Annabel Croft, the former British tennis champ and broadcaster, has played tennis all over the world, winning Wimbledon and competing at the top levels of the sport. Yet when she talks about that moment when children who have never even tossed a tennis ball discover the joy of the sport, her enthusiasm brims over. “It’s so exciting!” she says.
Croft, along with other celebrated players such as Greg Rusedski, is helping instruct the Lawn Tennis Association’s #TennisForKids coaches, getting these seasoned coaches ready to provide free tennis lessons all around the country. It’s all about getting kids interested and involved in this great sport. BritMums, along with 2 bloggers whose children experienced the LTA free tennis lessons last year, chatted with Croft about the lessons and the experience. (Read Karen Beddow’s post about last year on Mini Travellers.)
The lessons start with ball skills such as games of catch, practicing the “warrior” position (knees bent, on toes, looking like a sports star…) and other activities that are fun — and far away from the frustration of swinging wildly as the balls sail past. Then kids quickly move to trying their skills on mini-courses with a low net.
And that can be an exciting moment, says Croft.
With a racket in their hand, a ball shoots across the net and you can see their thought process, she says. “‘I’ve got a racket in my hand and I’m hitting the ball across the net and I look like a tennis player.'”
Last year almost 14,000 kids age 5-8 played tennis for the first time through the scheme which offered a free 6-week tennis course. Budding tennis players even received a racket of their own to take home.
This year Tennis for Kids is back, with the opportunity for even more kids to get active and out on the court — with FREE lessons at local clubs across the the country and a free racket for participants at the end!
Sign ups for the 2017 programme open in April.
Visit clubspark.lta.org.uk/TennisForKids for more information and to sign up when registration opens.
BritMums got the chance last year to see some of the techniques coaches employ to make learning tennis fun. The programme uses soft, squishy balls so there’s no chance of a painful errant hit. Children start with hand-eye games tailored to the internet-screen generation — activities such as bouncing the ball to each other and holding hands as if in a handshake and tossing the ball to each other’s free hand. There are creative games, with milestones to hit along the way so kids’ confidence builds the more they play.
Then it’s on to the mini court, working with a coach and hitting a ball tossed across, finally graduating to hitting back and forth, just like real tennis players (!).
What’s new in 2017
The programme has been updated with feedback from last year, to make it even more fun, more engaging and more of what kids and parents want. At the training session coaches exchanged their learnings. The whole thing is fast-paced and good-humored, to ensure kids don’t get bored.
“These coaches are the people out on the front line delivering sessions to the community in all kinds of weather, all kinds of conditions. They are the ones inspiring the new generation,” says Croft.
Best of all, by signing up your child to these lessons that don’t cost a thing, you’re introducing them to an enjoyment of the sport and skills they will have forever.
“The earlier you engage a child with something like tennis,” says Croft, “they enjoy it for the rest of their life.”
Find out more and mark your calendar to sign up!
BritMums is working with the LTA to promote #TennisforKids.