Step Outside the Lines
A city tennis coordinator says reaching out to schools with an introductory “Tennis Day” can bring exciting returns.
If you want fresh ideas on how to reach out and grab new participants into the game, picture this: Inside the school gym, a crowd of energetic third-graders forms two lines. They’re waiting eagerly for the coach to feed them tennis balls. Once the first ball is hit, the line erupts with cheers. Kids are hopping around excitedly, cheering on their classmates, itching to swing their racquets at the ball. Some even practice their strokes while waiting in line.
Thirty minutes ago, these same third-graders entered the gym with boundless energy, skipping and running, arms flailing in every direction. “Yeeesssss!” some of them exclaimed as they realized what was on the P.E. agenda for the day. “Tennis!” Excitement filled their voices. Then they received quick instruction on the proper grip and forehand ground-stroke motion, and it was off to hit balls.
This is “Tennis Day” in physical education class, a variation of the USTA School Tennis program. Often, this program is executed through school assembly, with only a few students actually picking up a racquet. But in Bibb County, Ga., the approach is different. Tennis Day is implemented at each individual school. Tennis instructors visit elementary schools during regularly scheduled P.E. classes to introduce the game of tennis. With this slant on USTA School Tennis, everyone gets to pick up a racquet and hit balls over the net.
The altered program first arrived on the scene five years ago and is sponsored by the Macon-Bibb County Parks and Recreation Department. City of Macon Tennis Manager/Pro Carl Hodge and the Bibb County Public School System Athletic Director Raynett Evans worked together to kick off the first Tennis Day during the winter months of 2000. Back then, only public schools were targeted. Today, tennis instructors also visit private schools.
The program is designed with convenience in mind. By bringing the equipment, instructors, and enthusiasm directly into the schools, children are exposed to the game without having to schedule court time, find an instructor, or purchase tennis equipment. P.E. teachers need not know how to give a tennis lesson.
Some of the program’s goals include introducing tennis to as many children as possible, showing students that tennis is for everyone, and demonstrating that tennis is fun! Instructors bring portable tennis nets, racquets, and tennis balls along with a curriculum. They stay the entire day at one school, giving all students an opportunity to wrap their fingers around a racquet and hit a ball over the net.
Before the end of each class, interested students can sign up to receive additional information about existing programs. And this is your big chance. You’ve created an atmosphere of fun and excitement; now provide them with catchy fliers for your follow-up programs.
If you are looking for ways to spruce up the way you introduce tennis to new juniors, increase your junior participation, or just expose more kids to the game, this method works. You can’t overlook the statistics on participation from the inception of this varied approach to the program. In fact, since the launching of the first Tennis Day five years ago, 34 schools have been visited. And more than 10,000 students have been taught tennis each year.
At least 1,300 students have played Ralleyball. More than 400 players have continued on to participate in other programs such as Player Development or Summer Camp tennis instruction. Also, a core group of junior players has developed out of the Tennis Day program. Currently, these players compete for their high school tennis teams as well as in USTA sanctioned tournaments at the local level (Middle Georgia area), state level, and even Regions.
While some programs are ongoing, Tennis Day only happens once or twice a year. This helps to guarantee excitement. Now, P.E. teachers contact us asking, “When are you going to come out and teach tennis? The kids love you guys!”
Instruction doesn’t have to happen only inside the lines! Get out and step up your approach to introductory programs. You, and the community, will be amazed at the short- and long-term success.
See all articles by Robin Bateman
About the Author
Robin Bateman is the site coordinator for the Tattnall Tennis Center in Macon, Ga., where she coordinates tennis program and leagues, is a tournament director, serves as a team captain, and assists junior teams competing at district, regional, and section events.