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Teaching tennis to a new generation

William Pratt, 6, left, and William Wooten, 6, collect tennis balls at the Vicksburg Country Club Junior Clinic. (Meredith SpencerThe Vicksburg Post)

[6/12/04]There are a lot of incentives to play tennis. Friendly competition, social interaction, and staying in shape are just a few.

But kids like to play for one reason.

“My favorite part is when we get to whack the ball,” said William Pratt with a pump of his fist.

William, age 6, has already been playing tennis for over two years. His sentiments echo those of many other young tennis veterans at the Vicksburg Country Club Junior Clinic. Run by the VCC tennis pro shop, it draws players ranging in age from 6-13, most of whom have been playing for a good part of their lives. The clinic ran all this week, and there is another one set for the week of June 29-July 2.

VCC tennis pro Paige Pratt says young players are drawn to the game because they enjoy the sense of accomplishment they get when they can improve on something or learn a new skill.

“The children love the feeling it gives them when they can hit the ball over the net for the first time,” she said. “The small improvements are such a big deal to them.”

The clinic is geared toward having the young athletes make and enjoy those small improvements.

A day of individual instruction, fast-paced drills, and a little friendly competition ensures that these budding tennis stars will be playing for a long time.

“Tennis is such a great game for these kids because you can play it forever,” said Pratt. “It teaches you self-discipine and gets you involved and active for the rest of your life.”

There are some difficulties, however, in teaching something that requires so much skill and concentration to a group of youngsters.

“Their attention spans are not as long as an older child’s or teenager’s would be,” said Pratt. “You have to keep everything moving or they’ll lose interest.”

But sometimes the difficulty is the opposite getting them to move on to the next activity before they can perform the present skill flawlessly.

“We move fast so everybody is busy while they’re here,” said Carrie Neill, a coach at the clinic. “But a lot of the time, they want to stay with it for longer. These kids want to be the best at everything they’re perfectionists.”

That never-ending drive for excellence might be what will keep them interested past a weeklong summer clinic.

Pratt expects about half of the kids who start playing tennis when they are young to stick with it.

There is a tournament circuit for young tennis players, starting with children at 8-and-under. Most of the competition doesn’t start that early, though.

“It’s rare to see a child who is ready to compete before the 10-and-under league,” said Pratt. “They need a little more experience before they can play at a high enough level to compete in tournaments.”

Most of the ones who keep at it will do so because of the social aspect of the game.

“A lot of the decision to keep playing or not depends on their peer groups and families,” she said. “Most of the ones who stay with it have friends and families involved with tennis, and they are surrounded by it their whole life.

“It’s good to teach these kids a game like tennis. There are some difficulties at first, but they learn fast and everyone involved has a lot of fun.”