Junior sized tennis equipment has been around for a while but the USTA and ITF are beginning to incorporate it into official tournaments. Going forward, 10 and under level 7 tournaments will be officially listed as playing on full (78'), 60' or 36' courts. Each size court will have a different ball; none will use the yellow ball adults play with.
If playing on a full 78' court kids in this age group will use special low-bounce (regular size) "green-dot" balls; On a 60' court they will use an "orange" ball; On a 36' court they will use a larger "red" felt ball. The court size used depends on the facility holding the tournament. Some clubs are building in the smaller courts, others will adjust with blended lines.
The new balls are designed to have a different bounce, each is slower and lower than the yellow ball adults and teens use, helping smaller players learn the techniques and movement at their speed. "Instead of simply being a teaching methodology, as it has been, using age appropriate equipment and court size allows children under 10 to compete in an age appropriate setting just like any other sport," says Anne Davis, the USTA's National Manager of Recreational Coaches and Programs .
This official change indicates that junior equipment and low bounce balls are making a difference. Kids are finding success on court faster. Davis says that the USTA is starting to see kids who began tennis on shorter courts with low bounce balls moving up into the 12s with great success.
But what if your kid doesn't play tournaments? Take a page and look for one of these programs at your local club or buy a right-sized racquet and balls and head down to your public park. That hit with your impatient-to-be-good 6 year old will be a whole lot more fun.
A few equipment suggestions for beginners:
Ages 4-6: Start with a 21 inch Wilson Venus and Serena 21" or Wilson Federer 21" junior racquet (both under $20 USD) with Penn Quick Start Tennis 36' Felt Balls, $4.95
Ages 7-8: Try a 23 inch racquet. HEAD makes the Radical Junior 23" Tennis Racquet ($20), same balls as above or below depending on ability and height.
Ages 9-10: Start with a 25 inch racquet. Babolat makes the Pure Drive Junior 25" ($70) and Head makes the Junior speed for under $20 if you want to keep costs down while you check to see if junior's interest kicks in. Penn Quick Start 60' balls, $4.95 are what you want for this age group.
Height can make a difference, so if you have a tall 8 year old you might want to bump them up a length and into the 60' balls. Don't worry about grip size. They are all the same at the starter levels.
Find Junior tennis racquets at sports and tennis retailers worldwide and online at Tennis-Warehouse and others.