When Should I start My Child in Tennis Lessons?

QUESTION: What age is best for beginning tennis lessons? Our son is only six, but because my husband is an avid tennis player, he wants our son to start lessons now. I don't agree and would like for him to begin lessons in a couple of years and only if he wants to do it. Our friends argue about the same thing and it's always the moms who want to wait. Are we wrong or right? What have other parents done in similar situations?

ANSWERS: After only 30 days of taking tennis lessons, our seven-year-old daughter began experiencing elbow pain and did not want to continue. We took her to our pediatrician, who suggested we back off of the lessons until she was at least one year older and only if the pain had completely subsided. We did wait until she turned eight to start the lessons again and things went well. Once she began to play more frequently, at least four times a week, the previous pain returned. The sports doctor we were referred to suggested specific exercises to strengthen certain groups of muscles which he did with her three times a week. By the time she was done with the six-week session, she did not want to continue with tennis lessons. While tennis did not work out for her, she has a cousin who is around the same age who has done well. Your son may do well with tennis but I would suggest not to make it the focus of his main physical activity for the first year, especially since his dad plays frequently and may feel distraught if your son doesn't develop as quickly as hoped. I think this was one of our challenges with our daughter because she wanted to keep up with her cousin's ability but couldn't and it became a more serious competition than just having fun, which led to jealousy and poor self-image. Encourage your son to participate in other sports as well. - Tanya Griffith in WA

FROM JODIE:
There are several physical concerns with starting tennis lessons at this young age. The primary one is making sure that your son's bone structure is of the right size and strength, as well as if he's had any prior injuries the year before. Pediatricians often see problems develop in young children who begin tennis due to either being small for their size--with small or undeveloped bones--or having broken a bone, or experiencing a bad sprain, anywhere along the arm, including the hands. Since the entire arm is constantly utilized in the stopping and starting motion that tennis requires, the jarring sensation and impact of the ball against the racket can generate small amounts of stress on tissue and bone that can grow into a problem over time. In fact, if the child is pushed too hard and any mild injuries are left untreated, it can potentially prevent those bones from growing properly if it's continually re-injured over time. Take your son to the doctor and have him checked out; talk to the doctor about your plans. Your son's history can quickly be accessed and a plan can be formed for his individual capabilities and anticipated growth. If he checks out fine and he gets the approval, just remember to use a junior-sized racket and keep everything light-hearted and fun with no pressure. This should be all about his safety and enjoyment.

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CAN YOU HELP?

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