a game for life

We speak to Tracey O’Connor, previously ranked number two in New Zealand and 55 in the world, about what a great sport tennis is for children. Tracey now runs the Tennis Monsters programme for kids. “It’s a game for life, and like most sports, learning as a child is easiest” she says.

why do kids enjoy tennis so much?

Most clubs now have a kids’ session, where they organise tennis games for the young ones. Games such as Kings and Queens, Bring On a Friend and Catch, teach the kids the skills they need to become good players, but they don’t get bored or frustrated with straight back and forward hits. They have a lot of fun, run around and laugh, and develop the physical skills to play a proper game.

do kids need to start young to be good?

Not at all, but like most sports, younger children are happy to master small parts of the game without becoming frustrated or bored. Hotshots starts kids as young as 3 years old, and uses a system of modified courts, racquet and balls scaled to maximise the learning for different levels and ages of children. As the children get older, they progress through a system of colour levels. It’s much easier for young children to develop a solid technique with the racquet if it’s not too big and heavy and the ball isn’t too bouncy or hard.

what if you want your children to step up to the next level?

Most kids need coaching to perfect their technique and this will make the biggest difference in improving their game, but also game play opportunities such as Interclub, tournaments and school competitions will give them the chance to practice their skills.

what life skills will they learn?

Competition is the essence of tennis, and so as the kids progress and play in tournaments, they really start to learn life skills and understand the value of sportsmanship. The Interclub tournament (between regional clubs) will teach them teamwork, determination, performing under pressure, to develop a never give-up attitude, respect (for other players and coaches) and fair play (correctly calling balls in or out).

will tennis help with other sport?

With the hand-eye coordination they develop in tennis, you’ll find they can do well at badminton, cricket, hockey and ping pong. In fact, most sports benefit from a good sense of timing, so you’ll notice an improvement in many sports they play.

how can they practice at home?

Repetitively bouncing a ball on a racquet or against a wall helps children with their hand-eye coordination. Keeping fit also helps on the court and of course, playing tennis with Mum and Dad on the weekends or in the holidays is always fun and quality family time.

what physical skills will my child learn playing tennis?

Strength: holding and swinging a tennis racket

Gross motor: striking a moving tennis ball

Tracking: throwing and catching a ball

Hand-eye: contacting the ball in the correct zone

Aerobic: moving around the tennis court and getting into the correct position

Tracey O’Connor is an ITF Level 2 qualified tennis coach.www.tennismonsters.com

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