Your Serve: Taking the Best of Youth Sports
An industry insider, and a parent, says for great 10 and Under Tennis experiences, we should acknowledge and emulate what other sports do well.
By Kevin Theos
Since the arrival of 10 and Under Tennis, it has become commonplace to compare tennis to other youth sports. Primarily, such comparisons have been within the context of age-appropriate equipment, scoring, etc.
To a lesser extent, team-based play has been a component of these comparisons. As a parent of two kids who are under 10 years old and as someone who works in tennis, I believe the tennis industry would do well to look very closely at other common elements of youth sports that help make them so popular, and honestly evaluate the extent to which tennis does or could adopt these elements on teams, particularly for kids age 10 and under. Here are some thoughts.
About a year ago, I took my children to their school playground. Adjacent to the playground is a small baseball field, and on this particular day children were playing a tee-ball game. Many parents, grandparents, siblings and others were there to watch. At one point, a boy hit the ball solidly off the tee. As he ran to first base the crowd erupted in applause and cheers. Now imagine that you are this boy. What a feeling!
Similarly, in my daughter’s youth basketball league, an announcer introduces players over the loudspeaker before each game as the players run on the court, which prompts huge applause. At the end of every game, the coach recognizes each player for something positive she did. In tennis, do we do all we can to recognize kids and make them feel like the center of attention?
Usually when my daughter plays soccer or basketball, her team has more players at the game than can participate at one time. This means some players must wait for their turn to play. This is not a big deal because, in the case of my daughter’s basketball league, the periods are only six minutes long and the clock runs the entire time. If a player sits out one period, that player will play during the next period. This is the beauty of allowing substitutions. Players can get into the game without having to sit out for long periods of time. Admittedly though, as short as six minutes is, when my daughter sits out I feel eager to see her play. If I had to wait a lot longer, my eagerness would turn to annoyance. World Team Tennis has successfully allowed substitutions for a long time. Could allowing substitutions improve the experience of young team tennis players and spectators?
Because of substitutions and the presence of teammates on the field, teams in sports other than tennis are able to mitigate the effects of player mismatches. This stands in contrast to tennis where mismatches tend to be painfully obvious to both participants and spectators. Even in basketball, where mismatches are not as stark as tennis, there have been attempts to address the issue. Some basketball leagues give colored wristbands to players based on how they perform on a skills test. During games, players always guard others with the same color wristband.
Recently, my daughter lost a doubles match in team tennis 0 and 0. I thought I might tell her to not feel bad because her team could still win the match, but I stopped myself when I realized how hollow those words would sound. Might young children enjoy their tennis experience more if league organizers used skills tests or at the very least made a genuine effort to match up young kids of similar ability?
Although many individuals have attributed the popularity of other sports to the fact that they have made age-appropriate adjustments in equipment, etc., that only tells part of the story. Numerous other factors, more than are described here, contribute to the success of other youth sports.
Kids are kids, and no matter what the sport, young participants enjoy recognition. They also like to spend most of their time participating and not waiting to play, and they prefer contests among similarly skilled players over significant mismatches. As an individual sport, tennis will always differ in fundamental ways from many other sports. But by acknowledging what other sports do well and attempting to at least partially emulate these positive qualities with our 10 and Under Tennis players, we can give them and their parents the most positive tennis experience possible and keep them in the game.
We welcome your opinions. Please email comments to RSI@racquetTECH.com.
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.