Many parents believe they must pay a professional to help their young children learn the sport of tennis.
For a child to hit a moving ball with a tennis racquet, spatial awareness of where the ball ‘is going to be’ is as necessary as the hand-eye coordination to physically swing the racquet. And since most young players change their strokes many times before they are 13 years old, a parent can initially introduce some extremely important skills to their own children without breaking the bank!
For a child to learn that other objects move regardless of whether or not the child moves is crucial to their spatial development. Young children often bump into other children, adults, and even inanimate objects they didn’t even notice. How is a child supposed to watch a ball bounce, track where it will be in and then swing their funny little stick to strike this moving ball?
In tennis we call this “ball tracking.” Having the ability to track a ball and set oneself in a position to hit the ball after it has bounced and potentially slowed down or even changed direction slightly, is not an easy task for a 3 year old. For this we invented “bounce-hit.”
A parent can set up their child and bounce the ball accomplishing mostly the same thing that a highly paid teaching professional does. The trick is to get the child to understand the timing of “bounce-hit.”
Timing the racquet to hit a bouncing ball is difficult. If you remove the racquet the child can often see positive results much quicker. For this we invented “bounce-catch.” These results are still tennis related even though the child is not hitting a tennis ball with a tennis racquet.
“Bounce-catch” is probably the most basic way to introduce spatial awareness and ball tracking. Here is how it works:
Have your child place their racquet behind them on the ground. This is where they will keep their caught tennis balls to create an avenue for positive reinforcement.
Next, stand 8-10 feet in front of the child and teach them to say (out loud) “Bounce. Catch.” This will establish a timing for the child for how long it will take from the ball hitting the ground until the ball should hit their hands (or face, or belly).
Using a soft underhand motion, toss a tennis ball so that it will bounce midway between you and your child and so that the ball will be easily caught. Both parent and child will say “Bounce. Catch.”
If the child catches the ball, they get to place it on their racquet strings (on the ground behind them). If they do not catch the ball, they get to go pick up the ball and then place it on their racquet.
As the child improves, you can back up, to make catching the ball more difficult and change the timing slightly. You can also toss the ball to the side of the child forcing them to move to catch the ball. This is an extremely advanced concept for a 3 year old but most parents should be able to handle it!
Good luck, and remind your child of Rule #1 for Ankle Biters Tennis:
Never try to hit the ball with your face!