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Tue, Jan. 21

Column: A 'quick' start for kids

What has the game of tennis been lacking for the past 30 years or so? How about a good starter tennis program for kids ages 10 and under?Youth soccer, basketball, T-ball, and football have done a pretty good job of incorporating juniors 5 to 10 years old into their sport with smaller fields and courts, lower baskets, smaller balls, relaxed rules and, early on, not even keeping score.Kids flourish in these volunteer- and parent-coached seasonal organizations. With normally one practice a week, and a Saturday game, the kids have fun, meet new friends, and start to become good little coordinated athletes. By the end of each season the children are in better shape, know the rules and look forward to the next season where they learn and improve that much more.It's a great way to get started.The United States Tennis Association has finally come to terms with a similar youth program called QUICKSTART.QUICKSTART Tennis (originally called 35/60) is a competitive play format that features modified equipment and courts to allow kids to actually "play" the game of tennis. There are six modified variables: age, court size, net height, ball speed and weight, racquet length, and scoring.Now children 10 and under can compete and play like the big kids.There are three different court sizes to graduate to.All players regardless of age start on the 36-foot court with foam balls or larger low compression balls. The court is 36 feet-by-18 feet and stretches out across a regular court. This court is limited to kids 5 to 7 years old for competition. (Four of these courts fit on one regulation-sized court.) The net height is 2'9" and the racquets are up to 23" long.Match play at this level is a best-of-three sets format, and the first player to seven points wins each game. First place goes to the one who wins two games, but the main aspect is having fun.Eight to 10 year olds progress to a court that is 60 feet-by-21 feet using low compression balls, a net height of three feet and racquets up to 25" long. The match format is also best-of-three.Stage 3 is playing regular tennis using a standard court, balls and scoring.Tennis has traditionally been a difficult game to learn, especially for younger, smaller kids. The ball bounces too high, the court is too large to cover, and larger racquets make for some awkward swinging by the kids. Now with a smaller court, a slower ball, and appropriate racquets, kids can learn faster and better than ever before.Instead of contacting the ball above their heads, they can hit the ball at their waist allowing for a much better stoke. Instead of barely getting to wide balls, they can actually get to the ball and control the direction. This leads to the kids using strategy and tactics at a young age.An organizational meeting for interested parents, instructors and others will take place at the Yavapai College tennis patio on Saturday, March 1, from noon-1 p.m. Courts will be available for demonstration and discussion.It's time to get the fun and challenging game of tennis started in the right way for our youngsters.(Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 30 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at choward4541@q.com)
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