I have been working within a junior pathway program for the past 17 years. Starting in Melbourne at Dingley Tennis Club with Pee-Wee tennis, using a foam ball on a 36-foot court, to this past weekend working with some of the best Orange Ball kids in the USTA Southwest at the Early Development Camp.
I like working with junior players at all levels. As I say to parents, I am less concerned with the current ability or level of a player, and more with focus, desire, and work ethic. I must admit, however, I do have a real passion for developing kids on the Orange Ball. It is an important time for skill development, and I've had such great success with this age group in Chicago, and this momentum has carried over to our program here in Arizona.
The Orange Ball phase is for players generally aged 7 to 10. It's played on a 60-foot court using the orange low-compression ball. The skills developed during this phase, for me, are the most critical. As the court is notably larger than the 36-foot Red Ball court, players encounter new challenges, such as more complex footwork patterns, developing racquet head speed from a longer baseline, and generating spin to control serves and groundstrokes. Also, juniors need to start understanding match tactics, as Orange Ball play, when done well, starts to closely resemble "adult tennis."
I have found that the Orange Ball phase is generally overlooked in this country, and this bamboozles me! After four years, I still cannot figure out why there is such push back. For those who miss out on Orange Ball, the proof always manifests later in their development. You only have to walk around a 10s or 12s tournament and focus on the players' technique. The difference between a player who developed through Orange Ball and a player who did not is quite obvious—at least to me. Orange Ball graduates move and play differently, and the most telling area—even for parents—is the serve. Why is this? Players need time (and proper insruction) to develop, and Orange Ball is a crucial part of the development!
Our Orange Ball program is doing fantastically well. We have roughly 8-10 kids developing through this phase. We have three players that are at the elite Orange Ball level (and eligble for the USTA camps I worked at over the weekend). We also have a couple of kids who recently graduated from Red Ball. I know that, in six months time, these kids will all be playing and looking amazing!
I'm so excited to have a strong foundation in this program. Both Kel and I take such satisfaction in building our players from the beginning. Our Orange Ball classes run on Monday and Wednesday from 4:00 to 5:30.
For a free 30-minute evaluation please feel free to contact me.
Matt's Point (get it? Match Point!) is Matt's blog covering all the goings-on at IJP Tennis.