PSSHHHTTTTTT …. the sound of a new can of tennis balls opening. Mmmmmm … nothing like that new ball scent. Three bright optic yellow spheres glistening in the light.
Bounce, bounce, bounce. Ready to rock!
Now, in the quest to take your tennis game to the next level, let’s train “Outside of the Can.” Put down the yellow professional tennis balls and do some training with low compression balls.
“Wait … these are dead balls!? I have seen six-year-olds use these!”
Yes, junior tennis players use low compression tennis balls, and are able to rally 10 times or more in a row and grow a love for the game almost instantly. Rallying is FUN! They are able to chase down shots, prepare with a unit turn, load and develop cross-court and down the line control skills … maybe even navigate a short ball and begin to comprehend the approach shot and volley tactic—all from using a ball that bounces slightly less and travels slightly slower, allowing for a developing player to handle the speed of a complex game.
But let’s talk about low compression tennis ball training for adults and juniors who play regularly and have some developing skill sets.
The game of tennis has certainly evolved. About 10 years ago, I had the privilege of working with Simon Gale at Yonkers Tennis Center, along with several other key individuals in an effort to lead the low compression tennis ball revolution for junior players in the U.S. We then worked on evolving this concept to help beginner adult players. Now let's take this concept to the next level and train skilled players with low compression balls. The concept was to use these tennis balls of different sizes and air pressures to allow for rallying and playing as soon as a player steps on to the court. Through using these balls, a player can realize the fun of the sport very early on, because a rally was able to happen so much easier. This leads to more engaged players, better practices, quicker development and higher retention in the game.
A little bit about the low compression tennis balls:
►The Red Ball, a slightly larger tennis ball than the professional yellow ball, with about 25 percent of the air pressure.
►The Orange Ball, about the same size as a professional yellow ball, with about 50 percent of the air pressure.
►The Green Ball, the same size as a professional tennis ball and has approximately 75 percent of the air pressure.
You can see this tiered approach, 25 percent to 50 percent to 75 percent, and ultimately, to yellow ball.
So now for the benefits. How can this help you?
For the beginner tennis player, plain and simple, a low compression tennis ball will make tennis just a little bit easier and a lot more enjoyable to play. Practicing with these balls will slow down the game, giving players more time to run to and prepare for a shot that is coming to them. The balls do not travel as far, so the mis-hits, which happen often when you are starting, are not as severe. This helps the ball stay inside the lines more regularly, giving you and your opponent more chances to hit the ball back and forth. More rallies equal more quality reps, which results in quicker improvement. Tennis is a numbers game, and the more quality repetitions you experience, the better you will get. Talking about tennis and watching others hit the ball while you are in line waiting your turn, only gets you so far. Not to mention, rallying back and forth is fun. It is what the game is all about.
Graduating to the intermediate player who is making decent contact on the forehand side, is working on consistency and control on the backhand side. You have heard coaches say, “Follow through” and “Hit through the ball” quite often. Because a low compression ball does not travel as far as a professional yellow ball, it inherently forces the player to have a longer contact with the ball, elongating the swing and forcing the player to push through contact. If a player wishes to put some sort of pace on the ball, they must generate racket head speed, swinging through the contact point with the follow through happening naturally. These are the beginnings of better ball control, and in due time, spin. One of the main reasons players do not follow through is because they are rushed to prepare for the ball and do not appropriately distance themselves for weight transfer and contact. With just a little bit of extra time, thanks to low compression tennis balls that travel slightly slower, a player can develop better ball tracking skills and spacing to line up their confident swing.
I just mentioned spin. It is what today’s professional game is all about. Intermediate to advanced players … have you ever questioned if your shot has spin? At times, it can be hard to tell. Looking to gain more spin and RPMs on the ball? Try this … use a Red Ball or an Orange Ball, one that has the two-tone panels. The different color panels spinning through the air create an immediate visual that a player can judge how well they are producing spin. It is so clear if a player is brushing up and generating topspin, chipping down and slicing the ball, or bunting the ball with very little spin. Real-time results and quick tweaks by the player can result in better spin instantaneously.
Now for our big hitters—tournament players. I know you are looking for bigger shots, heavier top spins, adding more “umph.” Let's train with the Orange Ball. Focus on developing lower knee bend in preparation and stronger explosiveness when releasing the body through contact and pulling the handle of the racket through the ball. As this training is happening, because low compression balls do not travel as far as the professional Yellow Ball, a player must generate some serious racket head speed to get the ball moving quickly. It is what every professional tennis player is looking for. More racket head speed equals a higher spin rate. Watch Jack Sock or Nick Kyrgios hit a forehand. It is so “whippy.” The quest for more racket head speed has another tool.
What started with beginner four- and eight-year-old tennis players, then progressed to beginner adult players, can be adapted to all levels of play and be extremely beneficial. More players and coaches are recognizing the benefits of low compression tennis balls and implementing training times with different, out of the box, cross-training exercises. The results are huge, it is so easy to do, and it’s fun! Rallies will last longer, leading to enhanced ball-tracking skills, fuller swing paths, better use of body mechanics, more spin and racket speed and more dramatic competition. Players will be developing higher level skills without over-thinking. Learning through doing, rather than learning through commands from coach … it is truly a win-win situation.
Mark Santucci is director of adult tennis at Roosevelt Island Racquet Club. He came to Roosevelt Island after 10 years as director of tennis and operations, director of junior tennis and director of adult programs at Yonkers Tennis Center. A native of Rhode Island, Santucci was the captain of the Marist College Tennis team, where he helped lead his team to a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. He can be reached by e-mail at MSantucci@AdvantageTennisClubs.com.