My approach to teaching children tennis is in terms of long-term athletic development. In other words, I am interested in what players can do closer towards the peak of their competitive careers a seniors in high school and college. The progression of things done along the way should always focus on helping players reach long-term goals. When a coach thinks of training a player long-term it provides clarity in overall program design and identifying individual short-term goals along the way. Plain and simple it gives meaning and direction to all the lessons and training.
For young children under the age of 13 or 14 the most important things is technique because the fundamentals a player develops early on will be the base for all of their competition, strategy, and fitness training later on. Limitations in the ABC fundamental tennis movement patterns will eventually set a player back at some stage of their long-term development. It is also important to understand that children are not little adults and should not be trained as though they are. Adults and even teenagers who play competitive tennis have already developed their ABC fundamentals while young children are still developing them. It is the quality of a young child’s fundamental movement patterns that are more important than anything else in terms of successful long-term development. As much as young players look up to older players and want to train like them doing so is not always appropriate. Modeling strokes of someone with sound technique is excellent but hooking up resistance bands and medicine balls like older players may do in their training is not necessarily appropriate for a 10 year old.
One of the things I spend a lot of time with young children doing is a variety of specific overhand throwing drills. The underlying movement pattern in serving a tennis ball is overhand throwing. How can young children be expected to serve effectively with a heavy and long racket in their hand without first having developed the motor control of a fundamentally sound overhand throw? The answer is they cannot and by expecting children to learn how to serve with a heavy racket and full service motion they are going to develop compensations in technique and ultimately never develop a proper service motion. Think about it like this, if an adult goes in the gym and wants to squat 200 pounds certainly with enough practice they would be able to get the weight up but most likely by working with such a heavy load from the beginning without first establishing proper technique they would certainly develop compensations which ultimately would lead to injury. The same is true for developing a service motion which is why it is a stroke that many people develop incorrect compensatory movement patterns for which can lead to injury in the long term as well.
It is my underlying philosophies above that lead me to spend so much time doing specific overhand throwing drills with young children. These throwing drills allow children to work with a tennis ball, which is much lighter and more maneuverable than a tennis racket, and focus all their attention on the aspects of their movement quality. It allows children to establish a sound overhand throwing movement patten, that once established, is easily transferrable to serving with a tennis racket. In planning and delivering training this way you can imagine how a student who learns to serve in a progressive manner will also be the one who has the bigger and more consistent serve in their high school playoff match or college tournament much further down the road.