It's Friday night. Jim and Delores are headed to the local courts for easy fun, exercise, fresh air, and maybe a beer or two, with their friends afterward. Married 32 years, they've always been active together. Whether it's biking, skiing, or golf, they've sought out fitness activities to spend time with each other. Delores is a pretty serious player. She plays three to four times a week, if she can, and she likes competition, so she plays in a league and even catches a tournament now and then. Jim isn't anywhere near the player Delores is. He just never had the time to practice and hone his skills but he loves to play, and Delores loves to play with him. They're headed to Friday night tennis. Yes, tennis. Green-dot ball tennis!
You were probably expecting Jim and Delores to be headed for a pickleball court. It's popularity is undeniable. It's easy to pick up and play. You don't need to train and practice in order to have fun, and the court is smaller, so players don't have to be particularly athletic or super-fit, either. Even if Jim and Delores played at different levels, they could get on a pickleball court together and have a good time. Their friends don't have to match their level to join in. Everybody can just show up and enjoy the game together.
Tennis, on the other hand, isn't quite so easy to pick up. It takes some practice to develop stroke techniques, and even more practice to develop enough skill to have fun. It's also difficult to put four players of all different skill levels in competition on a tennis court and expect that everyone will enjoy the game. It's this bit of skill building required that can discourage prospective new players. Many people don't have the time to spend for practice. In our digital era of immediate gratification, people lose their patience if they can't jump in and have fun right away. People have families to take care of, jobs, other commitments and activities. It is these obstacles to entry that have caused tennis to lose some players, and some real estate, to pickleball.
So what's the solution for tennis? How can we make tennis easier for people to engage with on a long-term basis? Does the game need to be changed? Can the game be made easier? A solution for tennis is built-in already: Green-dot balls. They've been used for over 10 years as a training aid for children. Green-dot balls are low-pressure tennis balls. They look and feel just like a normal ball but they bounce lower and slower than a typical tennis ball, and they're a touch lighter. This makes it possible for beginners to immediately engage in recreational point play. Players with rudimentary capacity to hit a ball on the strings of a racquet can jump into a green-dot game and have fun, and be competitive. The ball is an equalizer of sorts, making it possible for more advanced players to have fun competition with less skilled players. It's exactly the tennis situation that Delores and Jim can enjoy together, even with their different skill levels.
Green-dot balls for all! We at BOLT Sports urge our tennis leadership, particularly the USTA, and all tennis directors and coaches everywhere, to experiment with adult green-dot ball events. Encourage Quick Start players to join in with the 3.0 - 4.0 players and see what happens. Green-dot ball events can be a communal, easy-entry alternative to pickleball that is certainly worth an effort, in order to grow tennis.
Tennis purists likely will scoff at the suggestion of adult green-dot ball tennis events. Purists may consider it to be something other than tennis. It certainly is tennis though, with the same equipment on the same court and with the same rules as a regular tennis game, it's just that the emphasis is on the social, recreational, and communal aspects of the game, within the context of a specific type of event. It's akin to the extremely successful easy-entry Cardio-Tennis program in which the core activity is tennis for fitness, while providing a way for different player levels to mix together on the same court. Green-dot ball events could provide a similar easy-entry vehicle for players of all levels to come together on a tennis court. It could be another terrific vehicle to grow the game, and capitalize on growing interest in racquet sports.