Phoebe, who is 8 years old, walked onto the court last Saturday for the first time and her body language said to me, “I do not want to be here today. But they made me come. I don’t plan to participate or have fun. I’m only here because they signed me up.” Her twin sister, Faith, who is a bubbly, energetic little girl, came last week for the first time by herself and left with the tennis fever! She walked on the courts today with confidence and a big smile.
Faith helped Phoebe through the warmup session, kindly showing her how to do the Weave first, then the Hop, the Shuffle and lastly the 5 Step Drop with a Split Stop. Her gentle helpfulness carried on into the introduction of the forehand shot. I soon realized that all week long, Faith had been practicing at home. I wasn’t sure how much she had tried to share with Phoebe, but I heard enough to know that some work had been done to get Phoebe on the courts today.
Phoebe’s head continued to hang as she attempted to make connection with the ball, but with little success. When it was Faith’s turn, she stepped up with a readiness to learn. She was having remarkable success, considering this was only her second time on the courts! It was a rather hot afternoon, and Faith asked to take a water break. Phoebe stepped up for her turn again to attempt her forehand shot. Before she swung, she looked at me and said, “Do you know who’s the number one tennis player in the world?” I hesitated to answer, wondering if I should ask did she mean, male or female. I decided just to go for it, and we both said at the same time, “Serena Williams!”
This really sat me down in my chair! This girl, who I thought didn’t have one bit of interest in tennis, knows who Serena Williams is! Amazing! My next question to her is, “Do you watch Serena play?” Her eyes have lit up and there’s a big smile on her face. She commences to tell me that she is her favorite player and she loves to watch her play. She tells me quite a few things about Serena, one being that she was born in Michigan, but she got hung up on what city it was. “I actually wrote a book about Serena” she said. Well, Blow Me Down, I thought! Let’s just use some imagination here and see what happens.
“That’s really awesome, Phoebe. Let’s pretend we’re Serena. Watch this shot really closely. Look at how I do this,” I said to her. In slow motion, I showed her a forehand shot, smoothly sending the ball over the net with about 6 inches clearance, landing in the singles, cross-court. Up to this point, if any of Phoebe’s shots went over the net, they were definitely moon balls and most didn’t land in the green court on the other side.
I reminded her again how to hold her racquet with a 20 degree angle, to step with her left foot, draw the C, and follow through over her shoulder. And then I said, “remember what that shot looked like I just showed you and try to make it look like that.” The first 3 shots were not successful. But the 4th shot she hit smoothly, sailing it over the net with 6-8 inches clearance, and into the singles, cross-court! I turned and looked back at her. She had amazement written all over her face. Something had just happened in this little girl. Through the use of imagination and concentration she did what she didn’t believe she had the ability to do!
During this entire event, Faith was getting a drink of water and socializing with what was happening on the other court. When she returned, I sensed that Phoebe wanted so badly to share with Faith what had just happened. I wished I could push the replay button for her on a video. However, I saw a marked change in her confidence and self-esteem from that point on. When asked at the end of the lesson, “Did you like it?” I saw a big smile and heard a hearty, “YES!” The next question was, “Do you want to come back next week?” Another big, “YES!” She too has caught the Tennis Fever. And I have discovered it’s all about CONNECTING THE DOTS with kids. This makes my heart happy today!