Youth Tennis: Milestones to Watch For

By Esther Forrester,

As a parent it must be anxiety provoking to have a child enrolled in a tennis program and wonder if he/she is achieving the expected benchmarks. It must be particularly anxiety provoking with your first child. This article will help you understand what to expect from your kids, keeping in mind that child development varies considerably and that if your child appears to be behind others at a young age he/she will eventually likely catch up.

So, what are some age milestones you can expect in your child’s tennis development? How should your child be developing and what are some tasks they should be able to do at a specific age? All of these are guidelines. You can consult with me or another coach for more individualized feedback. 

Let’s begin with the youngest players. Three year olds are just starting to take structured sports classes. They have some fine and gross motor skills and can do some athletic tasks. They are able to hold tennis balls and throw and catch the balls when they are close to someone else and they’re thrown at a slow pace. Three year olds can grip a racquet properly when they are directed to hold it. They often need to use both hands to hit forehands and volleys and this helps them develop the proper grip and unit turn. Positive input is important for them.

To have a proper sized racquet, put the racquet in their hand and have them hold it with their arm straight, if the racquet touches the ground, then it’s the right size.  Three year olds sometimes have a hard time following directions and abiding by rules. They often need changes of activities and cannot stick with an activity for more than five minutes. It often helps for parents or coaches alike to be understanding and flexible. Three year olds are able to hit forehands, back hands and volleys as long as the instructor is close to them and the ball is fed at a slow pace.  They can maintain a rally if they hit the ball on the ground.

Five- and six-year olds have longer attention spans. They still need to use two hands most often and can handle bigger racquets. This age group can remain in an activity for a longer time and follow directions better. These young players understand the scoring system and the concept of winning, losing and the rules of tennis. They still need some adaptations such as slower play and playing closer to their partner.  They often need concepts demonstrated to them by actually swinging the racquet with them. They can handle some direction but not complex directions. They can hit backhands, forehands, volleys, and overheads at a slightly faster paced feed than three year olds and sometimes can maintain a rally by bouncing the ball and hitting it back and fourth.

Seven- and eight-year olds are able to compete, to follow directions and have better endurance than younger kids. As expected, this age group is more powerful, and is capable of being cooperative as well as competitive. They still need shorter activities and may need a shortened court. They thrive on rewards. They can maintain short rallies and they can hit back and fourth by bouncing the ball more times than five and six year olds can.

What does all of this mean for parents? If your kids are looking to play sports with you it will impact how you structure your time with them. Make sure that you plan an activity that’s a good length of time and that you don’t push your kids to play longer than they wish. Also, make sure not to make demands that are unreasonable such as having your three-year old play two out of three sets with you. In addition, be prepared to make modifications during the activity. 

Good luck with working on your child’s athletic development. For more information on me and my programs go to or email me at 

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