We throw around the words 'game changer' quite a bit. But this week, there really is one, and you'll find it on tennis courts.
Last year around this time, I wrote about a forthcoming rule change for children in tennis. That change took effect on New Year's Day, and now, all U.S. Tennis Association-sanctioned tournaments for ages 10 and under will be played on shorter courts with lower nets and lower-compression balls. It's known as the QuickStart Tennis format for 10 and Under Tennis. Complete information on it is available at the USTA's website.
10 and Under Tennis, or 10U, takes its cue from Little League Baseball and other sports that downsize their games to fit smaller players. Learning tennis in this format allows children to master strokes more quickly and results in them being able to actually play matches with one another (as opposed to hitting and running drills). Kids love it. Pros say it's one of the best initiatives they've tried. One particular advantage is that you don't need special facilities for it - kids can actually play on a regular court that is marked to show them the boundaries of their own playing area.
The best part, though, is that many clubs are reporting they can use 10U tennis to boost their income, since the format allows more children to be taught at one time on one court. With kids loving it and talking it up to their friends, the potential for growth is out there. The USTA site can provide information on how to lay out courts and set up programs for ages 8 and under and 10 and under. Under the new rules, kids age 8 and under play on a court that is 36 feet long by 18 feet wide. Because a regulation court for adults has a total area of 60 by 120, two courts for 8U can be accommodated on either side of a regulation adult court. Kids use special temporary nets set at a height of 2 feet, 9 inches. Ages 10 and under face each other across a regular net used by adults, but with a smaller playing area. These diagrams from the USTA illustrate where lines should go.
Should club owners want to line their courts for 10U play, there's great news: it doesn't take expensive structural changes. A qualified tennis court builder can do it easily, and at a minimal cost. Lines for kids won't interfere with adult-level play because the colors are unobtrusive. You can probably contact the person who services your facility's courts, or you can use the website of the American Sports Builders Association to find a court contractor in your area. Furthermore, the USTA offers facility assistance in the form of advice, information, resources and for those who qualify, grant funding. Just as a note: it's not suggested as a DIY project, since a botched lining job will require a recoat and professional re-lining.
It's essential to look at the program's long-term potential for tennis and tennis clubs. Kids get involved in the sport and are healthier and more active. Your facility becomes a part of their lifestyle, and they show up regularly for something other than the free childcare you offer while their parents work out. As kids age, they move into juniors play, then into high school and college play, and ultimately into adult leagues. It has the potential to create a positive cycle of growth in the sport and growth in facilities.
The International Tennis Federation proposed the rule change, and the USTA has championed the new format. Isn't it time everyone got on board?