By Tim Lemke
On the count of three, the cheer begins — “Tennis! Tennis! Tennis!”
A small group of 3- and 4-year-olds line up attentively with their new tennis racquets, ready to go on a storytelling adventure. Today, they are flying like airplanes. On another day, they may go into outer space.
This is the Tennis Whizz program at Long Reach Tennis Club in Columbia, a program designed to introduce the sport of tennis and teach basic motor skills to preschoolers.
Young players on this Saturday morning include Dyana Perera, age 4, who is trying out Tennis Whizz for the second time. Her parents, father Indika and mother Prasanna, are both avid tennis players and are watching happily from the side of the court as Dyana eagerly follows her instructor.
“She started when she was 3 and was really keen on it,” Prasanna says. “The family is really into tennis, so we are enjoying this. I think this is a good program, and we hope she continues.”
The program is based on storytelling, with players going on an imaginary “adventure” each session — a fun way of teaching coordination and athleticism — while also learning the basic tennis strokes and rules. Tennis Whizz consists of seven-week sessions of 45-minute classes. Classes are held once a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays. Participants receive a youth-sized tennis racquet, backpack and ball.
Maury Bozman, CA’s tennis general manager, says Tennis Whizz is ideal for young people because it takes place on a shortened court using a large foam ball. This allows the children to have some success right away.
CA’s Tennis Whizz program recently received the “Award of Excellence for Outstanding Achievement in Kids’ Programming” from the Mid-Atlantic Club Management Association.
It is just one of many programs offered at tennis facilities throughout Columbia. After Tennis Whizz, young players can take part in the Junior Development Tennis program, featuring “red ball,” “orange ball” and “green ball” programs that offer appropriate instruction before finally playing full-court tennis with regulation balls by about age 12.
There is also a variety of programs for advanced juniors, drill and instruction sessions for adults of all levels, plus pickleball (which is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong on a short court) and cardio tennis (which elevates your heart rate in a high-energy workout).
Long Reach Tennis Club opened earlier this year off Old Dobbin Lane, across the street from Long Reach High School. The tennis club recently received a USTA Facility Award, which recognizes excellence in the construction of tennis facilities. The state-of-the art facility includes PlaySight SmartCourt technology, which allows for automated line calls and video stroke analysis.
All group and individual instruction at CA’s tennis clubs is handled by a staff of certified coaches.
“The great thing about tennis is that you can start when you are very young and play until 90 years old,” says Arun Pant, who teaches players of all levels, including those in Tennis Whizz.
He is often surprised at how quickly some kids can learn the game.
“I had one kid who, by the fourth session, was hitting a topspin backhand,” Pant says.
While not even the most prodigious young player will become a Grand Slam champion overnight, that’s not why the Pereras enrolled Dyana in Tennis Whizz.
“The biggest thing I want to do is give her a love for the sport,” says Indika. “And really, we are just hoping she has a fun experience.”
Columbia Association operates indoor and outdoor tennis courts around the community. For more information on CA’s tennis facilities and programs, visit ColumbiaAssociation.org/tennis.