Maybe your kid loved basketball camp this summer. Maybe you consider yourself a proud soccer mom. Maybe you were the star quarterback of your college football team and by golly, one day your kid better be, too. Team sports are great. I would know; I played them all my life. But as someone who also grew up playing tennis, I can attest to the benefits that this highly individual game offers in contrast to team sports. If you haven’t yet considered tennis as an activity for your child, here’s why you should encourage them to play.
1. Your child doesn’t have to be a world class athlete.
Tennis is a sport your child can be successful in no matter their body type or athletic ability. Often those who excel on the football field or basketball court are genetically blessed with height and a muscular build. Tennis, however, has no such prerequisites. Kei Nishikori, the current No. 7 player in the world, stands at 5 feet 10 inches, which is by all accounts downright average. Additionally, there are several women on the pro tour who are shorter than the average American female: Roberta Vinci (5 feet 4 inches, ranked No. 35), Sara Errani (5 feet 4 inches, former top 25) and Lauren Davis (5 feet 2 inches, ranked No. 36) — just to name a few. While it certainly helps to be athletic, almost any student of tennis can find their niche on the court. Some tennis players are quick, but lack power; others have graceful strokes, but lack speed; still others would be considered “unathletic” on any other field, but on the tennis court possess a deep understanding of shot placement and strategy. In tennis, strength, height and natural ability are not required to be successful.
2. Your child will never sit on the bench.
Tennis allows everyone an equal opportunity for playing time. While most youth sports are the same, as the competition heats up in junior high and high school, players are more likely to spend games on the bench, or even get cut from the team. Because much of junior tennis is played through individual tournaments, kids always have a shot at competition — and are guaranteed at least two matches every time. In addition, children who are still developing their tennis skills can play in novice tournaments, which will allow them to gain more experience and accumulate ranking points. While most team sports played outside of school are actually more elite, junior tennis is an athletic community that is open to players of various skill levels. For children who are eager to get playing time, tennis is the perfect athletic endeavor.
3. Your child will gain independence and self-motivation.
Tennis helps children develop positive character traits, like independence and self-motivation. Tennis practices are often one-one-one with a coach and require children be focused, willing to work hard and motivated to succeed without the support of peers. While wanting to perform well or win for your teammates is admirable, the desire to set and reach goals for only yourself is also an important quality to possess. In competition, tennis players must think and act alone on the court and take responsibility for their actions, both good and bad. In particular, they must assume responsibility for losing a match, and learn how to deal with defeat. The life lessons that tennis teaches and the positive personality traits it develops are unparalleled in the world of sports.
4. Tennis actually is a team sport.
This point may appear to contradict everything I’ve just said, but hear me out. Yes, private lessons, individual competitions and playing for yourself separate tennis from team sports — in a good way. Tennis players can enjoy all of these components of the sport however, and also join a team, whether at the high school, college or recreational level. Team tennis is unique in that players are on the court alone (except in doubles), but also have the support and camaraderie of their teammates. Tennis can be an incredibly social sport — and children have the opportunity to join leagues and attend group clinics or summer camps. It’s a misconception that in playing tennis your child will entirely miss out on the group atmosphere that team sports provide.
All this is not to say that your child should only play tennis. It’s important for kids to try a variety of activities, team sports among them. But give tennis a chance — you might have a superstar on your hands.