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September 22 • 03:52
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First, Fly Like Hummingbird - Second, Learn to Play Tennis

October 20, 2011
For those that have not been introduced to "Ten and Under", try it… you will like it and so will Mikey or Milly.

This past Saturday, I joined 23 other players and coaches at a clinic introducing the USTA's newest plan for introducing the youngest of the young to fun of playing tennis.

The program starts with introducing court play to 5 and 6 year olds and graduates to 7 and 8, and 9 and 10 year olds.

The clinic starts with the basic concept that introducing children in these age groups to tennis must focus on fun first and everything else is second.

So how do you start….well…imagine 23 adults rapidly flapping their arms and running around a tennis court looking nothing like a flock of hummingbirds.

Remember, I said imagine.

Without a vivid imagination you can never get inside the minds of "10 and under" children being introduced to tennis.

You do not ask 5 and 6 year olds to do warm-ups, calisthenics, stretching or yoga. Instead you ask them to fly like hummingbirds or to soar like an eagle.

Racquets are age and size appropriate, 19 to 25 inches in length.

The balls range from softball-sized foam balls, "Red Foam" to the "Red Felt" and "Orange Felt". The latter two are approximately the size of a conventional tennis ball but with less compression and softer surface. As the skills develop, the tennis balls evolve to the ball know as a tennis ball.

All of the major manufacturers have joined the program, producing the racquets, balls, court-learning tools and instruction booklets to aid the adults as they learn how children can have fun-fun-fun while learning to play tennis.

The size of the court is adjusted to the age group of the children. A regulation tennis court can be divided into 4 mini courts for the youngest. That same regulation court is shortened for the 8 to 10 year old.

The clinic starts with tennis fun, elevates itself to more fun and ends on an even higher level of fun….all at the expense of the egos of the adults who after mimicking a family of hummingbirds and soaring like balding eagles, learn that we start by rolling the ball or throwing the ball, over or under the net

With ten and under there is no waiting, no idle time, just fun time, as they learn, often without even realizing it, all about tennis.

A special thanks to Ton Stingley of the Northern Section of the USTA and Bret Schrama of the Midwest Section…for their patience and knowledge instructing adults on how 5 to 10 years can learn and love the sport.

There will be a great deal more written about the project, but I, for one, feel it offers great hope for positive results.

The question that remains unanswered is why did it take the USA so long to recognize the possibilities of "Ten and Under".

Federer, Nadal, and many of the today's world elite players started playing tennis under a system like "Ten and Under" decades ago. If Spain, Switzerland and Belgium recognized the positive and lasting effects of the instructional system, why didn't the US.

A final note….while we can ask for answers to "why it took so long to begin?", we also need to recognize that it is better late than never …and we should be grateful that the USTA has adopted the instructional program, thanks in large part to the Head of the USTA Player Development, Patrick McEnroe.

See you on the court….


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