How We Got Our Kids into Tennis: 7 Easy Steps

When our kids were 7 or 8, they wanted to start playing tennis.

They had been active in several sports and as a family we had developed the savvy needed for them to get connected with all of the local leagues.

We started by searching for something equivalent to the AYSO, Pop Warner and YMCA basketball leagues. We quickly learned that tennis was a little different, with many paths and options for creating a solid framework for a cost-effective, professional and fun youth sport.

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Over the years, several parents have asked us how to get their kids plugged into tennis. While there are many successful approaches, and we don’t claim to possess any special wisdom beyond being involved parents, here are the 7 steps we took:

  1. We Found a Tennis Clinic: Our kids started playing tennis at a free Saturday morning clinic offered by a local tennis club. Many local tennis clubs and facilities have clinics for kids. Whether you find a clinic through USTA.com (search “Play Days”) or just call around to the tennis facilities in your area, there should be clinics offered either after school or on the weekends. The advantage of clinics is the cost. Many starter clinics are free, as an introduction to the facility. If there is a charge, it is a fraction of the cost of private tennis lessons.  Once you find a clinic that works for your family, make it a regular part of your schedule. Our kids continued in that Saturday morning clinic for several months, eventually moving up to the free adult clinic. With their skills improving, we enrolled them into intermediate and, later, advanced clinics offered at a different facility. They continued to attend these clinics through high school, as they assisted them with a consistent, professional environment for their tennis development. 
  2. We Watched the Clinics and Learned Games and Techniques to Help Them Improve: While kids learn quickly, they will need to play tennis on a consistent basis to improve their skills to become team and tournament ready. We regularly played tennis with our kids, using the games, drills and ideas that we learned from watching those first novice tennis clinics. To keep our kids interested in tennis, we had to make it fun. So we incorporated “Jail Break”, “King of the Court”, “Mini-Tennis” and other fun games during these family practices. We bought a big hopper of balls and went to the courts on days between clinics and lessons.
  3. We Found Friends at the Same Skill Level: Family tennis is fun, but we wanted to set-up matches and practices with other youth players at our kids’ level. During the tennis clinics, we watched for other players who were the same approximate level as our kids. We would then approach the parents and ask if we could set up a match. The other parents were often searching for the same opportunity and readily agreed. We have made many terrific family friendships that continue today through these early tennis introductions.
  4. We Signed Them Up for Semi-Private Lessons: We believe private lessons are an important step in the development of a competitive tennis player. This is where the teaching pro will work on their specific needs, strokes, acumen, tennis personality, and help them to shape their game. We knew that our kids would need private lessons to improve their skills quickly, but we had a tight tennis budget. We decided to split lessons with another youth player and contacted the families that we had met at the clinics. Splitting semi-private lessons with other kids cuts the cost in half, while allowing your youth player to take the next step in their tennis development. It also allows the teaching pro to create match-play lessons between the two students, which are very helpful for getting tournament ready. While in these semi-private lessons, our kids continued to attend their clinics, moving up the skill level ranks as they advanced.
  5. We Assessed If They Were Ready for Tournaments: Now that our kids were playing several times a week and showing consistent improvement, we thought it was time to put them into some tournaments.  Before taking this step, we met with the teaching pro and confirmed that they were ready.A note of caution:  We believe it is best to wait until your youth player has a solid game before signing them up for a tournament. The skill levels at these tournaments, even at the novice level, are impressive. If your kid is not ready, they may have a very rough time in their first few matches. You do not want them to become discouraged at an early stage of their tennis development with a series of one-sided losses. We suggest that you watch a few tournaments with your kids before they begin to play. This will allow you to assess the local skill level and prepare accordingly. We have seen kids leave the sport because of the difficulties of playing tournaments before they were ready. 
  6. We Found Some Tournaments: We started with the novice level tournaments that we sourced through USTA.com. These are offered frequently through clubs and facilities across Southern California. We were surprised and impressed by the high level of skill at these novice tournaments. We learned the hard way that we should have watched a few tournaments before diving right in!In addition to the USTA sanctioned tournaments, we looked for other local tournaments hosted by Serve, Stroke, Volley (visit www.ssvtennis.com), Tennis Patrons, and local facility youth tournaments. These tournaments were the backbone of our kids’ tennis development. Once they began advancing consistently in the novice level tournaments, we moved our kids up to the intermediate or satellite tournaments, and then onto the advanced, open level tournaments.

    Look for Consolation Rounds: When signing up for your first tournament, ask if there is a consolation round. These second chance rounds are like a separate tournament for the kids that do not advance to the second round of the main tournament. The skill levels will often be closer to the kids who are new to the sport. Many of these consolation rounds have very competitive line-ups, with trophies for the winner of the final. This is great experience as your kid learns how to play tournament tennis.  My kids have had some thrilling consolation final matches and have benefitted from the extra experience.

  7. We Found a Team – The Best of Tennis: Once our kids were playing in tournaments, we wanted them to have the team experience. They were attending clinics and taking semi-private lessons at a local club that offered junior team tennis for all levels. You can visit usta.com, click “Youth Tennis” and select “Junior Team Tennis” – or just call around to the facilities near your home. The tennis clubs often require that you have a family membership, or your kids are actively involved in their junior programs. This is a good idea, as they will know the other kids on the team, will generally be familiar with the coach, and have the pride of playing for their community facility. My kids also played on their middle school tennis team, which lead to playing for their high school team. I highly recommend team tennis, as it brings many dynamics not found in individual tournament play. Most importantly, it makes tennis really fun for kids. It also provides your youth tennis player with an experience similar to other sports, with regular weekend team matches, clinics that act as practice through the week, rounded out with individual instruction in the private or semi-private lessons.

Tennis is like so many other activities. Once you do it for a while, the uncertainties and apparent obstacles fade away. You quickly get connected, make friends, and become part of the tennis community.

Every tennis family is a little different. While these steps worked for our family, you will likely find a path that works best for you. Regardless of the path you follow, we encourage you to dive in now and begin your kids’ journey in the wonderful, life-long sport of tennis.     

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