Unless you've been living in a fallout shelter, you've heard about tennis making a comeback in the U.S. There are more players on the courts, new American faces on the pro tour and recently, an uptick in U.S. apparel sales. That's all good news if you have tennis courts, and better still if you have team or league programming, Tennis On Campus, or instruction on any level.
What you may not have heard: There are new rules for some of those new players, particularly the younger generation. The U.S. Tennis Association has been championing the QuickStart Tennis play format (QST), which incorporates smaller courts, lower nets, shorter racquets and low-compression balls made of foam. And really, it's about time - Little League Baseball has succeeded where tennis has failed previously because LLB not only teaches the skills but right-sizes the venues.
In QuickStart, programming is divided by age - 10 and under and 8 and under. In the past, all juniors players competed on regulation-size courts (60 feet wide by 120 feet long), but a recent and pivotal USTA rule change will result in all 10-and-under tournaments being played using the new equipment, on smaller courts. This follows the International Tennis Federation's proposed rule change and takes effect on Jan. 1, 2012. It applies to all USTA-sanctioned events for children 10 and under. It's impossible to describe how to line a court for kids; images and tools are available at www.usta.com (type "10 and Under" into the search box in the upper right hand corner). There is information on suppliers of balls, racquets and nets if you're interested. For those who aren't ready to mark their courts permanently with the new lines, USTA sells tennis marking tape - although really, painter's tape is a good substitute to delineate playing spaces on smooth indoor wooden or acrylic surfaces.
Granted, some readers will shrug off this concept. And maybe it's because their facilities don't see much action from the 10-and-under set. But consider this: the QST format is also being used to teach tennis to seniors, beginner wheelchair players, and even to individuals with developmental disabilities. Those are all populations that need to be welcomed to the sport, and to fitness in general.
Tennis is a game with a long and distinguished history, and this is the first major and extensive rule change to come along in decades. It's worth paying attention to.