by Jason Dak Perry, Racquet Sports Manager, USPTR P-1
Considering what sport your child should concentrate on is not always obvious. The amount of options can be overwhelming. Between the various team and individual sports, kids today are faced with a dizzying array of choices. But, one sport does stand out in its unique ability to provide a foundation that a child can build upon well into adolescence and adulthood – tennis. Tennis can be a gateway for a child to develop skills that can last with them for life, and fall is a great time of year to take up the sport.
So, when is the best age to start a child in a tennis program? The answer varies, but children as young as 3-years-old can gain from exposure to tennis and its mechanics. Often the best introduction is as simple as handing them a junior-sized tennis racquet and soft tossing them tennis balls in the backyard. Parents can help develop the hand-eye coordination important for tennis by simply letting kids “swing away” without considerable emphasis on form. They should not worry about using one hand or two hands or how the child is standing, but rather allow the child to develop a natural feel of swinging a racquet. The key is for the child to associate handling the racquet with having fun. Too much instruction at a young age can often confuse or frustrate the youngest of students.
When parents decide to enroll their kids in organized tennis classes, small class size and instructor enthusiasm are critical. The attention span of children ages 4-6 can be very short, so it is important that the class is small enough so that the student gets to hit plenty of tennis balls during the class. Having kids of that young age hit one ball, then go to the back of the line, and wait for 10 other kids to hit before they can hit again, can lead to boredom and a loss of interest. Plenty of hands-on action and individual attention from the instructor seem to directly correlate to a child’s enjoyment. Additionally, having an instructor that is upbeat, enthusiastic and vocal are vital.
The benefits of tennis are limitless. Tennis is such a well-rounded sport bio-mechanically that it can help children in almost any other sport in which they participate. At competitive levels, tennis incorporates speed, agility, balance, hand-eye coordination, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. Few other sports have such a varied mix of components. Further, competitive tennis allows kids to be self-reliant and use critical and strategic thinking in match play situations.
Learning tennis and its mechanics is truly like learning to ride a bike. Once a child develops skills at a young age, they never lose them. Imparting the proper tennis fundamentals early in life gives them a tremendous advantage into adulthood. It is possible to step away from the game for years and pick it back up in no time if the foundation is put in place at an early age. Teaching children tennis gives them a sport they can play and enjoy for a lifetime.