We have to ask ourselves as coaches: what is the final and key developmental aspect when faced with 10 & Under Players moving to the full court?
One dimension which won't change from green ball to performance yellow ball is court size. Players now have to use the full court which brings about a range of new challenges from court coverage to better decision making. Therefore, as a Development Coach, one of our biggest challenges we are facing is the development of efficient movement and, of course, with that comes decision making and the all-important anticipation. Finding ways to develop and challenge these three areas are a daily pursuit for all green ball coaches.
The increased court size challenges new green ball players to maintain a consistent contact point and to arrive at the ball in a balanced position, which in turn challenges visual tracking skills and efficient movement patterns to the contact point. It is known that graduated orange ball players are generally capable of making two decisions, and are more proficient moving side-to-side than in-and-out of the court, or as described by the great Toni Nadal as moving north and south of the baseline.
One way to assist in creating consistent strokes through efficient movement for green ball players can be the start of teaching a deeper comprehension of the technique of recovery. Or as we like to call it, players using a full shot cycle which is from: split step, selection step, lead movement, adjustment and balance to final positioning, stroke execution and contact to recovery movements and, finally, return to the split step.
Green ball coaches need to stress and teach players to recover to a neutral position—a foot-and-a-half-to-two-feet behind the baseline—giving players a better chance of getting their bodies behind the ball on deep balls, as well as increasing the chances for green ball players to develop offensive skills. Recovering to a neutral position behind the baseline, rather than staying on top of the baseline, gives green ball players space to move forward and create offense due to having recovered back to a neutral position.
Many times new green ball players are handcuffed by deep or high balls, hindering them from creating linear energy due to inefficient spacing or from creating angular momentum by getting back in time to load the legs.
Movement patterns that recover to a neutral position also reinforce keeping the feet moving throughout the entire point. It starts to introduce and create awareness of situational recovery based on the results of the ball the player just struck.
One simple and effective strategy to build the recovery skill is to use a dot or marker representing the players' “hometown”. Coaches then can easily reference the players' hometown as a cue word for recovery.
Kids instantly seem to connect the recovery skill with the hometown dot. It's really enjoyable as a green ball coach to see new green ball players fly around the court finding the ideal contact point through their movement keyed by constant and developing sense of their recovery skills.
Conrad Singh is the CEO of Centercourt Tennis Academy, and a Grand Slam Master Tennis Coach, who is an expert in sports science and biomechanics. David Kilmer is a 15-year coaching veteran and is the lead coach of the Centercourt Green Ball program.