Mini Tennis is very much a standard part of tennis coaching for under 10’s. But did you know it’s only been around for two decades, with the original Mini Red ball making its first commercial appearance in the year 2000? So how did the idea for the first Mini Tennis ball come about?
Noticing the worrying trend of a gradual decline in the popularity of the game during the 80’s and 90’s, The Lawn Tennis Association spent millions trying to promote tennis to the next generation. But their efforts were met with limited success, and by the end of the 90’s they had reached a point where they felt they needed to meet with experts and veterans of the industry to get another perspective. Consultations were set up where it was agreed that the ideal way to put a halt to the decline in the game’s popularity was to encourage youngsters into tennis from the earliest age possible. It was felt there was work to be done to encourage children to fall in love with tennis before they got involved in the many other activities and sports vying for their attention.
All the ball brands were invited by the LTA to a meeting at Queens Club, London and the findings of the experts were shared with them. At that point, as the market wasn’t established, the large brands weren’t able to commit to the project. However, Derek Price of J Price Bath decided he would go ahead and develop such a ball. Derek came up with the Mini Red ball, much bigger in diameter than the regular yellow ball and of only 25% compression comparatively. These changes meant the ball bounced much lower that a traditional ball, enabling children to strike at a more comfortable height as opposed to the head height of a yellow ball.
Mini Tennis was launched in the Spring of 2001. Mini Red replaced 'Short Tennis' which was played inside with plastic rackets and foam balls. The LTA also launched mini orange and green at the same time to help bridge the gap between mini red and yellow ball.
The new and improved scaled down version of tennis allowed players to compete from a much younger age more effectively. It also quickly became clear that the lower bouncing ball helped young players develop better technique. Advances in coaching lead to improving co-ordination and receptive skills becoming more of the focus. The LTA worked hard to make all of this standard practice up and down the UK.
Has it worked? There is no doubt mini tennis has been a popular scheme, it will also most likely continue to be for many years to come. Participation in tennis has been good since it launched. Twenty years on we will just now start to see the new crop of players coming through who will have all gone through this system. Footage of the current US Open champion Emma Raducanu playing in an orange ball tournament demonstrates the extraordinary level mini tennis can allow youngsters to play at.
It will be interesting to see any future developments of mini tennis. Recently the LTA have encouraged coaches to extend the red court for better players in training sessions. The red court has long been seen as too small for good level red players, who felt like they can't hit properly on the small court. The LTA have also slightly relaxed guidelines to allow players to compete in older age groups earlier and are also encouraging weaker players to be kept in the ball below their age group for longer.
Riverside Tennis Club delivers many mini tennis sessions every week. Find out more on our coaching page.