As N is coming to the end of his red mini tennis stage I thought I’d share a beginners guide to tennis for kids. It’s so important for children to experience sports and find something they really love. For us that love has been for tennis, which I’m really pleased about because I’m grateful I don’t have to stand on a cold football pitch every Saturday for the next, however many years.
What is mini tennis?
In short, mini tennis is a syllabus of tennis for kids from as young as 3 up to 10. When I was a child they didn’t really have this, you just learnt on a full-size tennis court with a normal tennis ball. In my teenage years, short tennis was becoming more popular, and this is essentially what mini tennis is. It’s a way to get young children introduced to the game, starting with smaller rackets, smaller tennis courts and nets, before building up gradually to play on full-size courts with standard tennis equipment. In the UK, the LTA have renamed the under 11s tennis as LTA Youth tennis.
What age does mini tennis start?
Mini tennis starts at around 3 and goes up to age 10, then at 11 years children move to normal yellow balls and the juniors stage.
The age groups are now based on calendar year, so your children may find themselves playing in a different age group than school friends for matches. But if you’re just doing training and playing for fun, the coaches will put children in age/ability groups.
What stages are there in mini tennis?
Youth Blue (formerly Mini red Tots
This covers age 4-6 and gets children started with ball skills, balance and basic tennis fun. They’ll use a mini tennis net which is shorter.
Mini red / Youth Red
Mini red then continues up for age 6-8 years old with many clubs. Some clubs split the lessons into a beginner and improver levels with some having a performance session for the more advanced children who may be playing for a team.
Tennis lessons will start developing movements and skills with the ball before picking up the racket. Then it’s on to building on the basic racket skills, sometimes with fun competitions thrown in.
Mini red play with the smallest rackets (up to 23 inch, although N prefers the next size up now) with smaller tennis courts. You can fit four mini red tennis courts to a normal size tennis court or some indoor venues use short badminton courts instead.
They play with larger tennis balls, 75% slower than standard tennis balls. Balls can be either felt or foam depending whether children are playing indoors or out. Our kids prefer playing with the felt balls as they feel much heavier and they find them much easier to hit and control. Foam balls are usually played with indoors, especially with the younger children.
Mini orange / Youth orange
Mini orange is for ages 8 to 9 years old. They still play with smaller rackets, usually 23-25 inches. Tennis balls are the same size as standard balls but are weighted at 50% slower. Mini orange courts play on a full sized court but marked out slightly smaller, or full badminton size court. The full-size net is slightly lowered to 80 cm in the centre. This level is more about developing their skills, better understanding of scoring and learning strategy of placing the ball.
Mini Green / Youth Green
Age 9 to 10 children progress to mini green level and move onto full-sized courts with the normal height net. They play with green balls which are still slower (25%) compared to a normal ball, and recommended rackets are 25-26 inches.
Once children are 11 they move to play junior tennis, which is as we knew it as children, with a full-size court, net, racket and ball.
How does scoring work in mini tennis?
Blue level and mini red tennis is mostly about fun and encouraging children to play, so children won’t start playing matches straight away. As they work through the mini red stage they will start to do match play at lessons, and potentially start playing in individual tournaments or team tennis.
At this stage, matches are played with tie break scoring. One set of up to 10 points, with either sudden death at 9-9, or 2 points ahead to win.
Once in orange stage, matches can be played best of 3 tie break games to 7 or one tie break set to 10, depending on the match draw size or the league. For mini Green matches move to the Fast4 version of normal tennis game scoring, with best of 3 sets, first to 4 games.
How competitive is mini tennis?
It really is as competitive as the children want to make it. If children are going to play in any matches – at their club or more widely, they can sign up to get a free British tennis number from the LTA which you need to play in most tournaments and team tennis. In mini or youth stages, it’s more about playing for fun and participating. So they gain rewards for playing so many matches in their age group. Children can get rankings once they’re playing past the mini stages.
The removal of ratings and rankings for younger children was remove the pressure from really young children and to encourage them to enjoy taking part in tennis. I think this is a great way of doing it and for N it was a big aim to hit 20 matches played to get sent his free mini red T-shirt. Unfortunately Covid hit so no tennis matches means he didn’t hit 40 when playing orange.
Children don’t have to have a British tennis membership to play mini tennis and can just play for fun. However if your child is going to play in matches against other children, their opponents will only have matches count against their rating if everyone they play has a British tennis number. So bear in mind that your child really should really sign up for a number to make it fair for the other children who are playing. For example, N played 60 matches in mini red, but only 39 of them counted because opponents didn’t have a number. It’s free to join as an under 11, so they may as well have a number so they’re set if they want to enter competitions.
Playing in tournaments
When your child wants to start playing matches there’s a variety of options. You can find tournaments on the LTA website and enter that way, or play for your club team.
There are different grades of tournament for those new to playing. From grade 7 – local club internal competitions, 6 – match play tournaments to 5 – open club or county level tournaments. Children can enter at their mini level., but if they don’t officially have that level rating they won’t have their matches count for their rating.
There are also local league team tournaments for winter and summer seasons. Many children start off playing in these leagues to get them used to match play. They also take some of the pressure off because they play as a team rather than individually. For us the winter leagues were all played at 1 venue, but the summer leagues are more traditional where you have home and away matches.
Match structure will vary depending on the mini stage the child is in. Our experience of team tennis was teams of 4 for winter season, and they play singles and doubles. Summer league has been 4 players, and they play singles matches against all 4 players in the opposing team. Now he’s moved to green, they have longer matches, so 4 players will play 1 singles and 1 doubles each.
So far we’ve found the national league tennis matches fun and encouraging for the children. Yes, the children want to win but they’re happy playing with their friends and just improving how they do. It also gives them a great understanding of how much is work there is in learning sport, the etiquette of playing different teams and having scorers, and understanding how the different divisions work. They also understand where the level is against teams that they’ve never play against elsewhere, so giving them something to aim for.
How expensive is mini tennis?
Starting out at mini tennis isn’t that expensive. If you keep a watch out for club open days or LTA Youth Start courses you can often try your children out to see how they enjoy it. With the courses it’s usually 5 or 6 lessons, and they get a free tennis racket.
Lessons themselves will vary according to the club and area of the country. Around here prices for an hour group tennis lesson seems to be around £7-10 with you needing to sign up for a term of lessons (some clubs charge more for non-members). Tots/Blue will likely be a bit cheaper because they tend to only be 30-45 minute sessions. Our coaches do 1 1/2 hour for mini orange and green lessons, but that’s unusual. Those playing in teams, sometimes get performance squad options for extra practice.
A British tennis number is free for under 11s and then it’s nominal to join the LTA for juniors.
Joining a tennis club will vary in cost. Small clubs for juniors can be under £20 a year. Larger clubs will likely give discounts for juniors if adults are members, or you could be looking at over £50 for junior membership stand-alone. To play team tennis you will need to be affiliated to the team and a member of the club that you are playing for.
Lessons are usually run out of clubs because of court space, but some clubs you can have lessons as a non-member but for a slightly increased price.
Playing mini tennis, you don’t need an expensive racket and most coaches will supply rackets if needed. But rackets don’t need to be expensive, and you can buy smaller rackets at Sports Direct or Amazon for children starting out.
Team tennis doesn’t cost a lot either other than transport and maybe a small match fee if you’re at a set central venue. But our summer league doesn’t cost anything for away matches, other than petrol, and home matches only cost minimal refreshments for the away team. Our club courts are free to play on for club members.
Once children starts playing individual tournaments then the costs can start adding up. Mini red and orange tournaments seem to cost between £10 to £17 so if you’re playing weekly and travelling to matches, it can start to get more expensive, unless you can share travelling with friends. Playing for fun involves turning up with balls and rackets, and potentially booking a court so it’s a game the whole family can pick up and play together.
Find out more about tennis for kids
Have your children tried tennis? What’s been your experience?
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