MOUNT VERNON — The recently formed Kokosing Valley Community Tennis Association, under the direction of president Steve Tier, gathered at Columbia Elementary School to discuss a new venture. Tier formed the local association in conjunction with the U.S. Tennis Association to promote a new youth tennis pilot program which will begin in Mount Vernon.
The USTA Midwest Youth Team Tennis 10-and-under Pilot Program, which features a quickstart format, was introduced at a town hall meeting on Monday night. The program is designed for children, ages 6 to 10, who are interested in the game of tennis.
“The USTA did a lot of studies of other countries and how they taught their junior players under the age of 10. We also did studies of other American sports and the way they were getting people interested in the game,” said USTA Tennis Service Representative Jim Amick. “That information was then taken into consideration as the USTA developed the program. Quickstart is a format, not a program.”
The quickstart format was developed with a “Play to Learn” format in mind. Traditionally, players had to have lessons prior to competing, but the USTA is challenging people to think outside the box. With quickstart tennis, children use smaller rackets and different balls that fit their needs, and they play on a smaller court, much like a Little Leaguer would in baseball.
“There are a couple of different reasons (why this is important),” said Amick. “One, we were seeing the under-10 age group really choosing other sports over tennis, and we really want to combat that. Making the game easier for them does that, and quickstart solves that problem of them not being successful and takes it away. The other thing is the majority of players in the United States play on public courts. We’ve never really focused on that age group before, but we found that it is a missing link in the chain of progression of the children, not only in competitive tennis but also in recreational tennis. Being able to teach them a sport as a lifestyle at such a young age was something we were missing out on.”
For Tier, this is a lifelong passion. He has been around the game and experienced the need for this type of program firsthand.
“What drove this was my experience as an assistant coach for both the boys and girls high school team,” said Tier. “I’ve seen a lot of kids that had the opportunity to be exposed to the game of tennis from an early age, and they are doing well and are competitive at the high school level. The problem was there is no middle ground. We go from that to people who are picking up a tennis racket for the first time when they came out for high school tennis. To make our program successful, we need to raise that level.
“The other thing that I learned by being a coach, a lot of the successful programs have middle school varsity programs. I would like to see us get there, but first, we’ve got to grab the kids at a young age and let them know that tennis exists. We are competing against all of the other sports, and this just seemed like a good way to get kids involved.”
Both the 10-and-under and 8-and-under programs have one common goal — to see children learn the game of tennis in a fun and challenging environment. The USTA wants children to think team first and realize anyone can play the game. The development of these two programs in Mount Vernon will also help feed the scholastic level.
“The important thing, No. 1, is that we want to see the kids have fun. That’s what we are trying to accomplish,” Amick said. “We really want them to play to learn the game. By doing that, they will be successful and have fun. In forming the association here, it will not only develop the 10-and-under kids. They will have that stepping stone up to the middle school level and then high school, but even past that into adulthood. This brings a great activity in the sport of tennis to everyone in the community. It encourages families in the community to be healthier and really get out and be active.”
In making the game easier to understand and tailoring it to the children’s’ ages, Tier’s hope is that it will be an encouraging experience.
“This gives them the opportunity to not only learn the sport, but also enjoy the sport at the same time,” said Tier. “They will be playing with kids of the same ability, and they will be able to play in a competitive environment that is formed to match their abilities. ... It is going to be broken down very simply, and that’s one of the main reasons I got so excited about this. This is the first time that tennis has made an attempt to make the courts and the equipment down to their size. That has been a barrier for many who wanted to get involved. That was one of the big selling points when I saw this. I taught a week-long class last summer, and the kids were very enthused. So I saw this and thought we needed to give this opportunity to as many kids as we can.
“I’d like to see every kid that wants to do this have the opportunity to. Money shouldn’t be a problem in that maybe we can get some grants or some donations that could cover the costs for kids who can’t afford it; we could give them a scholarship and get them involved,” added Tier.
For the USTA, this new endeavor is already paying dividends. In 41 Midwest pilot markets last year, including four in Ohio, there were over 3,000 participants.
“A lot of times in the past, we looked at bigger cities, but what we are really finding, and I am finding in Ohio and West Virginia over the last couple of years, is that in the smaller markets, that’s where the real interest is,” said Amick. “Giving those kids the opportunity to play where there wasn’t an opportunity before is big. In a small town, word of mouth is important. We want to get into the schools and promote this.”
There will be a nominal fee for the program, which has yet to be determined. Participants will get a player packet that will include a racket, balls, a T-shirt and membership to the Ace’s Kids Club. Membership to the club also gives each player a water bottle, wristbands, a sticker sheet and a tennis activity book.
The timeline to get the program off the ground and running was set at Monday’s meeting. Tier would like to begin the eight-week program, which will be held at the Memorial Park tennis courts, in early June, and it will run one day a week. Exact time and dates will be set at the next meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. Anyone interested in promoting the game of tennis or in volunteering for the program is welcome to attend. Watch the What’s Happening section on Page 2B for the yet-to-be-determined location.
“There is a lot of work to be done,” Amick said. “A lot of it is logistics. ... We need a lot of help from the community. This is time-consuming work, and the more people we have helping out and volunteering can only help move the process along. The work will all pay off. In the long run, the benefits of this program will outweigh the time spent.”
“I am very confident about this,” Tier said. “We had a very good nucleus that met here tonight, and are excited about it. They are already thinking of other people who would be interested. We’ve invited other people from the community to join us, but some of them couldn’t make it. Tonight’s meeting maybe wasn’t a good night, but probably another meeting will be good.
“I think parents that get involved with this are going to be surprised. They can get out there and get involved right along with their children. They don’t need to have any great athletic skills to do it whatsoever. I think once we get that idea across to the parents, this is going to go from a kid program to a family event. That will make this successful.”
For more information, contact Tier by e-mail at email@example.com. For more information on the quickstart format, go online to www.quickstarttennis.com.