You love tennis. And whether you’re relatively new to the sport or a multi-decade veteran of the game, you’ve probably tried to pass that love of tennis on to friends, co-workers and family.
Introducing kids to tennis, especially those ages 10 and under, requires a different approach than what you might have used with your best friend. Forget about regimented drills and embrace the concept of free play instead.
The goal is to develop a love of the game, not just a skilled player. Kids who don’t love tennis will eventually burnout and move onto a more compelling activity. Here’s five tips for getting kids excited about the sport.
1. Let them play.
Tennis has distinct rules and successful players have spent years developing the techniques and skills required to keep the ball in play. Forget about all the dos and don’ts when you’re first introducing a child to tennis.
Once you’ve covered the very basics, such as how to hold the racquet, encourage unstructured free play using mini-courts and foam or low compression balls that slow down the game and make it easier for kids.
Allowing children to play spontaneously, to experiment and to risk, turns tennis into a haven where they can get away from their over-structured lives and learn to move, play and create on the court, says USTA in its guide.
2. Keep it short.
Drop the long lectures on how to properly swing a racquet and start with short, fun games that help improve their coordination. For example, the Koosh ball pass is an easy way to start that you can do anywhere.
The Koosh ball pass involves passing a beanbag from your racquet to theirs and back again. Once you’ve successfully passed it several times, step back and toss gently back and forth. You can make the game more challenging by standing on one leg, tossing the bean bag low or high.
3. Keep it active.
If you have a group of kids, make sure they’re always moving. For example, if you’ve set up a mini-court and more than four children are present, keep them constantly rotating so they’re not sitting out for long.
Challenge the kids who are sitting on the sidelines to count how many ball bounces or dribbles they can get in a row.
4. Make it fun.
If you follow one rule, this is it. Every time you’re about to introduce a new drill, ask yourself ‘Is this fun?’ If you aren’t sure, it probably ins’t.
Check out the USTA’s parents’ guide to 10 and Under Tennis for fun, easy activities designed for kids.
5. Add friends to the mix
Kids like to play with their friends. So, why not invite them along?
If you don’t have the resources or space to include several other children, seek out team tennis program geared for young children in your community.