Developing Junior Players Ages 5-8: Groundstroke Variety
The final installment in this 3 part series will focus on building the foundation of a junior player's groundstroke ability. Today's professional game provides a great role model for 8u players. WTA & ATP players demonstrate each week that it's not power or consistency alone, but rather variety of spin that controls baseline rallies. For 8u players, the category of spin variety translates into one achievable goal: learn to hit both forehand and backhand groundstrokes with topspin and underspin (a.k.a. Slice).
The environment of playing on a 36' court with 75% low compression Red/Yellow balls doesn't just encourage the player to hit with spin; for the player who wants to achieve 8u tournament success, it requires it. Parents of 8u players often mistake the 36' space as one that will force their player to take slower, shorter strokes in an effort to keep the ball in the court. On the contrary, neither stroke technique nor racquet head speed need be sacrificed if the player develops a correct understanding of topspin and underspin from the baseline.
The Red/Yellow 75% Low Compression ball used in 8u competition can have both high and low bounces. It's this widely variable bounce that demands 8u players develop both groundstrokes with variable spin. Here's a great example of two 8u tournament players switching back and forth from topspin to underspin in the same rally.
As can be seen in this rally, both players are able to accelerate the ball with topspin when they have the opportunity. When put in a defensive position, they are able to use underspin to decelerate the ball to allow for recovery time.
Armed with a thorough knowledge of how to impart spin on the ball, 8u players will develop complete swings and the confidence to increase racquet speed for each shot. They will also have the tools needed to add varying degrees of each type of spin, which will support groundstroke strategy as their game progresses all the way through to full courts and yellow balls. If you want your 8u player to win, teach them spin!