New Thing #206: Playing Tennis With My Daughter

TennisI told you last week how my daughters were having a grand old time at camp. One of the activities my oldest daughter has particularly enjoyed is tennis.

This led her to off-handedly remark to us that she might be interested in taking some lessons.

This is a girl who has had no interest in any organized activity whatsoever in her seven young years.

And my wife and I certainly were not going to force her to do something she didn't want to do.

But when she opened up this door we came barreling through.

My wife scoured the internet for lessons that might work.

And last weekend I took her out to hit some balls.

For some reason this felt like a third-person that's how I'm telling it.

It was a humid morning, but not unbearable like it had been recently. Still, it wasn't the type of day people were rushing out to play tennis. So, the dad and his daughters had the courts all to themselves.

The dad had never played tennis. Well, not in an organized way. There was that one time playing his brother years ago when he swung hard, whiffed on the ball, and the racket hit him in the eyebrow. He still bore that scar - it probably needed stitches but he was so embarrassed he pretended like it was no big deal. You have to look hard for the scar - it's hidden by his eyebrow. But he had gone through enough instruction at different points in his life that he felt he could pass some knowledge on to his daughter. (Beyond "Hit the ball, not your face.")

He started with the grip - he remembered that the skin between your thumb and index finger should form a "V" when you held the racket. So he showed the girls that. He could tell, though, that they were really interested in hitting some tennis balls. He started to lose patience. And he started, in that moment, to sympathize a little bit with the hard-driving parents who pushed their kids too far with sports...wanting the kids to know the skills a little more, sometimes, than the kids wanted to themselves.

So he stopped and reminded himself that they were only 4 (almost 5) and 6 (almost 7).

He tried to show them how to balance the ball on the racket. How to try to hit the ball themselves by bouncing it and then swinging at it. (The resulting swings and misses were almost cartoon-esque.)

Then he started tossing the ball to them over the net. This was met with minimal success. The 4-year-old quickly lost interest - hitting a couple into the net and barely over using a variety of non-USTA-endorsed methods and then chasing the balls that got away from the other two.

But the 6-year-old was ready to learn.

The dad showed her where to position herself on the court. He put her just inside the 'T' halfway back to the service line. (Is that correct terminology? He doesn't know.) He showed her how to be ready - knees bent, racket in the middle.

He tossed her a couple of balls. One she hit into the net. One she hit too hard - way out and towards the fence. But she was making contact. Progress was being made.

The dad started hitting the ball to her lightly. Every once in a while his daughter would make contact.

Then, a perfect return.

The dad was caught by surprise. He certainly wasn't in the ready position himself - he stumbled to lightly hit the ball back to her.

Then - again! - a volley!

He certainly wasn't ready for this next hit. He hit it into the net.

The daughter knew she had done something really good. (She had played 'Dungeons and Dragons' at camp. The dad knew it as 'Jail'. If you hit a successful return you stayed in line. If you didn't, you were out - either in jail or in the dungeon depending on the variation you played. She knew that for the first time in her life, she had managed to avoid the dungeon. What she didn't know was that she had also won her first career point.)

They continued for a few more rounds, never meeting with the same success as the first volley of the daughter's burgeoning tennis interest.

The dad put away his racket and came back towards the net where his daughter had gathered the stray balls and was making her way towards the car.

"How was that?" the dad asked. "How do you feel?"

She smiled, and her reply made his heart melt.