As a parent thinking about tennis for your child, considering what age to start tennis lessons can feel daunting. You might be concerned about pushing too hard or too early, or about their physical and emotional readiness. Before planning for lessons, you may wonder in general, how old they should be to start tennis.
As discussed in our Complete Parent’s Guide to Junior Tennis, kids can generally start playing tennis between the ages of four and five. Initially they could just have fun tossing a ball around and becoming familiar with using a small light racket with foam balls, seeing what happens when they try to bat the ball around. Refer to our Kid’s Tennis Racket Sizing Guide for more info about choosing the correctly sized racket based on your child’s age and height. Let’s take a deeper look into the necessary criteria for starting tennis, and how to chronologically accomplish this.
How to Know if Your Child is Ready for Tennis Lessons
Once you see that your child is enjoying his or her time with that racket and ball, you will want to think about proper techniques, starting with good habits, and contemplating what age to start tennis lessons.
This is of course a highly personal decision, and depends on your child’s temperament, readiness, and your own intentions about having your child involved in tennis. I do not believe that it’s possible to generalize here, but based on my work with youth and their parents, and what I’ve learned from others who are passionate about the sport, I can provide general guidelines.
Broadly speaking, kids have a pretty limited attention span through age 5 or 6, at which point lessons might begin. Until then, their focus and retention skills will probably not be developed enough to gain much from formal or informal instruction. That said, there are always exceptions, and your child’s motivation/temperament could play a major role in the timing here. If you decide to start lessons at this age, make sure they are no longer than one hour a piece.
I’ve worked with kids who are exceptionally “coachable”, meaning they seem to be more receptive to feedback and direction. I see this as a part of their temperament; it doesn’t make them any “better” than others who may be more self-directed at a young age. But it may allow for an earlier start with lessons.
The Earlier, the Better (Typically)
It is also difficult to generalize about the ideal window of time when thinking about what age to start tennis lessons. You will want to begin early enough to lay the groundwork for proper stroke mechanics, so that his or her first instructor can teach the basic fundamentals. It’s likely that any child will have learned some habits that make it easy to get the ball over the net when initially playing for fun, but bad tendencies must be unlearned and replaced with the correct, basic skills.
Your own intentions and goals about involving your child in tennis play a part in this decision too. Are you hoping that he or she will play competitively in high school or college or beyond? Or perhaps you simply enjoy tennis and see the physical and social benefits of the game and want to encourage involvement in the sport?
You have probably seen young kids playing tennis and noticed how much fun they are having. The window of time can vary, but I believe that kids should ideally be introduced to the game around 4-5 and then start lessons by the age of 8-10. If they are a few or even 10+ years later, then no worries! Tennis is idolized as “the sport you can play all your life.”
First Steps for Introducing Your Child to Tennis
Once you’ve decided to begin with lessons, I’d suggest that you look into local regional or city recreation programs, or check out nearby tennis clubs. There may be stand-alone tennis clubs, or tennis centers that are part of athletic clubs in your area. Once COVID-19 restrictions ease, you can drop in and observe a beginning youth class at these kinds of venues. This will give you a sense of the atmosphere there and help you determine whether the place and people are a good fit for your child.
You may also talk with the professionals there and happen upon someone who could be the perfect coach for individual lessons or group lessons. Again, depending on your child’s temperament and learning style, you may want to stick with group lessons, and/or give private lessons a try.
A bit of online research can be helpful for finding local programs, and a treasure trove for parents who want to learn more about equipment and court adaptations for easing little ones into the sport.
Check out the USTA program called “Net Generation” at https://netgeneration.usta.com/us-en/home.html. This program is basically a rebranding and modernization of the USTA QuickStart tennis program that was created about a decade ago, and retains the general concepts of starting with smaller court sizes and foam/low compression balls and progressing as skill, strength and size allow. Across the US, some clubs and municipalities still call it QuickStart, some have adopted the Net Generation program, and some seem to hybridize the two, but again, the basic concepts of starting small and progressing are identical.
When Should Kids Start Competitive Tennis Tournaments?
Just to touch briefly on the longer term view, if your child continues to enjoy and benefit from tennis, and has progressed with their skills, you both may want to look into tournament play. If you are wondering about the best age to start official tennis tournaments, I’d recommend that you first talk with the tennis professionals who work with your child. They will understand your child’s readiness, and will help you find a nearby competitive opportunity.
Kids can get involved with USTA Junior Team Tennis, open to ages 6-18. For individual competitive play, you can look at Junior tournament tennis, administered by region across the US which include four age divisions: 12, 14, 16 and 18. Check out the USTA website, Youth Tennis Programs tab, for more information. If you and your child want to pursue this option, you can register and find tournaments on the USTA Tennis Link website.
Age Isn’t Everything
Choosing when to start tennis lessons for your child is not an easy question—the answer simply cannot be generalized. However, we hope this guide has given you a better idea of how to know if your child is ready or not. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave them below, or contact Kid Tennis Hub directly.