| By Jimmy Delevante

As of September of this year, the USTA changed the rules for junior tournament play. Players under 10-years-old are now required to compete in several Orange Ball Tournaments before they are allowed to progress to Green Ball Tournaments and finally to Yellow Ball Tournaments. Most tennis clubs in the area have already been using these developmental balls in their lessons, group lessons and match play programs for several years. Now, with the structured backing and support from USTA, it makes the efforts of these clubs even more valid. In order to standardize our sport and pick up momentum with these developmental tools, it is my hope that middle school tennis will be the next entity follow suit and change their rules.

Middle school tennis in the Long Island area has always been played with full compression yellow tennis balls, much like tennis clubs and USTA tournaments have also done in the past. However, with the advent of these new developmental balls, it is my assertion that the rules of middle school tennis need to be changed as well. There is no doubt that using green balls instead of yellow balls will promote longer rallies, better and more competitive matches and more exciting points.

The purpose of using the developmental balls (Red, Orange and Green, or ROG) is to develop skills faster, maintain proper technique, and also to improve the quality of rallies and match play. In years past, it was difficult to imagine that two beginners could learn to sustain a long rally after only a few weeks of lessons and practice. However, with the ROG balls, which slow rally speeds down and have a softer bounce, there is a much higher potential for exciting match play and competition.

As a teaching professional, I am fortunate to have all of these tennis balls at my disposal. I have seen how these balls impact the play of my students, and how dramatically they can change the quality of their ball-striking and match tactics. At this point in time, changing the rules for middle school tennis is the next step to helping our players become more successful in connecting all of the dots.

With middle school tennis still using yellow balls in competition, it makes it more challenging for us to develop players. For example, if a new player joins a tennis club at the age of 11 or 12 with the goal of playing on their middle school team, it forces the club and the coaches to rush that player through to Yellow Ball in order to prepare for their tryouts when they really should be spending more time with an orange or green ball. These types of situations are very common, and ultimately, all parties end up losing. The coaches rush these players along too fast to get them ready, the player never really develops the fundamentals and the level of middle school tennis declines as a result.

If middle school tennis were to change its rules and play with green balls, everyone would win in the end. The level of middle school tennis would rise substantially, fewer players would drop out of tennis because of frustration with their progress and results, and the level of high school tennis would also rise as a result of players coming up with a better skill set and more experience. It is my hope to gain more support in this area, and help us provide a consistent pathway for young players to pass through.

Jimmy Delevante

<p>Jimmy Delevante is a USPTA-certified teaching professional and a National High-Performance Coach. He is the director of tennis at the Suffolk County Junior Tennis League Training Center, a former ATP professional tennis player, and master pro at Sportime Kings Park.</p>