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What is “too young” to play tennis?

So what is the “right” age to start playing tennis.  The answer for that depends on what your overall goal is, are you looking to give your child something to do to have fun and keep physically fit, or are you trying to create a D1 and possibly pro-tennis player.  Be clear on your intentions and make sure they match those of your child.

Tennis is a game that requires both physical and mental endurance, and can be a great source of fun while children get fit.  That being said many pro’s will tell you tennis is too difficult of a concept to teach to children under the age of four, and the fundamentals of tennis should not begin until late elementary school.  When your child reaches later elementary school, fourth through sixth grade, they can have the fundamental strokes down and begin to learn the full rules and strategy of playing the game.

The USTA has recently instilled a Quick-Start program to allow children ten and under to compete in tennis at an earlier age with modified court size, racquet size, and denser balls.  The goal is to make tennis more interesting for the younger kids instead of just practicing technique all the time without competition.  Beware of the temptation to make it about competition rather than the fun.

So what if your goal is to develop a D1 tennis player, do they need to be on the court every day for two hours from the time they are eight until they go to college?  You are taking a big risk if this is the path you choose to take.  Burnout is an overwhelming reality in kids in their late teens, precisely at the age they should be peaking to play that D1 tennis you have been after all their life.  A great majority of them hang up their racquets once they finish college and don’t pick them up again for many years, if ever.  I am not saying this is the case for everyone, but the reality is far too common.

My oldest son didn’t start playing tennis until he was eleven years old.  I mean literally never even held a racquet or watched a match before eleven. At this point in his life he had competed in basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey.  He had enough exposure to different sports that he was ready to make the decision to commit himself to become a competitive tennis player.  He was behind most of the other kids in the competitive tennis world, having never even played before the age of eleven, but he had a drive and desire that was fresh and that was his own.  He will be signing with a D1 tennis team next week.

So to answer the question “what is too young to play tennis?” The answer, it is never too  young to start playing tennis as long as it is for  fun.  On the other hand if you are looking to become or create a competitive tennis player there are several factors you need to consider.

Questions you need to ask:

  • Have you given your child enough opportunities that he/she can choose tennis as the sport they want to dedicate themselves to?
  • Does your child have the nature and desire to compete?
  • Are you as a parent willing to put in the time and money it takes to be competitive?

Remember I am the crazy tennis mom so even though we waited to start our child in tennis doesn’t mean I didn’t make other mistakes along the way.  Try to keep in mind, in the end it is all about the kids.

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