Tennis is a great sport for any child to learn, it is high energy, fun and can be played for the rest of your life. Tennis offers a great chance to truly bond with the family and is a sport that I can certainly vouch for in that respect playing a lot of tennis with my family here in Dubai growing up.
Of course if you have young children the thought of a game of mixed doubles probably seems like a distant fantasy and in some respects that is true. In order to get your child to fall in love with the great sport of tennis the framing of the sport in the early stages is crucial.
The reality is the younger your child is when they start playing tennis the more natural a player they will become in the long run. The challenge here is that the full game of tennis presents a lot of challenges and requires prerequisite levels of balance, athleticism and hand eye coordination that makes the fully fledged version of the game very challenging for children particularly for youngsters between the ages of 3-7.
This article is designed to give a series of tried and tested tips to get your child involved in the sport starting off with more basic activities and progressing to the more complex aspects of the game. A lot of these activities are taken from the Tennis Sessions that we run in our Kidster program aimed to develop fundamental movement skills like balance, throwing, catching and jumping. We will then later look at the main tips to look out for to help your child develop strong fundamentals in the core areas of ground strokes, volleying and serving.
Step #1 Footwork, Balance and Movement
When getting started a core element of kids tennis lessons are key factor is getting children’s footwork and fundamental movement skills right. The beauty of fundamental movement skills skills are that they are very transferable to other sports so act as the building blocks to give your child a head start in other sports that they turn their hand to.
Happy Feet- One of the most important skills to develop in children’s tennis lessons is to develop a stance which promotes having the weight on the balls of the feet. Within our tennis coaching we always encourage our young players to have ‘happy feet’ imagining that they are crushing eggshells with their toes. This puts them in a position that they are able to react quickly on the court and more able to move into the ideal position to it high quality shots. Developing happy feet doesn’t have to just be on the tennis court though doing little quick feet steps on the bottom step of the stairs or on slabs on the garden paving will also help you child to develop into an athletic tennis player than can move around the court.
Agility Drills: A great progression for children who are able to move athletically with ‘happy feet’ is an agility based drills. One of the best ability based drills that can be a lot of fun
Split Step Beach Ball Drills- When children prepare to hit shots they should make a split step which sets them into position ready to hit the shot. Games where children have to throw and catch a beach ball or over sized tennis ball like in the videos are a great way to develop the full body movements required that the groundstrokes can easily be layered on top of.
Step #2 Racquet Familiarization
Alongside getting your children comfortable moving around the course in an agile manner it is crucial to get children familiar with the racquet and be able to manipulate the face in response to how the ball reacts.
Balance Drills- A great starting point to developing racquet stability is using balance drills, start by seeing how long your child can balance a tennis ball on top of the racquet and then progress to doing this whilst walking, running and even crouching to pick up objects with the none hitting hand. Balancing challenges can be incorporated into the home as well if space allows.
Juggling Drills- As a progression from balancing the ball challenge your child to complete the same challenge now whilst juggling the ball with small volleys. This drill helps combine racquet face awareness with power awareness which translates well into hitting shots later on.
For younger children a great way to apply progression here is:
Starting off with a beachball and using the hands
Introduce a tennis racquet but keep the beach ball, using a larger ball makes the task more achievable
Finally, when your child is ready to work up to using a tennis ball
Relay Based Floor Drills: For young tennis players between the ages of 4 and 6 a great way to further develop an awareness of the racquet face and also to introduce the concept of forehand and backhand weaving relay races are a great option. Set out a row of 4-5 cones and challenge children to weave in and out using both forehand and backhand. For most children the backhand proves a very confusing challenge here with children circling around the ball to try to bring it back with the forehand grip. This is a great chance to introduce the backhand grip and explain that this is how we should approach all shots when the ball if on this side of the body.
Here is a video from UK tennis coach Karl Stowell to give a visual representation of a series of games that can be played, these are perfect for young children to develop good movement patterns that solid tennis fundamentals can be built upon.
Step #3 Hitting Shots Step By Step Progression
Now it’s getting to the exciting part, as children have developed the ability to move in an athletic way and have the ability to manipulate the racquet to control the direction of shots it is time to start hitting. Here it is really important to get task achievability to ensure that children stay motivated throughout their experience, starting with easier tasks and progressing to the next level when they are ready. Our recommendation here is to progress through the following three levels step by step:
Static Balls: When children are making the first stages in developing their tennis strokes it is best to start with a static ball, using a ball on a string. The beauty of hitting a static ball is that it allows children to focus on the process of getting into a good set up position, the grip and also creating a good swing path. All of this would not be possible for children in the early stages would be so focused on the outcome
Feeding In: After children are comfortable hitting a static ball it is time to introduce an under arm feed, ideally the ball should bounce a yard or two in front of the player so that when it approaches the hitting area the ball is at waist height and in an ideal shot to hit. After getting comfortable with an underarm throw feed progress to feeding the ball with a racquet, which will increase the speed of the feed and also start to increase the familiarity of spin and the correlation between the racquet position, ball direction and spin in preparation for rallying.
Rallying: After children have developed the ability to hit balls that are being fed in by a parent or coach it is time to progress to rallying. In the early stages it is important that the player that the child is rallying with is an experienced player with the ability to hit shots with great control so that they can hit the ball into the hitting area of the child even if the child is hitting shots back inconsistently all over the court. As abilities improve the parent or coach can start hitting shots to the left and right of the player and also vary the depth of the shots so that the player has to use good footwork to be in a position to receive the shot.
Note that for all of the above progressions you can swap tennis balls for beach balls to increase the task achievability of the exercises. This is especially recommended for children between the ages of 3-6 as seen in the video below:
Step #4 Introducing The Court
Before moving on to talk about the main shot types in tennis it is important that children have a full understanding of the tennis court itself, and the rules that dictate how the game is played on
Have your child look at the diagram and then go through the below key points (if this can be done on a physical court or by watching a video even better!):
The tennis court is divided into boxes
For singles the doubles alley on the sides is out.
The boxes at the front of the court are for serving
The baseline marks the back of the court and is where most shots are hit from
Step #5 Introducing The Six Main Shot Types
There are six main types of shots in tennis and it is important to introduce children to all types of shots and the different areas that they are used in:
Topspin Forehand- Groundshot Baseline
Topspin Backhand- Ground Shot Baseline
Backhand Slice- Ground Shot Baseline
Volleys- at the net
Serve- from the baseline overhead to start the point
Smash- overhead shot normally a winner
A great way to help children to identify the different types of shots and where to use them is to watch professional tennis matches. Here is a clip of some of Swiss tennis great Roger Federer’s best rallies, here your children can learn from a tennis champion on how to implement the different shot types into a game.
Now lets take a look at each of the main shot types in turn along with the grip and motion needed to successfully execute all 6 shots.
Step #6 Topspin Forehand Grip
The grip for a forehand should be such that the bevel on the right side of the racquet fits in the crease between thumb and forefinger as shown.
Step #7 Topspin Backhand Grip
The grip for a topspin backhand should be such that the bevel fits in the crease between thumb and forefinger as shown.
Step #8 Swing Path For The Groundshots
One of the common mistakes you’ll see in children who have not had proper tennis instruction is incorrect path of swing on their groundstrokes.
You may see them hitting down on the ball or not following through correctly.
We teach children the basics: hit low to high and finish the stroke across the shoulder.
This can be thought of as a C shape with the backswing and follow through with the tennis racquet pictured finishing over the should as pictured below
Step #9 The Ground Stroke Stances
In order to be able to return a variety of shots children should be able to hit shots from all three of the below stances.
Children should be able to hit from all stances
Step #10 Backhand Slice
For this shot the racquet should work from low to high
Use a neutral stance and get as low as possible
Make impact with the arm fully extended and relaxed
After the shots your arms should separate stretching your chest.
Step #11 Volley
The grip for volleying and serving is the continental grip with the finger thumb crease in the centre of the racquet.
To volley well you should follow the below four step process
Be in a ready position with a bend in the need and the torso tilted slightly forwards
Open the racquet as is if you were going to catch a ball coming towards that hand
Make contact- no power needed, use the pace of the ball
Focus on power over control
Step #12 Serving
Step 1- Stance
Feet are approximately shoulder width apart
Then turn your front foot (left foot for right-handers, right foot for left-handers) so it is pointed towards the net post cross-court (right net post for right-handers, left net post for left-handers)
Step 2- Toss The Ball
A consistent toss makes a consistent serve
Practice toss by placing the butt end of their racquet on the ground in front of their left foot with their racquet pointed at one o’clock.
Keeping their left arm (tossing arm) straight and thinking of their shoulder as a hinge (it’s important for a consistent toss to keep the elbow straight) the player can toss their ball up so that it lands on the face of their racquet.
The height of the toss should be slightly higher than the player can reach with the racquet in hand at full extension.
And again, always envision yourself tossing the ball to one o’clock.
Step 3- Throw the racquet at the ball
The racquet should be drawn back in a circular motion
The none hitting arm should point at the ball
Then thrown upwards towards the ball
Step #13 Smash
The smash is a shot to hit when the ball is overhead and is a powerful shot with the aim of hitting a winner.
To keep a good eye on the ball, point at it with your index finger (non-dominant hand) until you decide to make contact. “Your contact point should be in front of your body at 12 o’clock.
Keep the arm movement fluid throughout, you don’t need to try to kill it, use the speed of the ball approaching an a smooth swing will go as fast as a server.
Aim towards the back of the court as it is a power shot.
Bonus Step #1 Practicing At Home
Giving your child the opportunity to practice what they have learn away from sessions will really accelerate their progress. A great way to do this is to get a swing ball or power base trainer both of which allow for the practice of the ground shots, space wise all that is needs is a 5m squared area. A word of caution here, these tools are a great supplement to real tennis and coaching sessions as they develop good hand eye coordination but shouldn’t be used in isolation as it can allow bad habits to creep in.
Bonus Step #2 Choosing A Child’s Tennis Racquet
After your child has been playing tennis for a few months it is a great idea to get them a racquet of their own to help them to advance their games. This is a big choice and it is important that you get a racquet that is the appropriate size and weight for your child so that it helps them to develop the appropriate technique.
Here is a table to give a bit of a summary of what you should be looking for in a child’s tennis racquet at different ages:
|Age Group||Racquet Size||Things To Look For|
|6-7||23 Inches||The key here is a lightweight racquet that will allow children to create a smooth swing without too much effort|
|8-10||25 Inches||A large head that is forgiving on off centre hit|
|11-13||26 Inches||At this stage your child should be looking at a more advanced junior racquet or dependent on their height and development|
Bonus Step #3 Take Your Children To A Live Tennis Event
As a UAE resident you are blessed with two professional tennis tournaments right on your doorstep.
Giving your children to see the professionals up close and personal will allow them to see the power, athleticism and consistency of the best players in the world and inspire them to work even harder on their games.
Tennis is a great sport for your children to get involved in and we hope that this guide has given you a step by step approach to being a more knowledgeable tennis parent with a roadmap of the steps that your child needs to take to progress.
If you need any further guidance on which racquet to choose, want more information about our coaching program, or have any questions about this blog post in general please feel free to give us a call, message us on any of our channels or visit us at our main site Hartland International School.
If you enjoyed the blog and are interested in getting your children involved in tennis then why not get started with a 30 day trial of unlimited sports coaching in 8 different sports including tennis.
Thanks Again For Reading, Stay Active
About Tom: Tom is the director of Kids DXB, an avid sportsman Tom was involved in football, basketball, tennis, baseball and cricket as a youngster before later becoming a PGA Golf Professional. Having lived in Dubai since the age of 15 Tom has a strong knowledge of youth sport in Dubai and is passionate about the development of young athletes.