Teaching Tennis to Young Beginners

Tips for Instructing 4 to 7 Year-Olds

Man showing a young girl tennis techniques
(Arthur Tilley/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

If you need some tips for teaching young children between the ages of four and seven how to play tennis, the key is to keep things light and keep things fun. Sure, tennis isn't the easiest sport for young children to learn, but if you start kids right, they're likely to be lifelong players.

Ensure Success

The best way to make sure young kids have fun and learn well is to keep them experiencing success. We suggest using progressions, which are central to the teaching style advocated by the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR). That means slowly working up to mastering some basic strokes, and then putting the children through a series of drills to ensure those strokes become ingrained.

Start With Basic Strokes

First, teach your children how to grip a tennis racquet. No need to buy an expensive racquet at this point, either—just make sure it's the correct size for the youngster.

Once they are comfortable handling the racquet, teach a simple groundstroke with this progression:

  • Start with a very short backswing and possibly shortened grip, but normal follow-through, then gradually lengthen the backswing and slide the grip toward the handle.
  • Start with a drop feed, go to a short toss feed, then feed from your racquet.
  • Start inside the service line and then gradually move back.
  • Start with the children hitting the ball while standing in one spot, then have them move just a few steps toward the ball, then progress to them running toward the ball. Some kids position themselves better when they run to the ball than when they don't have to run.

Once your pupil or pupils have mastered this stroke, you can move on to some overhead shots:

  • Start with the racquet overhead at the point of contact, then gradually introduce a bigger swing.
  • Start the student just three feet from the net, then gradually move the student back.
  • Start with an ultra-soft feed right to the racquet, then introduce some higher feeds.

If the kids find the drills too difficult, then revert to something easy, like a series of volleys. With accurate feeds, even the least coordinated kid will get volleys to go in—and that feeling of success will help them concentrate on perfecting their strokes.

Keep It Short and Simple

Children have short attention spans, so don't overdue it. You'll only wear them out—mentally, physically, or both—which might put them off the game for good. Thirty minutes is plenty of time for students four to seven years of age. Introduce enough components to keep things interesting, but not so many that they get confused and their technique suffers.

Make It Fun

Kids will sense if you don't think they're progressing fast enough, and this can discourage them from playing again. So keep things light and encouraging with these tips:

  • Every comment you make should have an element of praise, and you should praise generously. When making corrections, preface them with something positive.
  • Kids enjoy counting toward easy goals, like getting six shots in as a group to earn an extra-long game. If you have just one kid, or all the kids have similar abilities, individual goals are fun, too.
  • Once the kids know a good selection of games, let them vote on a few choices that fit with the day's lesson.
  • Follow drills with fun, "no-lose" games for the first few lessons, then gradually introduce competition as confidence takes hold.
  • Again, make sure the kids are using the right length racquet along with the big, slow balls made for children. Most kids like the foam balls better than the felt-covered, and the foam can be useful and fun for adults too.