with Seth Walrath, USTA Middle States Junior Development Coordinator
We all understand that when training athletes, repetitions in practice will make for automatic strokes in a match. Generally speaking, people usually think, “The more practice, the better.” In some cases, that’s true. But in others, it’s not.
So how much, exactly, is too much?
Tennis is a late-development sport, which means the more you have played, the more balls you have hit and received, etc., will improve one’s anticipation, court coverage and overall tactics. Like other sports, quality practices with a purpose is more productive than endless hours on the court simply hitting balls.
Parents often ask me how often their child should practice each week, and for how long. My response is always the same: “how old is he or she?”
Age is a considerable factor when developing a player in any sport, and this is especially true in an individual sport such as tennis. At certain points a child will be on the court for too long, and the practices become counterproductive. While more tennis might sound great to a parent, it’s not always in the best interest of a child, and it can become a negative experience if some sessions are extended, leading to a dislike for the sport or being burned out at an early age.
The guidelines set by USTA Player Development have recommendations for different age groups and level, because the attention span and physical capabilities increase as a child grows and matures. Keep in mind that grown men and women at the very top of their games, even in their 20s and 30s, will rarely train for more than 2.5 hours on court.
USTA Player Development Recommendations:
Age 4-6: Up to twice per week (30-minute sessions) in small groups on a 36-foot court.
Age 6-8: Up to twice per week (60-minute sessions) in small groups, with the option to participate in an additional Play Day or Junior Team Tennis event.
Age 7-10: Up to three times per week (60-minute sessions), with an a private lesson as an added option once per week
Another issue that needs to be considered is competition vs. training. Although it is vital to have young children play matches to learn the sport, we all need to be aware of how many competitive matches they’re playing.
Age 7-10: Orange ball players should play a maximum of 20 competitive singles matches per year
Age 9-11: Green ball players should play in a group up to three times a week with an additional 30-60 minute private lesson. They should also compete in a maximum of 40 competitive singles matches days per year with unlimited practice matches. Once your competitive child has reached 13 or 14, the match count can increase to 70 matches per year with the maximum length of a training session. By the time your child has reached the 18s, they could play up to 90 plus matches per year. However, let’s remember that the top players on the men’s tour rarely play more than 80 matches in one calendar year, and the top women rarely play more than 60 matches .
Lastly, in order to make sure your young star stays healthy and injury free, it is necessary for them to have four weeks of rest per year. This rest period does not mean sit on the couch every day playing video games. Instead, I recommend an active rest, meaning that while the player is taking some time off the tennis court, he or she is still participating in other sports.
Follow these guidelines and not only will you see your child’s development progress, but they will love tennis for a lifetime.