Each year the Wimbledon Championships raise the profile of tennis in the country, and encourage social players back out onto courts all over the land. Most tennis champions were introduced to the sport at a really early age, and if you want a tennis star in your family, then you will need to start training them young!
In all seriousness, tennis presents a wonderful way to promote coordination in your little ones and there are lots of games you can play with them to help in their physical development.
Help babies to focus and track objects by bouncing a ball against a wall and catching it over and over. If they can sit upright, practice rolling a ball backwards and forwards and to you and back
Buy 'short tennis' rackets for toddlers to play with. Encourage them to hit a ball by throwing it to them gently. Have them run after and retrieve balls that you hit for them. Play simple throwing and catching games, have them throw items into hula hoops and then at smaller targets.
Encourage older children to practice bouncing balls on a racket over and over again, see how many times they can bounce the ball in a row. Keep a note of their 'high score' and watch their improvement.
Many tennis clubs run tennis camps during school holiday times, and especially in the summer. Some of these may be aimed at preschool children and some clubs run mother and toddler sessions throughout the year. Look at attending these, not really with the aim of producing a world class tennis champion, but simply to develop physical skills and hand-eye coordination. You probably will foster an early interest in sport, which is no bad thing, but regardless, you will be helping your little ones improve their capabilities.
If you are serious about pursuing junior tennis then the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) help with training and coaching for talented children from as young as five. Being involved in a local tennis club or tennis centres will help put your little ones on their radar.
Catching and throwing are difficult skills for most children, even once they have better control of their arms and hands at around 2½ years old - learning to catch and throw can be great fun! Have a go at the following activity to teach the little ones about size and weight and to practice catching along the way!
- Suggest you are going to learn about catching and find some different sized balls. Roll them to each other and see how you do. Talk about the colours, the sizes and the weight of the balls.
- Try to catch them wearing oven gloves or big mittens. Is it easier or harder?
- Then try catching and throwing a potato or an orange and see how that goes!
- Roll up some newspaper or foil and then see whether that is easier or more difficult to catch. These are smaller balls so may be harder.
- Blow some bubbles and see whether they are hard to catch or easy... or do they just pop!?
In all cases, make the game fun and laugh each time the ball is dropped. Being confident enough to try throwing and catching is half the battle so this is an exercise in just having fun and enjoying the idea of ball games.
Toddlers are reknowned for falling over: although they try very hard to walk and run, they often end up in a pile on the floor; learning and falling over is all part of the process!
Every day your toddler is learning and through playing simple games they are constantly working towards acquiring new skills. Here are a few examples of what children are actually learning (without realising!) when they are playing with various toys:-
Ride-on toys (scooters, trucks, trikes etc) - strengthen muscles and improve balance. They also give your toddler a sence of mobility and the idea that then can get around the place in different ways.
Trundle truck (shopping cart or toy lawn mower) - these are great for balance and improving walking and running skills. They are also great for role play. Don't limit your children to the stereotypes though. Why shouldn't a boy have a dolly pram and a girl have truck?
Obstacle course - put some rope in a curvey line on the ground or a plank of wood if you have one. Make stepping stones with sheets of newspaper. See if they can negotiate the obstacles.
Rolling a ball - All children love balls. Although toddlers can't really kick a ball while standing on one foot, they can knee it or move it along with a push. This helps their balance and to understand the idea of cause and effect, that if you push a ball, it will roll.
So, give them plenty of opportunity to play with different toys and keep them active. Try out other people's toys and swap larger toys with other families so everyone gets a taste of diferent things to play on (without the expense!).
Give them plenty of encouragement and be enthusiastic when they ask to go out to play no matter the weather. Supporting children by keeping them enthusiastic and encouraged is vital. Give them freedom to explore too - if they want to walk along a low wall then give them your hand, put an arm round them and let them try it out! It will make them even more keen to try new things.