Tennis is a great activity for people of all ages and the physical, social and behavioural benefits make it a perfect game for children. With the Christmas period just behind us many children in Australia are brandishing new tennis racquets. Here’s how you can help your young player develop their skills and get the most enjoyment out of the game.
Tennis court not essential
To play tennis you don’t need to be on a tennis court. Try these options for practicing tennis at home:
- Hitting against a wall. Players can work on how many times they can keep the ball going without making a mistake, focusing their arm movement on making a low to high swing.
- Make your own court. All you need is a flat area with two chairs and a rope. Remember to mark out an area with sidelines and a baseline, as learning to control the ball not only accelerates skill development but will also be more satisfying for young players.
Tennis, like many other sports, has a scaled version of the game. The program Tennis Australia has is called Hot Shots. It is recommended for any new player under the age of 12 to use smaller sized racquets and lower compression balls. This makes it easier to play the game as the ball travels slower and bounces lower, making it easier to rally. Feeling more capable keeps children engaged longer and allows them to develop at a pace appropriate to their level.
Focus on movement
It is no coincidence that the best players in the world, Nadal and Djokovic, are regarded to be the best movers in the game. A key component is being able to run to the ball, then balance your body while making a controlled swing. One of the earliest movements that players can master is being light on their feet, and this can be practiced simply by skipping rope.
Tennis has different techniques for different shots. To start with, work on mastering these:
- Forehands/backhands: a circular swing with low to high arm movement is required. As a coach we often teach children to swing “over the bridge and then under the water” to simulate this action.
- Volleys: the shortest swing of all tennis shots. The racquet needs to stay above the wrist prior to and after contact. Children love this shot – it’s like performing a high five with their racket.
- Serve: imitates an over arm-throwing action with the racquet arm. The non-dominant arm needs to place the ball straight above the head so the ball is struck with the arm fully extended. Standing on the spot and lifting a ball to the right height and spot in the air is a great way to improve ball toss in the serve.
There are three basic tactics players should learn:
- Hit the ball in: it sounds simple, but the game of tennis is about limiting errors. Lleyton Hewitt was the best exponent of not making errors, and this was the main reason he was the number one tennis player in the early 2000s.
- Hit your best shot: players need to move to make sure they hit their best shot more often. Nadal is the best example – watch how he runs around his backhand to hit his forehand.
- Hit to your opponent’s weakness: understanding your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses is key to winning a tennis match. Rodger Federer is considered one of the best players of all time due to being a master tactician. Parents and families can play a game when watching the Australian Open by observing the players and deciding their strengths and weaknesses.
Tim Connelly is a Club Professional coach with Tennis Australia. He is recognised as a Hot Shot Mentor and Talent Development Coach, and is the director of Complete Tennis Services. completetennis.com.au