Larry Haugness

Larry is a USPTA,  PTR pro, and long-time USTA volunteer. He is the only person to have been President of two USTA Sections and four Districts.  His accomplishments have been recognized by the USPTA, PTR, USTA, and TIA.  He has worked in just about every area of tennis.  

Larry has coached all skill levels from red ball to touring professionals.  His experience owning a club, running a foundation, working at a member-owned club, and running a public facility has given him the experience for his tennis articles and presentations.  He is President of Larry’s Racquet.

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TRANSITION TO TRANSITION EQUIPMENT

By Larry Haugness

Transition equipment?  The rest of the world has been using this valuable teaching tool for many years. Why hasn’t it caught on in the US?  Oh, come on, everyone knows it is just for little kids 10 & under.  Right? Well, that is what the USTA said when they introduced it, which to me is a major part of the problem.  It is not just for little kids, it is for everyone.  Better said it is skill-based, a beginner is a beginner is a beginner.

 

It is for everyone, beginners of all ages.   Tennis is unique in that it is not only an open sport played in a dynamic and ever-changing environment, but it requires a unique skill set to play.  This sport has so many variables it makes your head spin.  In tennis, one needs to be aware of the weather, gauge the speed of the oncoming ball, figure out what kind of spin and how much, move to the ball, see where your opponent is, figure out where you want to hit the ball, then set up and hit the ball, realizing the ball is on the strings about 5 milliseconds, then recover and get back into the best court position and do it again, and again and again.   We expect a beginner to learn all that while struggling with hand-eye coordination and movement?  NO WAY!  It’s easy to see why so many people get discouraged and quit. They can’t do it.  Transition equipment allows a beginner to be successful and acquire a good base to build on.  Properly taught a player will be able to advance much faster than the old yellow ball, full-length racquet, full-court, hit the ball, then chase it technique.  Plus, they will have accomplished becoming a tennis player and enjoying the sport. 

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A 15-year-old beginner should NOT start with the yellow ball and a 27” racquet!  Keep in mind that a large number of beginners in any sport quit in a short period of time. Because it is NO FUN!  They can’t play the sport; it is too hard. Many programs and clubs struggle with programming for this 13-17 age group of beginning kids.  These players just want to have fun and maybe try to play tennis for their school.  It is time for pros and coaches to be flexible and creative and use transition equipment.  Many pros think primarily about coaching high-performance players.  Let’s be honest. How many players are going to play college tennis and above?  There are over 350,000 kids playing high school tennis and maybe 70,000 USTA tournament juniors.  There is a tremendous market in teaching and coaching high school players.

 

Let us look at a couple of real-world examples.  At the beginning of summer, Elsie, a 14-year-old female athlete took up tennis and started with an orange ball and a 21-inch racquet hitting in the service squares.  She hit almost every day during that summer.  By the middle of August, she moved to the green ball and a 25” racquet, from about halfway in the back court, but not yet hitting full court.  She was focusing on contact with the shorter court.  High school tennis started in early September so she was forced to use the yellow ball. 

 

She made the varsity team only because the coach said she was really the only player that could hit a volley, so she started in doubles.  After school tennis, she went back to the green ball to refine her strokes and develop more court sense and tactics.  From the end of September to the following July she continued hitting daily and then progressed to a junior 26” racquet, moving to full court.  In August, about a month before high school season, she moved to hitting with the yellow ball.  When the smoke cleared from the school tryouts, she ended up passing all the previous players from the year before and earned the #1 spot on her high school team.  She continued using her 26” junior racquet, weighted down a bit, and won her district and placed third in high school sectionals. 

 

In late October, after high school season, she continued her workouts, again going back to the green ball.  She started expanding her game, working on a topspin backhand to complement her underspin, developing more spin on the serve, and developing a transition game while fine-tuning volleys.   The next May she moved to a full-length racquet and started using the yellow ball full time.  She won individual district, led the team to a district team championship, played in the state tournament in both the individual and team play.  Elsie finished 6th in the state while the team finished 4th in its first outing to state.  All this and having played 2 and a half years, using transition equipment! 

 

One of her teammates, another “transition” 15-year-old player, Morgan, started in November using the orange ball and a 21” racquet.  By February playing as much as she could she had moved to a 25” junior racquet with a green ball.   She played every day and by May she moved to a 26” junior racquet.  Throughout the summer she played daily and by late July she started using the yellow ball and an adult racquet.  Trying out for her high school team in September she earned and played number 5 singles on the varsity team as well as number two in doubles.  She finished the season with a winning singles and doubles record, earning a spot in doubles to state, finishing 9th.  She was also on the team that finished 4th  at state.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention 5 out of the top 6 varsity players on this team used “transition” balls and racquets leading up to their high school season.   Who said transition equipment is just for little kids?

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Adults will also benefit from using transition equipment.  I’m sure we all know people who have given up on tennis, due to age or injury and have embraced pickleball.  Why not use your tennis skills and continue to play?  How? It’s easy, find a pickleball court or a tennis court with blended lines, grab some orange or green dot balls, and a junior graphite 25 or 26-inch racquet and continue to play!  You might have to adjust and figure out what size court, ball, and racquet combo is the best for you but isn’t it worth it to play the sport you love?  If you cannot find a court with blended lines you might have to put down some tape or throw down lines for the court, but so what?

 

When the transition equipment first came out in the US, I was giving a 3.5 player lessons with the traditional yellow ball.  One of the things we were working on was consistency. We would try to hit as many forehands in a row as possible.  We could hit 10 or so and that was all.  I asked him if we could try the orange ball. He said sure.  On our first attempt hitting consistent forehands I stopped at 50!  I then asked him if he wanted to play some points with that ball. He enjoyed the consistency of play and asked if we could continue using that ball for future lessons.  After several more sessions using the orange ball, he mentioned that his 3.0 wife was afraid of the ball, and they wanted to play doubles together but it was difficult.  As an experiment, I mentioned that we should play mixed doubles socially.  My wife was also a 3.0 player and up for it.  We played once a week for 6-7 months with the orange ball and zero instruction, just play.  After 7 months he called and said, “those orange balls rock, we just won the club championships”!  Obviously, they used the yellow ball in the tournament.

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Don’t you still love the challenge and heat of competition?  Did you know that it is legal to play a sanctioned USTA tournament with a red, orange, or green ball?  Few know about this.  It is a well-kept secret.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the following rules in the 2020 Friend at Court page 119.

 

FAC Comment VI.A-1: A 78-foot court with permanent Red Ball Tennis and Orange Ball Tennis lines, often referred to as “blended lines,” is suitable for USTA sanctioned play in divisions that require a 78-foot court. See Figure 7 and Figure 8.

FAC Comment VI.A-2: The ITF permits the use of the stage 1 (green) ball in all levels of competition, except world ranking professional tennis events, Davis Cup and Fed Cup, the Olympic Team Events, Junior Tournaments and Team events sanctioned by the ITF and affiliated Regional Associations, ITF Senior Circuit and Team events and ITF Wheelchair Circuit and Team events.

E. Adult, Senior, and Family Divisions May Use Red, Orange, and Green Ball Tennis Red, Orange, and Green Ball Tennis may be played in Adult, Senior, and Family Divisions.

 

So why settle for less?  Get your friends out, experiment with some orange or green balls and adjust the court playing size to your mobility and skill level.  Use a quality junior racquet, like a 26”.  You will be at home again and playing better than expected.  The smaller court makes it easier to get to those shots that were otherwise out of reach.  Using skill-based equipment will keep all ages in the game!

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