Unbelievably, at the age of 7, N has played his first tennis match for his team. It’s come around a lot faster than I expected with a short turnaround from being asked. But their mini tennis team has started. And Sundays aren’t going to be the same again.
N’s been playing mini tennis for 2 ½ years – a bit in school first, then he joined the tennis coaching at the local club. Which bizarrely is in the next county, although they mostly do training in Oxfordshire. So matches aren’t for the county lwe live in but the one next door.
He’s not a natural sportsman, and while he’ll give everything a go in school (or in the garden), he’s never been keen to try any other sports in clubs out of school. So I’m all for continuing with the tennis if it’s something he enjoys and wants to keep playing. They’ve got a nice crowd of them play, with many of them from his school, so it’s also a good chance for him to socialise and make better friends than just in school.
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N is never going to be a great tennis player but he works hard, learns (if slowly) and changes according to what he gets told, and likes to really focus on what he’s learning. It can only help him with other sports as he gets older, as well as hopefully ending up a sport he’ll continue to enjoy casually through adulthood.
Three boys from his tennis group were asked to play, but they were unable to find a girl who would/could play. Hopefully for future matches we’ll be able to get one, otherwise the team will have to forfeit 3 matches each time, as well as meaning opponents and our number 3 won’t get as many games. I don’t think the quest is helped by there being so many boys compared with girls in our school. 2 year groups only have about 2-3 girls vs 10-15 boys depending on the year group. Weirdly N’s swimming class is the reverse with only N and one other boy in it (similarly with the lesson before his).
Luckily the boys are all in the same class at school and are friends, so it was lovely they had the reassurance and camaraderie with friends for their first ever match. I think there were some nerves, although N didn’t admit to it. We had a chat in the car about how there wasn’t pressure, it was a chance to see if he enjoyed playing for a team against other people, and a great way to improve his tennis. N was blase about it which was a relief. I didn’t want him to get absolutely thrashed and it put him off forever.
How it works in mini tennis leagues
N is in mini red and will be probably through next year as well because it’s age 5 to age 8 as of the end of March that year.
- Our winter league plays in several different venues with a couple of ties playing at the same time. Our matches are thankfully less than 40 minutes drive away. We had 4 courts with 4 teams playing 2 rubbers at a time.
- It’s based on round robin, so teams play everyone in their group.
- All the children (assuming a full team with at least 1 girl) play 2 singles and 1 doubles game.
- Games are tie breaks, first to 10 wins
- Extra bonus points are scored for the teams if you enter a team sheet, and have a parent who’ll help score. (we were too scared this time, but one guy was making a right mess of N’s double match until our coach told him what to do, that I’ll do some next time. Let’s face it, I’ve scored adult squash league matches, and 7 year olds aren’t going to argue like we used to!)
- The children are ranked 1 to 4 in their team. Number 1 and 2 players play those opposite numbers, and the 3 and 4 ranks play each other.
- They can do over or under arm serve and for mini red play with either foam or the red felt balls.
We needn’t have worried about them. Their match was against another team who were new to playing. Lucky because the other 2 teams playing at the same time came from much bigger clubs.
In mini tennis it’s definitely about consistency. N was playing number 2. His backhand wasn’t great, but he did ok with most of his serves and forehands. The other team’s number 2 was only 5 and couldn’t serve until he realised he could do underarm. He was just very young to have to focus for 15 minutes of playing tennis. But it was lovely to see them having proper rallies with opponents they’ve never played before in a totally different venue.
It’s a big step playing for a team, and I’m really pleased it’s team tennis and not just N on his own. That’s a whole different thing and I’m sure much more pressured. One of the team did get upset after losing his first match. N was so sweet to him when he came off court, asking if he was ok and rubbing his shoulder or back. For a largely solo sport, and N not being into any team sports, team tennis can still provide that team spirit and support that is so important for children to learn.
Find out more about getting children playing tennis
The scorers were lovely to the children and helped them remember which side of the court they were serving from next. Our children had only been taught that 2 days before. They’re also used to playing on courts in a school gym with so many different sport courts marked out on it, so it was nice for them to have nice clear courts to play on.
It’s so hard to keep quiet and not yell down at them to play a different way. I did manage to get N to finally stand behind the baseline for his serves. Once he was even stood halfway up the court and his umpire didn’t even say anything. I now know how sports parents can get so emotionally charged when watching their children play.
Each of the boys won one of their singles matches, and N and his partner won their doubles. Of the games they could play, they won 4-3. Fingers crossed they can find a girl to play then they have a better chance of winning. All three seemed to enjoy playing and N is looking forward to the next match.
Fingers crossed they continue playing and enjoying their tennis. And that they have some good matches even if they don’t win them.
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Do your children do any sports and play in teams? How would you advise we cope when matches don’t go so well?
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