NEW PORT RICHEY
Tennis was once a game played mostly by professionals and members of a country club. All over Pasco County, however, tennis clinics are helping kids get involved in the game earlier in life. Christina Hill, both a coach and the Pasco representative for the United States Tennis Association, has been working toward growing the sport in the Pasco area since 2003 and has developed Saturday tennis clinics as a way to get kids involved.
The classes use a type of tennis known as Quickstart to get younger kids interested in the game. Quickstart uses a shortened court with bigger balls that bounce slower than a normal tennis ball. The kids are given regular sized rackets and instructed on proper ways to strike the ball.
"They pick it up quickly because the court isn't as intimidating when there isn't as much ground to cover," Hill said. "They've been using this system in Europe and Canada for a while, and I think that is why you see so many of these foreign players doing so well."
Hill has no shortage of support from both parents and players. Jason Edwards of New Port Richey has been bringing his 7-year-old daughter Alyssa to the clinics for only a few weeks, but already appreciates the work Hill has the kids doing.
"We told her she had to pick something to stay active and this is what she picked," Edwards said. "These classes are good because they are well organized and the kids like what she has them doing."
Junior tennis programs may seem fairly common in Florida, but in Pasco, Hill's work is relatively new. Bishop Larkin Catholic School coach Mary Hanlon has supported Hill's work with the junior programs for the past two years and sees the benefit both as a parent whose children play in the clinics and as a coach of the game.
"We're trying to grow the game in this area," Hanlon said. "Before Christina was around, we had almost nothing outside of the country clubs. The more kids play, the better they get. She's motivating them to play, and we're going to start having them play in competitive matches soon which is big for their development. She could be making one of these kids into the next Maria Sharapova."
Hanlon's biggest praise for Hill is her ability to teach the game in a way that the kids find both helpful and fun.
"She's the one who comes up with all these great games that the kids love to play," Hanlon said. "Whether it's 'Around the World' or 'Kings and Queen' of the court or whatever she has them doing, she just knows how to make the game fun for the kids."
Hill's hard work is paying off as attendance at the clinics has her going back and forth between groups. She requires help from parents, having them keep score and officiate matches.
For the kids, the clinic offers more than just recreation; it's a chance for them to compete against other kids in an atmosphere that isn't based solely on winning and losing.
"At the end of the clinics, we'll do awards and medals and the kids get T-shirts," Hill said. "It's like a team sport in some ways. We mix boys and girls up on teams and try to make the game fun however we can."
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