Tennis Balls: New Balls, Please!
Lower compression red, orange and green balls are not only helping to develop young players, they’re also being used to help players of all ages enjoy the game.
Lower-pressure, lower-bouncing tennis balls have been around for many years, but as the USTA and ITF moved to standardize 10 and Under Tennis, the types of “introductory” balls and their specifications, along with rules for their use, have become more formalized.
Now, these red, orange and green balls — or ROG — are being manufactured by a number of different companies. As many tennis providers have found, using appropriate ROG balls will help beginner and recreational children and adults learn the game faster, improve faster, and increase their enjoyment of tennis, moving them on to further tennis programming. ROG balls are designed to be slower and bounce lower, which allows players a greater chance to sustain, and enjoy, rallies.
“It was not that long ago when red, orange and green balls were rarely seen on tennis courts or in teaching carts,” says Bill Mountford of USTA Market Development. “That has changed dramatically. In fact, now they have become the norm and a wider range of players, not just 10 and under kids, are benefitting from using ROG balls.”
“We use red, orange and green balls for all types of tennis programming,” says Bruce Levine, general manager of Courtside Racquet Club in Lebanon, N.J. “For instance, we use red foam balls with our youngest players — they can rally with it and it doesn’t hurt if it hits them. But we don’t limit use of ROG balls to just 10 and Under Tennis. Seniors and Cardio Tennis players often use the orange ball, and many of our junior players in the 10-to-14 age group like the green balls. ROG balls enhance play, points last longer, and players have more fun.”
ROG As ‘Development’ Tool
For 10 and Under players, most coaches recognize that using the appropriate ROG ball will help increase participation in tennis because they help kids enjoy the game more, sustain rallies and, hopefully, continue on in the sport. But some coaches have been hesitant to use ROG balls as a player development tool.
However, a recent research study by Tennis Australia, led by that organization’s Kim Kachel and Bob Leeds, compared the use of the green ball vs. the yellow ball at a camp for Australia’s top 9- and 10-year-olds. The report showed interesting results that help support the use of the lower compression balls for developing youngsters.
In the study, each young player alternated playing a match with the green ball (at 75% compression) and the yellow ball (100% compression), and the matches were videotaped from seven different camera angles. Each shot was recorded, as were how every point ended, and maps were developed to show where players hit from and to.
After each of their matches, the players were asked questions about their play. The coaching team was looking to compare several indicators, including the height at which players contacted the ball, the distance from the net the players met the ball, approach shot opportunities, etc.
Some of the major findings include:
- Rallies using green and yellow balls lasted the same amount of shots, but were played at a higher tempo using green balls.
- Players contacted the ball twice as often above shoulder level using yellow balls.
- Players contacted the ball at a “comfortable” height more often using the green ball.
- Players made more “bad” errors (approximately 5 feet out or more) using yellow balls.
- Players were able to hit from a position in front of the baseline more often using green balls.
- Players directed the ball down the middle of the court more often using yellow balls.
- The total number of volleys was the same with the green ball and yellow ball — the conclusion is that since this study took place on a 78-foot court, young players are still challenged when it comes to approaching and volleying, compared to playing on a shorter 60-foot court.
Controlling the Ball
Importantly, when queried after their matches the youngsters were overwhelmingly positive in their reaction to using the green ball. They said they enjoyed being able to control the ball and therefore stay in a rally.
“Their growth mindset was instructive,” the report concludes, “and demonstrated it is often parents and coaches who have closed mindsets and are the ‘wall’ to trying something new…. If you could use a tool that helps your players rally at a higher tempo, hit more balls at comfortable height, hit the ball in a more aggressive court position and hit more often to the corners, would you use it?”
“The tennis I observe being played by 10 and under children with ROG balls is really impressive, light-years ahead of where it was during the 1990s, for instance,” says Mountford. “Change is difficult, but it is evident that teaching pros in the U.S. have, by and large, really embraced ROG balls and consequently programs are growing and the success kids enjoy is encouraging them to stick with our sport longer.”
The Specs on ROG
Whether you’re a tennis retailer, teaching pro or coach, facility manager, or park and rec director, when it comes to growing your tennis business, it’s pretty certain that red, orange and green balls will play an increasingly important part.
“The use of red, orange and green balls is extremely important to the growth of tennis, participation and tennis businesses,” says TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer. “If players — whether kids or adults — are going to enjoy the game more, play longer, and develop proper technique, it just makes sense for retailers, facilities, and teaching pros and coaches to stock and use ROG balls.”
Many manufacturers offer ROG balls, and it’s important to note that, like yellow tennis balls, ROG ball specifications fall within a “range.” Standard tests are conducted on all tennis balls, including dropping them from a height of 100 inches onto a concrete surface to determine rebound height. A standard yellow ball, which is 2.575 to 2.7 inches in diameter, will rebound to a height of between 53 and 58 inches.
- Red balls (Stage 3 balls) can be either foam or standard felt construction. They have a lower rebound height, in a range of 33 to 41 inches, and are 3.15 to 3.54 inches in diameter. For kids 8 and under, and for beginning adults, a red ball moves slower, bounces lower and travels less distance.
- Orange balls (Stage 2) are of standard felt construction, 2.36 to 2.7 inches in diameter, and rebound between 41 and 47 inches. The orange ball, which works well with 9- to 10-year-olds, moves a little faster and travels farther than the red ball, but it still has a lower bounce than the yellow ball. The orange ball also is great to use with adult clinics and Cardio Tennis.
- Green balls (Stage 1), also of standard felt construction, are 2.48 to 2.7 inches in diameter and rebound 47 to 53 inches. Green balls are great for youth tennis tournaments and events, particularly for kids in the 10- to 12-year-old range. They’re also great to use with beginning adults, too, and for activities such as round-robins. Giving children and adults a better chance to hit the ball and keep rallies going will help sustain interest in tennis.
The range of ROG specifications, like yellow balls, also include weight, too, which we didn’t include here. (You can find all the specs on the International Tennis Federation website, itftennis.com. Click on “development” then “Play and Stay.”)
Manufacturers are being urged to make green balls with only a green dot on them, so they look very similar to standard yellow tennis balls. And packaging is also important — with cans preferred over “bags.” When looking for the right ball for your programs, it would make sense to order samples from various manufacturers to see what might work best for your players.
“Even though ROG balls are lower compression than yellow balls, it’s important to note that they don’t last forever,” de Boer says. “In fact, you may be doing your young — and adult — players a disservice by not changing out ROG balls regularly.” Now, all sanctioned 10U tournaments are required to use new balls. Also, the ITF recommends that yellow tennis balls be replaced every 30 days, and that ROG balls be replaced at least every 90 days.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.