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A Walk on the Wild Side of Tennis

July 29, 2010 03:25 PM
The Lobster Trap: Begin with an underhand bounce...
Catch the bouncing ball with your "claws"...
...then hit a forehand back to your partner!
You probably heard it as a kid, or have said these words as a parent to your own child when he or she gets rowdy:
"Cut it out - you're acting like a wild animal!"

When considering kids 10 and under, most youth coaches nowadays stress that tennis should be geared more towards having fun and expressing creativity rather than strict adherence to drills and repetitive lessons. There is a paradox of play that says the more you make it about skill acquisition and performance, the less fun it will be and the more likely kids are to drop out. The more fun you make it—without focusing on performance—the more children like it and the better they will perform.

All of us have been kids at one time, but it may have been a while. There is a simple formula for working with children:

• The more they enjoy it, the more they will do it.
• The more they do it, the more they learn.
• The more they learn, the better they will perform.

Simply put, the more they enjoy it, the better they will perform. Many coaches and parents typically start with the outcome and work backwards, creating performance milestones to gauge progress to make sure things are on target. The USTA may have better players at age 10 than ever before, but still 70 percent of kids in the United States choose not to participate in sports by the time they reach their teenage years.

We need to get serious about play and about having fun playing tennis - it’s a game where kids can move, take risks, hang out with friends, challenge one another, laugh and play all in concert. Instead of saddling them with rules, coaches and parents can now feel comfortable removing the bridle - many youth tennis activities have been designed within the last year to embrace exploration and the elements of fun.

Here are a few animal-themed tennis activities that you can do either on the court, on your driveway, and some even in your living room. As a whole, these activities are specifically designed around movement, so make sure you have plenty of space in which to roam around.

Equipment you will need: Youth racquets, foam or oversized low compression balls, Koosh balls or beanbags, or large balls such as playground balls or beach balls
Recommended for Ages 5-6

Flamingo - Have the children move around the court like an animal the coach/parent chooses. When the adult shouts out "Flamingo," the players stop the animal imitation and balance on one foot with their arms out and eyes looking straight ahead. Repeat several times, choosing a different animal to imitate. You can even let the children make the animal noise.

The Bird - Have the children move around the court with the coach/parent, but this time imitating one of three different types of birds that the adult will call out—either a hummingbird with arms moving short and quick, a robin with medium length and medium speed arm movements, or an eagle with long and slow arm movements.

Frog Hops - Jump from a crouching position along the ground, landing quietly
on the balls of the feet and with both feet together.

Alligator River - The players line up across from each other on either side of the doubles alley, with their racquets and one ball for each pair. The coach/parent or one of the players is the "alligator" and is going to walk down the "river" (i.e., the alley). As the adult walks down the alley, the players roll the ball to their partner, trying to hit the alligator.

Sharks in a Tank - Define the play area, such as the entire backcourt (between the service line and the baseline) or one service court, depending on the size of the group. The coach/parent calls out the name of the child and that child becomes the "shark" and attempts to tag as many players as possible. When a player is tagged, he steps out of the boundaries, does two jumping jacks and then rejoins the game. It is a good idea to control the movement—calling out "fast walk," "skip" or "march"—to prevent anyone from getting hurt while running. The coach/parent changes the identity of the shark frequently.

Lobster Trap
- This activity is done in pairs. The players stand 8 to 10 feet apart, with one player holding two racquets, one in each hand, and the partner with one ball. The player with the ball (the tosser) makes an easy underhand toss and the player with the racquets (the lobster) catches the ball after the bounce by trapping the ball between both racquets. After trapping the ball, the player drops the ball from the racquets and hits the ball back to the tosser. Encourage the "lobster" to trap the ball at the side of his body so it is easy to make the drop and hit from a sideways position. Change tossers and "lobsters" after five tosses.

Team Lily Pad - Players work as a team to get from one side of the court to the other (the swamp). To cross the swamp, one player must step only on the "lily pads" (poly spots or donuts). Each team has two poly spots and one player places one "lily pad" in front, where the other player can hop to or step on. The partner picks up the vacated "lily pad" and moves it in front so the partner can move forward by stepping or hopping to the next "lily pad." This continues until one team makes it across the swamp. At this point, the players change roles and one person moves the lily pads while the other steps or hops to the open lily pad in front until she makes it back across the swamp.

Inch Worm - Players line up shoulder to shoulder in a straight line, with their racquets held out in front with the strings facing up. The last player in the line has a beanbag or Koosh ball. That player passes it from his racquet to the next player in line and then runs behind the line of players to the front of the line. As each player passes and moves to the front of the line, the line will move forward to the opposite end of the court.

Recommended for Ages 7-10

Half-Pound Lobster Trap - This is a variation of the original Lobster Trap exercise, slightly more challenging. One player has a racquet and the other player has a ball. The player with the ball will underhand toss to the player with the racquet. The player with the racquet holds the racquet with the butt cap against the belt buckle in line with the contact point and the ball should be caught (trapped) against the strings with the hand after one bounce.

Lobster Rally - Players are on both sides of the net with two racquets each and one ball. The first person drops the ball and hits it over the net. The second player moves and traps the ball between his racquets, turns sideways to the net, drops the ball and hits it over with the back racquet. Play can go for a continuous rally or the players can try to hit to the court on either side of the partner on the opposite side of the net.



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