Tennis is one of the most technical sports to learn. Unlike basketball or soccer where someone can pick up a ball and play right away, it will take a young child up to a year or more to develop the skills to engage in realistic competition. In addition to that, we are fighting for children’s attention against video games available on every smartphone and tablet for children’s attention. It is important as coaches to figure out ways to make the learning process fun at the beginning stages of tennis.
I come from a very technical teaching background and strongly believe that every child should be taught the very best FUNdamentals as early as possible. You never know which kids will become the next great champion. Sound fundamentals will give every kid that chance. It can be difficult to keep young children engaged in the complicated learning process. This is where developing games in your learning process is so important.
Beginning with red ball players, five- to eight-years-old and new to the sport, there are a number of things we can do to spark the love of tennis in their minds.
Encourage repetitive tasks using games and competition. For example, reward properly executed forehand and backhand drills with points. As silly as it sounds, six-year-olds love getting 1,000 points just for fun alone! You may also turn competitive drills into team and group competitions. Using a soft soccer ball or light medicine ball, see how many times players can pass the ball back and forth properly in a set amount of time. Prizes can be small gifts or mini rewards such as not having to pick up balls for the rotation.
Moving up to orange and green ball levels, kids ages seven- to 10-years-old, the competition can become more specific. As these players gain the majority of the skills to play all aspects of tennis, it is important to keep them engaged in the learning process by adding goals and competition to the technical portions of practice.
Something as simple as crosscourt rallies can become a game when targets are introduced. For example, see who can hit 10 balls past the service line first. They can compete against each other, in teams, or against other courts to mix up the games. It also helps to put stronger and weaker players together to help lift the weaker players up and allows the stronger to understand how to work with their teammates.
For all ages, it is very important to communicate with the ideas and goals of each drill. Simple drills may seem boring to young children, and if they understand and are excited about the goal, they will be more likely to stick with the lessons even if they struggle to achieve them. Pairing the concept of games with the learning process can help players of all ages and levels grow to love the sport as they grow their skills.