Nothing is sacred anymore.
Remember when we used to have adult-only sports? As kids, we played the big-field sports. Then we got older and changed from contact sports to tennis. Finally, we got real old and we took up golf.
Today, everybody plays everything right from the git-go. Tennis is a major sport at many high schools. Just as football, baseball and basketball rely on pre-high school youth leagues to prepare players for the game, tennis is also being aggressively tailored to the younger set.
Organizations like the USTA and scholastic tennis leagues are trying to make tennis more accessible and enjoyable to younger players. There are smaller practice courts, special tennis balls and of course, tennis racquets available to make the game more enjoyable to kids.
The Racquet’s the Thing
The racquet may be the most important item on a child’s equipment list. Using the wrong racquet will not only make the sport more difficult, but it can lead to injuries. That’s no way to grow your kid’s interest in the sport.
If your child is one of the thousands of tennis-playing youth, let us explain how to pick out a proper junior racquet and offer some suggestions that may be worth buying for your little athlete.
Sizing a Racquet
Junior tennis racquets range in size from 19 to 26 inches. There are many sizing charts on the internet listing appropriate sizes based on age.
It all sounds so simple. If the child is five years old, she needs a 21” racquets. By the time she is nine, she’ll use a 25” model.
Even a height chart is not perfect. Some kids grow differently, with different proportions, than others. Longer arms and shorter legs need to be taken into account.
Sizing a Perfect Racquet for your Child
There is a technique to verify that your child’s racquet is an appropriate length.
Simply stand the racquet on the ground next to your child, handle-end up. Tell Junior to place the palm of his hand on the butt of the handle.
If the child’s hand rests comfortably on the end of the racquet, it is probably a good length for him or her.
On the other hand, if he has to stretch to reach the handle or bend his elbow to get his palm on the end, the racquet may be too long or short.
We say “may be” because particularly strong young players may prefer a longer model, while other players may only feel very comfortable swinging a short racquet.
Selecting a Grip Size
Finding a precise grip size will be a little trickier. This is because most manufacturers only make one (four-inch) grip size for all their junior racquets.
If your child is uncomfortable with the grip, there are a couple of options.
Should your junior player desire a bigger grip, you’re lucky. This is much easier than reducing a grip size. Overgrips can be purchased to build up the grip size, usually by about 1/16th of an inch..
Making a grip smaller will likely require the help of a manufacturer, or more likely, a good instructor or tennis shop with equipment to make such an adjustment.
There are differences from brand to brand, but you may notice some distinct similarities in most junior tennis racquets.
String patterns are generally open and the strings themselves are synthetic gut or nylon. Both of these help decrease the impact of the ball on the player’s arms.
These racquets are also designed to limit power and increase control for the budding prodigy.
Undoubtedly, there was a parent involved in designing junior racquets because almost all of them are made of aluminum or durable graphite to combat nicks and dents that come from whacking rocks, killing bugs and having tennis-racquet sword fights.
One last piece of advice is to watch your child while and after playing the game. If he looks uncomfortable, find out why.
Certainly the issue could be shoes, lights, friends or a romantic interest watching. It could also be the racquet. Wincing, shaking wrists and hands, stretching and rubbing the arms probably indicates a racquet issue.
Should the problem not be obvious to you or even to your child, ask a tennis pro for a little help. Looking at your child’s swing may be enough for an expert to determine that the racquet weight, length or grip needs to be adjusted.
Because of the kid-friendly design of most junior racquets, tennis experts suggest that serious players be graduated to an adult racquet by age 12 or so.
If they have been playing for a couple of years or more, they should be able to adapt to better power racquets and strings by then.
The Best Junior Racquets
Listed below are our recommendations for junior tennis racquets. Most manufacturers make junior racquets.
While this is a partially an attempt to gain some brand allegiance as early as possible, the racquet companies do hold themselves to industry standards and recommendations for the benefit of your budding athlete.
Each of these model recommendations is available in all or almost-all junior sizes.
1. Wilson U.S. Open Junior Tennis Racquets
The Wilson US Open series is approved for junior tournaments. The racquet frame is aluminum and comes strung with an open pattern synthetic gut.
Comments from players and their parents indicate that the US Open handles may be a fraction thinner than most other major brands. Many people commented about the small, comfortable grip.
At all sizes, players liked the weight and balance of the Wilson US Open series.
Positive comments about color choices (“Wilson is in tune with what kids want.”) and also the low cost of this model were plentiful.
2. Wilson Junior Burn Tennis Racquet Series
Wilson offers this model, similar in construction to the US Open version, with a “tour-inspired cosmetic.” For sure, most of the comments mentioned the look.
We received almost the same comments about the Burn series as the US Open series, including better fitting handles or grip, light weight and cost.
Almost every player said the design and colors(two-tone, green or bright pink are available) were a major part of their satisfaction.
3. Babolat Nadal Junior Tennis Racket series
Babolat says these racquets are junior-sized replicas of their Rafael Nadal AeroPro Drive GT racquet. They are made of aluminum and strung for junior baseline players.
The manufacturer claims the Nadal racquets improve control and speed at a comfortable weight. They may be right based on some comments we heard from parents.
Lightweight but durable. Holds up to typical youth abuse.
Player said they felt more power in their swings.
Several parents said their child’s play improved noticeably shortly after changing to the Nadal model of racquet.
The price point, slightly higher than the Wilson models, was also mentioned.
4. Head Speed Junior Series
Parents who are convinced that their children won’t drop tennis next week and are willing to spend a bit more money, might consider the Head Speed Junior series.
These graphite racquets use Head’s graphene technology, which distributes weight to the shot and absorbs impact. This racquet is a lighter version of Head’s Speed Series adult racquet.
Feels like there is more power without more effort
Looks sharp with a modern multi-color appearance
Durable and light.
Players said the racquet looks professional and made them more confident.
5. Wilson Roger Federer Junior Tennis Racquet
Wilson certainly has a niche in the junior racquet market. The Federer model is another lightweight, aluminum racquet with a small grip.
The surface area is designed to offer a slightly larger sweet spot than the US Open series. Wilson touts its aerodynamic design and durability.
Light weight and smaller grip were mentioned often by parents and players.
Price is slightly higher than other Wilson junior racquets, but still less than most competitors.
Several players mentioned that the swing felt different, with more control of contact area.
Too Young to Qualify
Other off-brand racquets are available and rated high for very young players. Don’t be put off by commercially branded racquets for that age group.
For example, the Hello Kitty Series racquets were highly recommended. We did not include them only because they are not available for mid-to-upper age groups.
So There You Go!
There you have our five choices for top junior tennis racquets. We trust they offer a good starting point to find the right racquet for your future star.
Remember that the proper sized racquet and other equipment will keep your child motivated and enthusiastic about his or her tennis game.
It might even be better than Mom and Dad yelling, “That’s my kid!” from the bleachers!