Developing Junior Players Ages 12-14 (14u): Go For the Win!
This is part 2 of a 3-part series on developing junior players in the 14u age group. This group typically includes players competing in USTA 14u District, Sectional, and National levels. It also includes USTA 12u District Level 3 and above, and 12u Sectional and National tournaments. This age group has now moved up to the same playing environment and equipment that you see on the ATP and WTA Tours. That is:
- 78 foot long court
- Full compression yellow tennis balls
- 27” racquets
As I laid out in Part 1 of this series, POWER is the new currency that spends so well at this level. After power has been added to the serve, the next highest priority is adding power to the baseline game. That means players must develop the ability not just to hit groundstrokes, but to end the point in one swing of the racquet. That is, hit the winner!
Up until this stage, the priorities from the baseline have been consistency, placement, and spin. Those were all higher priorities because those groundstroke qualities gave the player the best chance to win at the 8u, 10, and 12u levels. Those same skills will be used in the early part of 14u player points. The big difference at the 14u is the ability to hit clean winners far earlier in the point. With a full compression ball, 78 feet of hitting room, and more muscle power than ever, 14u players can consistently end the point from just a couple of feet inside the baseline with Flat Drive Groundstrokes. These shots could go either cross court or down-the-line, but are more often hit down-the-line That's because most groundstroke rallies are cross court battles, and the open court is down-the-line from the receiving hitter.
The shot is also known as a Topspin Drive. I've also heard terms such as "Drive Groundstroke," or just "a drive," or "flat shot." It's all the same thing. The term Topspin Drive is getting used a bit more these days not because the hitter is trying to add topspin to the shot, but because at any level of the competitive game, junior or pro, more topspin is being hit. That means some degree of spin has to be used to keep the ball in the court; particularly when receiving a ball hit from cross court and going for a down-the-line winner (a.k.a changing direction of the ball).
A player on the ATP Tour who's made a living hitting down-the-line winners as much as any, is the Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych. Here are clips of him hitting both Forehand and Backhand drive winners:The backhand series in particular allows a perfect view of the difference in the drive versus what's commonly known as a topspin arc groundstroke. When Berdych's racquet head drops a full arm's length below the ball before being launched to the point of contact, the result will be a lot of topspin and a high arcing ball. Most of Berdych's backhands in this clip are drives. Those are the shots where the racquet head drops either right in line with the ball level or just below it. The result will be far less topspin and more miles per hour. That's the shot 14u players have to add to go from staying in the point and hitting good angles to ending the point with clean winners.