Parent-Junior Tennis Training: the Foam Connection

 

Go to most any tennis facility on a weekend, and you're likely to see one of the most cliched tennis scenarios around: tennis parent spending quality time with their junior player hitting some balls. That's the idyllic description. Here's reality: parent and junior quickly frustrated (at best) because they are not hitting at all, but rather chasing and picking up balls in all directions. The problem with this scene is that about 90% of the time either the parent or the junior is a far better hitter; rarely are they the same level.  In this day and age of of the popularity of the Red/Orange/Green (ROG) low compression balls for junior tennis development, one might think one of those balls is surely the best solution for the parent/junior frustration.  I am a big fan of all three balls when I develop junior competitors.  However, for the motivated parents who truly want to enjoy rallying with their junior player I advise them to invest in some foam! 

 

In 2007, when the USTA ramped up its marketing campaign for the ROG equipment, foam tennis balls were a common practice tool used by tennis pros worldwide.  Once ROG got established in the junior tournament circuit, it made sense (and still does) to train junior players on the ball they were going to play tournaments with. So the foam balls decreased in use.  Fast forward to 2015, and now that common scene of  parent hitting to their player on a Saturday afternoon falls into two crowds:

 

  • the really enlightened parents who have bought a hopper full of the correct low compression ball for their 8u,10u, or 12u player
  • the old school parent with the full compression yellow ball regardless of the age and ability of their kid

 

Here's the surprising reality: in most parent/junior practice scenarios, the result is the same whether a regular or low compression ball is used.  Balls are flying everywhere! No one is having much fun.  While ROG balls are low compression, they're still too difficult for a beginner/intermediate junior to hit when they've been launched at them by even an average adult player.  Here's a simple solution:

 

Foam Tennis Balls via Holabird Sports

As a tennis pro whose job it is to train juniors for tournament play, I don't use these too often in my lessons.  I use the ROG balls with 8u,10u, and 12u players, and yellow balls with 14u and above players.  For the parent wanting to have a fun time rallying with their junior player these balls are the way to go.  Here's why:

 

  • they bounce slower than even the 75% Red/Yellow low compression balls used for 8u players
  • they bounce about as high as the 50% Orange/Yellow low compresson balls used for 10u
  • they react less to spin and make those shots easier to handle for all levels of players.
  • They encourage all levels of players to use correct form on all shots (if you try to just push these balls over, they are so light, they die into the net; particularly true on serves and volleys).

 

All those qualities add up to hard-hitting Dad being able to hit using his most comfortable form even with his light hitting 10u daughter.  The same benefits hold true for the reverse scenario: hot shot 14u tournament playing son hitting with a 3.0 doubles playing Mom.  Now junior's massive spin doesn't bounce over Mom's head, and both players get some hitting in without having to change their form to accommodate their hitting partner.  Result: everyone goes happy thanks to the foam!