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Teaching Tennis to Young Beginners

Tips for Teaching 4-7 Year-Olds

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Man showing a young girl tennis techniques
Arthur Tilley/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Tennis isn't the easiest sport for young children to learn, but if you start kids right, they're likely to be lifelong players. The key, not surprisingly, is to make sure they're having fun. The best way to make sure they have fun and learn well is to keep them experiencing success.

To ensure success, use progressions, which are central to the PTR teaching style. Start simple, small, and easy.

Here are examples for two different types of stroke:

For groundstrokes:

  • Start with a very short backswing and possibly shortened grip, but normal follow-through, then gradually lengthen the backswing and slide the grip toward the handle.
  • Start with a drop feed, go to a short toss feed, then feed from your racquet.
  • Start inside the service line and gradually move back.
  • Start non-running, then with a few steps, then with a run. Some kids position themselves better when they run to the ball than when they don't have to run.
For overheads:
  • Start with the racquet at the point of contact, then gradually introduce a bigger swing.
  • Start the student just 3' from the net, then gradually move the student back.
  • Start with an ultra-soft feed right to the racquet, then introduce some higher feeds.
Keep the lesson brief. Half an hour is often plenty for ages 4-6 and sometimes for age 7.

If the student has had any real trouble with the drills, make the last drill something very easy, such as volleys. With accurate feeds, even the least coordinated kid will get volleys to go in.

Other techniques for making it fun:

  1. Kids will sense if you don't think they're progressing fast enough, and this can discourage them from playing again.
  2. Every comment should have an element of praise, and many should praise generously. If you need to make a correction, preface it with something positive.
  3. Kids enjoy counting toward easy goals, like getting six shots in as a group to earn an extra-long game. If you have just one kid, or all the kids have similar abilities, individual goals are fun, too.
  4. Once the kids know a good selection of games, let them vote on a few choices that fit with the day's lesson.
  5. Follow drills with fun, "no-lose" games for the first few lessons, then gradually introduce competition as confidence takes hold.
  6. Make sure to use the right length racquet and the big, slow balls made for young kids. Most kids like the foam balls better than the felt-covered, and the foam can be useful and fun for adults too.

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