One of the most beneficial things you can do for your child is to get them involved in a sport in which they show a genuine interest, and which keeps them active and engaged. For many parents, tennis is that sport, and fortunately there are a myriad of programs available to get your child excited about learning how to play this exciting game. Many of today's top pros started playing before the age of 10, and had parents that placed them in various tennis programs throughout their developmental years. It goes without saying that each child is different, so you may need to do a little shopping around before deciding on a tennis program that suits your child's interest and skill level.
There are four basic types of tennis programs for kids:
- Recreational Programs
- Group Lessons
- Semi-Private Lessons
- Private Lessons
Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, so here's what to look for in a tennis program for your child.
Recreational programs are a great way to introduce your child to the sport of tennis. You can check with your local community parks and recreation center to see if they offer any kind of tennis day camps or clinics for children. One of the primary advantages of these types of programs is that they are extremely economical; many times they are offered free or at very minimal cost. In addition, recreational programs are more informal, with less pressure placed on kids and more emphasis placed on fun.
The disadvantage of recreational programs is that they rarely offer in-depth instruction, as they are geared more towards introducing kids to the sport on a very basic level. Also, due to the size of the group, there typically isn't a lot of actual hitting time per child. Although rec programs are definitely inexpensive, the old adage that "you get what you pay for" definitely applies here; coming across an outstanding and thoroughly engaging recreational program will probably be more the exception than the rule.
Group lessons are a step up from recreational programs in that they are typically conducted by a trained professional instructor or an accomplished player. They have a slightly higher price tag than recreational programs, but they normally offer higher quality instruction and more structure in the lessons. Since group lessons typically have smaller group sizes, children get more individualized instruction than can be found with rec programs. In addition, the fundamentals of the game are emphasized to a greater degree during lessons.
Disadvantages to group lessons include limited one-on-one time with the instructor; as the group size increases, the amount of attention given to each student typically decreases. Also, if one student in the group has issues with an aspect of their game (e.g., improper swing mechanics, etc.), it often cannot be fully addressed due to the demands of the group environment.
Semi-private lessons are normally structured in a manner to where only two or three students participate in a session at one time. This usually encourages better bonding between students, as well as more personalized instruction for each student. The cost is shared, thereby reducing the per-child expense for everyone. Another notable advantage is that students will spend much more time actually practicing the game, including being able to consistently volley with a partner.
Some disadvantages of semi-private lessons is that they are in higher expense category. Also, if one child seems to advance more rapidly than another, it may be difficult for both children to have their needs fully met in terms of tailored instruction.
Private instruction may be the way to go if your child has shown exceptional talent or interest in playing tennis, or if you believe they could possibly make tennis their career in the future. With private instruction, the lessons are typically taught by a trained and experienced professional who teaches tennis for a living. The most outstanding benefit of private lessons is that they offer the personalized, one-on-one attention and instruction that are often needed for a child to "tweak" the finer details of his/her game in order to compete at a higher level. Private lessons are also much more fast-paced and active than other types of instruction, which lends itself to rapid skill improvement in short amounts of time. In addition, instructors can pinpoint and fix stroke mechanics and other skill-related details in a manner that is tailored to your child's individual strengths and weaknesses.
The main disadvantage to private lessons is the cost; this is why it is important to determine whether or not your child has a genuine interest in tennis that goes beyond just a mere fondness for the game. If your child seems hungry to want to improve his/her tennis game as much (and as fast) as possible, private lessons are definitely worth looking into. If your child has a desire to compete in tournaments or even play at the collegiate or profesional level one day, the investment you make in private lessons now may pay amazing dividends in the future.
Choosing a tennis program for your child will not be an exact science. Give yourself some room to experiment, and don't be too hard on yourself if a particular program didn't seem to "light your child's fire." Keep researching, keep asking for referrals and visit facilities. Who knows...a tennis program may provide that "spark" for your child that could eventually turn into a lifelong love for the game of tennis.