What is the Best Age to Start Playing Tennis?
Children certainly develop at different rates; however, most do not develop sufficient gross motor skills and cognitive abilities before the age of 6. Gross motor skills involve whole body movement, including hand-eye coordination, vision with ability to track moving objects, and are primarily developed between the ages of 3-5. Cognitive abilities involve learning, including knowledge, retention and decision making, and are primarily developed between the ages of 6-8.
So, when should your child begin learning tennis? As a parent and coach, my simple answer is, as soon as your child expresses interest and is able to hold a racket.
I often share/joke with my clients that I received a racket instead of a pacifier as a young child of tennis-loving parents who were involved in no other sports, well except for figure skating. I was a “terrible-2-something” when I was offered my first racket (a racquetball racket) and a very “cool” chance to do what mommy and daddy were doing.
I began with very simple and basic racket skills such as “ups & downs” (bouncing the ball in the air and against the ground) which lead to many “ups & downs” with a few household lamps, yikes! I slowly graduated to hitting against a backboard between the ages of 3-5. Having that backboard had 2 benefits, I got better at tennis while my parents were able to play on an adjacent court. I remember they joked about saving money on baby-sitting fees 😊.
On a slight tangent, when I began my early stages of learning, many moons ago, we only had one type of tennis ball – the standard yellow ball. The evolution of the tennis ball (and coaching practices in general) has come a long way throughout my tennis playing and teaching career. Many developments have occurred regarding the composition, size, weight and color. Currently, there are three development stages of balls for the 10 & under age group, which allows greater ease to start learning at the suitability level for each player’s ability. Many of the top players and coaches across the world are fans of this modern approach.
The three stages are as follows:
- Stage 3 - Red ball (75% slower than standard yellow ball): Ages 5-8
- Stage 2 – Orange ball (50% slower than standard yellow ball): Ages 8-10
- Stage 1 – Green ball (25% slower than standard yellow ball); Ages 9-10
Ideally, those balls are used for respectively for these court sizes:
Back to the question of when your kid should start tennis, my answer remains, as soon as they show interest. That being said, the industry-wide standard recommended starting age is most commonly between ages 4-5, due to the ability to simply physically ‘handle’ a racket, as well as mentally focus and retain. I’ll go ahead and mention that I have enjoyed a handful of gifted 2 year old’s in my long coaching career.
Many factors may weigh in regarding the decision to start your child learning the life-long game of tennis but I truly believe the most important factor remains desire. Fun may very well be the #1 requirement for kids successfully learning and loving tennis.
Best wishes to all the parents out there with potential future pros. I hope I offered some helpful perspective, as well as encouragement!
🎾 Written by David Rogers, Guest Contributor
[David Rogers is USPTA certified coach with Universal Tennis Academy in Atlanta, GA. He is also the founder/author of SportMinder and Yelo Tennis Wear.]