Developing Junior Players Ages 12-14 (14u): Lift Off! by Robb Julian
This is part 1 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
The big new change for this level of player is the ball. Going from the 25% low compression green dot balls to full compression yellow balls is a big change in ball speed and ball bounce. For the first time in their player development, a new tool is able to dominate the points: POWER!
That's not to say younger players don't try to hit the ball hard. However due to limited court space and low compression balls, trying to consistenly overpower an 8u, 10u, or 12u opponent is not an effective strategy. With the yellow balls and a full court, ball pace can rule a match. There are many ways 14u players can use power to their advantage. With the players I train, the first power tool I add is to amp up their Flat Serves. I do this by increasing their leg push up into the ball and moving their point of contact further into the court. The result: Lift Off!
When it comes to using power on the serve, ATP #8 Milos Raonic from Canada has few peers. He stands 6'5", and hits the ball up to 158 mph. He also dispels a common recreational tennis myth that tall players really don't need to vault off the ground for the best possible serve. Take a look at Milos hitting the serve in slow motion using the link below:
Milos is providing a perfection demonstration of the 3 main additions to a 12u player's serve that I'll make when they are moving up to 14u:
- Point of contact further into the court.
- Notice the distance between the baseline and the ball – as far out in front as Raonic can reach after a vault
- Increased emphasis on loading weight onto the back leg heel after the toss
- This is not to say that before this age, the player should not have been loading weight onto the back heel. It is to say that the objective in this weight load has gone from pushing forward to pushing off the ground with maximum force!
- Using the legs to power up to a ball futher away from them than ever before
- this is a big step in serving technique. It's very important to make it clear to the player that the goal is not to jump, then serve (even though that is the end result). The goal is to get the player to push with the legs as their upper body rotates towards the ball. Coming off the ground, and vaulting more forward to the ball both take care of themselves as the player becomes more comfortable with greater and greater leg push.
For players entering the 14u (and 12u Sectional & National levels), getting their serves off the ground is critical to their success. Add this to their games and the rankings will lift off too!