The key to keeping tennis fun for kids is to introduce enjoyable games to mix in with the drills and with match play. As children learn that tennis is fun, they will be far more inclined to make it one of their lifetime sports.
Coaching kids and junior players is one of the most difficult tasks for a coach. Kids require tennis to be challenging enough to keep them engaged but not too hard so that they lose interest and passion for the sport.
This is where kids tennis drills and games are so important. It keeps a lesson fresh, exciting and full of fun!
We’ve put some of our favorite kids drills below that will keep the boys and girls engaged as they learn how to play tennis.
Note: due to legal and privacy issues, the kids’ drills are filmed with adults. However, all these drills have been used extensively and successfully in kids’ tennis lessons.
Tennis Game for Kids #1: First to the Baseline
This drill should be using a modified net and balls, as shown in the video below.
A coach needs to arrange the boys and girls so that they are standing on a cone each. Be sure to have no more than 4-5 players per coach for this drill, to give each child enough room to hit their shots.
The coach will set up the cones a couple of metres away from the net, depending on the standard of the players.
When a child hits the shot in they will move their cone back towards the baseline one step, if they miss a shot they will move their cone in towards the net one step.
The objective of the drill is for a player to move their cone all the way to the court’s baseline (or equivalent baseline for a kids court), and to hit a successful shot over the net from that “baseline.”
The first player to do this wins.
A good tip is to feed randomly to the children so they are always alert in ready position. This reduces any downtime that the kids have and will keep them actively engaged.
For children who are at a higher standard than the other kids, hit the ball to their backhand or make them move a little to hit the shot, this tends to even up the competition without the kids being fully aware of it.
Tennis Game for Kids #2: First to Five
The underlying love for tennis with kids is generally rallying.
Kids love to be able to rally, and it’s one of the main reasons why modified tennis has been so important for junior development, as it allows kids to rally at a young age.
First to Five works on kids being able to rally.
The rules of the game are simple; kids need to rally 5 balls in with a partner and when they successfully do this they get a point.
If you have a group of kids split them up into even teams and have a competition to see which partnership can reach a certain amount of points first – e.g. 7 points wins the match.
It’s important to have progression and regression when coaching. So if two players are not able to rally 5 balls then you should bring them closer to the net to rally, and perhaps even lower the height of the net.
If two players are finding it easy to rally then you should move them further back, or only have them hit certain shots, such as backhands.
Tennis Game for Kids #3: Simon Says
Simon Says is a much loved kid’s game that can be adapted for the tennis court. It’s a real winner with kids, especially the younger ones.
For those that don’t know, Simon Says is a game where the coach says to do something e.g. “Simon Says hit a forehand shadow swing” and the boys and girls must do it.
However if the coach says “Hit a forehand shadow swing” without saying “Simon Says” then the players who do it lose and are eliminated from the game.
So therefore a player should only do a task when the coach says “Simon Says.”
The coach can also have another rule, which eliminates the child who is the last to do a certain task or skill when the coach says “Simon Says.”
There are a number of varieties of drills the coach can use for this including shadow swings, racquets skills (see next drill below), movement drills such as running to different lines on the court, touching certain parts of the racquet that the coach names and even hitting certain shots if you give each child a ball and enough room to swing safely.
Make sure the games are fast as there is elimination involved and you don’t want kids sitting out for too long.
So if a game drags out for too long, be sure to declare joint winners and invite the kids who are eliminated back in for the next game.
The other option is to have the child who was just eliminated choose what the next task “Simon Says” the players must do, and let the coach know this by whispering it in the coach’s ear, before the coach gives the instruction.
Tennis Game for Kids #4: Racquet Skills Challenge
Kids need to learn how to “feel” the ball on the strings of their racquet. Self-rallies are a great way to learn how to do this, as the child isn’t relying on anyone else to place a ball in their strike zone such as a coach. Therefore the responsibility is on the child to control the ball.
A child can learn how to control their shots by progressing through a range of racquet skills.
There are a number of different skills you can get kids to do including bouncing the ball down between their strings and the ground. You could then progress to hitting the ball up in the air, allowing the ball to bounce on the ground between shots.
The next progression could be to do this again without letting the ball hit the ground, keeping the ball “live” in the air the whole time.
Further progressions are bouncing the ball on one side of the strings and then quickly rotating the racquet to bounce the ball on the other side of the strings.
Once kids have mastered that they can try hitting the ball a certain number of times on the edge of their racquet, and if they’re particularly advanced they can try bouncing the ball on their strings while having the racquet stretched around their back.
Racquet skills are a great learning tool for kids as the boys and girls can start with fairly basic skills and then progress to advanced skills that require advanced control off a player’s racquet.
If you’re coaching a group of young players then a fun alternative to this is the racquet skills relay race, where teams will compete against each other doing a set racquet skill as a relay race.
This could be simply bouncing the ball along the ground as they move towards a cone 10m away and then going around the cone and back to their partner to tag them.
Always Keep It Fun!
The key to all kids’ tennis drills is to make sure that they are easy enough for kids to feel that they are achievable, as the sense of accomplishment is an important motivating factor in skill acquisition and learning.
On the flip side it’s important that the drills are still challenging enough to keep a player motivated to continue to improve and to help accelerate their learning.
Above and beyond all this, it’s important that a kid receives an abundance of encouragement from their coach and/or parent. The coach is a source of empowerment and belief in the young child, and with this a love for the game is much easier to develop in the player.
Finally don’t forget the golden rule. Everything must be fun! Fun is what motivates a child, fun is what makes them stay in the sport and become a life-long member of the game!
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Tennis Game for Kids #1: Get Out of Jail
This game is for beginner players and advanced beginners. Kids love this game so much that they often ask for it even when they are advanced players, just wait.
The players line up at one end of the court, in a single file line behind the center mark along the baseline. The instructor stands at the net and feeds a ball to the first hitter.
Each child gets a certain number of chances to get a forehand or backhand into the doubles court (or singles, depending on your students’ skill level). If he or she gets one in, he or she is safe. If not, he or she goes to “jail” by going to the other end of the court where he or she will try to catch a ball on a bounce, hit by another player.
If he or she catches a shot, he or she is free from jail and the player who hit the caught shot goes to jail.
When only one player is left on the non-jail side, he or she tries to hit three shots that don’t get caught before she misses three. If he or she succeeds, he or she wins the game. If someone catches one of her shots, it’s a jailbreak and everyone goes free as a new round begins. There are many variations of this game.
Some require players in jail to sit in one spot. Others allow a jailbreak any time a shot is caught. More advanced players should only be given one feed to hit a shot in. Younger players should be allowed out of jail if they simply touch the ball that comes their way. If the jail gets too crowded, you can limit each player to two steps to catch or touch a ball. You can adjust the rules according to your group’s dynamics and skill level. Be sure to keep this fun game moving quickly and also be careful to sweep any loose balls off the court so that those in jail do not slip or fall on them.
Tennis Game for Kids #2: Around the World
Some teachers call this game a drill; it doesn’t matter what it’s called as long as the children have fun.
It is usually included in lists of fun tennis games for kids. Half of the children line up on one baseline, half on the other, both in single file lines behind the center mark. The instructor feeds the first hitter at the front of the line.
The hitter must hit into the singles court, then run to the back of the line at the opposite end of the court, always to the right.
The instructor can then feed the hitter on the opposite side of the court or allow the two teams to continue the rally.
It depends on the skill level of your group. If they are younger and weaker, hit soft shots that they can retrieve.
If they are older and stronger, allow them to continue the rally. Remember that the less instructor involvement in a game, the better.
When a player hits a shot out or misses a shot, he or she is out.
With 1-3 outs (depending on the stringency of your rules), he or she is out of the game. Once two players are left, they no longer have to run around the net, they simply play points (with a feed each time or not) until one of them accumulates 1-3 outs.
Be sure to tell the players at each baseline to give the hitter lots of room to retrieve each shot.
Also, make sure that the running path to the opposite court is free of loose balls. As players are eliminated, they can hit on another court. This game keeps kids moving and alert and improves their fitness level at the same time. It is an all-time favorite tennis game for kids.
Tennis Game for Kids #3: Bouncing Ball Relay
This game is great to teach children racquet control and to improve their hand-eye coordination. It is especially good for young beginners, unlike games found on many lists of tennis games for kids.
Form two equal teams and have players line up single file behind the baseline, facing the net, with at least 10 feet between the 2-3 lines. Place a cone in front of each line, near the net. On “go”, the first player in each line runs around the cone and back to the baseline, bouncing the ball on the ground with the racquet, as in a dribbling basketball drill.
When the first player in each line crosses the baseline upon his return, the second player can take off dribbling. This relay race is won when one team has all of its players across the baseline. With beginner players, keep a watch on those who might lose control of their ball and wander all over the court. Collisions can be avoided with good supervision. If you only have two lines, spread them out as far as you can to avoid such dust-ups. Young players will be gaining all sorts of skills as they yell and scream and have a ball with this game.
Tennis Game for Kids #4: Bull in the Pen
This is another fun tennis game for kids, especially those who are at a beginner level.
Have the players line up in a single file behind the baseline in the doubles alley. The instructor stands at the net on the opposite side and has one player at a time move to the middle of the court. he or she then feeds a ball to that player, either forehand or backhand.
The player who hits the ball over the net and in goes to the back of the line. The player who does not hit a successful shot must stand behind the baseline in the other doubles alley. This area is called the “bull pen” and the last player who remains outside of it wins the game.
Be sure to keep this game moving so that a large number of players does not have to stand in the bull pen, inactive, for too long of a time. Also be careful that your feeds do not venture too far towards the bull pen area, so that players will not take a big swing and smack a few of their friends.
Tennis Game for Kids #5: No-Net Tennis
This game has been used for many years for children who are just picking up a racquet for the first time. After your students have learned to bounce a ball in front of them and hit it, they need to learn how to hit a ball that is coming toward them.
As any player knows, this requires quite a jump in skill level!
The instructor should stand on one sideline and have the students form a line along the opposite sideline. Both instructor and students are on the same side of the court for this drill. The objective is not to hit the ball over the net, it is simply to make solid contact with the ball. The instructor gently feeds a ball to one player at a time.
Have one player step forward and the other children giving him plenty of room to retrieve your feed. After one bounce, each player should try to hit the ball back to you. Let successful players hit another shot back to you, up to a certain limit. Keep track of each player’s high total for consecutive successful shots.
You will find that the children will compete very quickly to have the greatest number of good shot runs. You should limit the highest total to five or so to keep all players engaged in this excellent tennis game for kids.