Revolutionary Tennis Explorers clinic introduces tennis to toddlers
BY ANDY FRYE For Sun-Times Media
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The 2012 Summer Olympics may have passed, but a fever is still in the air and on the court, especially with the US Open in full swing, for tennis enthusiasts in Chicagoland. Recognizing this, the Chicago-based Midtown Athletic Clubs knows it's never too early to introduce the game to the next generation of tennis enthusiasts, particularly little ones.
On Sept. 4, Midtown will launch a revolutionary new curriculum, Tennis Explorers, geared specifically to introducing 3- and 4-year-olds to tennis. Midtown, a national leader in tennis for more than 40 years, will roll out this one-of-a-kind program at its Chicago, Bannockburn, Palatine and Willowbrook locations.
The Tennis Explorers program is a fun, creative way for toddlers to develop their motor skills. By using play and imagination, the program blends physical activities with storytelling in an on-court environment.
The 10-week program consists of 45-minute classes that include participation with a parent or caregiver. Club membership is not required. Children can learn tennis with a child-appropriate, 17-inch racket on a court with a shorter net using a ball, called a red ball, which is lighter with less bounce.
"There's a different approach to teaching children," said Mike Mahoney, general manager of Midtown's Chicago club. "We've designed the program to give children the chance to develop motor skills, balance and coordination in an environment they can relate to."
Right-sized rackets and smaller courts are one thing; however, the aim is also to not only be physically active but also socially interactive.
During each of the 10 weeks, the instructor and children talk about other countries. One week, it's England, France and Italy. The next, they will learn about countries in Africa, Asia and the Western Hemisphere. The purpose is to teach children to think and talk about other cultures and the places that both tennis and a good education can take them. After each lesson, the kids get new stamp in their Tennis Explorers passport. Participants will also receive a kid-sized traveling backpack designed by Wilson Sporting Goods.
Developed by an early-child-education specialist, Tennis Explorers hones in on promoting hand-eye coordination, footwork and locomotion. Drills largely consists of throwing, catching and rolling the ball as well as classic kid fun such as running, jumping and skipping exercises. Meanwhile, children gain composure on control body position and posture, while boosting their interaction with the people and their social environment. Lessons also work in learning about letters, numbers, colors and shapes.
Mahoney and Midtown think that getting kids involved early can provide that spark that will ignite a lifelong love affair with the game, while also pairing sports and recreation with a love of learning.
"We teach this kind of program first and foremost to have fun. But tennis has seen other programs, in European countries, that teach with right-sized rackets, and child appropriate sized settings." Mahoney said. "It's like a Little League field. Not only do children learn better skills better. An age appropriate tennis environment also catapults them toward greater success."