Shorter racquets, low-compression balls and smaller court-sizes are allowing junior tennis players to get into competition faster than ever before. That was on display December 6 when Winnipeg Winter Club hosted a Rogers Rookie Tour event. Three kids took part in the half-court red ball category, three participated in the three-quarter court orange ball event, and five juniors competed in the full-court green-dot ball division.

The Rogers Rookie Tour circuit, with tournaments held at numerous sites in Manitoba throughout the year, provide an introduction to competitive tennis in a fun environment. Kids who have only been to a week of tennis camp or have taken just a few lessons, for example, can jump right into the Rookie Tour events.

“I always tell them if they can hit the ball – at whatever court size they’re going to play at – two times over the net, they’ll do well in a Rogers Rookie,” said Robert Kennedy, Tennis Manitoba’s Rogers Rookie Tour coordinator.

By using the modified tennis equipment, juniors playing in the Rookie Tour events are able to maintain longer rallies and improve their games at faster rates.

“Even in a lesson-type situation, if they’re rallying with someone they’re hitting a lot of balls rather than a coach feeding one or two kids a couple of balls,” Kennedy said. “Just the repetition helps. They’re actually playing tennis and not just hitting a ball. They’re rallying with friends.”

The nationwide Rogers Rookie Tour was launched in 2009. Tennis Canada supplies prizes for local tournaments, including t-shirts and water bottles.

“Ted Rogers from Rogers (Communications) loved tennis, and as a legacy for him he set up the Rogers Rookie Tour to encourage kids to get into competitive tennis in a fun way,” said Kennedy. “They’re introduced to competition but it’s not the huge focus. The focus is actually playing – which is ultimately what all of sports are – not the wins and losses.”

Kennedy said the numbers have been good for the Rookie Tour events in Manitoba this year.

“We’ve been getting consistently around 15 kids, and at Victoria Beach we got a lot larger groups,” he said. “I think the fact they can play either half court, three-quarter or full court gives them opportunities. Plus some of the kids who are playing three-quarter will stay and play full (court).”

All Rookie Tour tournaments feature timed round-robin formats.

“Also the scoring system is one, two, three, and so on, instead of the regular scoring system,” Kennedy noted. “That just allows for more points being played.”

Kennedy said the emphasis of the tournaments is on participation.

“Because you’re only playing for 10-15 minutes at a time against a player, when they come off (the court) they’re not so concerned about who won and lost,” said Kennedy. “It’s more about, ‘who do I play next?’”

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