I honestly believe that being a really good Mini Tennis coach is one of the toughest jobs in tennis. However, the quality of the player you see on the orange court is largely down to the quality of the work done on the red court. So, moving players from red to orange is a big decision, and we have to get it right. Here I’m discussing the issues and considerations when players are being moved from orange to green courts. Note that I’ve written several articles on moving young players from red to orange (I link to other articles below).
My first words of advice are to just stop and think again!
Conventional guidelines on moving players from the orange to the green court
Conventional guidelines from around the world dictate that players who are progressing well (assuming that they started at somewhere between 4 and 6 years old) are ready to move from the orange to the green court by the age of 9 years old.
Changes brought with age
At this age, children are very different from the ones who are moving from the red to the orange court. Of course, they are bigger, stronger and probably faster, and the game should be technically and tactically strong. Other changes have taken place too: we can expect players to be more mature, more patient, more reflective, better able to make simple decisions and able to choose and implement a simple tactical plan. These criteria combined show a player who is starting to take on many of the characteristics of a competitive tennis player.
Average physical height
The average physical height in relation to bounce height is also a key consideration. At age 9, the average height for boys and girls is approximately 133cms with bounce height of 110-115cms. By age 10, the average height of girls averages 1cm more than for boys (139cms to 138cms) with the bounce of a green ball ranging from 118-132cms.
In summary, age, court size and ball bounce height should increase proportionately to physical size as well as ability between the ages of 4 and 10 years old from the red court to the green court.
Increasing the court size from orange to green requires a player to cover a playing area which has increased in size by approximately 75%
Court width: the two steps out wide rule (two steps from a starting position to a cross-court groundstroke)
Adult tennis players should be able to split, cross and set on a cross-court groundstroke, allowing them to hit a ball off a balanced set up to drive into the shot and have tactical options. It is therefore right that smaller children should also be able to take the same 2 steps from their starting position to a cross court groundstroke. However, the shorter stride length of younger children makes this challenging, especially when the difficulties in maintaining dynamic balance when moving out wide are factored in.
Increase in court size
Court width increases from 6.5 to 8.23m, meaning that players have to cover an extra 86.5cms on each side of a green court. We should expect that players progressing from the orange to the green court are more dynamic and coordinated in their lateral movement, are able to cover greater distances more easily due to improved anticipation and reception, greater stride length and stronger legs but the task of moving efficiently and quickly will need to be developed for the green court.
Faster green ball
However, the faster green ball presents additional problems due to speed through the air and off the bounce, meaning that fast balls hit at angles away from the court present new challenges to green players. We should also expect players at green to have greater racket head speed and greater use of topspin, both of which lend themselves to more effective attacking shots when used correctly. It is therefore important that coaches progressing players from orange and green pay particular attention to lateral diagonal movements, good strong set ups with the outside foot and hip behind the ball, the ability to hit from wide and sometimes under pressure from out wide, and the importance of effective and quick recovery from wide positions.
We should also remember that players are getting taller, growing typically from an average height of 133cm at age 9 to 137 at age 10. Much of this growth is in the legs, resulting in greater stride length. As players get taller, so the centre of gravity becomes higher, often resulting in less stability. The nature of the increased court size will require players to have good dynamic balance and to play on the run. It is possible that players may experience loss of balance when running wide due to the shift in the centre of gravity. The ability to set wide bases and to play off the outside foot with correct recovery back into court is, therefore, an essential feature for players progressing from orange to green. Additional weakness in core stability (remember that the children in question are still very young), coupled with poor or shifting balance and movement at speed can result in technical and therefore tactical weakness out wide.
An increase in court length from 18m to 23.78m means that the court is 2.89m longer at each end. In many respects, this is a very significant increase, since it impacts dramatically on where players play a large number of their groundstrokes, and on how points are played out. Think about it logically. At green:
- Players should be hitting harder and with more spin. The extra court length means that they will also on occasions hit higher to achieve greater depth from the baseline. These factors combined with the greater pressure of the green ball compared to the orange one mean that bounce height, speed and distance of the green ball increase markedly.
- Our green players are only 9 and 10 years old, and many have not developed the ability to take the ball early or on the rise. Higher bounces and greater depth result in baseliners being pushed back more behind the baseline than before.
- It is therefore very common to see more rallies played from deeper positions on the green court than at orange and red, giving the impression that our players have almost regressed in their abilities. This is usually a temporary observation, typical perhaps of the first 3-6 months of the transition to the green court, and players should be helped to deal with these challenges. This is part of what some coaches call the ‘green slump’.
- A longer court and a deeper average hitting position behind the baseline means more court to cover when looking to approach; the distance to the net is further. Players will need to be more selective when choosing the ball to approach on, because many will either be too deep or too fast, or will need to be played from too deep. Identification of the slower or shorter ball and opportunities to approach become key abilities.
- Players who are commonly deep behind the baseline leave large spaces in the front of the court, so leaving themselves open to drop shots and approaches by the opponent
- Greater distance to cover makes it virtually impossible to get close to the net for a first volley. A phased approach consisting of an attacking groundstroke followed by a midcourt (high or low) transition volley and a further move forwards to close down the net is quite common, especially at early green. The timing, position and quality of the approach is also important because a longer court means a bigger target into which the opponent can neutralise with a dipping ball and more space over which to lob! Likewise, a wider court gives more scope for passing shots.
- If we now reverse the situation to consider our player facing an approaching opponent, the ability to play offensive lobs, passing shots and dipping neutralising or two-shot pass balls become key qualities, and can be trained at green level.
Typical solutions include learning to take the ball on the rise (a new skill for many at this age), and the acceptance that many balls (rallying and neutralising balls) will have to be played further behind the baseline because the ball characteristics still often dominate over the physical abilities of the player. At early green, it is not realistic in many cases to train players to play closer to the baseline, so the solution in many cases is to teach them to defend well and to recover quickly to the baseline (just inside or just behind) depending on the quality of their response.
An ITF approved green ball is the same size as a yellow ball, but with less compression. We can expect a bounce height range of 118-132cms. This increase in compression from the orange ball is hugely significant in a number of respects when considered alongside the increases in court dimension. In other articles, I have explained that the progression from the red to the orange resulted in a wider range of contact points. This is even more so when moving to the green ball, due to greater bounce height and ball speed. Remember too that as our players develop better athleticism, faster racket head speed and a more expansive game, so we can expect the same of opponents. Smart players can use the faster and higher bouncing ball on the larger green court to their advantage by controlling time and space. Do your players have the ability to read the faster incoming ball and do they have the ability to move and prepare quickly? Two additional challenges are:
- The ability to vary the length of the swing, shortening or lengthening the take back on the swing according to time and situation and the depth and speed of the oncoming ball; is this something you teach your players when returning first serves and aggressive groundstrokes, or when finishing from the mid court?
- The ability to take and control balls at a higher contact point (correct semi-western grips and contact points are key here), which allow a more offensive game and let the player play closer to the baseline and further up the court
In my earlier article, I explained that the serve requires a lower 80cm net on an orange court to allow the player to serve offensively. Coaches who ignore this effectively force a different trajectory, since the first priority for the server is to clear the net. An 80cm net, coupled with taller players and better serving technique should allow offensive serves, probably starting with the wide serve using a chopper grip, but eventually, including the flat serve down the middle. As we progress to the green court, several things change for the server:
- The baseline is further away from the net
- The net is higher
These factors combined make the offensive serve more challenging unless good fluid technique has been developed through red and orange. Second serves are usually even weaker and more pressurised, especially as the returner will most likely be looking to dominate with the forehand as much as possible. Although players will be taller on the green court than on the orange one, and they should have the better technique (better and more efficient use of the coordination chain), offensive serves are a challenge because of the net height relative to the height of the server at the green baseline. Statistics from Ebert (2012) show that on the green court a player is likely to win only 45% of points when serving, compared to 52% serving on the orange court.
What about the light green court?
In recent years, many coaches have recognised the size of the jump from the orange to the green court, because of many of the factors covered in this article. As a result, some have suggested and researched the idea of a light or lime green court measuring 21m, as a halfway stage to reduce the size of the jump from orange to green. Others, of course, oppose a fourth court stage at 10u because it is either too complicated or requires more lines to be laid out.
Measuring 20.77 x 7.19m, the light green court is measured to maintain the length v width ratio of 2.88 which exists on the red, orange and green courts, and most significantly, reduces the size of the jump from orange to green.
Don’t forget the player!
Good, learner-centered, coaching is about progressing at the pace of the player. Players need to believe that they can not only cope but continue to develop (and hopefully even excel) as they progress from one court size to another. The common ‘green slump’ shows that it is common for a player’s game to appear to stop developing, or even to appear to get worse, as they progress from the orange to the green court. This is especially common in the first 3 months at green. If you think about it, it’s understandable; the playing environment has changed (again) quite significantly. This is where coaching skills are really important; make sure that you work hard with the player and the parents to explain:
- That it is normal to find it difficult to adjust to a bigger court and a faster ball. Many young players experience it.
- That any challenges that the players face are temporary and quite normal.
- That performance is more important than results during this period, and that good quality practice, focus on good basic technique and time will ensure that the player will soon adapt.
Be positive, encouraging and supportive, and your players will come through it.
Other articles on Junior Player Transitions
- MEMBER’S CONTENT Comprehensive analysis: transitioning players from red to orange and orange to green
- Orange to green – what are the considerations for the step up to the big court?
- “RORANGE” – How to transition players from red ball to orange ball
- How to Train Young Talented Tennis Players
- The BIG move: red to orange!
- 10 steps to introduce a player competency based system for your junior players
- What do you look at when you consider if a red player is ready for orange ball?