Skills Development for 3 - 5 year-olds
SOURCE: USTA Talent Developmental Guidelines Children in this age group are small in stature and lack strength. They are highly active. They are learning different physical movements and have great difficulty with “fine” motor skills. Partly because they are young, but also because they lack experience, their reactions and anticipation skills are very low. Many children of this age have not yet attended school and are only beginning the process of learning to read, write and count. They tend to be self-centered. They lack a sense of time and are impatient with a very short attention span, becoming easily bored. They get tired quickly. They learn by imitating and copying what they see. Listening to and following instructions can be very difficult for them. Adult concepts such as scoring, and winning and losing are not easily understood.
Children need to develop:
- Agility, balance and coordination because these underpin all movement and sports skills
- Movement skills—running, jumping and landing, crawling, twisting, turning, rolling, sliding
- Throwing and catching with both hands and either hand, hitting and kicking
- The ability to handle equipment
- Reaction and tracking skills
Mental and emotional skills
- Confidence through FUN and success
- Creativity, exploring and copying
- Concentration and attention
- Learning how to be part of a group
- Learning to share
- Learning to think about other people
They will develop those skills more quickly with the following:
Appropriate equipment for their age and size
- 19-inch QuickStart racquets and foam or red low-compression balls
- Low barriers such as benches or tape
- Small playing areas—a single service court with portable net could be sufficient
Scoring and competitive structures
- Learning simple rules – in and out, how many bounces, etc.
- Counting with an adult, how many points they achieve at age 3 and 4. For 5 year-olds, scoring points to seven, using very visual methods (moving a ball along a series of cones or markers or attaching clothes pins to the net or tape)
- With adult help, beginning to compare another player’s score with their own
- Intra-group “competition” with success in something for everyone
- The children need to be taught in small groups—on the basis of 1:4/5 (one teacher/helper for every four to five children) so that they can succeed and maintain a high interest level
- Sessions should be FUN and full of interest - different skill-building activities
- Coaches and helpers MUST be energetic
- Many different activities should be covered in the same session, perhaps in a circuit of four or five different activities
- Concentration on the skills they need to develop at this age
- Teaching should be in very short time spans, be highly visual and with almost no or very short explanations. The children learn by copying what they see.
- Teaching aids are essential—children love to explore and to play with various colors and shapes.
- Toy stores are a great place to find objects that can be carried, balanced, tossed, rolled and caught. Experiment with beanbags for carrying and balancing and balloons for hitting. Use large, colorful balls for rolling, bouncing and catching.
- Activities such as grips, swing action and even rallying over a net are likely to be too advanced for most children in this age group, but the skills can be “hidden” in other activities. For example, hitting a ball along the ground needs a swinging action at the side of the body and also enables the child to hold the racquet properly with out being told to do so.
- The focus should be on the wide variety of physical and motor skills -- balance, movement, agility, coordination, throwing, catching and hitting skills because this is the crucial age for children to learn them.
- Parents should help with “take-home tennis" tasks that continue and reinforce the activities covered in practice sessions. Parents then develop a better understanding of what their children are able to do and what they need to develop.
The Length of Sessions
A 30-minute time period is optimal for children this age; sessions should definitely not exceed 45 minutes.