Tailored tennis gear to help future stars

The next generation of Australian tennis stars could receive a boost in skill development through better tailored equipment, according to new research.

A study is currently underway at Victoria University testing the tennis skills of 6 to 9-year-old kids to see what impact modified equipment – including lighter racquets and different tennis ball compressions – has on their skill development.

Research leader Dr Tim Buszard said previous studies suggested there were advantages in using modified equipment for skill development.

“Many young players have just been making do with big racquets and standard tennis balls until they’re old enough to master the adult equipment, but more and more the research is showing us that scaled-down equipment in tennis and other sports is hugely beneficial in early skill development,” Dr Buszard said.

“That’s why the Tennis Hot Shots at this month’s Australian Open are playing on smaller courts with smaller racquets and less bouncy balls, because that’s how we’ll best develop the next generation of tennis stars.”

This study brings a controlled environment to these tasks, using high-speed infrared cameras to provide the most comprehensive insight yet into the junior players’ movements.

The kids are asked to hit 340 balls on a test court over two days, with an emphasis on hitting accurately in the specially marked court.

“We’re testing to see whether the scaled equipment allows these junior players to swing the racquet more fluently and whether that improves performance of the task we set,” Dr Buszard said.

Victoria University biomechanics expert Dr David Whiteside said they were also interested in the implications for safety of junior players.

“Junior players often lack the strength and coordination to properly handle an adult-sized racquet,” Dr Whiteside said. “This can overload their muscles and/or joints and lead to injuries that could be prevented by customised equipment.”

Both Dr Buszard and Dr Whiteside are joint appointments between Victoria University and Tennis Australia studying possible improvements in the junior development and sports science aspects of Australian tennis.

To volunteer your child in this study contact Dr Buszard on +61 3 9919 4512 or [email protected]

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