Is your child hypnotized by the back and forth bounce of a tennis ball being hit across a court? Or maybe you are simply looking for a new activity for your kid which will have them running around a court rather than inside? Then tennis might be a match!
By Nicole Nikanorov
According to the Tennis Industry Association, the number of tennis players in America has steadily been rising over the years reaching over 14 million players. If your child seems better suited for individual sports instead of contact sports, tennis could be a match. It is fast paced enough to be challenging and engaging but not so much so that your child will feel overwhelmed.
There are many benefits to tennis. This sport will teach your child physical and mental endurance, how to encourage others, and how to lose. Tennis is about short fast sprints to hit a ball strategically. These sprints build physical endurance and the fast strategic planning that goes into a hit builds mental endurance. If your child is playing doubles, they will learn to be in sync with a partner and the teamwork required to win together. This teaches children to encourage and support their peers. Lastly, tennis is help your child learn how to lose respectfully. A loss can impact a child more personally since she is competing alone or with only one other person. Overcoming this and using the losses as a way to improve their techniques will help in other aspects of life.
If your child is beginning tennis, knowing the levels and differences between recreational and competitive tennis will help you choose the right tennis program for your child. We spoke to Bay Area local coach Bob Jaeger and Palo Alto High School tennis coach Andy Harader to help you have your child swinging onto the tennis court in no time!
First, not everyone starts off playing on a full size tennis court. The younger the child is, the smaller dimensions of a traditional court are used as well as softer balls. As your child grows, the size of the court they play on will ‘grow’ with them too. Kids 10 and under will play on ‘red’ or ‘orange’ courts. Red courts are for children younger than 7 who are just getting started in this sport. This court is about a quarter size of a traditional court, being only 36 feet deep so it is easier for a child to hit the ball across. Children playing at this level will be using red felt balls that bounce slower and not as high as traditional yellow balls. This level gives younger kids the chance to take their time with their swing and not get overwhelmed by the intensity of traditional tennis. Orange courts are for children between the ages of 8 and 10. This court uses almost the full depth of a tennis court at 60 feet. Orange felt balls bounce slightly faster but are still fun and controllable. Knowledgeable and considerate coaches will take your child’s age and ability into consideration and decide which version of the court is best for them.
After the red and orange courts come the ‘green’ and ‘yellow’ courts. With these advanced levels also comes the question of whether your child should do tennis recreationally or competitively. Using the full court that is 78 feet deep, the green court uses a green ball that has a slightly lesser compression than that of a traditional yellow ball making it slightly easier to control on a big court. Finally reaching the traditional yellow court, the depth is the full 78 feet deep and the balls are made for adults and children that have reached this level.
Once your child has reached the green court, you have to make a decision of whether your child should play recreational or advance into competitive tennis. While both are fun, Coach Bob Jaeger says “recreation tennis is where players choose not to participate in tournaments or leagues.” They play for fun, exercise and as a social sport. After all, you can’t play tennis alone and when you play doubles you also enjoy teamwork and bonding with your doubles partner.
Competitive tennis players look for events where they can compete against players that are outside the circle of the regular players they always play with. This is usually done through an organized event such as a weekly league or a tournament ” adds Coach Jaeger. Additionally, Palo Alto High School Coach Andy Harader says that with competitive tennis, “[local and national] rankings are the ultimate goal and are used for scholarship purposes for college entry”. Both coaches agree that to reach the competitive level is a serious commitment, both on the child and on the parent. A player who aspires to play competitively typically has private coaches or small group clinics from the time they are a pre-teen, as didLane Leschly, who advanced to the top ranks of competitive junior tennis and earned a place on the team at Harvard University in 2016.. If your child has the “the desire to run hard, hit a heavy ball aggressively, handle the emotions of a competitive game by themselves and most of all enjoy practicing”, competitive tennis may be the way to go in Coach Bob’s opinion.
This may all seem a bit intimidating but whether recreational or competitive, tennis is still a great sport that teaches endurance and discipline. Coach Harader says that like with any sport, a “parent will know when their child has the determination and interest.”
Competitive tennis: One family’s journey from summer tennis camps, clinics, and private instruction to competing for an Ivy League school.
By Laura Quaglio
When Lane L. was age 4, he – like plenty of other kids his age – attended his first tennis clinic with a few buddies from his preschool. Today, as a high-school senior, Lane is ranked nationally in the top 40 players in his age group by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), and he recently was ranked in the top 250 junior players in the world by the International Tennis Federation. In fall of 2016, he will be taking those skills to Harvard, where he was recruited to play on their highly competitive Division 1 tennis team.
What does it take to rise from “summer tennis camp kid” to “nationally and internationally ranked player”? Could your child have what it takes? And is your family willing and able to invest the time and money needed to reach this level of play? To parents who haven’t participated in the elite level of a sport, these questions can be nearly impossible to answer without additional information. That’s why ActivityHero recently talked to Lane’s mom, Darcy, to find out more about what goes on “off the court” in competitive tennis from preschool through high school. Darcy shares her insights – and Lane’s winning training program – here.
Having a Ball with Buddies
Considering his family history, it’s no surprise that Lane was holding a racket before he entered kindergarten. Lane’s grandfather was an internationally ranked pro tennis player, as was Lane’s dad, Mark, who also played tennis for Harvard. So it was natural for the family to enroll Lane in a tennis clinic early on. Though there is increasing pressure to push kids to be coached privately earlier and earlier, Darcy and Mark agree that private lessons before age 6 aren’t a good way to spark a child’s interest in a sport. “Clinics instill that sense of joy and excitement,” she says. “To do a private lesson with a 27-year-old when you’re 5 or 6 years old is not fun. At that age they want to be running around with their buddies.” That is just what a tennis clinic or summer camp session provides.
For the next few years, the family limited Lane’s tennis training to experiences at summer camps and clinics, as well as court time with his Dad. Though Lane tried a few other sports in his elementary-school years, “tennis was always our anchor,” says Darcy. “I think that many parents who played Division 1 sports in college want their kids to play Division 1 sports, too,” says Darcy. “They want their kids to have a similar experience.”
Getting Noticed on the Court
By the time Lane was in grade school, coaches were commenting on his special affinity for the sport. “At age 7 or 8, you start seeing kids’ skills emerge more,” she says. “Though they are still young, they start having the perception, ‘I’m good at this and not at this,’” she says. “Even at that age, there’s a difference between kids who are running around on the court and those who have natural skills.”
The first week that Lane’s family moved to Menlo Park,Calif., Lane’s parents enrolled him in a local fall recreational tennis clinic. The owner of the rec clinic was happy to work with Lane, but he recognized after the first session that the clinic wasn’t advanced enough for the boy. “He said to me, ‘Your kid really should be up at Alpine Hills [a well-regarded tennis club] getting instruction,’” says Darcy. The advice came as a pleasant surprise, and they heeded it.
Until then, Darcy and Mark weren’t sure whether Lane’s abilities were unique or not, since many parents see their kids as amazing or special. “If you are the only one who thinks your kid can excel at a sport, then maybe or maybe not,” says Darcy today. A better indicator, she adds, is when other people (especially coaches) have told you that your child shows promise. “Most people coach the sport because they love the sport. When they see natural skills, they will tell you because they want to see kids excel,” she says. (If you’ve heard a similar message from one of your kid’s coaches, let ActivityHero help you explore the options for additional or more personalized instruction in your local area.)
Getting Noticed in School
By sixth grade, Lane was becoming known by peers as “the tennis kid,” says his mom. “At that age, you want to be that kid,” she says. So Lane made the decision to become an even better player.
By seventh grade, Lane was attending both tennis clinics and private lessons from a former Stanford player. At this point, the family began talking extensively with other local parents whose older kids were ranked in the section and nationally. “Most parents are so happy to share their knowledge,” says Darcy. Talking to them, she says, is the best way to gain some insights into the sport that you hadn’t considered.
For instance, she explains, more “individual” sports like tennis don’t offer much opportunity for carpooling. That’s because kids who attend a tennis tournament will play until they lose, so they might be there for one match … or for a whole day. Or your kid’s match may start several hours later than their friend’s, so they may be at the same tournament but not at the same time. It’s far easier to organize carpools for soccer players, who attend games and practices together and for the same timespan.
Also, tennis doesn’t offer the social interaction or growth that a team sport supplies, says Darcy. Even if kids are on their high school tennis team, their teammates are also their competitors. So they don’t develop the same type of bond as do members of football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and other teams.
“You’ve got to be willing to pick up the phone and really do your homework when entering into a new sport, or you won’t be going down the most efficient path,” says Darcy. One caveat: It’s important to remember that what another family or kid experienced may not be what you would see if your child attended a camp or clinic. Meshing well with a coach depends a lot of personality, so one kid can dislike an instructor who might truly motivate your child.
Ramping Up Practice Time
Starting in middle school, Lane practiced tennis two days a week and competed in USTA tournaments on the weekends. By seventh or eighth grade, he was doing “pretty intensive tournament classes” three days a week for two-and-a-half hours at a time. He also spent some time learning about sports nutrition and overall fitness and conditioning. His homework and other activities began to revolve around tennis, and although many of his friends were playing flag football in the fall, Lane opted out of it in favor of focusing on developing his skills on the court. (Today, though, both Lane and Darcy say they wished he’d participated in a team sport as well as tennis, if only at the rec level, because of the social interaction and the benefits of extra conditioning that it would have provided.)
By high school, Lane was practicing five days a week, year-round, since tennis has no “off season.” But, explains Darcy, they knew that the tournaments were the key to Lane’s future success. “If you want to get recruited for tennis, it’s all about the tournaments,” she says. “Being on your high school tennis team has zero impact on being recruited to play tennis in college. It’s all about how you rank in the USTA.”
Courting College Tennis Coaches
In many ways, high school is a crossroads, particularly for young athletes, says Darcy. “High school is one of those frontiers where you decide whether you want to go to college for your sport or just have a lot of fun and enjoy your high school experience,” says Darcy. Though she thinks most kids choose the latter, Lane opted to further increase his commitment to tennis during his senior year. Having already been recruited by Harvard, his new goal was to compete in International Tennis Federation tournaments and earn the opportunity to play in a junior grand slam.
To achieve this goal, Lane traveled internationally for six months, enrolling in online high-school courses during the fall of 2015, the first semester of his senior year. Fortunately, the family’s financial circumstance allowed for hiring a private coach to accompany Lane on his trips to Switzerland, France, Mexico, and other countries. He ultimately achieved his dream and competed in the Australian Junior Open in January, in which he ranked in the top 250 junior players in the world. “We have three other kids, and you have to have an adult travel with your child,” says Darcy. “You don’t have to compete internationally to get recruited for college,” she adds. “That was part of his dream, and we are lucky enough to be able to support that.”
Considering the Costs
Expenses, adds Darcy, are also a big consideration when it comes to elite sports: They are typically very costly. In fact, the headline of one 2014 article says as much: “Want Your Kid to Win the Open? Spend $400,000 on Lessons.” “I had no idea how much money we’d be spending on equipment alone,” says Darcy. Lane wears through a pair of tennis shoes in two weeks at a cost of about $100 per pair. He also carries eight rackets in his bag, since he typically breaks at least one racket string per match, at a replacement cost of $25 per string. As a result, Lane’s family has invested in their own tennis stringing machine. (Nice ones can be priced between 4,000 and $12,000, and a roll of 12 rackets’ worth of string costs about $250.) A corporate sponsorship helps offset some of the equipment costs for Lane, but certainly not significantly enough to make the sport an inexpensive activity.
Tournaments each require an entry fee and often travel expenses, too, which can include a hotel stay and airfare, as well as meals and other incidentals. And if you’re going into an elite sport hoping that the costs may one day be offset by a college scholarship, that’s not a given. “You can’t go into a sport thinking, ‘My kid is going to get a scholarship.’ If it happens, it’s awesome, but it’s not a realistic expectation,” says Darcy. “Some schools may not offer athletic scholarships at all [the Ivy League does not], and others may only offer them to a few students – or they may offer only a partial scholarship. It’s very rare to receive a full scholarship for tennis.” Even recruitment (with or without a scholarship) can be iffy. “This year there are around 15 out of 150 kids in Menlo School’s senior class who were recruited by a college for their sport,” she estimates.
Thinking Past the End of His Racket
Lane is excited to get on the court as a Harvard player in a few months, but right now he’s focused on recovering from an injury – another factor in elite sports that parents shouldn’t ignore. “They ask you that question in Ivy League interviews,” says Darcy. “If you get hurt the first day of college, what are you going to do here if your sport is your whole identity?” Colleges try to get the kids away from thinking that they are just there to play their sport, so it’s not a bad idea to talk with your child about this throughout their years of play.
Bottom line, says Darcy, if your kids are still little, try to live in the moment and enjoy life one clinic, lesson, or match at a time. “Don’t say, ‘I want this kid to play this sport in college,’” she advises. There are simply too many variables that will occur over the ensuing years that can change that initial plan. Her third son, who recently dropped tennis to take up lacrosse in middle school, is proof enough of that. “Now I’m just having my daughter play everything,” says Darcy of her fourth child, who is 10 years old. Though Darcy and her husband would love for each of their kids to play the “family sport” in some capacity, they ultimately want their kids to be happy. And that, she says, is the best way to gauge how long they should stay in a sport and how far they should try to take it.
Taking Your Child’s Sport to the Next Level
Darcy says that summer is the best time to explore kids’ new interests, build skills for their favorite sport, and check out different and sometimes more challenging programs. To see what your local area (and other areas in the country) have to offer, go to ActivityHero and enter your child’s interests to receive a customized list of providers that might be a good fit for you.
According to the United States Tennis Association, tennis offers plenty of perks for kids and teens, including making new friends, learning teamwork and sportsmanship, building discipline, enhancing coordination and flexibility, and increasing bone strength. Those are strong incentives for parents to sign up their kids for tennis camp—but will they actually enjoy it? And how can you tell which tennis camp is the best fit?
To find out, I interviewed the dynamic duo Danielle and Brittany (commonly referred to as The Beauty and The Beast around their high school tennis court) and Colleen (another accomplished tennis camper and instructor), who spent a collective 14 years in tennis camp during their teenage years. Here are their best insights for tennis players of all levels. I hope this helps you find the perfect place for your kid!
D.H. and B.K at Tennis Camp in 2006, Morrisville, PA
Why attend tennis camp?
For Brittany, tennis camp was a great way to spend time with friends while training for her upcoming high school tennis season. “Kids should expect to play a lot of tennis and get into good shape since there will probably be a lot of conditioning as well,” says Colleen. Tennis camp also teaches kids a skill set that will be with them forever, says Danielle. “Campers should expect to learn correct form and the rules of the game, while also learning how to work with and communicate with a variety of people.” Colleen still treasures the new friendships she built with many of the players. “It was a fun environment where I could hang out with people my age,” she says.
How can you choose a camp that meets your goals?
“I think it’s important to understand what you want to get out of the camp,” says Danielle. “If it’s for summer activity instead of for training, the instructor should be fun and patient.” Her advice: If your child doesn’t know how to play and needs to learn the basics, you’ll want a camp that is more low-key. “If you are there for training—to really improve your skills—you should be looking for a camp with more structure,” says Danielle. Some questions to ask the camp director: What are the skills that are being taught each day/week? Are there different levels? How quickly can a player move between the levels? How will the players’ skills be tested throughout the camp?
What should you look for in an instructor?
“Instructors should be knowledgeable, in shape, uplifting, and fun!” says Brittany. “They will also strongly value the instructor-player relationship.” Colleen’s thoughts: “I would recommend looking for an instructor who has experience running a tennis camp and also encourages you to participate in other activities outside of tennis.”
What do kids like most (and least) about tennis camp?
“My camp included fun and exciting activities outside of the game itself, like pie-eating contests and races, which helped bond the tennis pros and the tennis players/campers,” says Brittany. Her least-favorite part? Running a type of sprinting drill called suicides. “During the summer, I was more interested in having fun than being at any kind of tennis boot camp,” she says.
Danielle says that her camps were organized by skill level. “The age range of each group could be very wide, especially when I first started attending,” she says. “As the years went on, that changed, though, and the groups became competitive and I became less age-conscious.”
How can tennis camp help kids in the long run?
Danielle’s love of tennis grew, along with her skill set–thanks, in part, to her summer training. “I made it on my high school’s varsity team during my sophomore, junior, and senior year. I was also a hand-selected tournament player throughout high school, and I played on the club team while in college,” she says. Brittany also played tennis throughout high school, and Colleen even taught tennis for four summers!
Any tips for kids starting tennis camp?
“I would say just go into it with an open mind and have fun,” says Colleen. “Don’t take it too seriously or it could become a chore.” On the other hand, says Brittany, do remember that tennis camp involves a good workout. “Be prepared with lots of water and sweat towels, which will definitely come in handy on a hot summer day,” she suggests. Also remember to pack snacks, sunscreen, and other summer essentials each day. Most of all, enjoy yourself, says Danielle. “Get ready to have some fun being active and meeting new people!”