Getting Started

Q. How and when is the right time to start your new born son or daughter in tennis? Is it proper to introduce them to tennis or should you let that be their own decision? Also, I would want him or her to become a professional tennis player, how do you know if this is the right decision for him or her? Is their a particular trait that lets you now if they have a future as one?

A. Start them immediately, before they are out of the crib! A young child is so impressionable. They will gravitate toward what you encourage them to do. However, they will ONLY thrive and continue if the experience is fun for them. That will be your ongoing challenge.

What is the single biggest trait of a champion? That could be debated endlessly. To my mind, it is joy. Champions LOVE to play, and it is why they were willing to spend so many hours of their childhood pursuing their ambition. That must come first. Have fun with your newborn!

Q. I was wondering if age 13 is too late to start playing tennis (to become good for college or professional). Anyway, I was wondering if 13 is as good as starting at age 8 or 9, and if I do become good in the future, what are the steps in becoming a professional?

A. It is never too late! Get cracking though. Try to practice with a purpose every single day, enter many tournaments to gain competitive experience, read all you can about techniques, tactics, training, etc.

Most of the players on the tour did get an earlier start than you, but if you possess enough talent, then anything is possible. Good luck!

Q. At what age do you recommend children ideally begin competing in USTA tennis tournaments?

A. As soon as they are ready.

Sorry for a seemingly inconclusive answer, but every child is different. If they enjoy the competition and look forward to the experience, then give them the opportunity. If they are lukewarm about it, then give them additional time (and find “back door” ways of motivating them, like bringing them to some big tournaments to watch).

Good luck… and be careful!

Q. Congratulations for your baby! My baby is 8 months now. He will be watching and playing a lot of tennis too! What will your approach be to make him love the game? Are you going to coach him yourself? Or, are you going to rely on a friend? I am looking forward to meeting you on the sidelines while our kids are playing in a national tournament!

A. My son is already watching matches with me (even though he mostly just sleeps, eats, and waits for us to change his diapers). His favorite player is already Andy Murray. Go figure.

What will my role be with my son? I will have him on the tennis court as soon as he is able to walk. I am around tennis every day of my life… watching, coaching, playing, and reading about it. I want him to share this interest. I will try to make it fun for him though. I hope to be his “primary coach,” but there are a lot of factors that will need to be evaluated at the appropriate time. My wife plays and I hope to train him to beat her by the time he gets through the 3rd grade. Now THAT is a long-term goal! In the end, I just want him to enjoy our sport. If he does, then I will be happy.

Q. Would you use a net when starting a four-year-old out hitting, or focus more on just strokes rather than getting the ball over the net?

A. That is an interesting question. My policy with young players is to emphasize fun above everything, so that makes the net- the omnipresent barrier- sort of irrelevant. Instead, use your imagination.

Developing sound technique is important, but not as crucial for a four-year-old. If you help to make a new, tiny player’s initial experiences enjoyable, then they will be drawn to tennis and become easy to coach. So, more than a regulation court (or mini-court), or any technique, concentrate instead on making your little student laugh out loud.

By the way, from a player development perspective, I am more impressed by a young child who can hit the ball really far than simply over the net consistently. Timing and racquet head acceleration is harder to teach than consistency. Play some games where they are encouraged to swing forcefully at the ball (or a balloon or foam ball or piñata or… whatever).

Q. I am interested in teaching tennis to my 2 1/2 year old niece. What are good activities to do with her? What skills should I try to develop? What tools should I use on the court? Any guidance you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

A. We get a lot of questions like this. The first, second and third thing that you need to do is make sure that your niece’s initial experiences are FUN. In fact, make ALL of her experiences fun. If she enjoys what she is doing, and develops a passion for it, then holding her back will be a greater challenge than actually teaching her.

As for some on-court (or on-driveway or backyard or wherever) activities, you should use balls that she can handle. For a 2½ year old, you might use colorful balloons. As she gets older, use foam balls and then progress to “transition” balls. Keep your instruction minimal with young players. If she learns to move and track the ball, to make good contact, and to accelerate through her swings that will be a great start for her. Again, make it fun.

Q. What is a good age to start my daughter into tennis lessons?

A. Three years old. Or four. Or five. Or fifty-eight. Any age is a good age. As soon as a child- or an adult- is ready to take instructions, and actually want to learn.

Make sure that her initial experiences are fun, fun, fun. From experience, I firmly believe that having fun is even more important for new players than developing correct technique. When/if she has fun, learning proper technique, and eventually tactics and everything else, will become easier. If she does not like it, then she will not learn very quickly at all.

Q. At what age should I start training my 3 year old? I was going to buy her a racquet, but everyone is telling me to wait. The other thing is that I'm thinking of taking her straight to a professional trainer so that she doesn't pick up any bad habits - how would I chose the best person to teach her?

A. Wait… your three-year-old has NOT already begun taking lessons? You have to be kidding! She needs to get going with her training! I am joking… mostly.

When she is ready, then- as a parent- you will probably know even before an “expert” does. Some children are very coordinated at a young age and some are less so. I have seen some two-year-olds who can hit the ball from the baseline (although their attention spans are predictably short). I have also seen some “children” who are much older- some in their late thirties, in fact- who do not embrace instructions on the court.

I would NOT be overly concerned with a three-year-old developing “bad habits.” Instead, simply having fun is of paramount importance. If they enjoy themselves, they will want to play more. If they play more, they will get better.

Q. I know almost all of the pros start playing tennis at a very young age. What is the average age of the pros when they started playing and at what age is it too late to become a player good enough to play in college or possibly become a pro?

A. I believe that you are correct in assuming that professional tennis players generally begin learning how to play at a very young age. The specific age would likely vary considerably from player to player though. In fact, during the first stage of learning the most important aspect, by far, is to have fun. Once players move along toward the next developmental stage, then the training becomes a little more serious. During this second phase when a player might decide to “specialize” in tennis (and quit other sports) is when the road toward professional tennis really begins.

It usually takes a minimum of ten years of serious training to become an expert tennis player. Talent, of course, is the biggest factor in determining if a player will become good enough to play college, or even professional, tennis. So, whether you begin serious training for a full-time attempt at professional tennis at age seven or seventeen, it will take at least a good decade.

I believe that it is possible to accomplish goals at any age, it just seems that it might be easier for junior players to devote themselves entirely to the pursuit of playing professional tennis simply because our responsibilities become different as we grow older.

Q. How can a young player who hasn't had as much exposure to the game as many of the other kids his age, "catch up" to them in ability? Any answer you can provide would be great.

A. Thanks, Steve. The late, great Arthur Ashe used to offer that tennis is a sport where you play against yourself, even more so than against opponents. Every player is bound to develop at a different rate, although with persistence and determination the growth curve does not need to end until you reach your peak.

While playing junior tennis, in particular, this is important to keep in mind. While it is rewarding to attain high rankings and favorable results, the object is NOT to peak during your formative years. I would encourage you to set some long-term goals, intermediate-range goals, and a series of ever-changing short-term goals. Always remember to keep the long-term goal(s) in mind though. If you don’t know where you are going, then how will you know if you’ve ever gotten there?

If, say, you want to play Division I college tennis and you are currently fourteen years of age, then you still have plenty of time. Establishing a long-term goal, a plan, helps you to overcome minor disappointments and setbacks along the way. Just keep clicking off those short-term goals, and creating new intermediate-range goals along the way, and eventually you will end up where you want to be.

It is a process, and this process does not need to involve comparisons with others, so I would urge you to disregard the idea that you need to “catch up” to others and instead blaze your own trail. Best of luck in getting there!

Q. I need your advice about the age when it is wise to start playing tennis. What is the earliest age at which children can start? How many times a week is it better to play? How long should the lesson be?

A. It almost seems like an assembly line of sensational female players have emerged from Russia, so perhaps I should be asking you this question.

I have always advised parents to let their children start playing tennis as soon as they are “ready.” Andre Agassi began swinging a racquet at the age of two. My beautiful little niece is three, but she has not shown the interest on court as yet (although she loves her bright colored racquet). Every single child is different, and I do not think that there is a direct link between starting as a toddler and ending up as a professional player.

The most important aspect to their introduction is FUN. This needs to be your only criteria for success. If your daughter enjoys what she is doing then she will do it more often. I love the old story of Monica Seles’ father drawing cartoon characters on the tennis balls so that little baby Monica would want to hit them. It was fun for her back then, so she played and played and played… and eventually she got pretty good.

Q. I have three kids. I would like to know what age you recommend for children to start taking lessons.

A. Start ‘em as soon as they can walk! If they enjoy it, let ‘em keep playing to their hearts’ delight. If they appear indifferent, then wait until they are more eager.

There is no magic age to begin playing, but I’ve found that the earlier players are exposed to the sport, the more “natural” they seem out on the court.

Remember: make it FUN!

Q. What's a good age to introduce your child to tennis and what types of programs become available at different ages?

A. As soon as your child wants to play, that’s when he/she should begin. Make positively certain that everything you do on the court (or in the basement, or on the driveway, wherever you "play") with your child is FUN. That is Rule #1. And rules #2 and #3 too! I have seen three-year-olds who become very comfortable hitting the ball back and forth.

Regardless of whether your child ever harbors dreams of greatness in tennis, learning to play at a young age will help them immensely to develop athleticism. In tennis, you need excellent hand/eye AND foot/eye coordination. You need to think and react quickly. It is the greatest "developmental" sport in the whole world. Start your child soon and HAVE FUN.

Q. I have an 11-year-old son who enjoys tennis and playing tournaments. I want to learn more about being a "tennis dad" and how I can better help my son as we progress along the "tennis trail" together. Any good books out there you would suggest? Thanks!

A. It is not easy being a good “tennis dad” and I admire your eagerness to learn the ropes so that you can avoid some pitfalls. The first aspect that you need to bear in mind is to ALWAYS maintain perspective. It is just a game, as they say.

My all-time favorite book on this topic was written by Wayne Bryan, father of the world’s #1 doubles team: Bob and Mike Bryan. The book is titled “The Formula: Raising Your Child To Be A Champion In Athletics, Arts and Academics.” There are some brilliant ideas and logical concepts throughout the book. Author Wayne Bryan was/is a great coach and has gone through the trials of being a “tennis dad.” Enjoy the book and best of luck with your son.

Q. How to play tennis in simple way?

A. “Ten Things ALL Kids Should Know About Tennis” Please visit our usta.com web site for this particular story. Although this article is aimed at kids, it provides basic tips to anyone who is new to the game of tennis. It doesn’t get any more “simple” than this!

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