When Buddy was a wee toddler, we encouraged him to be active and got him toy balls to play with. He became rather proficient at kicking the ball, compared to kids his age, before he even turned 2. We thought he might have a talent in football as he showed pretty good eye-hand coordination, and he could even throw the ball in the air and kick it. (See my earlier post Buddy and the ball dated 3 April 2014.) I actually mulled the thought that he might have a chance at soccer despite the crappy standards in Singapore.
2014 was the year the World Cup was held in Brazil, and my father-in-law bought a lot of toy balls for Buddy when he was vacationing in the US, including the orange World Cup ball. Like many parents, I had secret dream of grandiose that Buddy might be able to go to soccer school, perhaps he might even be talent spotted. In fact, subsequently, Buddy also showed he could shoot hoops, and needless to say, Jeremy Lin came to mind. We even got a small basketball hoop for him to play at home. (Yes I know I was in la la land then.) Next thing I knew, the interest in football and even basketball fizzled out and the dream popped!
Buddy continued to be active but did not show sustained interest in any particular sport. When we took him to the Decathlon shop, he went from football to basketball to boxing and then to Table Tennis. We decided that he was likely too young to decide what sport he really liked, and we probably had to wait till he goes to primary school to decide. Maybe he might go into track and field since he seemed to like running. Basically, lots of maybe this, maybe that, and I promptly dropped the idea of him being an athlete, let alone going to a sports school. Still, whenever I took him to the playground behind our apartment, we would pass by the tennis courts and he would be curious about the players and what they were doing.
Last year, after Buddy turned 5, he told us that he wanted to learn tennis. It was a pleasant surprise for my husband because he used to play for college tennis. So instead of engaging a coach, my husband decided to take up the mantle. He is one who doesn’t believe in half measures, and he started doing research on the various training methods. (After all, what he learned in the past is outdated, and besides he didn’t actually have proper training when he was younger.)
I became a skeptic this time; I thought it was one of his 5~minute passion, and didn’t think it was last though my husband was very enthusiastic. He read up on the lauded Spanish method (which produced the great Rafael Nadal); a book written by Brad Gilbert (a master tennis strategist), biographies from the father of the Williams sisters and from Maria Sharapova; watched French and Japanese tennis videos on YouTube (never mind that he doesn’t understand what the hell was being said but looking at the actions was good enough), as well as videos from American tennis coaches. He then consolidated the learning and devised his own for Buddy.
First and foremost, he started Buddy with the slow red ball, following the Spanish’s training method for the beginners (though in their case they use the clay court which is widely available everywhere, and clay slows the ball down). Because the ball travels slower, there is a lower bounce and doesn’t hurt even when it hits the young player. Besides the ball is larger than the regular yellow ball, and being red, it is is easier to spot and hit. This is in contrast to what we notice among many kids learning tennis here. They are given the yellow ball for training, which is too fast and too much bounce, making it hard for them to learn the proper technique and to control the ball.
For his training, Buddy has to do footwork drills and learns to swivel his hips with a basketball (which allows him to use the stronger leg muscles to power the racket swing instead of the arm), as well as hitting against the wall. (I found out from him that many tennis stars did just that when they were young.) On top of this, there are the hand-fed top spin and drive volley drills. As for my involvement (if any), I’m the official videographer. I can hardly hit the ball even if my life depends on it. But Buddy likes to rally with me since he can beat me easily.
The important practice of hitting against the wall, which is required at every lesson.
He started not being very proficient with the ball. A few months later, he was able to rally albeit with double-bounce sometimes.
Buddy showing he can serve.
It has been a year since Buddy started, and his interest is going strong. (Amazing!) Now, he has lessons at least twice a week, and each time it is a 2-hour session. Even when he is not on the court, on some days he would hit against the wall at our patio. What he enjoys most is the rally with papa at the end of each training. He even got us to buy a yellow bandanna for him, like the one Nadal wore during the clay court tournaments.
Buddy is so into tennis that he sometimes practices his stroke even without the racket in hand. He even thought that table tennis is similar to tennis, and he will use the table tennis racket and ball to hit against the wall instead. Whenever we are at Decathlon, he goes straight for the table tennis table instead of the basketball or football sections. It’s pretty funny to see him plays table tennis using tennis strokes. But it does work sometimes.
My husband is mighty pleased that Buddy’s skill is continually improving. Even though he has told me a couple of times that it is very difficult to become a professional tennis player (most can’t even make money out of it), I bet he secretly hopes Buddy is good enough to compete. After all, why would he joke, “mama, when Buddy plays at Wimbledon in future, you’ve better have makeup on! Otherwise, you might get mistaken for the tea lady!”