Most people would never think that a preschool-aged child could teach an adult tennis well enough that the adult could in turn use that knowledge to instruct other youths.
However, that is exactly the case with Austin Pinder and his aunt, Tina Nichols. Nichols runs the Little Buddies Athletics program with the Brooksville Parks and Recreation Department. Little Buddies began with baseball and branched off into golf and tennis.
Nichols has been playing the sport since she was 9, so she already knew the fundamentals. But she had never taught children before Austin came along.
Now 6, he was only 2 when Aunt Tina began hitting tennis balls with him in the front yard of his house.
"She would feed balls to him in the front yard, and he really enjoyed doing it," Ray Pinder, Austin's father and Nichols' brother, said. "(Tina) takes care of the sports side of things, and (Austin's mother and I) help out wherever we can."
Since then, his passion for the sport has only grown exponentially. He obviously hasn't taught his aunt anything physically about tennis that she didn't already know, but it was his ability to work with her and learn the sport that gave her the idea for Little Buddies in the first place.
"Working with Austin helped me to learn how to teach other children," Nichols said. "Since I've never been a mother myself, playing and coaching him was a great experience for me."
Just starting school this year, Austin is in kindergarten at Pine Grove Elementary in Brooksville. He is already in his third eight-week session of Little Buddies Tennis and loves every minute of it. He even begged for a tennis-themed party for his last birthday.
His skills with a racquet have progressed so much that he will soon be out of the Little Buddies program and get more advanced coaching from local instructors John and Louise Downey. The Downeys are the head of the area USTA chapter and have promoted the sport for local youth.
Austin has already had a few lessons with the coaches on the weekends.
"He has gone a few times with them, and he has no problem keeping up," Nichols said. "He really likes me to be around for his lessons right now though, so he's not quite ready to move on."
Eventually, it is not a stretch to think Austin could be one of the bright spots on the local tennis scene. With the basic knowledge of the game almost mastered, he continues to practice serves, forehands, backhands and tennis etiquette with his aunt at the Jerome Brown Community Center once a week.
His parents are supportive and excited about the prospect of their son continuing his path. Ray is the principal at Fox Chapel Middle in Spring Hill, and Jennifer is a stay-at-home mom.
Both take a great interest in how far Austin has come on the court.
"We try to be supportive (of Austin) because we know how important sports and other activities can be to a child's development," Ray said. "It's great to see how excited he gets about playing."
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