There is a starting point for every child who is introduced to tennis. The first experience might be on a playground with friends, or it may be in the driveway with a parent or family member. Really, it could be in any number of settings—at school during physical education class, during recess, or in a before- or after-school program. Many youth program providers also offer tennis, generally in after-school or summer programs, and introductory tennis classes are common in most communities in the United States and are typically offered by parks, camps or clubs.
However it happens, once your child has that first experience and develops a perceived level of ability the thought that, "Hey, I can do this" is important to identify opportunities for your child to participate.
This week, we spotlight four distinct tennis experiences that kids can enjoy - some, like structured or competitive play, revolve around adult involvement as opposed to spontaneous play where kids can be on their own and try out their skills and strengths:
An opportunity often overlooked in our highly scheduled society is spontaneous play. This is where kids can learn and play either by themselves or with other kids. It could be hitting balls against a wall or garage door, or by setting up modified courts that fit into smaller or more restricted spaces.
Kids in other youth sports shoot baskets, kick or throw balls in the backyard or skateboard down the sidewalk and off the curb. Playing tennis with foam balls on a modified court can provide endless hours of activity and fun. It is interesting to note that champions in many other sports spent most of their developmental years learning from others and playing spontaneously.
Previously this was difficult because kids only had options of playing on the same-sized court and with the same ball that the pros use. The QuickStart Tennis Play format uses equipment that is scaled to the size of the child. Racquets are shorter, lighter and have smaller handles. Balls are softer, lighter, bounce lower and move slower through the air. Courts are smaller and the net is lower. This makes it possible for kids to learn by playing rather than having to learn all the strokes before they even play the game.
Parents can also encourage their kids to participate in supervised play. Supervised play can be offered anywhere in which courts are made available for kids to use under the direction of an adult. The role of the adult is to serve as the "gatekeeper" and provide a safe area in which everyone has an opportunity to play. You don't need to be a coach or trained professional to take part in this brand of play - but your presence makes all the difference in the world.
Similar to an "open gym" for basketball or an "open pool" for swimming, these opportunities are ideal for schools, youth centers and neighborhoods where kids can meet up and enjoy the camaraderie of playing with one another.
As your children develop an interest in tennis, finding an organized program is a great way to improve their skills and provide further development through lessons, clinics and additional play opportunities. Look for a program that uses the QuickStart Tennis play format in its instruction. Check to see if the program is using courts and equipment that is scaled down to the size and ability of the child. Ask if the instructors have received special training in working with young children. Finally, make sure the program includes more than just lessons. Kids have fun when they actually play, so the program should have competitive opportunities that are non-elimination and allow a child plenty of opportunities to play with and against a large number of players.
Many children will enjoy the camaraderie of a team atmosphere. USTA Jr. Team Tennis provides kids the opportunity to learn and compete on a team and be with their friends. Matches and practices are team-based and are fun because kids have the support of teammates and coaches.
Parents can play a valuable role and be involved at many levels. Like other sports, parents can carpool to get kids to practices and matches, provide drinks and refreshments, serve as scorekeepers during matches, take kids to professional, college or even high school matches, and organize an end-of-the-season pizza party. These are great ways to spend time with your children while also providing them with valuable experiences and lifelong memories.
Some parents might want to coach or assist on-court. For them, the USTA provides workshops —both the standard Recreational Coaches Workshop and workshops designed specifically for teaching the QuickStart Tennis play format — designed for new coaches to teach and coach teams of young players.
Once your kids have developed the proper skills to be a good player and teammate, it is time to let them apply what they've learned towards some friendly competition. QuickStart Tennis tournaments are becoming more and more popular across the country as the game grows to include kids 10 and under - scoring is quite simple and matches are designed to be fast-paced and fun. For more information about tournaments, check out QuickStart Tennis.