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Q: What's a good age to introduce your child to tennis and what types of programs become available at different ages? - Melissa
From Dolores, Yorktown Heights, NY:
My answer to you is a child can be ready at any age, depending on his or her motivation and body strength. My youngest student started with me at the age of 4 years old and loved being on court and could return the balls back to me. From day one, I started her with the correct swing pattern and the proper footwork. She loved it and is still with me, just turning 7 years old. This 7-year-old serves from the baseline and hits a ball just as hard as the older kids of 12 years and older. I would have played kiddie games with most other 4-year-olds to ensure that they would have lots of fun and would want to return to the court next time. It really depends on the child. Find yourself a good program for kids. Most tennis clubs have programs for children from age 3 and up.
From Robert, Martinez, Calif.:
I play all over the Bay area and the Central Valley, and I see kids at least eight to 12 years old out there taking lessons.
From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, Fla.:
Melissa, starting an age to get kids playing tennis really depends on two things: the child's maturity and the availability of appropriate instruction.
The USTA QuickStart Tennis play format is great. The important thought to keep in mind is THEY ARE KIDs, not little people. Not all 5-year-olds are at the same level of maturity or physical ability. However, my experience has shown that the "coach" must be skilled in groups at different levels. I have been running QST since September 2008. Participation has been slow with all levels; hence, I have 5/6, 7/8 and 9/10-year-olds all at the same time.
The USTA training is very helpful. Last month I put the system to the ultimate use by hosting PE classes for over 2,100 kids, grades K-6, during 10 school days. The youngsters had no experience; yet within 35 minutes, the objectives were met. QST includes agility; however, due to the limited time, we moved straight to racquet and ball control. We used the 18' by 33" net system, along with the red low-compression balls and 21-25" racquets.
The coach needs to be confident at following the program. Each age group has eight lesson plans. Hence, being able to follow three different plans is paramount. Kids, in general, sign up again several times, since mastery is seldom accomplished the first time through. The coach needs to be able to cover the same material and implement increased difficulty as the players improve. We all know if we learned to serve after one lesson, we all would have a very poor serve.
Remember QST is team tennis for kids 10 and under. They play appropriate-level match play at every meeting from day one. After QST, players are ready for USTA Jr. Team Tennis and well on there way to rookie and sanctioned tournaments.
In closing, you can go to www.usta.com and find QuickStart, along with all the lesson plans. Just follow the links.
The most popular play format currently is QuickStart Tennis. However, you may want something more advanced than that.
USTA Player Development has a wonderful chart called "The Progressive Development of a High Performance Player." It starts out with skills to work on at age five and goes up from there.
By ages, it outlines the recommended teaching emphasis, such as physical skills, tactical, technical, mental and emotional skills, length of sessions, types of competition and scoring, and the type of coaching and program scoring. The chart puts the kids on the 60' court at ages 8 to 10, but of course that depends on other developmental accomplishments listed on the chart. You can reach them at www.playerdevelopment.usta.com or by mail at USTA Coaching Education Dept., 10399 Flores Drive, Boca Raton, FL 33426.
They put out some great stuff, whether you are aiming at high performance development or not.
From Coach Ken, Treasure Island, Fla.:
The great thing about tennis is it's the sport of a lifetime, and any age is a great time to start!
As a child, you can get out with a little racquet at age 2 and just push the ball around. Put tennis on the TV so they can watch and learn. There are the big fluffy balls that are good and not as scary to start with. I would say by age 4, 5 or 6 you should start using regular balls, teaching the proper technique so it is in their muscle memory.
There are groups at your local clubs that have little nets, and a coach or yourself can toss balls over and work on all the shots -- forehand, backhand, volleys, overheads and serves. It's nice for the kids to be with other kids so they can work on their socialization skills and have a grand old time.
Between ages 6 and 8, you should start being able to hit rallies between the serve line and the baseline to baseline. After this, the child should go out and play a USTA tournament. When you play and even lose, you learn how to win!
To get started playing tennis in a location near you visit the USTA's Tennis Welcome Center . Find more tennis technique information at the USTA Player Development Web site .