Parents Guide to 12U Tennis
Over the Summer at On The Rise Tennis we recently began building our 12U program for our players. It has been an absolute blast working with younger kids again and going over the swing path of the forehand and backhand, balancing organized practices while having fun on the court and laughing about all the ridiculous things kids say and do during a one hour drill. With the start of our 12U program I have had many parents ask me technical questions about our 12U program such as what racquet their kid should have, what if my young athlete wants to play in matchplays/tournaments, and questions about what the different colored tennis balls are for. I wanted to write this article, “Parents Guide to 12U Tennis,” along with ,”12U Tennis Homework,” article so parents can have a better understanding of the landscape for 12U tennis.
One of the first questions that I always hear from parents is, “What size racquet should my son/daughter have?” This is a great place to start because having too big or too small of a racquet can make hitting the ball over the net much more difficult for your young athlete. Below this paragraph is an excellent guide that parents can use to determine what the appropriate racquet size is for their child. The factor that I believe is most important for your child's racquet is that your child should look comfortable holding the racquet and should be able to move the racquet with relative ease. You do not want your kid out there struggling to swing their racquet because it is too heavy for them. I have seen it many times when a 12U player comes in with a racquet that is too big and too heavy for them they struggle to hit the ball over the net and they become bored or frustrated. If you are struggling to pick between two different racquet sizes I would error on the racquet size that is the smaller of the two. I believe young players are better off having a racquet that is slightly undersized for them but is much easier for them to maneuver.
Different Colored Tennis Balls
The next question that parents ask me is about the different color balls that we use. In the area were I teach many places use the yellow balls for all their students regardless of their age. Let’s go through the specifics on the ball colors first and then what that all means for your young tennis player. There are 4 different colored balls that coaches use in tennis today; Yellow, Green, Orange and Red. The yellow, green and orange balls are all the same size while the red balls are slightly larger. The biggest difference between all the balls is how fast the ball comes of the racquet and how the ball bounces off of the ground. These are two important factors in the development of your child’s tennis game. Let’s take the yellow balls, these are the ones that we are all used to seeing and playing with. So you hit a yellow ball 20 mph and it bounces 5 feet off of the ground. A green dot ball would be hit at 15 mph and bounce 3.75 feet off the ground, while an orange ball would be hit at 10 mph and bounce 2.5 feet off the ground and lastly a red ball would be hit 5 mph and bounce 1.25 feet off the ground. Now that you know the specifics off the ball colors I can go on to what this means for your kid.
Have you ever seen a yellow ball hit to a 12U kid and watched as the ball bounces 5 feet over the kids head as he helplessly tries to swing at the tennis ball. I am sure that we have all seen this play out at some point during our trip to the local park. Well, these different colored tennis balls were made to help avoid that exact scenario in tennis from happening all the time. The different colored balls allow players at a younger age to learn the proper technical strokes that are used in tennis. When the different colored balls are used correctly young tennis players are able to hit the tennis ball in an appropriate strike zone for their size and age. The balls do not bounce as high or as fast and because of this young tennis players are able to rally the ball with other students their age and have a much more enjoyable time learning the game of tennis at a younger age. As coaches this is great because we can teach kids how to hit the forehand correctly and kids can learn to keep score and play out points when they are younger and learn the game of tennis at an earlier age.
The second great aspect about the different colored tennis balls that we use to teach with is the difference in the speed of play that the balls make. When we use balls that absorb pace better it helps keep the ball in the tennis court easier. Younger players have more difficult time not swinging their tennis racquet hard. By using tennis balls that absorb pace better the ball stays in the court more often and then players are able to actually hit the ball more often.
The third question that I have heard often is, “What are the different court sizes that 12U tennis players play on?” The court dimensions of a singles tennis court is 78 feet long by 27 feet wide, this is the court dimensions that are used in 12U tennis tournaments. The court dimensions for a singles orange ball match are 60 feet by 21 feet and a red ball court is 36 feet by 18 feet. These court dimensions make a big difference in the ability for 12U tennis players to get to the tennis ball that their opponent hit. It is great having 12U players hit on a smaller tennis court because they are able to learn the correct footwork at a younger age and they are able to hit more tennis balls because they can simply get to more shots. Playing on an appropriate sized court makes learning the game of tennis way more fun because kids can actually get to the ball and hit the ball.
Beginning to Compete
The last question that I often hear about is, “What avenues are available for my kid if they want to compete or play a tennis match?” This one is the most difficult one to answer by far because the answer is very dependent on the kids ability to compete and willingness to compete. First I will discuss the different types of competitive environments that are available for tennis players to play in and second I will discuss when the right time is for a player to compete.
There are a variety of competitive avenues that a tennis athlete can compete. The first thing that I would start with looking at is making sure that you are playing an event in the same colored ball and court dimension that your kid has been practicing on. This may seem obvious but I have seen kids show up for a green dot tournament when they have been practicing with an orange ball and playing on a 60” court when the tournament is on a 78” court. Secondly, if your kid is new to the tournament scene you could start by entering your child into a timed match play event or a mixer event. The USTA has 12U Stars and Trophy events that are a great way for beginner players to learn the ins and outs of tournament play.
The second thing that is important for parents to know when beginning the competitive tennis scene is whether or not their child is ready to play a competitive event. Before you begin to look for a tournament make sure your kid is able to make their serves in the correct box and that they are familiar with scoring, such as how deuce points work, and the general rules of the game. The next thing is to bring them to a competitive event and see how they respond to the inherent pressure that happens at a competitive event. Some players love the pressure while others do not seem to like it. After the event, evaluate on whether or not your kid enjoyed themselves on the court during the tournament. If your child enjoyed the event maybe sign up for another one next month. If your kid did not enjoy the event wait 4-6 months and get them back into another one. As a parent of a tennis athlete you need to get them involved in the competitive scene, but not force it on them too hard either.
Hopefully this article is useful to new parents that are looking at getting their child into the game of tennis and helps give them a better understanding about the different colored balls and court sizes that coaches use to make learning the game of tennis at a young age more enjoyable and fundamental. If you have any more questions about 12U tennis feel free to comment in the comment section below with questions, thoughts or anything else pertaining to 12U tennis.