Follow The Bouncing Ball

by Peter Malcomson

December 2020

The little yellow orb has proven to be quite versatile in other capacities as well.

Let’s face it – as tennis players, the number one thing we want to do with tennis balls is whack them with a tennis racquet! Again, and again and again! And that is what we do, at least until we have knocked the life out of them; and then it’s time for a new can!

The on the ball program created a quieter classroom.

Compared to our tennis racquets and clothing, the price of a new can of tennis balls is quite inexpensive, so for some people it makes sense to open a new can every time they play. The life of a tennis ball on court varies based on a few things; how hard, often and with how much spin it is hit, the texture of the court surface, how long the can has been open and the climatic conditions; hot vs cold, humid vs dry, etc. The casual tennis player might not notice much difference between a new ball and one that has been used several times but at the pro level, they open two new cans every 9 games!

Over 300 million tennis balls are produced globally each year. In Canada players go through 10 million new balls each year. So, what happens to all the old ones?

Unfortunately, a good percentage of them end up in landfi ll. There is currently no company in Canada that recycles tennis balls. The process is expensive and the volume in Canada does not make it financially feasible. I’m pleased to say however, that not all used balls end up in the garbage after their court duty is over.

Milos tennis ball art.

About 14 years ago, National Bank, a Rogers Cup and OTA sponsor, launched their On the Ball program. The idea behind the initiative was to collect used tennis balls from clubs and players and distribute them to area schools so that they could be slit open and placed on the bottom of desk and chair legs creating a quieter learning environment. The Bank wound up the program in 2019 after collecting and distributing over 2,000,000 used balls to schools across Canada. Some clubs that were involved in the program continue to collect balls for schools independently.

Besides its principal use on-court and through programs like On the Ball, the little yellow orb has proven to be quite versatile in other capacities as well.

Of course, one obvious re-purposing that accounts for a fair number is that of the “dog ball”. Dogs love to chase balls and enjoy a good chew on plush items like tennis balls. While ultimately the ball is likely torn to pieces and then thrown out, at least it did get a second life.

As Canadians, who didn’t use a tennis ball as a kid to play road hockey? Tennis balls are also occasionally used casually to practice sports like baseball and cricket – especially for young kids. The slightly softer ball is less likely to knock out a tooth! As well, you should go on Youtube and take a look at the video showcasing a couple of pro tennis players who are very skilled at using a tennis ball to practice their soccer skills!

Used tennis balls can also have some health benefits. Doctors and physios often recommend utilizing a tennis ball to roll over an inflamed shoulder, back or foot muscle to help loosen soft tissue, release tension, relieve nerve pain, break down scar tissue and improve flexibility. It might hurt a little, but it works! Related to pain relief, a slit open tennis ball placed over a tennis net crank has been known to reduce accidental groin injuries! Likewise, you can prevent shin or knee injuries and scrapes to other cars by placing a ball over the trailer hitch knob. In fact you can childproof any sharp-edged furniture corner.

Repurposed tennis ball chair.

If you’re handy at all you might even consider saving enough old tennis balls and build a piece of furniture like a chair or ottoman. Or, how about tennis ball themed art and decoration? It might be a bit tricky to clean though. You can even use an old tennis ball in your dryer to speed up the drying cycle and fl uff up your clothes. How about a change purse or a jar lid opener; a stuff ed animal or a puppet. Some of these ideas would be great for kids when they are working on their crafts.

Actually, there are all sorts of up-cycling opportunities for our little furry friend – so let your imagination run wild – or check out the internet - LOL. If we can find ways to reuse our tennis balls, we can all pitch in to help reduce unnecessary landfill and have fun at the same time!