Learning Good Serves and Life Skills With the Atlanta Youth Tennis and Education Foundation

The word “tennis” can conjure up images of ladies in starched whites playing doubles at the country club, but The Atlanta Youth Tennis and Education Foundation is out to prove that tennis is for everyone, especially the kids of our city. By partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs, public schools, and City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation, this nonprofit not only teaches the game but also life skills. WellATL serves up this week’s Friday Five to Cee Jai Jones, Director of Community Outreach and Programs for AYTEF.

All sports are positive for kids – teambuilding, physical activity, all that good stuff. So, why tennis?

Cee Jai Jones, Director of Community Outreach and Programs for AYTEF

Cee Jai Jones, Director of Community Outreach and Programs for AYTEF

Tennis is one of the best ways for kids to become healthy and physically fit. It’s also one of the safest of all youth sports and has a very low rate of injury. Most of the youth we serve are under-resourced and have never even been exposed to the sport of tennis because it’s not as common as traditional sports like basketball, football, and baseball. But once they begin to rally the ball back and forth over the net, it’s ON! They even get excited playing it on the Wii! We take that enthusiasm and get them excited about Junior Team Tennis,  National Student-Athlete Competitions, tournaments, and opportunities to earn scholarships. We share tennis within the Boys & Girls Clubs, City of Atlanta Recreation Centers, and area elementary and middle schools.

The great thing about tennis right now is its direction. It’s easier than ever for kids to get in the game because you can now get equipment sized just right for kids. There are slower, lower-bouncing balls, kid-sized rackets, and even portable nets that can be used on any flat surface — in the driveway, the parking lot, even the school cafeteria. This allows youth to rally easier with each other and have more fun. Equipment is inexpensive and can even be found in Walmart and Target now.

It’s pretty easy for young Atlantans to toss a football in the front yard or kick around a soccer ball, but not every neighborhood has a tennis court. Where are some great places to play in the city?  

Draper gym 1Atlanta is the largest tennis community in the country. More people play tennis in Atlanta than anywhere else in the US; over 100,000 people participate in leagues that run year-round. We have tennis courts everywhere, from subdivisions to clubs to public parks that give juniors and adults great opportunities to play. The great thing about AYTEF is that we bring all the equipment to our after-school and summer locations. We can set up in the gym, on a basketball court, or in a courtyard to play. Even our education enrichment can be done indoors or outdoors. I personally play most of my singles matches at Perkerson Park and my league matches at McGhee and Sugar Creek Tennis Center. When it comes to championship and tournament matches, I enjoy the action at DeKalb, Sandy Springs, Blackburn, and South Fulton Tennis Centers because they have so many courts with simultaneous action.

306Y2781Tennis has a weird scoring system. Zero points is called “love.” What are the kiddos learning beyond the crazy numbering?

Besides the unusual scoring, our kids are learning life skills that help build confidence and focus. In our tennis and education program, they are learning respect, self-control, and determination. Tennis is an individual and team sport, so our kids develop at their own pace but also get to create friendships and enjoy the encouragement of a coach and their teammates. They develop hand-eye coordination, balance, and agility, as well as problem-solving skills and good sportsmanship. Most important to us though is the exposure to a sport they can play for the rest of their lives that enhances their character and fitness. After all, if a game starts with Love, it can only be good!

Your coaches are well versed in teaching tennis fundamentals. Give us a few pro tips to improve our swing.

  1. CJ-VolleyGet ready for the hit. Keep your racket back at all times. Once the ball has left your opponent’s racket, you must move into position. It’s important to keep your racket back while positioning yourself to enable a clean shot.
  2. Follow through. Correct follow-through ensures that the prior phase of your swing was executed in a smooth manner. Similar to the backhand, correct follow-through creates an arcing motion that rises from the point of contact with the ball to an area just above your opposite shoulder.
  3. Move your feet. The tennis footwork on the forehand is critical, more so than with any other shot. Setting up on time all the time will give you more options when it comes to where you can hit the ball and how well you can hit. It makes the difference between a clean hit tennis forehand and a slap into the net.

 Y’all do great work. How can someone help if they’ve never picked up a racket?

306Y2029Anyone can help AYTEF by making a financial donation, becoming a volunteer at tournaments and fundraising events, serving on a board committee, being a mentor in after-school programs, or donating items such as school supplies, gently used clothing/shoes, and equipment. We are always looking for advocates who want to help us further our mission of promoting healthy lifestyles and supporting academic achievement for youth. Call us at 770-416-4333 or email me at ceejai@ustaatlanta.com to get involved.

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