Published: May 29, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: May 25, 2012 07:08 PM
Program offers kid-sized tennis
QuickStart players use smaller equipment
Youth football players typically play with a smaller ball. Beginning basketball talent shoots a smaller ball through a lower hoop, and toddlers hit soft baseballs from tees.Until recently, however, budding tennis players covered full-size courts. Lugging around giant racquets they could hardly lift and standing on tiptoes to see over a net taller than they were, many were disenchanted with the sport from the start. Like an older sibling’s hand-me-down clothes, the sport of grown-up adult tennis was simply not a good fit.Now ending its fifth season locally, QuickStart format youth tennis has gone a long way toward coaxing to the court youth players who might otherwise have been intimidated by a game that didn’t come in “junior” sizes.“Soccer fields for kids are smaller, and basketball courts are smaller,” said Patti Fox, Community Tennis Coordinator for the Durham-Orange Community Tennis Association (DOCTA), which sponsors US Tennis Association (USTA) Junior Team Tennis using the QuickStart format for 10-and-under (10U) youth.“You look at the kids out here playing QuickStart,” added Fox, who was on hand for the season’s last round of 10U matches at Cedar Falls last Sunday. “They’re enjoying more success. It’s more age appropriate.”According to the DOCTA website (docta.org), QuickStart court and racquet sizes, foam and low-compression tennis balls, shortened matches, and scoring are all age-specific. Children ages 6 to 10 can start playing tennis immediately through QuickStart, even if they have never picked up a racquet. QuickStart also stresses the importance of play and team sports.DOCTA is a non-profit organization that promotes and encourages the development of tennis in the area of Durham and Orange Counties. One of DOCTA’s goals is to help children develop and learn the skill of tennis. To those ends, Fox said she’s seen substantial growth in QuickStart play over the past three years.“It is going well,” she said, “and we have about 140 kids involved. There are 18 total teams, seven of which are rec teams, and the rest are at area clubs.”Participating clubs include the Chapel Hill Country Club, the Chapel Hill Tennis Club, Southern Village, UNC Faculty Staff Recreation (the “Farm”), and Durham’s Croasdaile Country Club.“We also had four 8U rec teams, two 10U beginner teams, and one 10U intermediate team,” Fox said. “The Chapel Hill Country Club has five teams. Some kids that might sign up individually but aren’t at a club, we just have them play on a rec team at Ephesus (Elementary School), and I’ve seen some awfully good players in rec ball that maybe just haven’t been playing year-round tennis.”‘Change takes time’Some purists among pros and at clubs are slow to gravitate to QuickStart, however, said Croasdaile Country Club pro Rebecca Laughton, whose 10U intermediate team competed in the Chapel Hill league this season.“It takes a little more money,” she said, “but QuickStart is just so much easier, and that’s why it’s frustrating that more of the pros aren’t buying into it yet.”“Change takes time,” Fox conceded. “Some pros may think a bigger court with harder tennis balls is purer tennis. I think, in Chapel Hill, the pros have embraced the concept and are seeing the growth. They’re seeing that…these kids are going to stay connected to tennis and stay with the club for years to come.”It is also growing in Durham, just like it is across the country, she said.“Durham Parks and Recreation sponsors a league almost just like ours,” she said. “More clubs and rec teams are starting to participate there, too.”With more participation this year, Chapel Hill was able to split the 10U’s into a beginner and an intermediate teams, which attracted Croasdaile into the local league this spring.“More of the kids in Durham are beginners,” Laughton said. “The kids at Chapel Hill Country Club and Southern Village are more where we fit in, especially for our top two or three kids who play tournaments. These kids needed a little more of a challenge, so we decided to come over to Chapel Hill and play.”This spring, division-winning teams will advance in July to the USTA Junior Team State Championship tournament held in Greenville, N.C. Winners from that tournament will advance to a sectional tournament and could eventually head to the national tournament.According to current standings, the 8U division winner will be decided by a playoff between the Farm “Crazy 8’s” and the Chapel Hill Country Club “Aces.” Chapel Hill “Grinders” are the frontrunners for the 10U beginners crown. Among 10U intermediates, the Chapel Hill Country Club “Topspins” are undefeated heading into the State Tournament. Durham’s Croasdaile Country Club “Ace of Hearts” squad was a close second losing only one match and finishing with a 5-1 record.“It’s fun for these kids to compete on a team,” Fox said, “and they’re looking forward to moving on to the state tournament.” Still, positive results might be best measured beyond the baseline, counted in love for the sport and new friendships begun.Small net, big results“This is (my daughter’s) second season with QuickStart,” said Karen Dehart, mother of Gabby DeHart, 9. “She’s actually gotten better – she’s really getting it over the net, and she knows the rules better than I do.”“The games, they’re just fun,” Gabby DeHart said. “I want to keep on going.”“I like that we don’t have heavy tennis racquets, and I like that we get to meet new friends,” said Samantha Taylor, 9, just after playing and forging a new friendship with DeHart.Samantha Taylor’s mother, Joanna Taylor, completed QuickStart coach training through USTA.“USTA has a program where they instruct coaches how to be positive with players and how to be appropriate to younger ages,” Taylor explained.Fox said the kids’ enthusiasm was contagious this season.“I loved seeing their camaraderie grow as they got to know their teammates and became more comfortable on court and with each other,” she said.Partially thanks to the popularity of youth tennis in the area, Fox said USTA chose the Triangle Region of North Carolina and California as the only two sites for a pilot program to identify and develop young talent.“Ours is called Team North Carolina,” she said. “It’s out of Cary, and it starts off the year with jamborees in the spring for anybody where they test young athletes on their skills and abilities. From the jamboree, some are chosen to go to an area camp, and from there they go to a state camp called Team North Carolina. It’s all about exposing more kids to the sport.”While it’s still difficult to measure the success of QuickStart, most expect the unintimidating approach to youth tennis to someday manifest itself in teen and adult talent and the choice of tennis as a lifetime sport. It would seem that a softer approach and a shorter net may bring about some tall net results.
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