When Is a Healthy Age To Start Taking Tennis Seriously
Posted on June 30 2018
Whenever I talk to people about my ‘tennis career,’ I’m always asked if I was one of those three-year-olds who had a tennis racket forced into his hands to grind out for hours a day in the pursuit of glory. Happily, this was not me, and I spent my young childhood doing whatever your average three years old does. Unfortunately, however, there is a widely held perception that to make it far in such a difficult sport, you have to start incredibly early. This approach does not fit with my experiences though, and to me, the negatives of starting out so early greatly outweigh the positives.
I started playing tennis as an eight-year-old, racing around the short tennis court, bludgeoning leftie forehands and boomeranging leftie serves long before anyone had heard of Rafael Nadal (I’m sure this is where Rafa got his playing style from, if not his pirate ¾ length shorts.) Frankly, anyone who skips this step in their tennis career is missing out as it is tremendous fun, and an excellent way to learn. But within a year or so, things started to get much more serious, as you win more and more, you travel further and further to seek out the best players and before long, you’re essentially a mini professional. By the age of 12, I was traveling the country every weekend and making the occasional jaunts to the continent to play in big tournaments.
Just four years in and at the tender age of 12, tennis was putting great pressure on my education, my Spanish teacher one of the many to complain that I was never there. By 12 or 13 years old, you have already dedicated a serious amount of time to the sport and your growing body has been subjected to a great deal of stress. Imagine having started at 4 or 5 years old, by the age of 13 you are already 8 years into your career, everything is amplified twice over.
Eventually, aged 16 or so things started to change, having already had the best part of a year out injured, my next night out became a lot more appealing than my four-hour training session that evening. Tennis was work, and in my mind, I’d now been working for 8 years. While I’d play tennis for another six years, I don’t remember much enjoyment on the court after that point.
Starting at an early age may have its advantages, but the toll of taking tennis so seriously for so long catches up with people, and there are many high profile examples of players who have had enough of the sport by the time they turn pro. Conversely, I’m sure there are many players out there who had huge success having taken up the sport later on in their childhood.
Ultimately, every year a child is playing tennis might be viewed as another year they have been pursuing their career, and in such a physically and mentally demanding sport is it better to turn professional 12 years into your career or 6 years into your career?