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10 and Under Tennis returns to Tennis Night, MSG as major youth sports force

March 5, 2012 02:44 PM
USTA Chairman Jon Vegosen (left) teamed with Tennis Night in America spokesperson Christine Taylor and USTA Chief Executive, Community Tennis Kurt Kamperman to talk to the New York City press about 10 and Under Tennis.
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com

NEW YORK – Now in its fifth year, the BNP Paribas Showdown has always been willing to make room for the kids. 
 
Smart thinking.
 
The present names on the marquee are simply that – the "present" elites of tennis. A closer look into the night’s main event, Andy Roddick vs. Roger Federer, sees players both aged 30 at the tail end of their primes. Physical specimens to be sure, legendary talents – but no baseline warrior lasts forever. As to who will be ready to step in for the 2025 edition of Tennis Night in America, the USTA has a revolutionary plan in place.
 
10 and Under Tennis encourages young people – and their parents – to get active and stay active. With smaller courts and racquets, lower-bouncing balls and simplified scoring, the game of tennis is now not only tailored to a child’s size but also their attention span. Gone are the days of the boring drills and chasing balls all over regulation-sized playing surfaces. From the first day, kids are playing  and learning the rules through competitive experience.
 
"Two things are going to happen: One, we’re going to grow this sport much better because it is more fun and easier to learn. Secondly, it’s a terrific opportunity to start kids on their way to USTA Player Development to nurture future American champions," said USTA Chairman of the Board and President Jon Vegosen, who manned the podium at the Jumeirah Essex House to discuss the 10 and Under initiative, along with Tennis Night in America spokesperson, actress Christine Taylor and USTA Chief Executive, Community Tennis Kurt Kamperman.
 
As the governing body of American tennis, the USTA plans to leverage Tennis Night and the BNP Paribas Showdown to generate awareness for a month-long grassroots drive known as "March into Tennis." In this month of March, over 1,400 youth tennis events will take place across America, inviting families into fun, fast-paced play environments to introduce tennis to a new generation. The figure is roughly double the events held for Youth Registration in 2010, when the 10 and Under movement was in its infancy.
 
The jump in nationwide activity, according to Kamperman, is proof that the country is indeed buying into a campaign that has also been endorsed by Federer, Rafael Nadal and First Lady Michelle Obama.
 
"Roger Federer said earlier (in this press conference) that there’s no substitute for confidence," said Kamperman. "That is especially true if you’re a young kid trying to learn a sport."
 
January 1, 2012, further launched 10 and Under Tennis into the forefront of the minds of coaches and organizers alike, as the rules of tennis literally changed in the United States. Henceforth, all sanctioned tennis tournaments for kids under the age of 10 must be played with the modified scoring, rules and equipment. Thus, this year’s edition of Tennis Night will be the first national showcase since the rule change and easily the most important to-date for the budding youth movement. 
 
In addition to an in-arena demo, the two feature matches will be played on hard courts with blended lines, taking the conventional court and marking it so that the 36-foot and 60-foot 10 and Under Tennis court dimensions are also visible. Another movement that’s found footing in tennis clubs in the U.S., blended lines can essentially turn one court into an area where whole families can enjoy tennis for hours on end. 
 
"About four years ago, (StarGames, Inc. President) Jerry Solomon came to us and said , ‘You know, we think we’ve got something with this big event in Madison Square Garden, and we’re looking to partner to really see if we can make it a platform to grow the game,’" said Kamperman. "I think back on all we’ve done and realize that we’re going to get tens of thousands of kids into the game for the first time because of Tennis Night."
 
Organizing bodies participating in "March into Tennis" include local tennis clubs, after-school programs, parks and Community Tennis Associations (CTA). In addition to pre-existing Youth Registration nights for young adults, Kids’ Tennis Clubs (hit arounds, learning the game in a low-pressure setting) and Play Days (exhibition tournaments to introduce competition) will bring youth players of all ages and ability levels under the umbrella. The timing of the event also allows for facilities to get a jump on the spring season, when in years past, most would wait until May and the start of the Grand Slam season to promote youth programming.
 
More time to find the next Roddick or Federer, expanded opportunities to cultivate the next Maria Sharapova or Caroline Wozniacki.
 
"You don't have to tell kids that it's going to be hours of work everyday, that they 'need' to do this or do that," said Wozniacki when asked about youth tennis. "They just need to enjoy it and go out and play with friends. I used to play for ice cream growing up. Ice cream used to be one of my favorite things. We would stay out there on the court, play and then get ice cream afterwards. It made it so much more fun. Then you win, and (the taste) is even better."
 
Taylor, wife of actor Ben Stiller and mother of two, grew up with tennis as both activity and must-watch television. With 10 and Under, she hopes to help expose the game to a new generation.
 
"I’m such a lifelong tennis fan – some might say ‘tennis junkie, obsessive,’" said Taylor. "As a mom now and having my own children, there’s nothing that makes me more excited than 10 and Under Tennis. 
 
"My daughter started up before the equipment was modified and loved it, but it was hard for her. It's just great for kids to get that confidence and get a feel for the sport, like the way Little League fields are smaller. It’ll hopefully get kids to love the game like I do, get it into the mix with the soccer sign-ups and Little League sign-ups come springtime. Aside from it being a great competitive sport, it's fun for the family and a game you can play for the rest of your life."
 
For more information about 10 and Under Tennis, check out 10andUnderTennis.com.
 

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