| By Richard Thater
Credit: Digital Vision

Monumental! Revolutionary! These are two of the powerful words used by tennis industry leaders to describe 10 & Under Tennis. Although QuickStart equipment is foundational when teaching tennis to children—smaller courts and racquets, softer, slower balls—remember that Lance Armstrong said the Tour de France is not about the bike … it is really about the mindset.

The USTA has created a 70/80/90 rule to remember when teaching tennis to kids.

►Seventy percent of children drop out of youth sports by the age of 13. Why? The expectation and pressure from adults is too high.
►Young children remember with 80 percent accuracy what we say to them. We want to praise their effort and point out what they did right.
►Ninety percent of kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team.

Coaches should be willing to evaluate and redefine how they are doing their jobs.

The USTA has found that the more children enjoy tennis, the more they will do it. The more they do it, the more they will learn. And the more they learn, the better they will perform.

So, what do we say to kids if we want them to enjoy the game and get better? The first thing is to praise the effort, not the result. If a six-year-old completely misses the ball on a forehand, he doesn’t need me to point out the obvious. I find it more effective to tell him that his body position was great or that his follow-through was just right.
And what’s with this ugly, yellow crime scene tape on our beautiful courts? This is a great way to quickly set up a 36-foot court for very young beginners. And you get on and off court without disrupting your club’s regular scheduling. But the major advantage for using this tape is that it allows children to rally across a simulated net without having to hit over it. This allows children to keep playing the game.

When I speak with parents, I compare teaching 10 & Under Tennis to teaching children how to write. We learn the letters of the alphabet, and we copy endless pages to improve upon our skills. Dedicated players do improve by repeatedly focusing on micro adjustments to their game, but children want to tell stories, not practice penmanship. They want to play.

PTR educator Anne Pankhurst wants to free teachers and students from the tyranny of the 400-ball shopping cart. Because children are natural teachers, they love to take over the feeding responsibilities. You are then free to move around the court and work right next to your students.

And working close to your students is what 10 & Under Tennis is about.

Richard Thater is a long-time teacher and player on New York City courts. He is PTR-certified in both Junior and Adult Development, and has played in senior tournaments in the Greater New York area. Richard currently teaches at the West Side Tennis Club. He may be reached by phone at (917) 749-3255 or e-mail RichThater@aol.com.