Tennis is a popular sport for many young people today, with over four and a half million children participating in the sport in 2018. (Source: SGB Media) Aside from the cardiovascular benefits of running around the court chasing down tennis balls, tennis also improves hand-eye coordination. Some parents may be left wondering if there is youth-sized tennis equipment available for their children.
How do you choose a tennis racquet for a child? The two most important criteria in selecting the right tennis racquet are the child’s age and height. Youth tennis racquets range in size from 17 inches long for children four years old and younger (around three feet tall), up to 26 inches long for kids ten and older (four and a half feet and taller).
As with many sports, top of the line equipment is not necessary, but having the proper gear is essential to your child’s development as a tennis player. Even for recreational use, selecting the right racquet will help promote appropriate techniques and prevent injuries. This article will examine the essential factors to consider when making this decision so that your child will enjoy tennis to the fullest.
Choosing the Right Tennis Racquet for Your Child
When it comes to selecting a child’s tennis racquet, there are two schools of thought. The first is to base the racquet size on the child’s age and height. The younger and shorter the child, the smaller the racquet and vice-versa. This is a straightforward method, but consideration must be given to the fact that individual children may fall in between sizes, while others may quickly outgrow their racquet size.
The following chart breaks down junior tennis racquet sizes by age and height (tennis racquet sizes are measured from the end of the handle to the top edge of the racquet head):
|CHILD’S AGE||CHILD’S HEIGHT||RECOMMENDED RACQUET SIZE|
|4 years and younger||39 inches and shorter||19 inches|
|4 to 5 years||40 inches to 44 inches||21 inches|
|6 to 8 years||45 inches to 49 inches||23 inches|
|9 to 10 years||50 inches to 55 inches||25 inches|
|10 years and older||56 inches and taller||26 inches|
The second method of choosing a child’s tennis racquet is more precise but requires that the child be present during the actual selection process. For parents shopping for junior tennis racquets online, this is unfortunately not an option; however, for those willing or able to take their child to a sporting goods store or tennis shop, here are the steps for accurately measuring proper racquet size:
STEP ONE: Have your child stand straight up with their arms hanging down by their sides naturally.
STEP TWO: Choose a racquet length based on the chart above – this method will determine whether this racquet is genuinely a good fit.
Stand the racquet on the top edge of its head so that the handle (grip) is pointing straight up. Make sure this is done next to your child’s racquet arm (the one he or she will use to hold the racquet).
STEP THREE: If the palm of your child’s hand rests comfortably on the cap end of the racquet handle, then you have found the ideal racquet size.
If your child’s palm does not reach the cap end of the handle, then the racquet is too small; if your child needs to bend his or her arm at the elbow to rest the palm on the cap end, then the racquet is too large.
(Source: Vida Tennis)
Regardless of which method you choose, the most important thing is that your child’s tennis racquet is appropriately sized. Playing with a racquet that is too small may hinder your child’s progress either because the smaller head surface area results in missing the ball or bad playing habits may develop. Similarly, an overly large racquet may be challenging to swing, and the strain could result in injury.
Other Important Things to Consider When Choosing a Junior Tennis Racquet
Aside from racquet length, there are other considerations to keep in mind before handing over a junior tennis racquet to your eager child. These include head size, weight distribution, string pattern, and grip size. As your young tennis player continues to grow physically and as techniques and skills improve, these factors become more critical.
Before we dive deeper into these additional racquet characteristics, here is a quick review of tennis racquet anatomy:
- Head – This is the ball-striking surface of the racquet, which consists of an oval-shaped frame with tennis string strung across it.
- Grip – The grip (also the handle) is the portion of the tennis racquet that is held by the player. The handle has a textured material wrapped around it to allow for a firm grasp and to prevent slippage during swinging. Grips are available in different circumferences to accommodate different hand sizes.
- Strings – The strings are usually made from high-tension nylon, polyester, or natural string that is woven across the head in a criss-cross pattern. There are many tennis string options to choose from depending on skill level and style of play.
Selecting the proper grip size will ensure that the tennis racquet can be swung with appropriate form and control. The general rule is to wrap your hand around the grip as if swinging a forehand stroke – there should be roughly half an inch between the tips of your fingers and the base of your palm.
On smaller youth racquets (19 to 25 inches), grip size is relatively standardized at 4 inches, so there will not be much of a choice to be made. Little hands grow quickly, so if the grip size is a bit too large, it will not be for very long. In cases where the grip is too small, this can be easily remedied by applying overgrip tape to the handle, which can add anywhere from 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch of thickness to the grip.
As with grip size, there are not many options concerning head size when it comes to the smaller youth tennis racquets. Head size is the total surface area of the strings and head frame (the ball-striking surface) measured in square inches. Generally, the larger the head size, the more forgiving the racquet because the “sweet spot” is more substantial. On the flip side, smaller head size results in greater control.
There are four main categories for tennis racquet head size:
- Midsize – 85 to 96 square inch surface area
- Midsize Plus – 97 to 106 square inch surface area
- Oversize –107 to 115 square inch surface area
- Super Oversize – 116 to 135 square inch surface area
(Source: PDH Sports)
As your child’s racquet size progresses from the smaller end of the scale (19 inches) to the larger end (25 or 26 inches), you may find bigger options as far as available head size. At a younger developmental age, the emphasis should be on proper swing technique versus power and ball velocity, so opting for smaller head sizes (e.g., midsize or midsize plus) may be a wise choice.
Weight and Distribution
Depending on the age, size, and strength of the child, the weight of the tennis racquet can be a crucial thing to consider. Junior racquets can range in weight from 6 to 9.5 ounces (roughly 1/3 to little over one-half of a pound). While this may not seem like much weight, if you also factor in the length of junior racquets (19 inches long at minimum), this can be awkward for a four-year-old to swing.
Particularly for younger children whose limbs and joints are still developing, a lighter racquet will create less stress on wrists and elbows. Fortunately, tennis racquet manufacturers are continually finding new materials that are not only stronger to absorb the abuse that children can lay on their racquets, but also lighter to make it easier and more natural for kids to swing them.
Much of the power and ball control is generated by the tennis strings. Several string variables affect the way that a tennis ball travels, such as tension, string pattern, and string composition. In general, mainstream tennis racquets such as those designed for youth and recreational players are pre-strung. Higher-end racquets tend to be un-strung to allow for custom stringing to suit the player.
There are four basic categories or types of tennis racquet string:
- Monofilament – typically one of the most durable string types, consisting of one or more materials bonded together into a single strand.
- Multifilament – this type of string usually provides greater ball control and spin, and is typically nylon cords braided together.
- Gut – available in either a synthetic or natural form. Natural gut strings are preferred by elite tennis players for the high degree of “feel” and the power they provide. In contrast, synthetic gut strings are the perfect all-around, multi-purpose tennis string for players ranging from recreational to advanced.
- Hybrid – this refers to the stringing of two different thicknesses into a single racquet head to achieve ball control and durability.
The way that a tennis racquet is strung also determines things like power, spin, and ball control. For example, a loose weave, meaning larger openings in the criss-cross pattern of the tennis strings, typically allows for greater ball spin. In comparison, a tighter weave with smaller openings tends to generate more power and ball speed.
Similarly, the tension of the tennis strings across the racquet head also affects how the tennis ball behaves on the court—measured in pounds of pressure, the higher the tension (upwards of 60 pounds of pressure), the higher the degree of ball control, while the lower the tension (50 pounds), the more power that is generated at impact.
Junior Tennis Racquet Options – A Mini Buying Guide
Although a comprehensive shopping guide to junior tennis rackets could be a lengthy article in itself, the following are a few options that can get you started in the right direction in choosing the right tennis racquet for your young player.
|19 Inch Racquets – Ages 4 and Younger||Head Speed Junior Racquet|
|21 Inch Racquets – Ages 4 to 5||Head Instinct Kids Tennis Racquet|
|23 Inch Racquets – Ages 6 to 8||Head IG Speed Kids Tennis Racquet|
|25 Inch Racquets – Ages 9 to 10||Babolat Nadal 25 Junior Tennis Racquet|
|26 Inch Racquets – Ages 10 and Older||Head Radical Junior Tennis Racquet|
When Should Children Start Taking Tennis Lessons?
Parents are encouraged to have their children start playing tennis when they are young, mainly if they express an interest or willingness to pick up the sport and receive instruction. At the beginner level, group lessons are more than adequate to teach your child the basics while providing a social aspect that can make tennis activities more fun and engaging.
Even though tennis is unquestionably popular among youngsters, it must still compete for participants against the likes of baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, and football. It has even faced stiff competition from golf, particularly among girls, thanks to the growing popularity of the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association).
New Tennis Instruction Methods
In the past decade, the United States Tennis Association (USTA), to re-popularize the sport of tennis among young players, introduced a new instructional method and playing program like the concept of tee-ball in baseball. Geared toward tennis players as young as five years old and as old as 18 years old, this new teaching system takes a structured approach to introduce the game to newcomers.
Whereas in the past, children were taught to play tennis on full-sized courts with regulation nets and regulation tennis balls, the new approach of the USTA (through its youth brand, Net Generation) is to start young beginners on smaller courts with age-appropriate equipment. This enables them to build foundational skills before working their way up to larger playing surfaces and a faster pace of play.
Central to this new program is a color-coded system, with the ball color indicating the difficulty level:
- Red Ball – Instead of regulation yellow felt surrounding a rubberized core, the red-colored ball at this level is made from foam or similar soft material. The ball is larger and has significantly less bounce, making it easier for children to hit and chase down.
Additionally, the court measures only 36 feet long by 18 feet wide (roughly one-fourth of the size of a regulation court), which is more appropriate for small children to learn the basics of tennis.
- Orange Ball – The orange ball is still an oversized ball but one that travels slightly faster than the red ball, with less bounce than a regulation ball.
The orange ball court is larger, measuring 60 feet long by 21 feet wide for singles, and 27 feet wide for doubles. This is roughly three-quarters the size of a regulation court, and this level is intended for further development of young players’ skills and endurance.
- Green Ball – This is the transition phase to regulation tennis, as it is played on a standard 78 foot by 27-foot singles court and 78 foot by 36-foot doubles court. The only difference is the green ball, which travels just as fast as a regulation yellow ball but with a slightly reduced bounce.
This level is intended for advanced younger players who possess the necessary skills, techniques, and speed to play regulation tennis with just a little more development in their overall game.
A New Generation of Tennis Players
Whether you have the next Roger Federer or Serena Williams in your household or you simply want your child to get some exercise, tennis is an excellent sport for developing hand-eye coordination, discipline, and endurance. With Net Generation’s growing network of programs and instructors, the chances are that an excellent opportunity for your child to learn tennis is right in your neighborhood.
Additional Resource: Best Tennis Racquet Brand.