| By Anne Olaya
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

 

We’re always saying that kids grow up way too fast. Why should we let that happen on the tennis court as well? Other sports have successfully incorporated smaller- scale versions for years; why notextend that to tennis?

Hear me out! Most of us crawled before we stood, stood before we walked, walked before we ran. We had to learn how to write individual letters before we learned how to piece together words; and write words before sentences, and sentences before paragraphs.

So how can we expect the younger generation to race through the 10-and- under progression, or skip it altogether, AND become successful while doing so?

These tools aren’t a means of eliminating the challenge but a way to embrace it. I love seeing the colors of the ball move through the air, so kids can better understand the concept of spin. I love feeling the pressure of a competitive rally with a nine-year-old while on a 60-foot court, and they do too; it’s exciting for them to feel how a point can actually be played.

Using compression balls and a modified court has even allowed me to continue developing my game while coaching. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but the proof is in the pudding, and I can now say that I totally support the 10-and-under progression.

When people ask me about my tennis journey, I say, “I started playing when I was four.” I have plenty of pictures of me with a gigantic (at the time) racquet and an ordinary yellow tennis ball. My dad worked endlessly and tirelessly to give me the best tennis foundation he could; thirty years later, I can truly say he did an amazing job.

I started playing tournaments at eight or nine, and boy what an experience that was! I loved it! For the most part, my competitors were roughly the same size. It felt like an even playing field; we all had the same struggles. Within a couple of years though, that changed drastically. Everyone started sprouting up and were getting taller and stronger. The court no longer felt like this vast open space and coming up with a strategy was much more manageable.

This applied to everyone except me. I never got that growth spurt. I ended up having to rely on speed and anticipation, good balance and craftiness. I built my own style and it worked for me. However, I had gaps in my game that would haunt me for a long time. It was no fault of my own, or my dad’s. It was just the way the system was at the time; there wasn’t an alternative.

Thirty years after first picking up a racquet, I sometimes find myself wishing that I could hit a reset button and start from scratch... almost! Crazy, right? Young kids learning tennis today have an amazing opportunity to learn the complete game of tennis from the ground up.

10-and-under tennis has changed my life! Well, not mine per se, but the lives of my students. It took me a couple of years to really buy-in to the idea of modifying the game. What was initially difficult for me to understand has now bore fruit to some of the most amazing 10-and-under players I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

With the progressions from red ball, orange ball, green ball and, finally, to yellow ball, kids have the potential of developing a complete all-court game. And it’s not just the “gifted” ones; we’ve been able to tap into the spirit of those who might’ve been left behind if yellow balls, full-length racquets, and 78-foot courts were still the norm.

It is difficult to trust the process if you’ve never had to go through it yourself, but why take that chance away from someone who can?

 

Anne Olaya is a tennis coach at Tenafly Racquet Club, and joined the CourtSense team in 2012. She was a four-time all-county player in high school before attending University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and helping her team win its first ever Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) conference championship. She helped coach and train the boys’ tennis team at Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School and was also a coach at Lincoln Park in Jersey City.