If the darting fuzzy yellow balls are too much to control, the International Tennis Federation now has a solution. And it’s colour coded.
In order to retain and encourage young tennis players to the game, the ITF initiated the ‘Play and stay’ campaign in 2007, which has spread to 120 countries so far, and the programme was launched in India — at the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association in Mumbai courts over the weekend. After a conference with 20 tutors on the first day, six All India Tennis Association coaches were given specialised training for the programme.
“What we found out that it was easier to attract people to the game, but it was difficult to retain them. And the cost of getting new people in was at least 10 times more,” said James Newman of the ITF, who is co-ordinating the campaign.
To make the game less daunting, beginners play with the softer, bigger red ball, on a smaller court (four red-stage courts fit onto a normal tennis court). The ball is so designed that it doesn’t bounce much higher than the waist and thus aids in returning and rallying. Once the youngsters master this level, they progress to the orange and then the green, before they can start playing with the regular tennis balls on a full-size court.
“What people find out when they send their kids to tennis academies is that the kids end up watching the coaches play. It’s not playing real tennis,” said Mike Barrell, the ITF coach. “Tennis is one of the few sports where people start playing the game with pro-equipment and on standard playing surface.”
The Play and Stay format is more inclusive, in that, apart from making it easier to get kids started to the game, they also encourage team competitions and “de-emphasise” on the result. “Many major tennis nations have some version or the other of this. In fact, France has been using the coloured balls for the past 20 years,” adds Barrell. France, incidentally, has the most number of players in the top-100 list.
Doug MacCurdy of ITF, who now works as a consultant with AITA, said that of all the levels, India lacked most in providing the right coaching for kids under-10. And given the tradition of tennis in the country, and its population, “ITF was keen of starting the programme in India.”
While the coaches, based in different centres in India, have been initiated to the format, its implementation may take some time. Barrell is confident that the campaign has worked well in the other countries, infrastructural roadblocks may stand in the way in India.
“We will try and introduce this in our beginners scheme,” said Manoj Vaidya, cheif coach of MSLTA, “but it will be up to the AITA to implement it across the country. Firstly, the coloured balls need to be made available. Right now we are relying on what the ITF would be supplying.” The coach thinks it will take at least another two-three years before it can become a part of the permanent tennis programme.