Our world feels increasingly complex, unpredictable and scary. Some studies claim that extreme interconnectivity through social media, technological advancements and instant gratification are detrimental to the mental and emotional health of children. As a result, parents look to tennis for answers. Tennis is an amazing sport for developing independence, character and an active lifestyle. But how do we keep our kids engaged in tennis and get them to love the sport? Simply enrolling into a tennis camp or signing up for private lessons doesn’t guarantee a lifelong love of the sport. The real success comes when a young person finds their own reasons to play. It’s this ownership and love of the game (from the inside) that is the Holy Grail.
To instill long-term ownership, parents can take action in a few key ways:
Watch the pros live and in person
Although ticket prices are expensive for just about anything these days, tennis offers pro-level quality viewing opportunities if you are willing to dig a little. For instance, Division 1 college matches are free and the level of play in the NCAA has never been higher. Furthermore, pro events still exist in the Northeast, from the grass of Newport, R.I., to Long Island’s New York Open all the way down to pro events in Washington, D.C., as players warm up for the obvious crown jewel, the U.S. Open. There’s nothing like seeing a live professional event up close and the impact on a youngster can be profound.
Invest in quality coaching
Tennis is a highly technical sport requiring sound fundamentals. A knowledgeable and inspiring coach makes all the difference. Try to find a coach who is able to make the learning process productive and fun at the same time. It’s all about learning the basics and having fun. If you cannot afford the great coach, make sure to align your child with a fun and nurturing coach who has charisma and charm while having enough knowledge to be helpful.
Play tennis as much as possible with your kids
Even if you’re a complete beginner, you can still find a way to get on the court and bring tennis to life! Find a court with a wall and give it your best shot together. Walls don’t miss, so the pressure is off. Bonding over a sport like tennis is as healthy as it gets and won’t cost you much during the warm weather months.
Read inspiring sports books
There’s nothing like a great sports biography to light up the imagination and inspire. Kids take the written word very seriously and they like true stories of real-life people. Giving them examples of how a healthy sports life can be lived may be all the information one needs to try to make a dream come true. Some titles of sports-related books include Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood From Sports Legends by David Stabler, Rising Above: How 11 Athletes Overcame Challenges in Their Youth to Become Stars by Gregory Zuckerman, and Stephen Curry: Never Give Up by Stephen Herman.
Set up tennis play dates with other players
If given the right opportunity, kids will find a way to have fun doing almost anything. Therefore, getting two friends (four is even better!) on a tennis court is more than half the battle. This is especially effective if the youngsters have a little bit of experience with the game already. Beginner players may not have as much fun, so be careful, but all it takes is a little bit of planning and willing parents.
The sport of tennis offers so many wonderful things to a healthy lifestyle. Yet there are so many distractions and alternatives. Finding a way to tap into the spirit of a young mind at an early age can make all the difference. Keep an active calendar of events and a keen focus on exposing your child to tennis and sports as much as possible. Find a way to elevate sports as a superior activity and incredible challenge will keep them coming back for more. Make sure the journey is always fun. It’s only a game, after all.
Geoff Grant is a Duke graduate and former ATP player ranked as high as 109th in the world in singles, and in 1998, reached the third round of the U.S. Open. For the past eight years, he has been a part of the CourtSense team as a Director of Tennis and General Manager of Tenafly Racquet Club.