Father Hood’s guide to teaching a kid tennis

Father Hood's guide to teaching a kid tennis

Anyone for tennis? Yes, lots of mums and dads, actually. According to a recent survey conducted by sports insurance provider Insure4Sport, parents believe that tennis is the safest sport for kids to play. Having received many blows to the shin from my son’s racquet, I’m not sure I share this belief, but I do concur that tennis is a great sport to introduce your kid to.

At this point, most people have two questions. First, at what age can I start teaching my kid tennis? Second, how do you go about teaching a kid tennis?

In answer to the first query, I bought my son his first racquet when he was one, but, due to toddlers having short concentration spans and practically no patience, most coaches and clubs only offer lessons to kids who are aged three or above. And in answer to the second question, I polled a bunch of tennis coaches at my local David Lloyd Club and by far and away the most popular answer was “just play with them”.

Fun and games

So, I shoved my son on one baseline, jogged round to the other end, hammered a serve at him and… …just kidding. They don’t mean playing with them in the “new balls, 15-love, I’ll serve, nice backhand” sense. They mean get on a court, mess around, come up with different games and see what happens.

And then what? Then your kid will get bored, you will get frustrated, tempers will fray and the whole thing will be a bit of a disaster. Seriously? Yes, seriously. The first few times I tried to play tennis with my son were a total car crash. But we kept going, I kept trying different games and pretty soon things began to get better. Fast-forward 18 months and he’s hitting the ball like this…

Wow, he’s really good for a three-year-old. I know. So, who wants to discover the secret to getting a child to take to the game this well? You all do? Fantastic, because here is my six-point guide to teaching a kid tennis.

1. Take the net out of play

The net: an essential part of the game, crucial to hit over, decider of lots of points and so I, ahem, advise you to completely take it out of play. Here’s why. When you play shots across a net success comes in two parts. There is the success of hitting the ball. And then there is the success of hitting it over the net. In the early weeks of playing, my son sometimes achieved the former, but he practically never achieved the latter, leaving him frustrated and angry. Moving myself around to the same side of the court and taking away the obstacle of the net enabled him to succeed more often, see some progress and generally enjoy the game more.

2. Buy sponge balls

If you’ve tried to teach your kid how to play tennis with grown-up green balls you’ll know how hard it is for them to get used to the pace and bounce. The softer, orange balls are okay, but if you really want your kid to stand a chance of nailing the fundamentals sponge balls are the way to go. Wilson, Babolat and Slazenger all sell them, but we buy from Zsig* and have never been disappointed.

Note: we didn’t actually buy this racquet

3. Make sure you get the right size of racquet

I know this is crucial, because we’ve got it wrong, twice. The tennis coach at your local club should be able to guide you, but if you don’t have one, or they can’t, this is a really useful guide.

4. Don’t make learning tennis all about tennis

If you expect your toddler or preschooler to concentrate on tennis for 30-40 minutes in a row, you have another thing coming. Their mind is going to wander at some point or other, and when this happens you have two options. You can double down, tell them to keep hitting and ensure that the session ends in an almighty racquet-chucking, foot-stomping fit. Or you can break things up by hitting the ball as high as you can, side-step dancing across the court, racing to different lines or doing stuff like this…

5. Hit the wall

In most sports, hitting the wall is considered a bad thing. When teaching a kid tennis, it’s most definitely a good thing. I say this, because the biggest change in my son’s attitude to learning tennis arrived after we began rallying the ball against the glass wall of one of our tennis club’s padel tennis courts. Before this moment, I would have been lucky to keep him on the court for 20 or 30 minutes. Now, he is happy to hit the ball against, or over, the wall for an hour or longer.

6. Know your limits

At some point or other, every tennis-coaching parent will need to seek professional help. Not from a psychiatrist, silly. From a tennis coach. Negatively, this costs money. Positively, it will make your kid better and it’s not always as much as you think. Group classes are less expensive than individual lessons, the LTA has some packages on its website and tennis courts in public parks usually offer free taster lessons at various points in the year.

And that’s it. Game over. Set over. Match over. Until next time…

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