Though most kids will not go on to play tennis professionally, there are significant benefits to learning this lifelong sport at a young age. The lessons they stand to gain — whether they participate recreationally or competitively, as an individual or part of a team —go beyond the tennis court — and can have a deep, lasting impact on their life.
Ajay Pant, national tennis director for Life Time, knows firsthand how playing tennis can influence young lives. He started playing at an early age and was able to turn his love for the sport into a successful teaching career.
“The best part of my job is seeing the joy on people’s faces when they’re playing the game,” says Pant. “Tennis has made me a better person. It’s certainly helped define who I’ve become and I love witnessing the game impact others in the same way.”
If your child shows an interest in tennis, consider these lessons that they’ll learn on the court, and carry them off into the rest of their lives.
Lesson No. 1: Push yourself and work together as a team
Many kids learn to play tennis as part of a team, particularly if they begin at a school-age level. Then, once they begin to compete, most play both singles and doubles.
In singles play, kids are out on the court alone. There’s no coaching allowed during matches, so they compete while relying solely on their own knowledge. Kids can also play on a two-person doubles team, with many playing as part of a larger high school or recreational team.
This variety offers kids the best of team and individual athletics all in one sport. “Playing singles develops a fierce sense of independence while being part of a team introduces camaraderie and social skills,” says Pant. “You get the best learnings from both worlds.”
Lesson No. 2: Take care of your partner
There may not be an overt connection between tennis and personal relationship success, but playing doubles teaches several habits that are critical to positive relationships. It’s up to both partners to communicate effectively, and encourage and motivate one another, as well as treat each other with kindness and respect.
Great partners also help one another roll with the ups and downs of the game and stay positive no matter what the score is.
Lesson No. 3: Stay determined and persevere
As is the case in most sports, someone wins and someone loses in every tennis match. Learning to accept defeat while harnessing the inner strength to try again is a priceless skill.
That internal drive is particularly key during singles play. When your child is out on the court alone, he or she has to rely solely on what he or she has learned since no coaching is allowed. While it can be frustrating as a parent to see your child struggle, this experience teaches him or her to face daunting challenges and discover that he or she can come out on the other side of it.
Lesson No. 4: Work hard
Practice, dedication and discipline are required to improve as a tennis player. There will be days when your child doesn’t want to be on the court — the sun is too hot, the wind is too strong, or maybe she just isn’t in the mood to play. By practicing anyway, she’ll not only be prepared for any condition, opponent or situation, but also learn that working hard pays off in results.
Lesson No. 5: Practice good sportsmanship
Few sports require players to make calls or rulings against themselves — and tennis is one of them. It relies heavily on honesty, ethics, and the fair treatment of others. In the absence of on-court officials, players are expected to make honest line calls, and give opponents the benefit of the doubt — even if it means losing a point, a game, or a match.
When new players learn the rules of the game, respect for your opponent and fair play are equally emphasized. Because of this, many tennis players pride themselves on their integrity — both in the game and in life.
Lesson No. 6: See all players as equals
While men and women often participate in separate competitions, a tennis court is one of only a handful of places in sports where they play mixed doubles and compete directly against one another. In a sports world that tends to divide males and females, it’s often refreshing for young people to see both genders playing equally — which can help instill the value of equality and equity from a young age.
Lesson No. 7: Recognize that life isn’t linear
There are only so many things you have control over in a tennis match. For example, you control your serve to start a point, but you don’t know where your opponent will hit his or her return, or what might happen during the rest of that point. So, you react, make quick decisions, and adjust your strategy as you go.
When your child learns to navigate this way around the tennis court, they may just learn to navigate this way in life as well. “Tennis is arguably the sport that comes closest to emulating real, day-to-day life,” says Pant. “You gain valuable, transferrable lessons. And if your kids can do that while staying active and doing something they enjoy, then I’d consider that a worthwhile reason to take up the sport. It certainly was for me.”