The Little Buddies Athletics program was started by Tina Nichols, youth director for the city of Brooksville Recreation Department, in 2005. The program's purpose, no matter the activity, is to teach children fundamentals and sportsmanship.
That goal is being reached in the Little Buddies Tennis program held twice a week in the Jerome Brown Community Center in Brooksville. The class, which has about 10 kids every night, is jam-packed with activities for all.
Nichols, along with the other coaches, teach the kids about serving the ball, the proper way to hold a racket and the names of the lines on the court. Known as "Coach T" by the players, Nichols has been trained by the U.S. Tennis Association and has a special rapport with everyone.
The effort has translated directly into a passion some of the kids have gained for tennis thanks to the clinic. Players such as Hunter Looper, 6, Austin Pender, 5 and Troy Lonigrow, 3, have made huge leaps on the court thanks to Little Buddies. In fact, Looper began training with two of Hernando County's best tennis instructors, John and Louise Downey.
"(Little Buddies) is reaching the goal that we and the USTA really need them to reach, and that is to promote tennis in the community," Louise Downey said. "These kids are learning good footwork, and it's really good to start them young and get them involved."
Nichols begins each session leading with stretching. Nichols emphasizes that is one of the most important things before playing.
Some other drills include a Simon Says game that helps kids learn the names of the lines on the court. There is also a drill where players hit a few backhands and forehands, another where the kids learn how to serve the ball underhand.
As the group improves, Nichols and her staff add more details and skills into the curriculum. Now, as this five-week session concludes, she has the players playing four-on-four mini-games on the indoor court, playing out a point.
"It's really fun to watch how far they've come," Nichols said about the mini-game. "So many of them pick things up so quickly that you know they have natural ability."
Most parents wouldn't know their kids had these natural abilities if it wasn't for Little Buddies Athletics. When Nichols originally had the idea about starting a sports class for young kids, most thought it was a little too ambitious. Now, she is thinking about how much the program can grow. Over the course of time, this program has shown not only can these children pick up a sport, but some excel at it.
Players like Hunter, Austin and Troy may make headlines 15 years from now. All thanks to the efforts of Nichols and her coaches.
"The important thing is getting volunteers in the community with a real knowledge of the things we're teaching," Nichols said. "The Downeys are a good example of the type of people I'd like to make a connection with when it comes to Little Buddies."
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