Is the difficulty of Tennis for children a problem, or an opportunity?

In Aaron Blog by aaron

A fairly common perception of Tennis amongst parents is that it’s really hard. And there is a reason for that. Because it is. But the response to this realisation for some parents is to wait until their child is older when they are a bit more ‘ready’. But I think this reasoning needs to be challenged. Not that there is anything wrong with deciding to start tennis later, or even to choose to not play tennis entirely (yes, I did just say that), but the very same parents who choose to wait because it’s a hard sport to learn might actually find that tennis could be the BEST sport for their child to learn.

Let’s start by looking at some of the difficulties of tennis. To have a rally one must have hand eye coordination, ball tracking skills, fast and balanced lateral movement, forward and backward movement, striking skills, a sound support base, good proprioception and spacial awareness, quick reactions and to at least some extent good anticipation. That sounds like a lot. Compare that to Soccer where a child may not necessarily have any of those skills, spend 30 minutes chasing a ball unsuccessfully and still come off the field screaming “I played Soccer and my team WON!”.

Soccer seems to win hands down when you look at it that way. It’s a pretty sure bet and that’s fine. I would also like to say that I personally love Soccer and wished all our students played, even if only casually. Swimming is another great sport which has some massive draw cards over tennis. For example, nobody ever drowned due to lack of tennis skill. (To my knowledge) When stacked up against all the other sports out there, you would hope that Tennis would have some pretty decent perks of it’s own. And as per recent reports showing that Tennis is growing again in Australia (and growing MASSIVELY at KWTA) it’s a safe bet that there are some compelling reasons to play, even considering the difficulty of the sport.

After a few conversations about the PE school curriculum something stood out at me. Our ‘checklist’ for fundamental tennis skills almost perfectly mirrors the goals of PE teachers. I guess this shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise but I had never really thought about it. It made me think about the reasons for the goals of PE teachers, and that they are trying to make sure that kids are healthy, happy, and have a range of skills that allow them to play a range of sports. This seems like all reasonable stuff. But then I thought about Tennis, and more specifically, if our list of skills matches the PE curriculum then surely kids who play tennis should have an advantage when it comes to learning other sports.

I don’t have any hard data for this but I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests this is all true. I’ve seen HEAPS of kids come though our tennis program that excel at a range of sports and that pick up sports nearly instantly. I’ve never been taught how to play rugby or cricket, but like a whole heap of other reasonable tennis players, I can play those sports better than most. In a lot of cases better than people that have trained their whole lives. But the opposite is rarely true. Good rugby players who pick up tennis later tend to struggle with really using the entire kinetic chain of their body. Swimmers tend to struggle with balance (though to be fair I think swimming may be one of the few sports where swimming isn’t massively helpful). Basketball and Netball players struggle with striking skills and Soccer players struggle with hand eye coordination (except goalies).

And it all makes sense when you think about the components of tennis and how they relate to other sports. Groundstrokes use all the same muscles as a rugby pass and many cricket shots. Serving is throwing. Even kicking a ball uses all the same muscles as are required in getting good leg drive on an open stance forehand. And for any sport that requires fast reactions and quick balanced movements, tennis is a great cross trainer.

As such, it really does seem like tennis makes a great (if not perfect) base line sport to gain a whole bunch of skills required in other sports. Even if you don’t want to be the next Federer you can be sure that Tennis can help you be happy, healthy, skilled, and active. All the decent tennis players I know have the confidence to just go and play a pick up game of basketball or soccer or cricket without worrying they will look bad, even if they don’t even know the rules.

And to bring it all home my other blog posts about what it takes to make a great coach should give a good general idea on what we do at KWTA to make sure that students not only learn tennis skills quickly, but also make sure our students are enjoying themselves while they do it. The modified equipment and specific targeted lesson plans go a great way to getting kids playing ‘real tennis’ as soon as possible. After all, even if at first a student (and sometimes a parent) thinks of tennis as a yellow ball being hit over a big net with a big racquet they soon realise that what it really means to play tennis is to hit a ball accurately and consistently back and forth in long, compelling rallies. When parents watch our students at Saturday Hot Shots having 20-50 ball rallies with all different types of shots and spins they soon understand what it really means to play tennis and have fun.

I hope all our students, and all kids around Australia, can play a whole range of sports and find something that they love. And if they choose Tennis they should be happy knowing that they have made a great choice that can be with them throughout their whole life. Because after all, we want our students to be happy and healthy. It’s why we have such a passion for what we do.