Nothing But Love for Tennis
In the game of tennis, love means nothing, but those playing tennis have nothing but love for the game. As parents, we have the opportunity to introduce our children to this fun sport, and when it is time to decide between little league and soccer, we should also consider tennis. Similar to other sports, tennis provides exercise and enjoyment while allowing kids to build relationships and develop good sportsmanship. On the other hand, tennis differs from many other sports in that it allows players to begin at a very early age and continue for the entirety of one’s life. When asked about tennis, Gwen White, Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductee and tennis director at the Reservoir YMCA, said, “To me tennis is the best sport a youngster can get involved in as they can play their whole life. We have 80 year olds playing on league teams at the Y.” Talk about a life sport! So, how do you get started?
There are many ways to introduce children to tennis. For beginners or young children, individual or small group, private lessons can allow for direct instruction from tennis professionals. At this stage, a young or new player works to develop the proper technique, which sets a solid foundation for growth. An experienced pro knows how to do this in a way that is developmentally appropriate and fun. Most exercise facilities with tennis courts or country clubs have tennis pros that provide lessons. The cost of lessons varies depending on the coach’s experience, location, and number of people in the lesson.
Another option for tennis beginners is a junior beginner program offered by the United States Tennis Association and Mississippi Tennis Association called “Ready to Rally.” Angie DeLeon, MTA Director of Schools and 10 and Under Programs describes Ready to Rally as “an inexpensive program to introduce kids to tennis withoutspending money on equipment.” Kids 6-12 participate in a 6-8 week program. Here, they learn tennis basics without having to invest money in equipment or private lessons. To learn more about Ready to Rally, visit the MTA website at http://mstennis.com/conent/beginner-programs.
Similar to Ready to Rally, red ball camps are offered for ages 4-6 and are taught by a certified USPTA or USPTR tennis professional. Slower balls, smaller courts, and appropriately sized racquets help introduce young children to the game of tennis. Kelli Hughes, tennis pro and shop manager at Parham Bridges Tennis Center explains, “A read ball camp is centered around fun and building a love for the game of tennis. Certified instructors will make it fun while improving coordination and motor skill development . . . Red ball camps allow children to experience a team atmosphere with friendly competition. Private instruction is also recommended in conjunction with red ball camps.” For more information, contact Kelli at Parham Bridges or visit their website http://overkiltennis.com/.
In addition to Ready to Rally and red ball camps, kids can participate in USTA’s Junior Team Tennis. Similar to other team sports, Junior Team Tennis allows kids to play on a team. Junior Team Tennis begins with 10 and under, and as the player gets older, he or she will change age groups accordingly. Within each age group, players are divided based on skill level, so players improve by competing with other players at the same level.
With some tennis experience, the next step includes tournament play. Futures tournaments allow novice players to learn the basics of tournament play. Once players progress from futures tournaments, they begin playing in junior tournaments with more experienced players. Playing in junior tournaments allows a player to earn a state, sectional, and/or national ranking, which can lead to college scholarships and professional tour opportunities.
In addition to playing with USTA, kids are able to participate on high school tennis teams. Many schools offer a tennis program allowing kids to play tennis for 6 years starting in 7th grade. In public and private schools, players compete for both individual and team state titles each year. Upon graduation, students may earn scholarships to play at the junior college or even senior college level.
As Coach White mentioned, tennis players continue playing into adulthood and many even as senior citizens. Tennis truly is a lifelong sport, and by introducing kids to tennis at an early age, they can develop the technique needed to become a successful player. Tennis is the investment that gives a lifetime of returns. It’s no wonder why tennis players have so much LOVE for the game.
By Beth McKay