Hands up if you’ve ever had a kid stomp off in frustration when they couldn’t master a sport on their first lesson. Keep ‘em raised if they were reluctant to get up and – as the old adage implores – try, try again. Tennis Canada feels your pain.
Introducing Kids Tennis, a new teaching approach for kids 10 and under that uses developmentally appropriate equipment, court size, scoring, and strategies to provide earlier success, aiming to keep kids loving and playing tennis for life.
How and why does Kids Tennis work?
Richard Crowell, director of development for Tennis Canada, is happy to explain, saying, “In most sports, kids play and compete too much, and don’t practice or do enough skill development. In tennis it’s sort of the polar opposite. Whenever kids come out, their first question is always, ‘When can we play?’ And we used to send them to lesson after lesson, always saying, ‘No, you can’t play, you aren’t ready yet’. With Kids Tennis, we try to put play at the forefront.”
So it’s not about trying to get kids to model a specific technique, or focus solely on skills? Crowell concurs. He’s seen that this is what kids want. Instead of forcing structured lessons, where kids have to work on getting things ‘just right’, Kids Tennis gives them more opportunity for matches, time for healthy competition, and time to just have fun playing tennis, which ultimately helps them develop those skills.
He adds, “The big thing with sports in general that we’ve found is that retention is a big problem. When it’s difficult to learn, you lose participants early on.”
Keeping kids involved in tennis
With Kids Tennis, children are having early success and having fun, which means they will want to keep playing, and the more they play the better they will get (and the better they get the more they will want to play!). Kids who are having fun tend to stick with a sport, as opposed to quitting.
Okay, so you’ve hooked the kids. Now how to keep them excited when they have to wait until their next lesson to play again? With Kids Tennis, using a smaller court isn’t just permissible, it’s recommended. So now your kids can play in school gyms, parking lots, community centres, even with mini-nets in their home driveways.
This non-traditional approach to learning tennis may be unfamiliar to parents, but Crowell is quick to extoll its merits, saying, “I think one of the tendencies for parents is to try and progress their kids too quickly through the system; we want our kids to be pros so they need to be playing full court tennis as early as possible. That’s a trap parents have to avoid. Allow kids to play a lot, to develop, to develop friendships within sport … seek out organizations that offer Kids Tennis, but also, play at home with your kids.”
Play other sports, too
Crowell also worries about parents who “drive their kids into a specialization a bit too early, because they think more is better.” He encourages parents to look for complementary additional sports, that offer chances to develop physical literacy skills and follow the LTAD model established by Canadian Sport for Life.
Instead of trying to focus your child on tennis, tennis, tennis, he advocates for cross-training, recommending sports with a wide category of movement, like hockey and soccer, as a natural complement to tennis, and as a general guideline for keeping kids active.
Be realistic about what your kids will get from tennis
Clearly Crowell is a passionate advocate for tennis, but his advice to parents can be applied to any sport when he cautions, “parents are going to invest a lot in whatever sport they choose, and some of them are hoping to get repaid down the road by a professional contract, or a million dollar sponsorship, and that’s just not realistic. So when you look at putting your kids in sport, and about making that investment, you really have to look at what your kids are going to look like at the end of 10, 12, 15, 20 years of junior sport. You have to hope for a kid who is well adjusted, plays fair, [and] has leadership skills. That’s the investment you want to focus on.”
This is such a beautiful statement about what sport can do, it prompts me to ask if it’s too late for my own limited tennis skills. Happily, Crowell assures me that beginners and seniors can use a modified version of the Kids Tennis approach, and being older, will progress even quicker through the stages.
A program that can help me and my 7 year old learn tennis? Sold!
Choosing a tennis coach: what you should look for
- Make sure your coach is certified. (Tennis Canada and the Tennis Professionals Association (TPA) have different levels of certification): Keeping up with certification shows eagerness to learn, and means the coach will be up to date on any advances or new strategies.
- Observe the coach in action. Does the coach make playing fun, exciting, and positive, or do they seem driven by winning and driving ranking?
- Look for a coach that can communicate with kids. Are they explaining things at a child’s level, or do they speak over their heads? How well do they relate to kids?
- A great coach gets kids excited about the sport. Don’t choose a coach just because they raised a champion, but look for the ones whose students keep coming back to learn more. Did the coach inspire kids to see sport as an activity for life?