When I was growing up, I liked the idea of playing tennis, but didn’t really get the opportunity to try it out. My friends and I would occasionally thwack a tennis ball from one side of the park to the other, using dodgy old rackets, but lessons were not readily available, or affordable. These days, it seems much easier to introduce kids to tennis. The sport enjoys continued popularity and, here in Perthshire, it’s now accessible to even our very youngest hopefuls.
Simply Tennis Tots is an energetic and fun introduction to tennis for children aged two and a half to six years old. There are classes in Bridge of Earn, Dunning and Perth, and all are held indoors so there is no need to worry about rainy-day cancellations. I took my son James along to give tennis a shot. Despite nearly ruining his chances (I accidentally shut his finger in the front door on our way out!) my hopes were high. At age three, could he follow in Andy Murray’s enormous footsteps? Would he favour a two-handed backhand? Did he actually know what a tennis racket was? Thankfully, our coach Laura Grimmond was there to answer all our questions, and get James started.
At our first class, Laura gathered everyone together and engaged each child’s attention by asking them what they’d been up to over the previous week. A game of tunnel tig then helped the kids limber up and get used to their surroundings, and each other. The next exercise required a quick reaction time and a speedy sprint; Laura dropped a coloured scarf and the children took turns to run and catch it before it hit the ground. Each activity is developed with the aim of improving agility, balance and coordination – fundamental skills for tennis. The class also encourages pre-schoolers to learn to listen, and follow instructions.
For this age-group it’s essential to keep things playful, and the wee ones tucked their scarves into their waistbands before chasing their peers around the room, attempting to grab and remove each other’s scarves. There were high spirits while the kids demonstrated rapid acceleration and changes of direction. Next was a game of ‘Splat’: each child held two small cones and used these to try to catch a tennis ball.
Laura then slowed things down, and talked the children through hitting a volley. Her directions were nice and simple: don’t let the ball bounce, aim at your partner’s feet, and make a ‘high-five’ motion with the racket. The equipment used in the class is appropriate for young players – the rackets are small, and the balls are light. I was very impressed to see James entrusted with a racket so early on in his tennis career! I had expected he might need a few weeks before learning not to use it as a dangerous weapon.
The lessons are relaxed and the participants receive plenty of encouragement and positive feedback.
The children took their places standing on coloured spots on one side of the net, with adults on the other. Each grown-up threw a ball to their child, and the youngsters tried to hit a volley. I gently served to James and was amused to see him not very subtly moving his coloured spot a couple of feet closer to the net. He had figured out pretty quickly how make things easier, and fortunately for him there was no umpire to protest.
Of course, any activity involving toddlers is not always plain sailing. One week, James made me run and jump through Laura’s obstacle course of cones, bars and spots, while he lay on the floor and had a good cry. These things happen, and Laura still had him smiling by the end of the class. The lessons are relaxed and the participants receive plenty of encouragement and positive feedback.
Towards the end of the class, Laura called each child forward one by one and prompted them to hit a volley towards a target. After several missed opportunities, I concluded that James may never make it to Wimbledon’s Centre Court, but I could see how well several of the other children had progressed. To finish things off, every child receives a sticker and whoever has shown the greatest effort or achievement gets a medal to keep for the week. James was thrilled on the day that he was awarded the class medal, and wore it all the way home with pride.
You can find more information, and book a block of classes, by emailing Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07786 563 209. You can also check out the Simply Tennis Tots Facebook page. The class registration fee includes a free Tennis Tots tee-shirt.
Our family columnist chats all about all the things that changed in her life when she had her first child.
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