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Elizabeth’s First Tennis Lessons-Simple, Fun and Free!

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Tennis in Washington DC

Washington DC is no Florida, but nonetheless, I would call it a tennis city. We have a lot of recreational players and many tennis courts here. There are lots of options for tennis lessons and tennis camps in the summer. Both public and private tennis courts are usually quite busy, especially when the weather is nice. But even when it gets cold, I still see people on tennis courts. Neither wind nor snow stops them. They’re resilient.

In our neighborhood in Northwest DC, there have been plenty of tennis players even pre-pandemic, but now there are more than ever. I see quite a few kids taking tennis lessons.

Washington DC hosts an ATP Tour 500 tennis tournament, City Open, which is held every summer at the Rock Creek Tennis Center. This is always a big occasion for our city and its tennis fans, especially when stars like Rafa Nadal or Andy Murray make an appearance. One downside of this tournament is that it is often very, very hot when it’s held (end of July/early August).

But weather aside, it is a very pleasant experience for adults and kids. I totally love the tournament’s atmosphere. One can get reasonably priced tickets and see great players up close. You would not be able to do that in Grand Slams with the huge stadiums and thousands of people.

The Rock Creek Tennis Center also offers tennis lessons for kids and adults. There are a lot of good coaches to choose from. A big advantage of using this tennis center is that they put up a tennis bubble in the cold months. They also offer a tennis camp.

Citi Open 2022

At what age should kids start taking tennis lessons?

I think that it’s never too early to start teaching kids to play tennis. It’s similar to learning foreign languages–the earlier you get introduced to the language, the quicker you’ll be speaking it. So, any time the child wants to try, get him or her to the first tennis lesson!

Elizabeth got introduced to tennis when she was very, very young. We first took her to the tennis court when she was about a year old. She sat there quite happily and watched me play. Then, when she was two, she played with tennis balls and just did some general running around at the court.

Elizabeth at the tennis center in Jekyll Island, GA

Finally, when she became a “big” girl–4 years old–Elizabeth started playing tennis “officially” with me as her first coach.

In my view, there is no need for expensive tennis lessons with a super-duper coach for a 3- or 4-year-old kid if somebody in the family, preferably a parent, plays tennis well enough to teach the basics. If nobody in the family is playing tennis at all, then the coach might indeed be necessary.

No expensive tennis gear is required for a little kid. In the beginning, we just bought a couple of kids’ tennis rackets and a pack of balls. Very small investment.

How to make a tennis lesson fun for your kids

The important thing is for the child to get interested in the game, have fun, and get the basics. Making sure your child feels comfortable is important. You’ll have to figure out what works.

I came up with a few ideas which my daughter liked. For instance, we brought different toys to the tennis court who would be “watching” her play. Hamster Homa and doll Elsa are some of the regular visitors.

Elizabeth’s toy hamster Homa participating in the tennis lesson

We also make sure to take breaks and explore the tennis court for anything of interest to the child. In particular, we often find some insects in the summer (bees, lady-bugs, and occasional butterflies) and soft pine needles in the fall.

We even found two small snakes (!) on one occasion. Those were garden snakes resting in the sun. Not sure where they came from, but they had to be removed next day by the home owners’ association.

Routines of our tennis lessons

Elizabeth started out playing in our neighborhood, practicing some basic forehands and backhands, hitting against the wall, and throwing/catching/bouncing balls. In the first year, we played a lot, several times a week, in order to get the strokes right. Backhand came easily, forehand required a little more work. We added volleys and simple serves in the second year.

Elizabeth and I are pretty lucky–we have two community hard courts right across from our house in Washington. Basically, we just walk out the door, walk up a few steps, and we’re ready to play. I wish I had luxury like that in Ukraine, when I was growing up… Well, better late than never. I truly appreciate this gift of life. Our courts get a lot of use during the summer, but no so much in the colder part of the year, which is great for us– we can show up pretty much anytime and play without any interference.

Elizabeth’s tennis lesson at our “home” court

From time to time, we also “change the scenery” and go to our country club, Bretton Woods, out in Maryland. They have many hard and clay tennis courts, plus a tennis bubble which is open all year. It’s more fun to be around different players, plus we get a chance to try a new surface–clay. Interestingly, Elizabeth seems to play better on clay, while for me, hard court has always been better.

Elizabeth’s tennis lesson at the Bretton Woods Country Club

The final word

Elizabeth recently turned 7 years old. By now she’s been playing for a couple of years, and we already see some good results. She says she loves tennis and wants to win tournaments. She’s had a great time at the tennis camp last summer playing against kids a few years older than her and winning quite a few challenges. She is now taking tennis lessons from a professional coach. More on that in later posts.

My sincere hope is for Elizabeth to fall in love with tennis as much as I did. If she does, there is so much for her to see and experience: joy, laughs, thrill of competition, and, beyond doubt, everlasting friendships.

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