Tennis can be a difficult sport for children to get into; rather than the rough and tumble of football and rugby or the team spirit of cricket or hockey, it can be a little technical for smaller, less patient athletes to get used to.
But at Alwoodley Tennis Club in North Leeds, tennis fanatic Jamie Walters offers coaching to children as young as three – helping them to develop the skills they need to swing a racket and thrive in other sports.
“We’ll do a lot of fundamental movement skills; agility, balance, co-ordination,” coach Walters says.
“It is just lots of fun, by engaging them in games to try and get them to become an all-round athlete rather than just a tennis player.
“We give them transferable skills that they can take into other sports if they want to stay in sport, and we also help them become the best possible tennis players they can be as well.”
Unsurprisingly, the earlier the kids start, the more confident they tend to be on the court.
As any older sibling who has made a younger brother or sister cry by thrashing them at a sport they hardly understand can attest, youngsters do tend to enjoy such activities more when they are good at them.
Walters adds: “With quite a few of them coming through the programme starting at three, their ability compared to people coming in at a later age is just far surpassing anyone else. They always seem to enjoy it a lot more because their skills are better.
“Tennis is quite a difficult sport to play so the better you are, the more you tend to enjoy it. Usually, they do stay in the sport quite a while.”
When coaching the younger kids, Walters puts the emphasis on fun above all else.
“I like to become one of them, I’m often the biggest kid on the court,” he says with a laugh.
“I do a lot of work in schools so I’ve got a lot of experience working with the younger kids and I find that they like you being one of them, being funny, keeping them engaged.
“It’s one of the best ways, I’ve found, of keeping them interested and wanting to come back.
“I never make the sessions too serious because the more serious you make it, the less fun it is. Kids at that age, they just want to have fun and if you can have a learning environment that’s fun at the same time, it’s a win-win.”
Despite tennis generally being a summer sport, the LTA’s 2014 Club of the Year offer indoor facilities as well as the outdoor courts, so players can train and improve all year round.
Last year, the weather only struck off one day of training throughout the winter, so players do not suffer from the hangover of a long few months without a racket in hand.
Though the standard is high as a result, there is no pressure on the kids to unleash their competitive edge – though the outlet is there if they want it.
Walters says: “There’s so many elements to tennis, whether that’s you wanting to compete and play at a high level or if you just want to come and play once a week with some friends.
“The club gives you that environment where you don’t have to come and be part of a team structure, you can just come once a week, have a lesson, and go.
“It’s not like with a football team, for example, where you’re joining the team and that’s what you’ve got.
“There’s both sides, the recreational and the team side if people are interested.”
If your child would rather be the next Lionel Messi than Novak Djokovic, the next Johnny Sexton over Roger Federer, or the next Virat Kohli over Rafael Nadal, well, they could do a lot worse than undergo a bit of tennis coaching to get them started.
“I’d say always give it a try because you never know what could happen,” Walters continues.
“Tennis is one of the few sports that has so many different elements within it that are so important.
“Stuff like co-ordination, balance, movement skills, all of which are transferable to other sports, where, with other sports, the skills aren’t always transferable.”
Name: Alwoodley Tennis Club
Based: Alwoodley Community Association, The Avenue, Leeds, LS17 7NZ
Kids catered for: 100
Get involved: Alwoodleytenniscoaching@gmail.com or telephone club secretary Elspeth Bottone on 07743 322874
Training: Monday, Friday, Saturday.