Dustin Weeler isn’t out to create the next Roger Federer or Serena Williams, but he is introducing tennis to some very young players. During one of his recent sessions at Club 1 Fitness, the tennis instructor’s students were all under 10 — and the youngest was 3 years old.
Ten and Under Tennis is introducing more boys and girls to the second-most popular sport in the world (soccer being number one), Weeler said. While it’s not ranked that high in the United States, tennis is also one of the most popular sports here, and it’s a game that players can enjoy for their entire lives.
It’s only been in the last decade that the U.S. Tennis Association began promoting 10 and Under Tennis, Weeler said.
He learned to play at an early age and was teaching tennis to others when he was 13, using the same courts and equipment as adults. Today, the equipment is adapted to the age of the players, just as it is in other popular sports.
“You wouldn’t give an 8-year-old a 16-pound bowling ball,” he said. Young kids playing basketball don’t use baskets at the same height as the pros use. Likewise, 10 and Under Tennis features shorter courts, lower nets and larger, softer balls that move slower through the air. The rackets have shorter handles, or students can wear large foam mitts as they learn to hit balls. There are also different rules that make the games and lessons shorter and more fun. Even colors involved are brighter and court lines are more simple and easier to understand.
“When I grew up we didn’t have anything like this,” Weeler said.
During his classes for the youngest players, Weeler doesn’t do a lot of formal teaching. Instead, there are a lot of games, and children pick up some tennis basics as they play. He also lets parents know what they can do with their children at home to continue the learning.
Scott Gregory’s 6-year-old son Noel attended a recent lesson, hitting balls and interacting with other young players. Gregory said tennis has lured his son away from the computer and video games.
“He’s talked about tennis every day since his first lesson,” Gregory said. “I think kids need to get out and play. It’s a great opportunity for kids to come out and meet each other.”
Lessons are short – designed to end while the student is still having fun and before it feels like “practice.”
“It has to become a game before it becomes a sport,” Weeler said. Otherwise, children will quickly lose interest.
Some will take tennis to the next level, and some won’t. Weeler is comfortable with both groups.
“I’m not making a Roger Federer,” he said. “All I’m trying to do is introduce the game, and give them the opportunity to try tennis and have them enjoy it.”
Today’s 10 and Under Tennis also makes sense from a business model, the tennis instructor said. Before lessons became tailored for kids, instructors usually had students form two lines on a full court and wait for their chance to hit the ball. But one regular court can accommodate multiple 10 and Under courts, so dozens of kids can play at one time. That’s more fun for the kids, and also allows instructors to make the lessons more affordable, even with small groups.
Weeler is available to teach tennis to all ages at Club 1 Fitness, 3806 Broadway Ave., Great Bend. A person does not need to be a Club 1 member to take lessons, he said. For more information call the club, 620-792-1366 or send e-mail to email@example.com.