This weekend, I had the opportunity to coach at the USTA Southwest Green Ball development camp held at Arizona State University. It was a fantastic venue for the aspiring tennis players to see where their tennis paths could lead to.
The Green phase is for players aged 10-12, played on a full-size court using low compression "Green Dot" balls. New Green Ballers are faced with the challenge of covering more court space and generating more racquet head speed to hit the ball farther. With the bigger court, ball recognition is an important development area during this phase. Recognizing the path, speed, and spin of the ball off of your opponent's racquet early will allow the player to make the appropriate adjustments to the shot. For example, recognizing a short ball early will allow the player to move up quickly, meet the ball, and make a more aggressive shot.
The theme of our Green Ball camp was "Doubles Dominance." We worked on serves, volleys, movement patterns whilst positioned at the net, and recognizing a short ball to attack. Doubles is often overlooked in programs these days. It's not seen as glamorous or as important as singles. Doubles, however, reinfornces all of the foundations of a good player. You must be able to hit targets on your serve, and make precise returns to set up your partner or to keep the ball away from the opposing net player. Doubles is ideal for developing volley skills and net play, which are essential for finishing points (even in singles, where points cannot all be decided from the baseline).
It's very important to not let players rush through the Orange Ball phase just to get to Green Ball. The risk of rushing is (bad) technique changes, which is most evident in changes in grip. If the ball is bouncing too high or the net feels too high or far away, kids will "cheat" their grips and technique (swing shape) will suffer. Once a player is ready to move up from Orange to Green, I often have them do both Orange and Green Ball lessons, making sure I can control the environment in the Green Ball, so players don't feel out of their depth.
It's a pleasure being a part of the USTA Southwest's development programs. There is a lot talented and motivated kids, and the programs are led by amazing coaches: Tracy Lawson and Nicole Fintell.
Playing in the appropriate colored phase is so important, so please make sure your player is on the right path. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
Matt's Point (get it? Match Point!) is Matt's blog covering all the goings-on at IJP Tennis.