Moving players from red to orange is an important decision. It helps to understand what it means for the player to progress them to the orange court. In most clubs, the decision is basely only or primarily on age, but we believe that isn’t enough. The problem is that age is just that; age. Age doesn’t tell you anything about the ability of the player!
Why is the transition from red ball to orange ball so important?
Delaying a young player’s transition from red ball to orange ball may hold them back – but children who are moved up too early can find it hard to play in a court which is much bigger and where the ball flies much faster. Young players who are developing sound basic shapes, game understanding and an excitement about playing and competing can be replaced by unhappy children struggling with the game.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get the technical foundations and the playing environment right to give your players a chance not just to continue to play, but to continue to improve for years to come.
Move at the pace of the player
Good coaches move at the pace of the learner. When the players are physically, technically, mentally and tactically ready to progress, they move them up. The danger comes when there are no clear criteria in place to know when the players are ready; and remember, the age of the child is not enough of an indicator. If we follow that logic to its conclusion, the court needs to grow at the pace of the learner too.
Just imagine that you decide to move your player from the red group to the orange court. In the week that they complete their last lesson on a red court, they will average approximately 127 cms in height (World Health Organisation statistics). They will still average approximately 127 cms the following week when they start on the orange court! But in the same period the court length has increased by 7 metres, and the average ball rebound height has increased from 95-110 cms to 110-115 cms. When we progress a player from the red court to the orange court, we are expecting them to play in a court which has increased in area by 94%.
Can you start to see the challenge for a young child?!
Reflect on the abilities of your players and on your own coaching. Is there more that they should be doing in the red programme, can they be doing it better, and could your coaching improve?
Managing the progression from red ball to orange ball
The key to successfully moving young players from red ball to orange ball is to stop and reflect on the issues thrown up by the change in the playing environment for our young players. Progression and moving players up is good, provided that it is done in the right way and at the right time.
The decision to move a player along from red to orange should be made by the coach, not the parent or the player! The decision also shouldn’t be simply about progressing players as soon as they pass their 8th birthday. In previous articles, I’ve talked about the physical, physiological and technical issues that have to be considered. These are your field, one in which you need to be the expert, so take your time and make the right call.
Strategies to phase in the orange court for red ball players
There are some things you can do to phase the orange court in, to ease the transition a little:
Gradual introduction to the orange court
Gradually introduce the progression to orange by allowing players to double up for a set period as they are preparing to leave the red programme. If they can play on red courts and orange courts every week for a period of time, it provides a more gradual induction.
Play both courts for a time
Introduce the orange ball at the end of red, playing at the ‘rorange’ level, so to speak! This will allow players to get used to slightly different ball characteristics. Make sure you do it the right way round – moving to the orange court with the red ball won’t work!
Extend the red court dimensions
Turn the players around so they face a different way. Your players will have grown up playing across the court on the red court. At the end of the red programme, try playing from the service line over the 80 cm net. From there you can gradually extend the length of the orange court, as you probably did at red.
Get parents helping
Parent education is vital. We spend so much time with the players but we ignore the ones who make the decisions, pay for lessons and drive them around. Good communication to parents is essential. If they understand the issues at stake when progressing players, they are more likely to be on your side. Work with them rather than without them.
Being a really good Mini Tennis coach isn’t easy. There are a lot of skills needed to help players develop well at an early age. Unfortunately, many coaches (and maybe parents too) just see the red stage as a quick phase to pass through on the way to the ‘proper’ game. That really mustn’t be the case.
There is important work to be done on the red court; you typically have 2-3 years with your players to prioritise strong technical and physical fundamentals on the red court, to get them rallying and developing a life-long love for tennis. 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.