10 and Under Tennis

My son and I celebrated last night after I logged into my USTA account and saw that his profile now says, "Competition Level: Green." I immediately signed him up for a green ball tournament. Finally! No more playing slow ball on a short court.

For those who have no clue that red, orange, and green tennis balls even existed (they call regular balls "yellow"), this is what the USTA (United States Tennis Association) calls "10 and under youth tennis progression." They have also branded it "Net Generation."

My son never participated in red ball tournaments, but the red ball is the slowest and larger than all the other balls. It's the same size as a pickleball (which means the Packhopper for Pickleball can pick them up). The court boundaries are also very small. The USTA recommends this for players aged 5-7 years old. Orange ball is recommended for 7-9 year olds and is also played on a smaller court (although not quite as small as red ball). And then green ball is finally when they can start playing full court, recommended for 9-11 year olds.

The USTA made some pretty significant changes to youth tennis starting in January 2021. Tennis parents, of course, are going to grumble when you change things up on them. You get used to the way things work and suddenly you have to make some adjustments and figure out the new system. Honestly, I don't have much to grumble about. My son is just starting out and I know older players are having a harder time with  some of the changes.

But I'm going to grumble anyway! (Isn't that what blogs are sometimes good for?) Under the old system, my son was required to play about 10 orange ball tournaments before getting moved up to green ball. If he won some tournaments he could get moved up even faster. This was regardless of age. Now, a kid can only start playing green ball when they turn 9 OR if they have a certified coach who can give approval through the Net Generation app.

At first, I thought this sounded pretty cool. My son wouldn't actually have to play all those orange ball tournaments. He's been practicing for awhile mostly with green balls on a full court anyway. But he just turned 8 and we live in a relatively small town and none of the tennis coaches here have the correct certifications to actually move him up.

My son ended up playing a number of orange ball tournaments. In fact, he collected enough points to automatically move up to green ball under the old system. He was really eager to start playing green ball but no dice under the new system.

Now don't get me wrong. Orange ball tournaments can be a great place for kids to start. I wish we could get more kids playing 10 and under tennis. Especially in our little town. But my son was chomping at the bit to play green ball and it got a little frustrating for several months.

In the end, as I mentioned in the intro, this story has a happy ending. We finally found a coach (100 miles away in a big city) who had the correct certifications to move him up. So now we get to drive to the big city to play a green ball tournament in a few weeks and my son is super excited. I love this sport!