SHOULD JUNIOR TENNIS PLAYERS USE FULL BALL?
I saw a recent post which disagreed with using adapted equipment for 10 and Under tennis. They cited top players, saying they wouldn’t have used different balls and shorter courts during their younger days. That may be true because the mini tennis progressions are relatively new.
I watched video of a young Emma Raducanu playing an exceptional orange-ball match. I know she’s had a tricky time since winning the US Open, but that can’t take away from her claiming a grand slam title. Playing through the ball colours hasn’t hurt her progression.
What does all this mean for up-and-coming juniors?
Everybody must make their own choices, but this is my take. As a specialist in 10 and Under player development for over thirty years, I don’t think in terms of what’s right and wrong. I consider what might be useful for the long-term player journey, and what might cause issues.
These are my top takeaways for players I work with. I teach the ones with potential, so other pathways may differ.
*Different tennis balls are just tools to help development, and they should be used in the most useful way
*Sponge ball tennis is great for player attraction
*Matches on small courts with soft balls are ideal for starter level events. Players can experience some success, start to understand point play, and learn to thrive in a competitive environment.
*80cm is too high for a red net to suit my purposes, so I lower it during lessons. The height changes how the ball can be hit, promoting a pushing action or steep, low-to-high strike. That might suit some situations, but I start by teaching a flatter hit first.
*My coaching doesn’t involve red felt balls because I work indoors. I choose to go from sponge to orange.
*I normally work with players on at least two ball colours within the weekly schedule. For example, I develop tactics on sponge balls with good five-year-olds, but I use orange or green balls for perception and movement development.
* I like players to experience receiving all the different balls, maybe through catching games. This is because holding back on one colour delays perception development. Any skill develops more when it is challenged.
*I keep young players on small racquets for a long period so simple technique can form without hitches. Longer, heavier racquets can promote quirks which may be a hindrance later. Also, it’s great for players to develop their own power by using a fluid coordination chain, rather than by relying on a racquet. Once a longer, powerful racquet is placed in the hands of a well-developed junior, the effect is amplified.
*Out of all the mini tennis colours, orange-ball players experience the most comparable dimensions to adult, full-ball tennis. The low net, three quarter court, lower bounce, and smaller racquet offer similar proportions for young players, making it easier to develop long-term tactics. For this reason, I do a lot of teaching on the orange court.
*Orange ball tennis provides opportunities for developing a realistic all-court game.
*Some people believe children play better tennis on the full court because they see them hitting the ball in and with pace. In my experience, If a junior can't keep a powerfully-hit orange ball in the three-quarter court, they won't fare any better as an adult on the full court unless they develop more skill.
*I’m not a fan of green tennis unless it is played on a slighter shortened court.
*I like to use up all the development aspects of a ball colour before I leave it behind for good.
*My best players move through the ball colours quicker, but I am always checking that the higher ball bounce doesn’t compromise tactics or technique.
*I choose to protect young players from receiving too many heavy balls before their bodies are strong enough to take a pounding. I look at the long-term player journey, which can be shortened through injury.
These are my methods. If you want to see the player results, check out the About Me page
Good luck with the path you choose. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.