For the past couple of years, our family has dipped its toes in and out of the great British sport that is tennis. Last year, my son Austin (now 7) and I were lucky enough to be invited to Birmingham by BritMums and the Lawn Tennis Association to watch Team GB beat Japan at the Davis Cup. As well as the thrill of the match, where both Murray brothers showed off their powerful moves, we met tennis legend Annabel Croft.
The veteran champion stressed that a love of tennis doesn’t just have to mean striving to reach a professional level. Tennis is a great way to make friends and create bonds, and there’s always something new to learn, whatever your level.
As a follow-up to the Davis Cup, last spring Austin and his little sister Gwen took part in the Lawn Tennis Association’s free six-week programme of sessions for 5-8 year olds. The LTA have approached us again, to ask me to help spread the word about this summer’s programme.
I was thrilled to hear that my blogging buddy Lisa from Travel Loving Family is planning on signing up her own children. The LTA wanted me to pass on our tips, based on last year’s experience, so that her children could make the most of their lessons. So, Lisa, here are our gems of wisdom.
Take water and snacks
This may seem obvious. But then, there are snacks, and there are snacks. The promise of a tasty pastry helped motivate Austin to keep focused through one particularly challenging exercise drill. Don’t underestimate the power of the snack!
Let your children know there will be players of all different levels
The tennis teachers on the programme were all trained by the LTA, and used to working with children of different levels, but the gap between 5 and 8 year olds can be massive. In Austin’s class, some children had played before, and were well co-ordinated. Others had barely held a racket, and were still at that adorable ‘falling over their own feet’ stage.
It took our son a couple of weeks to develop his confidence. At the beginning the teacher even described him as ‘quiet’ – anyone who’s met Austin will know this is not his general state of being! Once he’d warmed up, though, he began to develop some skills that will stand him in good stead for the future. The main thing is, to let your kids know you’re proud of them for what they learn over the course of the programme, not whether or not their volleying skills are better than the others in the class.
Here’s Austin, talking about his volleying exercise. I love how pleased he looks about hitting the ball over the net:
Get your kids warmed up for their lessons
It may be helpful to get your kids in the mood for their sessions, but don’t drag them down to the courts and get them hitting balls. Leave that to the coaches, as you will almost certainly just end up teaching them bad playing habits. Lots of the games they played at the coaching sessions didn’t include a racket at all, but instead taught them about movement and reactions. A lot of sport at a young age is about basic hand-eye co-ordination and those skills are transferrable. If your kids are keen, get them practising throwing a tennis ball to each other, or throwing it and catching it against the wall if they’re doing it solo. Can they throw and catch on the move? With one hand? Running backwards? You can challenge them to see how many catches they can make in a row. All these skills will be useful to them once they have a racket in hand.
Don’t push your kids before they’re ready
We persuaded the tennis coach to include Austin’s little sister Gwen (then only four years old) in the sessions. On reflection, this was a mistake. I’m sure there are some four year olds who could have kept up with the LTA exercises, but not our little Gwen. She ended up doing her own thing, on the sidelines with her Dad. We were lucky: it didn’t dint her enthusiasm. She and Austin enjoyed a week’s coaching over the summer, only this time, in sessions designed for four-year-olds. We won’t be signing her up for any more events – sporty or otherwise – where she’s under-age. So it wasn’t just the children that gained from the lessons. We also learned a thing or two, as parents.
Expect the children’s enthusiasm to rub off on the rest of the family
I’ve already mentioned that the children continued their tennis adventures over the summer, when they took a week’s worth of lessons at the local club. But D, who has always played tennis, was encouraged along to some adult club sessions by the coach, and has been playing the occasional match with local Dads. As for me, I’ve been spurred on to sign up for beginner sessions later this month. I want to join in with the tennis fun this summer!