Tennis is a sport which is perfect for kids; it’s fun, it’s good exercise, and it’s relatively safe to play in comparison with slightly rougher ‘contact’ sports such as rugby and football. Kids playing tennis will see a marked improvement in their agility, coordination, flexibility, speed, and strength, as well as more psychological characteristics such as cooperation, discipline, and problem-solving. Aside from playing matches, there are plenty of smaller games that you can play with your budding tennis stars to make sure they stay on top of their game, and give them a greater understanding of the fundamentals, basic rules, and benefits of being able to play tennis.
Count The Hits
Focussing on teaching kids to hit backhand and forehand ground strokes accurately, this is a great game for those who want to focus on individual strokes. The kids form a line behind the baseline, and one player at a time moves just inside the baseline towards the centre of the court. From the opposite side of the net, hit or throw the ball over the net to either the player’s forehand or backhand side and have them hit it back over to your side of the net. See which player can hit the ball in play the most times in a row.
Hit and Run
This game prepares kids for long rallies during matches, and is appropriate for school-aged kids who have a little experience of playing the game. It’s another game where all you need is a court, a ball and a racket, making it easier to practice free tennis. Have one student at a time line up in the centre of the court between the baseline and the service line, and from the opposite side of the net, alternate hitting balls between two opposite corners so that the kids have to run to hit the ball, and then immediately run back to the middle. See which player can hit the most balls in a row before tiring.
Requiring at least four students, this is a great game to focus on young players’ accuracy. The kids line up at one end of the court, with the coach feeding from the other side of the net. Each kid gets a certain number of chances (dependent on their ability level) to hit a forehand or backhand into the doubles court. If they get one in, they’re safe; if not, they’re in jail, and they go to the other end of the court to try and catch a ball hit by another player. If they make their catch, they’re free, and the player whose shot they caught takes their place in jail. When only one player remains, they try to get three shots in that don’t get caught, before they misses three. If they’re successful, they win the game. If someone catches one of their shots, it’s a jailbreak: everyone is free, and a new round begins.
Around the World
One of the most popular games played at schools and kids’ tennis clubs, this involves a larger group, with half the kids lining up at one baseline, and half at the other. The coach feeds a ball to one of the kids at the front of the line, who must hit it over the net into the singles court, then run around to the back of the line at the other baseline. The kid at the front of the other line must do the same, and the rally continues, with each player returning the ball, then running around the court to join the back of the opposite line. If a player misses the ball, they lose a life; start your kids on 1, 3, or 5 lives, depending on the difficulty level. When they’ve lost all their lives, they’re out. Once only two players are left, they no longer run around the net: they simply play points against one another until a victor emerges.
With these games and more, you can build up your students’ physical conditioning, speed, strength, and understanding of the game, helping them along their journey to become well-rounded players as they reach adolescence and adulthood. Of course, there’s no substitute for actual matches, so make sure that they’re getting plenty of in-game practice as well; however, these simple and fun drills and games will make sure that your students stay on top of the necessary attributes needed to maintain a high quality of play, and develop skills that can then transfer to their in-game tennis play.