One of the most often asked questions I receive is, at what age should I start my child with tennis? The answer I give depends upon their goal for their child.
If the goal is just to enjoy tennis for a lifetime, then there is no hurry to rush into the sport. At 4 or 5 years of age work with your child at rolling a ball on the ground with their hand. Rolling a ball on the ground works on the developing hand-eye coordination needed later. Roll the ball to a specific area or target. Bouncing balls require more development, so start slowly by toss balls to child to catch. Have them catch with both hands off a bounce and out of the air. Throwing balls is also good for the development direction and speed control. Try throwing to a target or bucket. Some racquet skills may be introduced at this stage by rolling balls with a racquet is a good way to begin controlling the ball with a youth racquet (21 length). Balancing a ball on the racquet strings and walking can even be quite difficult. Keep the skills fun! Make games out of them to keep your child interested. The attention span at this age is about 5 minutes so change skills or games often.
At 6 to 7 years children have developed enough to begin more racquet skills. Keep in mind that continued toss and throwing of balls at this age is still vital for hand-eye coordination. Racquet skills involve, rolling balls on the ground and controlling the direction and speed. Stopping a rolling ball coming towards your child is another step. Bouncing balls on the ground or up in the air with the racquet should be introduced before actual strokes. Ball bouncing should be done with control, stress continued bounces. Make a game out of it by counting the number of successful bounces without a miss. Tossed balls with a bounce and a hit require some patience on your part. Success at hitting a bounced ball in any direction requires that the person tossing be exceptional at tossing to a precise target. Keep it fun! Again, make games out of the skills to keep their interest.
At 8 to 9 years children are now ready to fully begin hitting tennis balls over a net. Emphasis should be place on stroke form and ball direction. Small strokes with a steady racquet will produce the best results. Try having your child drop and hit balls to a target. Next begin to toss balls to your child so that they can hit the ball right back to you, softly with control. Tossing and serving is still difficult at this age but can still be taught. Playing actual tennis games can be introduced but kids have better success at short court games. Consecutive rallies with a forehand or backhand can be game. Serving or hitting to targets that make noise is a great incentive (think aluminum trash cans).
With all skills and game the right equipment makes all the difference. With racquets the right size youth racquet is important. Youth racquets come in lengths of 21, 23, and 25 and the different sizes should be used at they progress. Special tennis balls are also important. SpeedBall is an oversized, high density, foam ball are great to slow the game down. Low compression balls also slow the ball down to help with building striking skills. Low nets, pee wee nets or no net at all improves the success rate and increases the fun.