By David Minihan, USPTA Master Professional
Westwood Tennis Center, Director of Tennis
A few months ago I had parent call me pretty upset about receiving a letter from me informing their child they completed the orange ball mission and is now able to begin playing with green ball. Confused by why she was upset, I asked her to explain a little more in detail. Come to find out, she was given bad information that once he had completed the orange ball mission, he was now forced to play green ball. Of course this couldn't be any further from the truth. I told her, this was the best complaint I have ever received. This mother was concerned about pushing her son into green when he wasn't ready. This was music to my ears.
The number one complaint I receive from a 10 and under parent is that their child is way to good for orange or green and should be playing yellow. Don't get me wrong, there are players that are the exception. BUT not very many of them. In my experience, I have only seen a couple of players that had the ability to accelerate through low compression faster than the norm.
I have told this story many times, but will tell it again. Jose Higueras came to view one of our 10-11 age group Regional Tennis Camps in Overland Park, KS about six years ago. These were our sections best players in that age group. Higueras was scheduled to speak to all the parents for a brief period. The parents were excited to hear him speak. Keep in mind, Jose has coached some of they greatest tennis players of all time including Roger Federer and Pete Sampres. Jose walks into the room, everyone is quite. I hear one parent whisper to his wife, I'm going to get his autograph when he is done. Jose gets in front of the parents and with his thick Spanish accent speaks his first words, "Your kids have problems." Immediately the room went from excited to hear him speak to defensive. Jose went on to talk about how American tennis is behind the rest of the tennis-world because we don't use low compression balls and that we need to train our champions on clay courts. The point he was making, slow the game down and make sure the ball is in the hitting zone, not above the players head.
I am proud to say, Oklahoma and our section is one of the leaders in the US when it comes to 10 and Under tennis. USTA launched a national tracking system called Youth Progression (YP) at the beginning of 2016. This was an easy transition for our section as we already had something very similar in place for two years previous to the launch of YP.
So, what is Youth Progression? YP is for players 10 and under and follows the same logic as other youth sports like baseball or soccer, which use kid-sized equipment. Courts are smaller and easier to cover. Balls bounce slower and lower. The smaller racquet's are easier to grip and swing and the shorter scoring system equates to more matches.
To graduate from orange, a player needs to achieve 20 virtual stars and/or trophies. Once they complete this mission, they are now eligible to play green ball. The same rule applies to move to yellow. Once 20 stars/trophies has been accomplished in green, the player now may begin playing 12 and under challengers (green ball) and/or 12 and under champs (yellow ball). However, anyone that completes the missions may stay in that particular ball color. For example, a player that completes their mission in orange does not have to play green, they can stay in orange or play both colors.
My advice, don't rush! Your champion is only 10 or younger. There is zero reason to race to the yellow ball. We have seen players that have graduated Youth Progression are far more advanced than the players who does not have low compression ball experience. A great example of this is Gracie Epps, Oklahoma Girls 12 Champ player. Gracie competed and trained in orange and green and now is a top 5 sectional player and has reached #16 in the country in Girls 12s. She didn't rush, but rather played with the proper ball color which in turn has benefited her game immensely.
Click here on more information on Youth Progression. Click here for 2017 Smasher tournament schedule. You can reach David Minihan at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you might have about Youth Progression.