Don’t be surprised if the next tennis sensation emerges from the Wellington area. This summer, roughly 100 children each week have been spending their mornings running around the tennis courts at the Wellington Tennis Center while being taught the basics and fundamentals of this lifelong sport — and many of them are playing the game very well.
According to Chuck Gill, the director of the Wellington Tennis Center, many of the courts in the morning hours have been filled with children, ages 6 to 16, who are taking part in the Tennis Summer Camp. They have been learning everything about playing tennis, such as how to grip the racquet and then how to hit forehands, backhands, serves, volleys and overheads.
The young players are also being taught the importance of solid footwork. The footwork drills are helping the children with their conditioning and flexibility.
According to Gill, Wellington’s Tennis Summer Camp has a “big-picture” approach.
“Tennis is a great sport that you can play forever,” Gill said. “You can play singles or doubles. And you can play with friends and family members of any age. Also, when you learn to play a sport properly at a young age, you don’t develop bad habits. Our instructors focus on the process of how to play tennis, and we emphasize the process of good technique, and the winning will come later.”
Often, mistakes by players can be traced to bad fundamentals, which begin with their feet.
“Many players miss shots because of poor footwork patterns,” Gill said. “As with many sports, learning to use small steps and having good balance is critical, rather than take big strides.”
To make the experience positive for all young players, they are placed in groups with players of similar abilities, and they learn technique together. Everybody learns the game of tennis at their own pace.
Gill and his staff of instructors incorporate fun into the environment so that the children are being entertained while they are learning. One of the more entertaining days is every Friday, when they form teams and play team tennis. There are drills and games that are played within team tennis such as “Mini Doubles” and “Queen (or King) of the Court.”
According to staff instructor Liz Stockton, team-building skills are a big part of what is taught at the camp.
“We have fun drills that emphasize team building while working on an individual skill at the same time,” Stockton said.
The children who participate in the program are thrilled to be there, and they are learning more every day about how to play tennis.
“I am having fun, and they taught me how to do a two-handed backhand,” eight-year-old Logan Bartley of Wellington said
“My backhand is better, but I’m still learning the basics,” added eight-year-old Susanna Cadena, also of Wellington.
For younger, inexperienced players, they are taught how to hit forehands and backhands before they step foot on the tennis court. They are called shadow forehands and shadow backhands.
“I am so proud of our kids who have had great attitudes and smiles despite the weather, and our awesome staff of USPTA professionals and junior assistants who keep the players busy and productive,” Gill said. “Each day, we reinforce proper grips, unit turns, good swing patterns and proper balance.”
In addition to the courts at the Wellington Tennis Center on Lyons Road, there are other tennis courts being utilized for this program. At the Neil S. Hirsch Family Boys & Girls Club in Wellington, temporary courts have been set up at the basketball courts for instruction, and the tennis courts on the campus of Wellington High School have been used for a special “high performance” program for current and aspiring tournament players. All programs are run by United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) professionals from the Wellington Tennis Center.
“Our goal is to truly have each junior in Wellington have a program that is right for their skill level and give every single kid in Wellington an opportunity to learn tennis,” Gill said.
Some youngsters come for one week and some stay for more than a week. The program started in June and concludes on Friday, Aug. 6. But that first Friday in August does not mark the end of youth tennis programs in Wellington.
“We don’t really stop teaching tennis,” Gill said. “During the school year, we have after-school programs for children. Our goal is to develop children into being tennis players, and not just kids who attend tennis clinics. They need to learn how to play tennis with their friends, just like they can play pickup basketball.”
To learn more about this year’s Tennis Summer Camp and other junior programs at the Wellington Tennis Center, visit www.wellingtonfl.gov/tennis or call the Wellington Tennis Center at (561) 791-4775.