New Lessons for Teaching Pros
An industry insider says it’s time the USPTA and PTR fully embrace modified tennis for youngsters by requiring knowledge of it for certification.
By Kevin Theos
Consumers expect “certified” tennis teaching professionals to be knowledgeable about the latest advances in tennis instruction. The use of adaptive equipment and formats are modern improvements to youth tennis, but neither USPTA nor PTR pros need to know anything about their use in order to become certified. It is time for that to change.
Adaptive play formats, equipment, and playing areas are nothing new to youth sports. Baseball, basketball and soccer are just a few sports in which enthusiasts long ago recognized the value of adapting sports to the modest strength and abilities of young athletes. Beyond making intuitive sense, youth-based modifications are now time-tested, and it is hard to imagine any sports that have made such adjustments going back to their previous ways of operating. While slow to change, the tennis market is now adopting the use of different equipment, court sizes and formats for younger athletes.
In 2008, over a thousand locations registered as QuickStart Tennis sites. More importantly, experienced tennis pros are now embracing the use of adaptive equipment and formats.
“I am completely blown away by the response to the QuickStart Tennis play format from certified tennis professionals,” says PTR and USPTA professional and club owner Craig S. Jones of Martinez, Ga. “I have done trainings and presentations to over a thousand teaching pros in America this past year. Everywhere I go, teaching pros comment on the substantial increases in revenue they are experiencing and incredible technical and tactical transformations in their young students.”
Former USPTA tester and current Lake Charles (La.) Racquet Club Tennis Director Bobby Walker adds, “I use the QuickStart format in our programming and view it as critical to the growth of tennis. Adaptive equipment for youth has to be a major player, and educating the professionals on the usage of such equipment is paramount.”
Manufacturers also indicate that the tennis market is different than it used to be. “The market has changed tremendously in recent years,” says Dunlop Regional Sales Manager Hunter Hines of Georgia. “Five years ago, there were few options for purchasing modified equipment for formats like QuickStart Tennis. Today, Dunlop produces a wide variety of balls, portable nets and other teaching aids tailored to helping young beginners learn tennis faster and easier, and other companies are doing the same. The rapidly expanding market absolutely demands it.”
It should come as no surprise that manufacturers, pros, and players are gravitating toward modified tennis. Today, children in many communities have an almost endless array of recreational options. To sustain any kind of commitment, children must be engaged while feeling a considerable measure of success and enjoyment from the outset. Adaptive tennis provides children with the engagement and early success that they demand, while traditional tennis instruction involving the monotony of spending excessive time standing in line waiting to be fed tennis balls does not. To their credit, while they have not gone as far as the International Tennis Federation in evolving, the PTR and USPTA have moved in the right direction.
“LittleTennis” and “PTR Kids Tennis” are youth instructional formats of the USPTA and PTR, respectively. Both of these teaching formats involve modified equipment and courts, and are far superior to traditional instruction in terms of meeting consumer demands. But they are only offered as specialty courses.
In contrast, under Level 1 of ITF certification, one must undertake nine days of training, the first two of which are entirely devoted to learning how to teach with adaptive equipment on smaller tennis courts. No doubt, the success of former World No. 1 Justine Henin, who competed on shorter tennis courts as a junior, has hastened the acceptance of modified tennis outside the U.S. But the PTR and USPTA need not wait for a similar American champion to emerge to accept the modern direction of youth tennis.
Modified tennis for juniors is here to stay. Manufacturers are selling more adaptive equipment and producing a greater variety all the time. Clubs are increasingly using modified equipment and formats in their programs. More and more facilities are installing permanent QST courts and lines. Short courts and modified teaching methods are observably and profoundly superior to traditional instruction in terms of player engagement and enjoyment, and are sorely needed to compete with alternative youth recreational activities.
It is time for the USPTA and the PTR to require certification candidates to understand modified tennis in order to become certified.
See all articles by Kevin Theos
About the Author
Kevin Theos is the USTA Southern Section Tennis Service Representative for Alabama. He is a USPTA pro with more than 15 years teaching experience and is the former executive director of the Birmingham Area Tennis Association. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.