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TENNIS LESSONS | How to Introduce Your Kids to Tennis

Updated on January 15, 2013

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Firstly, well done on deciding to introducing your child to the wonderful game of tennis. The long-term rewards the game offers will definitely offset the hard work along the way. The following is aimed at those parents out there who hope for their child to be a competitive player, however it will also benefit any and all that are involved in children's physical education. Deciding how and when to start your child playing tennis is perhaps the most important factor to affect their tennis future as it will largely determine their attitude towards the game. Setting the right foundations at the beginning can give them the physical tools to succeed at a high level, and the mindset to enjoy the game at every step of the way. I should state clearly that i am not a parent, i am a professional tennis coach. This gives me the luxury of having an objective point of view, and as such, unbiased advice. I will dispense this advice ... now

When should my child start playing?

Giving one answer to this assumes that all children are the same, obviously every child differs. Therefore there is no exact time frame to start the game. I have seen children start the game as old as eight or nine and within a few years were far beyond similarly aged children who started when they were five. This may seem late to some of you, and by all means it can be great to start earlier, but there is certainly no rush. Many parents believe that they must start their child's on-court training as early as three or four years of age. If you want them to enjoy the game for life, then that age is the time to help them fall in love with the physical skills that will help them in the future. By all means when your child is old enough to walk, they're old enough to start building skills that will help them with many different sports. I have had parents with kids as young as two years old that wish for their little darlings to start hitting cross court forehands. Starting that early will risk turning the child off the game by putting too much pressure on they're understandably ill-prepared mind. My advice would be to wait until they're around five years old to start in group or private lessons, but before then you can introduce them to the game with a variety of fun activities that I will discuss in more detail next.

How should i start them playing?

I believe the right answer lies in the age of the child. At age three to seven a large part of the training revolves around spatial awareness, balance, hand-eye co-ordination, and basic motor skills. What this means is you can help them enormously before they have even seen a tennis court.

The following are just a few simple exercises that can help.

  • Throwing a ball for them to catch with two hands, then one hand, then their non dominant hand.
  • Get them to throw the ball back over arm (baseball/cricket style), it's an essential movement to develop a good tennis serve.
  • Games like hopscotch are fantastic for training footwork and balance.
  • Juggling one, two, and eventually three balls will build their hand-eye co-ordination while creating an enjoyable challenge for them to overcome.

When helping teach your child yourself, think of it like a kids' TV show. At the beginning of the show create a problem that must be solved, for example; say 'we need to bounce the ball on the racket five times'. First they will likely fail to do that. Then, go about giving them the tools to solve the problem. In the example given, suggestions might include; using two hands on the racket, gripping the racket a little higher on the handle, trying to bounce the ball lower etc, If they succeed quickly, then make the problem more challenging, i.e. more bounces, bounces with the feet still, bounces with one hand, bounces with the non dominant hand. Progressively make it more difficult until they cannot solve the problem, then once again help them build the skills to solve it. You can use this learning model to teach them almost anything in an entertaining fashion, they will get a great sense of accomplishment from the achievement. You will undoubtedly also enjoy seeing their confidence grow with each and every little improvement.

When it is time to hit the courts, it's time to outsource the job!! Think of Certified Tennis Professionals as exactly that, professionals. In the business world, the best advice I ever received was to do what I know how to do well, and hire other people to do what they know well...i.e. don't attempt to do something that you're not equipped to do very well. I'm sure you speak English very well, but you wouldn't try to take the place of your child's English teacher would you? One of the largest problems tennis coaches have when teaching small children is not so much how to teach the child, it's how to teach their parents ... to be tennis parents. Encourage them to try other sports as well, what they learn from them will likely apply well to tennis. If they end up liking that sport more, then so be it, at least you have found something they really enjoy.

Who should coach my child?

As a professional tennis coach I wish the answer to this was as straightforward as "just find the closest one, I'm sure they will be fine". Unfortunately the coaching world is full of young, good tennis players who just decided to do a little coaching to make some money on the side. Unfortunately in the majority of clubs I've seen around the world, these are the coaches that are put with the youngest children, while the older more experienced coaches are teaching more experienced players. The best and most experienced coaches should be teaching the youngest children, how else can they get the best chance of experience success and enjoyment at that age. Look for this, and don't stop looking until you find a tennis school that is willing to give your little pride and joy the correct attention. If you can't find one, remember there is a lot you can do for them yourselves. Below I will provide some helpful links for exercises and resources.

Another important aspect is whether or not the coach is teaching progressive tennis. Often it is called Quick Start Tennis, or Play n Stay, it is essentially teaching in the same way, progressing the size of the game based on the size of the player. Small courts, low nets, light rackets, soft balls are the call signs that the club is teaching in this method. Typically they use ball types to group children based on age. Starting at sponge balls, followed by red balls, then orange, green, then finally the normal yellow ball.

Some common pitfalls

1. "I am/was a great player, I should teach them"

Can you tell me exactly how you did your last reverse parallel park? Or how you can accurately conjugate seven different verbs in every sentence, while cooking dinner? No, of course not, it's you're subconscious not your conscious performing these seemingly simple tasks. Understanding what's called the Conscious Competence Model is an important part of the teaching - learning dynamic. The model looks like this:

Unconscious incompetence: Before starting a new skill, we're unaware of our poor performance

Conscious incompetence: After some training, we become conscious of our poor performance

Conscious competence: After more training, we become conscious of our good performance

Unconscious competence: After many more years of training, we once again become unconscious, only this time we are unconscious to the exact process of our high-level performance.

This model holds true for all manner of complex physical and mental tasks, it also provides the reason that even though you may be a great tennis player, teaching what you know to someone else (adult or child) is next to impossible, until you have learnt how to teach that is. I would go as far as to say that in the short term, it may indeed be better for them if you are learning the game at the same time, you will be going through the same stages of learning together. Don't worry, they will still think you're the best player in the world!!

2. "My son/daughter isn't ready to play a match"

This is one of the great 'chicken and the egg' stories of learning tennis. Parents understandably wish to protect their children from the pain of losing, and as such they often hold off on letting their kids play matches. As a tennis parent you should help your child understand that tennis is ultimately just a sport and that losing is an important part of competition.

Getting over a fear of loss is not an easy task for any child. However, if you're able to praise their efforts more than their results, then they will soon recognize that whether they win or lose, you will support them. After all, no champion has ever risen to the top without making a lot of mistakes along the way, that's the only way they learnt what they needed to improve.

In conclusion I hope that your first few steps down the tennis road will be enjoyable, and that this little guide has helped in some way. It is in no way definitive, there is a lot of information out there for would-be tennis parents to consider, and a lot of coaches ready to dispense it, usually at a price. Be selective about who coaches your child and always remember, all a coach can offer is a more educated opinion on the subject of tennis. There is more than one path to success and they certainly don't know your child as well as you do.

I will leave you with the best advice I ever gave anyone on the tennis court .....WEAR SUNSCREEN!!


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