Tennis is one of the most engaging, physically involved sports out there, but it’s rarely in the spotlight when we look at the sports our children should be trying.
Today, we’re going to talk about the right age to have your children begin tennis. Not only that, but we’ve got some fun tennis games that you can play with them to gauge their interest. We also have recommendations for the best tennis gear for kids.
It’s always important to keep things engaging by putting fun first. Understand that your child is trying to have a good time more than anything else. Toddlers aren’t thinking about going pro one day or making a career out of a sport, so don’t sweat it, just let them have fun.
Some children will excel better at different ages. Keep this in mind so that you can put the racquet down and revisit this in the future if things get tough. It doesn’t have to stop with the toddler years.
- 1 What is the Optimal Age to Start with Tennis?
- 2 When Did Famous Tennis Players Begin With Tennis?
- 3 How to Make Tennis Fun for Your Toddler
- 4 Toddler Tennis Games
- 5 Tennis is a Great Lifelong Sport – Start Them Out Now
- 6 What About Toddler Tennis Gear?
What is the Optimal Age to Start with Tennis?
That depends on your current definition of tennis.
If you plan on putting them into a junior tennis league of sorts, and teaching them the strict and rigorous rules of the game on a professional level, you shouldn’t start that until they’re at least five years old.
If you mean picking up a racquet and batting the ball around while having a giggle, then you can start as soon as they can walk a straight line in a pair of sneakers.
Children who are forced to play something competitively when they don’t quite understand the point of winning and losing will get stressed out. They’ll feel like they’re being pushed into doing something that they don’t truly understand. That would be stressful for anyone.
On the same note, every single child is different. Some kids are just super competitive from a young age, so this won’t really be a problem for them. They might get their thrill from winning, and just have this innate sense of sportsmanship.
However, most children are just trying to have fun. You have to think, we don’t come into this world knowing what tablets and Netflix are—children are, by nature’s design, created to run around and exert their physical energy.
Their minds are telling them that this is their source of fun, that this is how they get to act and play and be children. It’s how they understand the world. You don’t want to give them a bad relationship with sports or playtime.
The keyword there is playtime. At some point, children will graduate from playtime and engage in sports for other reasons. Perhaps it’s to stay fit, or maybe it’s being competitive, but they need a foundation of fun and play to build on for that.
This all brings me to the point: two years old is about the right time to start introducing them to tennis as a fun, playtime activity.
Age four to five years old, you can expect them to start understanding the rules of tennis and play by them. You can introduce penalties here (without being harsh, of course) and just let them know why certain rules exist in the game.
Six to seven is when they can play competitively, when they can let their inner fighting spirit have a crack at the competition. By this point, they understand winning and losing, and they have a desire to sit on top.
At each stage, take them to an appropriate amount of lessons so you can diversify with other sports. One to two lessons per week is the absolute maximum that a toddler should go to. From five to seven, you can up it to no more than four times per week. If they’re truly having fun with it, you won’t be overdoing it.
When Did Famous Tennis Players Begin With Tennis?
If you’re not certain about tennis, I fully understand.
It can be a highly competitive sport later on in life. If you think that two or three is too young to start, it’s time to introduce you to the pros.
Some of the most famous tennis players in all of history started out at a young age. It helps build a love for the sport, but it also gives you muscle memory to be better at it when you’re older.
One of the first names that come to mind for everyone is Rafael Nadal. The man is a legend, but he didn’t come into this world with God-like tennis powers.
Nadal actually started playing tennis when he was just three years old, and ended up going pro at age fifteen. Somewhere in the middle, when he was eight, he won an under-12 regional tennis championship.
He was the nephew of a professional tennis player, so it comes as no surprise that he would be placed into tennis. Today, Nadal has nothing but admiration for the sport, and continues to make a name for himself in it.
Roger Federer, another household name in tennis, was four years old when he fully developed his affinity for tennis. He counted Boris Becker matches that he alone was fascinated with, thanks to no outside influence from his friends or family.
It isn’t clear when he started (before or after the infamous Becker match that he viewed on TV), but by the time he was six, Roger was already training in tennis three times a week. From there, at the age of ten, he was privately tutored and took off from there.
Last but not least, Serena Williams, one of the most beloved tennis players of our time, was just three years old when she began playing tennis. She’s a record-setting tennis player with (currently) 23 Grand Slam single titles to her name.
Starting young can be a good thing, but it isn’t everything.
How to Make Tennis Fun for Your Toddler
This is a short, detailed list of ways to ensure your kids are having fun while playing tennis, as well as some information on how to help them if they aren’t having fun with it.
1. Control Your Expectations
You are their biggest fan, their biggest source of pride and accomplishment (at least at this age).
They’re going to look for your body language, facial expressions, and hear your tone.
Look, we can all get frustrated when our children aren’t exactly doing a good job at something that we’re instructing them to do. It’s just frustrating.
But you can’t let that control your tone of voice or expressions. They’re going to feed off of that energy, and either get stressed out and not enjoy the game (but keep playing anyway because they know it makes you happy), or they’re going to walk away from something that they really loved. It could breed disdain for the sport.
2. Let Them Control the Time
You may have set aside thirty minutes in your daily and very busy schedule to practice tennis with them, but they don’t know that.
And frankly, they shouldn’t know that.
Don’t make it about your time, because it’s about their time. If they get burned out or aren’t interested for more than a few minutes, let them cut the cord.
Nobody ever became in love with something because they were forced to do it. It could just be the space they need to think about it, and return to the sport if they deem it fun again. If nothing else, letting them control the time could be more positive for their tennis playing than you realize.
Everyone has hard days, especially kids. Everything is amplified when you’re a toddler or young child. They need to know you’re there for them, so letting them take a step back might actually be the best thing for them right now.
3. Always be Laughing
Sports are fun—they just are.
You know what’s not fun?
When you can feel that the person you’re playing sports with is clearly just mentally gone.
Smile. Laugh. Let them know that you love seeing them happy and involved in a sport that they love. That’s just going to reinforce their love for tennis without having any resentment or feeling like it’s being forced upon them.
Laugh with them, have a good time with them, and be a supportive role.
4. Make it Goal-Based
This works for some toddlers, but not all of them.
Do you remember some sort of a sticker-based system in kindergarten?
Perform your task well, get a sticker, watch your name on the board grow—positive reinforcement.
That’s basically the best way to keep things fun. Everybody likes rewards, and everyone wants to feel like the tasks they perform have some value. This is a simple way to help them slowly get competitive or at least understand competition without turning them into the next Federer.
5. Get the Right Racquet for the Job
Nothing is more infuriating than using the wrong piece of gear for a specific task.
Ever had to unscrew something with a butter knife, or unlock a bedroom door with a credit card?
Those aren’t the tools for the job. A racquet that’s too short is basically the same thing; it’s not doing what your child needs it to do. It’s going to frustrate them beyond belief.
A racquet that’s too short or too lightweight (these problems usually come in tandem) will make actually hitting the ball or birdie much more difficult for your child.
While the age ranges and racquet lengths are all mildly incremental, it all matters. If you’re going to upgrade your child’s tennis racquet, find out their arm span and the right dimensions to get the racquet. Usually, you upgrade them every two years until they turn thirteen when they’ll be using a standard sized racquet.
6. Break the Rules… at First
Fun is what matters right now.
So what if they don’t know the rules of tennis straight away?
What if they want to just throw the ball up and down and have fun? What if they want to have a sword fight with you using their racket?
Indulge their imagination. It’s the only way they’re going to have a positive connection with anything, including tennis.
Tell them how the game is played and get them to learn the basics, but if they’re feeling silly, don’t stifle it.
They’re going to be competitive and calculating before too long, so foster a good relationship with this sport, and build some memories. Chances are, they’re going to be cherished memories for your children, too.
Toddler Tennis Games
We want to keep it fun for the little ones.
Let’s play some games while using the racket and tennis balls. Turn the court into the home of a different game with these simple deviations.
1. Paddle Ball
Just like it sounds—paddle the ball up and down.
There’s no tether, of course, but what you can do is hold the racket vertically and just have them bounce the ball around a bit.
It’s some good fun, and gets them used to the racquet without being too hardcore about it. They’ll learn how to hold it, the way a tennis ball bounces on the strings, and how much weight they need to move in order to swing effectively.
2. Red Light, Green Light
This one gets them moving.
You stand on the baseline, and hit a ball towards the net. They start on the shoulder and have to run the length of the court to you. If you hit the net with a ball, they have to stop moving for five seconds.
If you keep missing, they can keep running. Once they reach you, they win.
This is a great game because it’s super quick, and they can’t really lose it. It’s great for toddlers, and you can replay it over and over again if they want.
It actually helps out with hand eye coordination as well. They have to keep moving but also keep their eyes on what you’re doing, and stop appropriately.
Who didn’t love dodgeball?
I mean, not the kind where you try to pelt other kids in the face, but this kind.
You stand at the wall and serve the ball to your little one. They get to hit the ball at you, and you have to try to move out of the way.
As a heads up, if they have an arm on them, it’s best to get pressureless tennis balls. This is good for two reasons: one, if they hit you, it’s not going to leave a mark, and two, if they bounce it off the wall and hit themselves, there won’t be enough momentum to hurt themselves.
4. Ping Pong
It’s table tennis, you know? Just on a bigger court.
You can do this while sitting down near the sidewall of the court. Just gently bounce the ball off the point between you two, and gently tap the ball back and forth. Pressureless will be best for this.
This is fun, low-impact, and it’s something you can do on a hot day. You don’t have to sacrifice going outside just because of the heat.
Besides that, it’s a way to get them used to hand eye coordination without lobbing a fast ball at them from over the net.
It’s okay to incorporate the basic rules of tennis here. Just don’t go overboard; keep fun at the forefront of what you do.
This is a little game where your toddler just counts along with how many times the ball bounces in a game of paddle ball.
You can do it, they can do it; just bounce the ball up and down and count out loud with them. It’s like an all-around learning and skill-building game.
6. X Marks the Spot
This is one that you need to have two children for, but it’s tons of fun.
Have them both stand on the same side of the net, about ten feet apart from one another.
Then you stand on the other side. They get to serve a ball to you, and you have to run to send it back towards the other child. Then that child gets to hit it towards you.
Because of how children hit, they’ll be sending it back and forth in an X-shaped pattern to you. Keep up, and keep them engaged.
Tennis is a Great Lifelong Sport – Start Them Out Now
It’s important to get your children started with lifelong skills (and sports) from an early age, so long as you approach the subject properly, and with patience.
Fun is just as important at this age as anything else your child is doing. They won’t grow a love for anything—sports, reading, fitness—if they can’t find their own enjoyment and fulfillment from it.
Avoid the cliches of parents forcing their children into something. Tennis is great, but it’s not an end-all. You can get them involved in other sports if this doesn’t work out, or help foster their fun and let them truly enjoy themselves while staying physically active.
What About Toddler Tennis Gear?
We are reviewed and set out the perfect gear to get your toddler or young player started in tennis: Best Tennis Gear for Toddlers and Young Players.