Against the Wall
With Rapid Rally, beginning players have a fun way to get into tennis.
As a program coordinator for junior players, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ways to entice players into the game (it takes a lot to pull a kid away from his Xbox 360). So you can imagine my surprise when I realized I didn’t need to look any further than my own backboard. That’s right. The practice wall.
A new program for juniors, called Rapid Rally, uses low-compression balls and a wall. Players stand behind a 15-foot tape line to serve, then they hit the ball against the wall as many times as they can in 30 seconds.
For Rapid Rally, the USTA partnered with the U.S. Olympic Committee and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes to incorporate tennis into its already existing junior skills competition (other sports offered are soccer, basketball, and track & field). I first heard about Rapid Rally during the USTA’s Community Tennis Development Workshop held in California in early February. The program caught my immediate interest.
Then, Rapid Rally came up during a meeting with Karen Zuidema, a former USTA Georgia Schools Program Coordinator turned Tennis Service Representative. “Yeah,” Karen told me in mid-February, her voice filled with enthusiasm. “Paige Miller and I want to get 100 sites participating in Georgia.” Paige is the marketing director for USTA Georgia. Karen rattled off the program’s advantages while showing me a sample of the kit I’d get for each site I registered.
Our junior programs include an after-school tennis gig where instructors bring traveling equipment into 21 existing after-school programs to instruct and play tennis-based games. Why not do Rapid Rally with them?
I brought the idea up to our tennis manager/head pro, Carl Hodge, and it didn’t take me long to convince him, either. Its no-cost feature, combined with the flexibility and convenience the program offered, were key factors. “And besides,” I added for good measure, “it’s tennis! Offered for the first time in a Junior Olympics program. We have to support it.”
His comment was, “That’s how I learned to play tennis — against the wall.” So great was his conviction that he purchased enough materials to construct four practice walls, which are now permanently hung on the bottom courts at our tennis center, thus adding a 22nd site for us to host Rapid Rally. We developed a program beginning with Rapid Rally practice sessions, followed by the competition. Then we provided other events and classes that players could enroll in.
Our local Rapid Rally season is over. However, don’t let that stop you from adapting the game, to kick-start your pathway programs, or maybe incorporating the activity into your Tennis Fun Day or Special Olympics programs. We’ve done all of these.
How did tennis stack up in its first year as part of this USOC program? Among the 5,600 sites that participated in one of the four USOC events, 1,700 were tennis. That’s 30 percent! Approximately, 400,000 kids picked up racquets to hit against the walls of gyms and city parks nationwide.
In Georgia, close to 100 sites registered. In my area of Macon, we introduced after-schoolers to Rapid Rally at our 22 sites. About 15 percent of all those who wrapped their fingers around a racquet continued in follow-up group drills over the summer at our Parks and Rec tennis center. Of these, 35 youngsters were invited to take our Fast Track classes, instruction geared toward preparing the novice player for USTA sanctioned tournaments.
Go ahead, kick start your pathway programs … against the wall.
For more on Rapid Rally, contact your local Tennis Service Representative or visit usolympicteam.com/joskills.
See all articles by Robin Bateman
About the Author
Robin Bateman is the site coordinator for the Tattnall Tennis Center in Macon, Ga., where she coordinates tennis program and leagues, is a tournament director, serves as a team captain, and assists junior teams competing at district, regional, and section events.