Tennis is often overlooked as a good sport for children who may be busy with the more popular children's pastimes of soccer and softball. But, tennis has great benefits for children and can be a nice complement to sports children already play and love. With no team necessary, plentiful public tennis courts, and children's rackets and balls that can be purchased for a total of under $15.00, tennis is an affordable sport that can be played just about any time your child is ready.
Ajay Pant, general manager of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD and Chair of the U.S. Tennis Association's for 10 and Under Task Force says the key to getting kids interested in tennis early is to make it fun. Over the several years, the 10 and Under Tennis methodology that has been in use in Europe for decades was finally implemented in the United States. This method focuses on kids having fun and learning by playing, rather than relying on the old standard in the U.S. of having kids stand in line doing drills before they were allowed to play a game.
Like baseball doesn't start with full-sized bat, it doesn't make sense to teach this way in tennis. Ypu don't want to stand on a line and wait to be told what doesn't look right. That's why there aren't a lot of great tennis players. As Ajay says: "Tennis is a game. Play it."
The Junior Tennis Champions Center that Ajay manages currently teaches 300 kids under 10 so he has a lot of experience teaching children with a wide breadth of athletic ability and skill. The 10 and Under method in use at the Center and across the country utilizes a progressive system that allows children to develop skills at their own pace, using red, orange, and yellow, balls which move increasingly faster while children are gradually moved farther away from the net for play until children are ready to use standard green tennis balls for play at regulation distance from the net.
Ajay emphasizes that in order to mold a child into a lifelong tennis player and produce great players from the U.S., tennis first and foremost needs to be fun. There should be little or no standing in line. Instead, children should be "playing all the time and getting instruction all the time. Just get the ball in play and move around." This method results in a love of the sport where specialization is achieved over the long-term, perhaps as long as 10 years.
As for why tennis is a great choice for children, Ajay has no shortage of reasons. For starters, tennis has been found to be one of the most mentally demanding sports that helps to improve grades, concentration, and focus as well as helping children to become more independent and handle stress better. A good coach will also help children learn good lessons about helping and sharing. Moreover, tennis has been proven to have health benefits for adults. While these health benefits do not necessarily apply to children, if children develop a love for the sport early it will help them be healthier adults. Ajay also emphasizes that tennis is special because it is the only sport that family members of all ages can play together, starting with Mommy and Me programs for very young children and providing a great way to stay connected with children through the teenage years. Children can even play with grandparents.
Ajay offers tips on how to get kids interested in tennis:
1) Teach through play. Go out by yourself with your child and make the environment fun. Be sure to use appropriately equipment for children, starting with a 19" or 21" racquet, available on line and sporting goods stores for around $10.00, and start with red balls that move at 25 percent of conventional tennis ball speed, available for around $3.00 or a multipack.
2) Once child starts to enjoy it find a pro certified by the Professional Tennis Registry and/or the U.S. Tennis Association, both of whom list certified pros on their websites. Just play where and when you can. A club membership isn't necessary, as long as you find a kid-friendly program.
3) Ask the certified pro if they use 10 and Under Methodology. A good program will use different colored balls and progression with little to no drills. Bear in mind that a good player is not necessarily a good teacher and a good teacher for adults may not be certified to teach children.
4) Gauge how good your child's tennis lessons are by asking if they had fun. If your child does not have a positive first experience with tennis they will not want to continue playing the sport.