The latest innovation in children’s tennis is the aptly named “Quick Start Tennis” format. The basic premise is to give ten-and-under children an introduction to tennis using scaled-down courts and implements. The rackets are smaller to give small hands more control. The foam rubber balls are larger and easier to hit.
Each Saturday from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. I serve as one of three teaching pros conducting an intensive doubles drills clinic for adults at Sunset Tennis Club. Though there are a wide array of adult activities ranging from private instruction to league play, the primary emphasis is juniors development during the winter months.
Last Saturday, after the clinic ended, I stuck around to watch the juniors. All eight courts were in full swing with one or two instructors working with six to eight kids per court. They were working on technique and stroke production.
At the far end of the facility, on court eight, something remarkable was occurring. “Quick Start Tennis” was going down. I had to see this. The closer I got, the greater the distinctive din of unmitigated glee. It was that same sound you here when a throng of “little-heads” bursts forth from a schoolhouse onto the playground for recess.
There were two instructors working with ten tykes. The kids ranged in age from about five to ten. Most appeared to be at the younger end of that range.
The instructor nearest my vantage point was working with six of the ten racket-wielding, screaming, jumping and giggling little budding tennis players.
Amazingly, the teacher seemed to have an energy level on par with his class. Though his face appeared frazzled, his overall demeanor was unperturbed as he shouted instructions prior to feeding balls. The guy had to be a saint.
“Okay,” he shouted, “We’re gonna hit FOREHANDS now. Mark, get back on your spot. Holly, look at me, over here Holly. Are you with us now? Jennifer, that’s your backhand, use your FOREHAND. No honey, the other forehand. No, no. Hold up your right hand. Good! Now put your racket in that hand. Excellent! That’s your FOREHAND”.
It took him five full minutes to get them all ready to start swinging. From left to right, down the line, he threw a ball towards each child. That’s when all comedic hell broke loose. Rarely was contact made but it didn’t matter. It was the effort that was so hilarious to kids, instructor, parents, myself and a friend who had joined me.
My friend said, “That’s so cute.” I nodded to her but I was fixated on one little boy. He was the tiniest of the group. Remarkably, his forehand stroke was picture perfect. He made contact on one of his three attempts. It was a textbook result.
“Did you see that?” I exclaimed. “Watch this kid. He’s going to be good.”
Next they did backhands. It was a good thing the kids were spaced about five feet apart. Just saying “BACKHAND” sent the group into a fit of different poses all requiring ample space. Some had their rackets in the same hand but had turned their back to the instructor. Obviously, to them they were now in a back-hand posture.
“Lord help me,” cried the instructor as he threw balls at the kids with their backs turned. Once he had nailed each he said, “Now, did you see that ball coming?” They each laughed, “No.” “So what does that mean? It means you have to turn around facing me so you can see the ball coming, right?” They giggled, “Yes.”
Once all were ready, the backhand debacle began. The parents watching were doubled over in fits of laughter, which of course made their kids laugh even harder. The instructor just shook his head, looked heavenward and silently mimed, “Why me?” Of course, he could scarcely contain his own chortling.
I came away from that session a better-educated instructor. Reading about Quick Start Tennis had supplied me with the fundamental principles but hadn’t prepared me for what I witnessed.
The unbridled enthusiasm and raucous laughter generated by the program should have an enormous impact on at least attracting more kids to tennis. The slow, soft, large foam rubber balls insure that within minutes, balls will be traveling from those little rackets across little nets.
That could translate into little people achieving big things five or ten years down the road. Time will tell.