How to become a tennis ball boy or girl

How to become a tennis ball boy or girl

We meet the invisible yet indispensable hands behind a successful tennis tournament. Find out why ball kids are so important and what it takes to become one!

I'm not particularly into tennis. But sometimes, watching a tournament is really relaxing. It hypnotises me. I'm just as absorbed by the incredible back-and-forth of the ball as I am by a cough in the crowd, the players' preparation rituals, the umpire scratching their nose, or perhaps a ball kid exploding out of nowhere and retrieving a loose ball in the blink of an eye.

Who are these ball kids? How did they get there? How old are they? Won't you pull a muscle sprinting like that? How do they manage to stay hidden in plain sight and avoid tripping over each other? So many questions run through my mind. I decided it was worth digging a little deeper. So I carried out something of an investigation that will hopefully mean, in future, I can focus fully on what the players themselves are doing.

My search led me to Lille Tennis Club.

What does it take to be a ball kid?

Being a ball boy or girl is all about respecting the rules

Aurélien Destombes, General Manager of Lille Tennis Club, greets me at the club house with a red berry tea. We're awaiting the arrival of some 14-to-16-year-olds from the local secondary school here in Tourcoing, northern France. None of these pupils plays tennis. Rather, they're responsible for retrieving loose tennis balls throughout a week-long major international tournament held in Lille each year. We're off to a good start, with things already becoming a little clearer to me. So who's behind the project? PE teacher Mr Vannest.

My visit takes place during the pupils' third training session. Trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to blend in, I join them in the stands to listen to some tips from coach Julien and Mr Vanneste.

I'm going to remind you about the most important rules you need to remember,” says Julien. “

➡️Never retrieve a ball during a point
➡️Don't circulate balls between serves
➡️Retrieve balls quickly."

Mr Vanneste adds, “always remember the golden rules: discretion and respect!

But how on earth do they manage to be attentive and reactive enough to keep the match running smoothly, while also being so discreet you forget all about them? It's a fine art. If you have a ball, you raise your arm to show it. If you don't have one, you hold your arms down with your palms visible, facing upwards.

On the court, nobody is allowed to speak. That means not talking to the players, umpire or other ball kids. Only visual communication is allowed.

How to become a tennis ball boy or girl

The role of tennis ball kids

It's a bit like performing in a theatre,” Mr Vanneste says. I know what he means. There's a certain choreography, particularly when entering and leaving the court when the teams of ball kids swap over. In single file, they circumnavigate the court, with each person stopping at their allocated position. Two are at the net, with one knee on the ground (and a small knee pad) and four are at the back of the court, standing, with their hands behind their backs. The fast, precise movements to circulate balls and feed them to the players are like some kind of juggling act.

Essentially, their role is to enable match continuity,” says Julien. “There are 6 balls circulating on the court, and they have 20 seconds to get the ball from one point to another. They have to make sure that there are always the right number of balls on the right side. The balls are changed every 7 games.”

You might be thinking, “I'm not going to chase after balls. I'm not a dog" but in reality, it's an essential role. Without ball kids, tournaments simply can't happen. Mr Vannest, PE teacher

Physical and mental qualities

I asked the PE teacher how his pupils respond to rules that seem, to someone who isn't from the world of tennis, unnecessarily strict. “You might expect teenagers to find it hard to behave properly, but when it comes down to it, you're playing a role. Once the referee and players are out there on the court, they pay incredibly close attention and concentrate so hard."

The thing that seems hardest to me, as an outsider, is learning the rules about how points are counted. If you lose track for a second, you won't know whose serve it is and therefore which side the balls should be on. Kelya, one of the trainee ball kids, didn't know any of the rules of tennis before doing this course, but assures me that she picked them up quickly enough. According to her, the hardest thing isn't the physical side of it, but the concentration.

How to become a tennis ball boy or girl

New kit for every tournament

Sir? Can we keep our kit after the tournament? Have you seen them? Aren't the shorts too short? Could we customise them?” ask Kelya and the others. Mr Vanneste shows me the kit, which is unisex: polo shirt, shorts, and a cap for outdoor matches. The colours can change from one year to the next. The aim is for the ball kids to have a uniform that's both recognisable and comfortable.

What does a ball kids training session look like?

I find Kelya and her colleagues in “mega concentration” mode, remaining attentive and highly disciplined despite some bungled ball handling.
Based on what I've seen, it's quite simple: two tennis players have a rally. It's like a dress rehearsal of the movements. It's also to practise counting points, so that you don't forget how many serves there have been or lose track of when it's time for the players to change ends. Julien calls out instructions from time to time so that everyone’s familiar with the mechanics of the game and its subtleties.

How to become a tennis ball boy or girl

How do you get into being a ball boy or girl?

For year-round tournaments, it tends to be pupils from local clubs who act as ball kids. They're very familiar with the rules and can do the job with ease. But when a big slam like the French Open rolls around, the entry requirements are much stricter. Ball kids have to attend special training sessions, as well as try-outs. These can involve speed, endurance, reaction time and other tests. The selectors are looking for the real crème de la crème to guarantee that every match will run smoothly.

Becoming a ball kid at the grand slams

How to end up working at Roland Garros

The selection process

Try-outs take place from October to December (depending on the region), with the selectors, who are all members of the Roland Garros staff, travelling the country to find the very best ball kids.
To be eligible, you need to be a member of a tennis club and be aged between 12 and 16. You don't need to be a particular standard at tennis. Once you're registered, you'll receive an invite for the first selection session.

It's been 10 years since Titouan first stepped onto a tennis court. The 14-year-old is a keen tennis player. His dream? To watch the French Open up close. So close that he can meet some of the best players in the world.
Titouan has taken part in the selection process. He tells us a bit about it.

First of all, there was a two-hour event in the local region. 150 aspiring ball kids turned up, but by the end of the session only 7 remained. Which didn't leave Titouan with much room for error. He takes me through what the workshop involved:
- Rolling precision: rolling the ball between 2 cones (Titouan's favourite drill)
- Throwing precision: getting as many balls as possible in a bucket (5 metres away) in 1 minute
- Teamwork, strategy and speed: a logic challenge done as a relay in teams
- Sprint relay races, in teams

You might be surprised to hear teamwork being mentioned as part of the job, but it's an extremely important quality. To effectively retrieve and circulate balls during a match, the team of 6 ball kids needs to listen, communicate and work well together.

For this first, very tough try-out, the results were sent out by post, with the lucky few receiving an invitation to the second selection session. Titouan was one of those who made it through.

At the second try-out, there were about 50 participants. Titouan recalls an intense few days where he lost all track of time. The mornings began with 30 minutes of running, followed by match situations and other drills. The evenings were given over to theory, so that they'd know the rules of tennis inside out.

Over these few days, their knowledge and skills were closely scrutinised by the examiners. Nothing was left to chance, and everything was scored.

On the last day, everyone came together in a lecture hall to find out who had made it through. Out of 50 candidates, 30 would be taking part in the three-week-long French Open. Titouan heard his name called out in the middle of the list… His dream had come true.

From the horse's mouth

Titouan got to experience what many young tennis players can only dream of

Having sailed through the selection process, this young player from northern France left the family home to spend three weeks experiencing a tournament on a totally different scale.

No walk in the park
We'd find out each evening where we'd be working the next day, depending on how the tournament was going, what the weather forecast was and how each ball kid was ranked. They scored us for every match.
Personally, I started out on court 8. It was really impressive, even though there weren't that many people at the start. It was so intense! You're almost touching the players, which is quite stressful. I was feeling pretty good at the start, working flat out, but some mistakes started creeping in as I got more and more tired. My most memorable match? The one with Hugo Gaston. The atmosphere was totally sick. It's often like that when you've got a French player on court. It was incredible.”

Physical difficulties...
The biggest risk was that I'd injure myself and they wouldn't let me back on the court, so I always warmed up. I was aching on the first day... and all the other days too! Thighs, calves, feet, you name it. Especially when I was at the net.”

A dream come true
I'm so happy to have done it, but I'm probably not planning to do it again. It was so intense and physically tough. What did I get out of it? A new friend, because I was sharing a room with this guy from Paris. It went really well, we got on with each other and we've stayed in touch. During the tournament, there was an amazing team spirit.
I think I've also matured, in terms of teamwork and team spirit. I developed a sense of responsibility. It was a bit like a job. Now, I'm passing on what I've learned to others.”

💡Titouan's advice to other aspiring ball kids: "give it your all in the try-outs and practise at other tournaments".

To find out more, visit

How to become a tennis ball boy or girl

I hope that you, like me, will now see tennis tournaments a little differently. And maybe even consider becoming a ball kid yourself?? (if you're aged 14 to 16!)

My thanks go to the pupils at the Lycée Gambetta and to their teacher Mr Vanneste, as well as the Lille Métropole Tennis Club for all their help.

How to become a tennis ball boy or girl


Content writer

A fan of artistic activities, and always keen to follow major sporting events!

More articles you may be interested in

Tennis Technique: running forehand stroke

Tennis Technique: running forehand stroke.

Discover how to hit a running forehand stroke in tennis with our coaches Nicolas Escudé and Damien Caby...

The characteristics of clay courts in tennis

The characteristics of clay courts in tennis

Slides, topspin, colour, or even the secret of their manufacture, we'll focus in on clay courts and all their characteristics.


Which racket sport is right for you?

Find the racket sport that fits you, whether it be tennis, squash, etc., and get started by reserving a court with a few clicks through our partner Anybuddy.