I’m writing this on the eve of starting the fall kids’ tennis program for the Island Rec Center, and thought it would be timely to say a few things about giving kids a chance to become part of a lifetime sport activity.

According to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), increasing numbers of children are playing tennis at an earlier age. In the greater Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area, programs are offered for kids from age 5 and up introducing them to the game, practicing, playing, and even competing year round.

Over the past few years there have been a number of USTA programs available for children under 10 years of age. Currently they have been consolidated under the heading of Youth Tennis.

These programs feature smaller racquets, smaller courts, shorter nets and slower moving balls, making the equipment more size appropriate. So, learning to play tennis is now more “kid-friendly” than ever before, which makes it easier for youngsters to hit the ball and have more fun.

While the early days of tennis have been referred to as “the sport of kings,” that’s not the case anymore. For many years tennis has been, and remains, “the sport for a lifetime.”

Very few sports activities provide an overall physical, mental, social and emotional experience that can continue throughout a person’s lifetime.

Some physical benefits of learning to play tennis early in life include cardiovascular fitness, agility, strength, balance, flexibility and eye-hand coordination.

Mental, emotional and social benefits include learning to problem-solve through positive interaction with opponents, teammates, teachers and coaches; sportsmanship and a sense of fair play, value and reward of hard work; and improving skills by practicing.

Tennis is a very healthy physical and mental activity. It gets the heart pumping, the body moving and the mind thinking. And, at the same time, it fosters feelings of achievement, competitiveness, fair play and enjoyment for players of all ages.

I’ve seen how happy kids are when they’re hitting the ball back and forth over the net. I’ve also noticed that happy kids make for happy parents, and being happy is healthy – a very good thing for all of us.

Learning to play tennis early in life has many valuable benefits. The life lessons that can be gained are so much more far-reaching than simply learning to hit the ball.

Lou Marino is a Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area. lwmarino@hotmail.com