as a chore — something that he or she has to do. The less non-threatening the sport appears to be, the more likely the chances that your child will give it a fair shot.
One of the first things you can do to make tennis fun and challenging is to introduce your child to activities that don’t require the participation of another person. How many consecutive times, for example, can your child bounce a ball upwards off a racquet without letting it hit the floor? Or how many consecutive times can your child dribble a tennis ball with a racquet? For the truly adventurous, let your child practice hitting the ball off the garage wall. Or, purchase one of those tetherball tennis sets and turn your budding superstar loose in the backyard. Each of these activities develop hand-eye coordination, and a child with good hand-eye coordination usually does well at tennis.
Another positive reinforcer is to let your child help you buy his/her first racquet. Most sporting goods stores carry a variety of junior models and have staff on hand to answer questions. As your child grows, take heed to adjust racquet size to match his or her body size.
You’ll eventually want to put your child in tennis clinics and take advantage of some beginner lessons. Group lessons are generally more fun for beginners than one-on-one instruction. Either way, your primary intention is to insure that your child is exposed to the basics of the game, which in turn will help reduce any frustration that may creep up. Call the local youth and tennis associations to get assistance in identifying the program options in your area.
Keep in mind that one of the good things about tennis is that if your child is weak in one area, he may be able to compensate by developing skills in another area. For example, an obese child may be slow on the court, but may have the strength to develop a good serve. A short child may not have the most overpowering serve, but may be solid in all other facets of the game.
Once a child has taken a few lessons, you may want to think about adding a camp or two to the mix, but do your homework first, says Marcus Freeman, president of the American Tennis Association and head pro and manager at the Keist Tennis Center in Dallas. “Look at the pupil/teacher ratio,” he says. “If the pro is expecting 200 kids, you’re not going to get much out of it. Your kid will probably end up spending more time with his assistants and the people feeding the balls than they will with him. Talk to other parents about camps they’ve found to be to their liking.
It may also behoove you to think twice before sending an 8-to 10-year- old to an all-day tennis camp. That extensive a concentration tends to be overwhelming for a young beginner. It’s more preferable to find a camp that has other activities in addition to tennis.