Teach Your Child Tennis Part 1 – Basic Feeding & Hitting

Published: June 18, 2017

Tennis can be a difficult game to learn especially for young children. It’s not easy hitting a moving ball, let alone getting the aforementioned ball over the net and into court!

Most children who start the game at primary school age struggle to make good contact as they have had little experience of developing the complex tracking/co-ordination skills that tennis requires.

Feeding a ball to a child so they can hit it using a racket is difficult. Even experienced tennis players can struggle with this so the average parent will find it extremely challenging to say the least. The good news is that you don’t need to be a coach to help your child develop their tennis skills.

The way around this is to hand feed. Feeding out of your hand as opposed to using a racket is useful because it:

  • Makes feeding easier – anyone can feed like an expert!
  • Gives players more time – the balls travel slower
  • Allows the feeder to get close to the player – making feedback easier

The Feed

If the child is a total beginner, you can start with or without a net or alternatively you can use cones or any suitable object(s) as a barrier if you want to simulate hitting over a net. Make sure they start on a spot or use some form of marker & ask them to return to this after they’ve hit each ball.

For groundshots (where the ball bounces once), try standing about 6′ away initially & simply lean forward & with an underarm action, gently send the ball towards the player’s right if right handed & left if left handed, to land approx 2′ in front & an arms length away. These will be forehand groundshots. If using a net/barrier, stand close to it as this will assist accuracy.

The feed should be slow with the movement coming from the shoulder. The ball shouldn’t rise very much on release as higher feeds mean higher bounces & these are more difficult to time than lower bounces. Generally speaking, the longer the ball is in the air, the harder it is to track & contact successfully so monitor the player’s success & adapt your position accordingly.

If it looks like the child is finding it too easy you can move back slightly to make the shot more of a challenge. Conversely, if the child is struggling, move forward slightly.

The Hit

Stage 1 – Basic Forehand

Beginners of all ages tend to contact the ball too close to their body which is understandable as this feels safer & stronger. If the child is young, 4 or 5 years old, then this is fine. Success at this stage is more important than good technique. However, if the child is finding success & appears to be well co-ordinated, ask them to hit more to their side as this will encourage a better swing.

Beginners of all ages tend to contact the ball too close to their body which is understandable as this feels safer & stronger. If the child is young, 4 or 5 years old, then this is fine. Success at this stage is more important than good technique. However, if the child is finding success & appears to be well co-ordinated, ask them to hit more to their side as this will encourage a better swing.

Always encourage them to hit after one bounce. This prepares them for the real game & is often less problematical than waiting for a second bounce. Ask the child to hit into your hands as this will promote accuracy.

Stage 2 – Wider Forehand

Once they can hit into your hands off a simple feed, send the ball further to their right, making them run a few steps to the ball. Ask them to side skip back to where they started.

Stage 3 – Basic Backhand

If they can hit accurately from 5′ away, introduce feeds to the backhand which is on the opposite side to the forehand. This should be a two-handed shot with their dominant hand on the bottom of the racket. Feed as you did for the forehand.

Stage 4 – Wider Backhand

Children (& adults) find the backhand really daunting but success can be swift if they stick to the task. It might not get to the level of the forehand but if there is some accuracy, introduce a wider feed so that the child has to run to the ball before striking .

Stage 5 – Forehands & Backhands

Once you are satisfied progress has been made on both sides you can alternate between forehand & backhand in sequence & then randomly

Over time, as the child improves, feed from further away so that the child has to swing more to get the ball back to you, but don’t move back until they can get 5/5 straight back into your hands (without you having to perform acrobatics to catch!) Every time you move back, repeat the stages of feeding outlined above.

When delivered as I have outlined above, hand feeding will provide a controlled environment that will facilitate learning, engender confidence & help foster a love of the game. Co-ordination, agility & balance will all improve resulting in a better all-round athletic performance.

 

The next stage is more challenging for both player & feeder – racket to racket hitting. You’ll learn all about this in Part 2. Stay tuned!