There is a public tennis court that is now open around the corner from my house and I just got racquets for my child and me. What are some tips for keeping it fun and active and making sure my child has a positive experience on the court? I've never played tennis. Help!
PCA Response by Carrie Zarraonandia, PCA Trainer and USPTA Regional Vice President
1. Welcome to "the sport of a lifetime".
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) has created an amazing portal, Net Generation for parents, players, and coaches to reference fun activities for all! The fun factor includes kid-friendly equipment, which includes smaller rackets ("17-"25 inches, $20.) made to help your kids to succeed as well as softer, slower traveling( Moving?) balls. Check out your local sporting goods store. It's also a lot easier for parents to play with their child, so go ahead and pick out a colorful smaller racket for yourself! The buy-in for your child can start with a racket decorating activity...stickers and name labels personalize the racket as well as using a sharpie to spice up the colored balls even more.
2. Grab your tennis bag and hit the courts!
Find an old duffel bag or backpack from the shelf and have your child help you pack all equipment into the family "fun bag". This encourages them to show responsibility and care for the equipment. (Have them carry it if it's not too heavy). Suggested items: water bottle, sunscreen, jump rope, beach ball, clothespins, a pair of dice, or a pack of cards as well as rackets and balls.
3. Invent your own warm-up or dynamic movement activities.
Ask your child to take the dice out of the fun bag and toss them on the ground.
The number they roll is how many hops on one foot your group will perform. Now it is your turn to roll the dice. This will encourage sharing and thinking as a team. Tie the jump rope to the net or fence and make it wiggle like a worm, ground level. Repeat the dice toss and have them jump over the wiggling worm. Now it's your turn! Your child will light up with giggles to see you try to jump over the rope.
4. Tennis is a "send and receive" sport...so think outside the box.
Remember we send information back and forth as well as the ball. Your child will take non-verbal clues from you so be sure to send your enthusiasm their way. It is also helpful to let them know your family is learning this sport together...plenty of mistakes will be made for sure. Praise their effort if they hit the ball over the net or inside the court lines. Most of the ball send and receiving skills can be done on the same side of the net, ensuring connection and success.
- "Beach Ball Bingo'' starts with tossing the beach ball back and forth without the rackets to warm up everyone's tracking and hand-eye coordination. After a few tosses, grab your rackets and start smacking the beach ball around. It will go in a variety of directions so this activity also serves as an awesome warm-up. Yell the word "bingo" every time the ball is struck...it's a great energy raiser for the entire group.
- "Rollie-Pollie'' is another great way to have them learn to swing the racket from both sides of their body. Change out the beach ball for a kid-friendly tennis ball (red-transition ball preferably), as well as getting the pack of playing cards from the fun bag. Pick a card from the deck and roll the ball on the ground to each other the number of times that match the card number. Every time you reach your goal number (as a team) you can put a clothespin on the net or fence. (4 points equals a game in tennis).
During the development stages of learning a sport, scorekeeping is not always encouraged...but we all know our kids keep score anyway! Smashing the ball on the ground and then rolling it to your teammate will serve in slowing the rally (ball going back and forth) down for success.
5. Follow your child's commitment.
One of Positive Coaching Alliance's National Board Advisory Members, Olympic Gold Medalist Summer Sanders said that her parents "followed her commitment to swimming". Meaning that they showed an interest in her sport but she leads the way. Challenge yourself to find creative ways to support your player's curiosity and love for ANY sport they might want to play. As positive sports parents, we all wish for our kids to have the ability, confidence, and desire to be physically active for life. Thanks for making that happen!!