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First Junior Tennis Tournament – What to Expect

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At 7 years of age, my daughter Elizabeth has just completed her first junior tennis tournament in the DC area. She played at the Montgomery Tennisplex.

It was an interesting day. Some things went exactly as planned. Others were quite unexpected.

I think our experience might be interesting for other families who are planning to enroll their kids for the first tennis tournament here in the US.

When should your kid start participating in tennis tournaments?

7 years of age is a good time to enroll in the first tennis tournament if you feel your kid is well prepared. They should be able to play with orange or green balls, keep the score, and hit ground strokes and serves. My impression from our tournament was that all the kids who participated were quite good players for their age and have trained intensively for at least a couple of years.

How to sign up

Parents would need to download a USTA app on the mobile phone or visit USTA website, get their membership first and then get junior membership for the kid. You cannot enroll your child under 18 unless you have adult membership. Once your membership is active, you can search for tournaments in your area. You’d need to specify location (e.g., 50 miles from your zip code) and tournament level (e.g., 10 and under for little kids). The fee is usually $50 but it could be more or less, depending on the tournament.

As you will see, there are quite a few tournaments during the year. In the DC area, you’ll find indoor tournaments during the colder part of the year and outdoor tournaments for warmer times.

Signing up for indoor tournaments is good because then you don’t have to worry about the weather. The first tournament I signed my daughter for got cancelled because of the rain. This was very disappointing as we were so much looking forward to it. The next tournament we chose also had potential weather problems (luckily, the storm cleared up the day before, so the event happened as planned). If you can opt for the indoor tournament, it’s always better.

Some of the tournaments fill up rather quickly and only take 16 players for each type of ball (e.g., green or orange), so I recommend signing up well in advance (a few weeks or even a month). For example, in the DC area, spaces for the JTCC and the Madeira school tournaments go fast. Some other tournaments might attract fewer kids, and you might be able to sign up later (keeping in mind that registration closes a few days before the event).

Green vs. orange ball event

For 10 and under crowd, you’ll be able to choose from two options: the green ball event or the orange ball event.

Which one to should you pick?

My daughter has been training for 3 years already, and she has played with both orange and green balls. With her coach, she hits green balls. With me, she hits orange. She does fine with both. So, when I first looked at the options, I thought that it didn’t really matter which event to sign up for.

Well, it turns out, I was wrong. There is a huge difference.

Kids who signed up for the green ball event ended up older and better players. They were also playing at a bigger court. On the other hand, kids playing the orange ball were younger and the court was smaller. Perfect for 7 and 8 year olds.

Luckily, we ended up signing up for the orange ball event.

The bottom line. If this is your kid’s first tournament and he or she is on the younger side (7 or 8), I would recommend signing up for an orange ball event. With the green ball, they’d likely face much tougher competition.

The day of the tournament

A few days before the tournament, you’ll receive an email from organizers as to the time your child is playing and the opponents. It’s very easy to view the draw and players on the USTA app. You can also check the opponents’ credentials (what tournaments they played in, which matches they won/lost), and even see their pictures.

On the day of the tournament, you’ll need to come 15 minutes before your child’s first match time. When the match time comes, the organizers will provide 3 balls to each pair and allow 5 minutes of warm-up. After that, the match starts.

For smaller participants, the challenges with keeping the score are common. I don’t recommend to participate in the tournament unless the child is at least familiar with the scoring and basic rules (how to change sides, in which box to serve etc.) The adults are not allowed on the court and there is no umpire for kids’ matches. So kids are on their own. They need to know how to keep the score themselves. Obviously, they can (and will) make occasional mistakes, but these should be the exception, not the rule.

Depending on the number of participants, kids will play 2, 3 or even 4 matches on the same day. There are detailed rules on the USTA website, but the bottom line is that kids need to win 4 games (just 1 set) and there is no ad scoring. Each match is usually 20-30 minutes long.

Once the match is completed, kids go to the organizers and report the score. As soon as they finish with all their matches, they’re free to leave. Kids also get medals for participation (something to brag about at school next day!) and their scores get posted on the app.

The final word

USTA offers a great opportunity for kids to participate in various tennis tournaments from very early age. Families should definitely take advantage of this. It’s easy to sign up, there are many tournaments to choose from, and kids have a great time learning how to compete from the early age. They also have a chance to make new friends.

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