to compete in half-day events in round robin-type competitions. 
 
It was truly electrifying to watch these 5-10 year old players competing at a high level of fun competition while playing real tennis at the Bobby Curtis Junior State Championships. I can certainly say the 10 and Under Tennis tsunami is coming folks and there’s nothing we can do to stop it! And, that’s both scary and exciting!! 
 
To learn more about 10 and under tennis please visit: www.10andundertennis.com.
 
Andy McFarland 
Associate Executive Director
USTA Florida Section
 
 

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