They have your eyes, your spouse's hair color and their grandmother's nose. But will your kids inherit your passion for tennis?
They will if you introduce them to the sport in a way that's fun, easy and heavy on social interaction.
Here's how, in three simple steps:
Step 1: Just Play!
Think about some of the most popular sports among kids, such as baseball and soccer. In many cases, kids learn the basics in their backyards, whether it's playing catch with dad or kicking the ball back and forth with mom. This fun, family experience gets them excited about the sport and helps get them interested in playing on a team.
"There's nothing more fun for a kid than going outside and playing with mom and dad," says Kirk Anderson, the USTA's Director of Recreational Coaches and Programs. "I remember playing catch with my dad for hours; it was addictive and I just wanted to keep playing. We want to bring that same spirit and same positive experience to tennis."
But can you play tennis in the backyard? Yes you can, thanks to modified equipment that's tailored specifically to children, which allows parents and their kids to start rallying in their backyard (or driveway, local park, etc.) in a matter of minutes.
Kids' rackets, for instance, are smaller so they can grip and swing them easily. A ball made of soft foam bounces lower and moves slower, allowing kids to strike it with greater accuracy. All of this helps to promote rallying, which builds confidence while pumping up the fun factor.
"Let's be honest: Young kids aren't interested in learning stroke technique and how to keep score," says Kurt Kamperman, USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis. "They just want to hit the ball and start playing."
Step 2: Seek Out Organized Programs
Don't let this scare you. Organized junior tennis programs aren't win-at-all-cost affairs featuring drill sergeant-like coaches and blood-thirsty opponents. Rather, these fun-focused programs teach kids the basics of tennis while promoting sportsmanship, camaraderie and friendly competition. Many of these beginner programs are set up as teams, so kids can learn the game with their friends.
Tennis is a great individual lifetime sport, but it's also a team sport. Look at Davis Cup, Fed Cup and high school tennis—these are classic examples of tennis as a team sport. And kids love being part of a team, wearing a uniform, and rooting for each other.
That's where QuickStart Tennis and USTA Jr. Team Tennis come in. For kids ages 6 to 18, USTA Jr. Team Tennis gives kids the chance to develop basic tennis skills in a fun, team atmosphere. More than 80,000 young players are currently involved in Jr. Team Tennis programs throughout the U.S. Players are grouped together based on age as well as ability. Programs generally last for six to eight weeks and consist of both weekly team practices and match play.
The youngest USTA Jr. Team Tennis participants—8 and under, and 10 and under—learn the game using an exciting new play format known as QuickStart Tennis.
With QuickStart, the game has been scaled down to match the age and ability of kids. The 8-and-under kids use age-appropriate equipment (shorter rackets and lower-bouncing foam balls) and play on courts measuring 36 feet by 18 feet (a standard court's doubles lanes are used as baselines). Nets are set at a height of 2 feet, 9 inches to allow for easy rallying.
With the 10-and-under division, the courts (60 feet by 21 feet) and racquets (23–25 inches in length) are slightly larger to account for the kids' developing skills and physical abilities. Both age groups use a simplified scoring system. Once kids are older (11 and up), they start using standard equipment, playing on regulation courts, and using the traditional tennis scoring system.