Any tennis players out there? Fans? People who think tennis is boring? (I'm here to prove that group wrong.)
My family is big into tennis—our dog's name is Wilson, named for the ball. I grew up learning to play in the summers, mostly during free clinics at our outdoor Jewish Community Center. I forfeited around the age of 12 when I decided that 1PM lessons in the heat of the day with a heavy racket bothering my wrist and my flat feet pulsing was not my idea of fun. Which is why when the United States Tennis Association launched it's Youth Tennis initiative in 2008, I hit my head and thought "Of course!"
The Youth Tennis movement emphasizes that kids should learn to play the sport in a world customized to their size—smaller rackets, bigger and softer balls, a half-size court. In the words of the USTA, why should a 5-year-old play with the same racket and be asked to hit the same distance as Rafael Nadal? Touche.
I stopped swinging at age 12, but I have become a SUPERFAN since. Even when I wasn't playing, tennis taught me the lessons of dedication, perseverance, mental strength, and problem-solving. Not to mention, the value of staying physically active.
In celebration of World Tennis Day this past Tuesday, I watched a Youth Tennis demonstration before watching tennis legends Monica Seles, Gabriela Sabatini, Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov take the court at Madison Square Garden. Throughout the month of March the USTA will host thousands of Tennis Play events across the country. Watching these players from age 7 to age 44 play in the same night emphasized one of the greatest things about tennis: You can play at any age. While I gave up the sport as a kid, you might say that I'm planning to come out of my retirement because tennis is a lifelong sport.
As former World number 4 James Blake said, "To have a lifetime sport like tennis, where my mom is playing at 80 years old, where [kids] can play and love it at any level, you can have fun playing the sport and it keeps you in great shape." Since tennis is a great sport for all ages, it's a great way to spend time with your family. My parents used to play mixed doubles against my two younger siblings and I'd play chair umpire/ball girl. (See? I got my exercise in.)
What's more, tennis can be a great bonding experience off the court. Blake said his fondest childhood tennis memory was going to the U.S. Open with his dad, "I really cherished the ability to have quality time with my family. That can't be substituted for. I got to sit there and watch three hours of a tennis match and talk to my dad." A father of two girls under two—Riley and Emma—Blake looks forward to sharing moments like this with his daughters.
I've been going to the U.S. Open with my family every year since 2000. One of our greatest memories was watching a 5-hour-and-19-minute match on a tiny side court and cheering on American player Scoville Jenkins into the night. Now, when we watch tennis on TV, we text each other constantly. It's a string that keeps us bound. If that's not a reason to consider the sport, I don't know what is.
Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she's practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is our resident theater aficionado and can be found constantly running around New York City to find the best new show, the most awesome dance party, or the hottest Bikram yoga studio. Follow her on on Twitter @RuthiesATrain.