By Nikki McCoy
There comes a moment every summer, when the kids are fighting, the dishes are piling, and the phrase, “go outside and play” is returned with “but mom, that’s boring.”
A possible cure? Rallying balls back and forth in a beautiful park setting. Where tantrums turn to giggles, competitiveness takes a friendly turn, and families can unwind and have fun together playing tennis.
This summer, City of Olympia Parks, Art and Recreation has formed a new partnership with United States Tennis Association (USTA) Pacific Northwest section, to create Family Friendly Tennis at Woodruff Park.
Beginning June 22 through August 26, from 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., every Monday and Wednesday, families are invited to learn techniques and activities for their age and skill level, listen to music and enjoy exercising on the courts.
“It feels more like a party than a traditional sports class,” says Pamela Judge, director of marketing and communications for USTA. “Anyone can play…you don’t have to be someone who goes to the gym five times a week. It’s a great opportunity for families to get together, have some fun and get out and enjoy the weather.”
The program, based off of other successful USTA partnerships, is flexible and uses modified equipment. The tennis racquets are various lengths from 19 inches to 27 inches to be height appropriate. And there are four tennis balls used instead of standard size, with 25 percent to 75 percent of the compression normally used.
With less bounce, the balls are easier to control and keep on the court, which means it’s easier for beginners, and still fun for those with experience.
A group of instructors break the families into groups by age and skill level, teach games and techniques, and then invite the families to rejoin and show off their new skills.
“People love the program,” says Judge. “What we’ve found is people really enjoy the opportunity to get out and try something new and to be able to do with the whole family. Because we make it easy, and we make it fun, people want to come back and do it again.”
On a recent afternoon, I visited with Kathi McKay, USTA’s Southwest Washington coordinator for recreational and youth programs. She was conducting training for the seven staff involved in the summer program, and it was a pleasure to see the group in action. One of the staff brought along his sons, and it was apparent anyone can play.
The staff was laughing, dancing and playing games. “Dingles,” a rotating combination of singles and doubles, with background music of “What Does the Fox Say,” was entertaining to watch, and I could easily imagine my own family on the court.
Cayla Stahley, 22, who played tennis while attending Olympia High School, is one of the instructors.
“My biggest thing is seeing kids getting out and being active rather than watching TV or playing video games,” she says. “To get families together and create those long-lasting relationships is also really special.”
Alison Wood, 17, who has played tennis at North Thurston High School the last two years, agrees with Stahley about the physical fitness and family components, but also chooses to coach because of the game itself.
“It’s so amazing. When I play, the whole world around me doesn’t matter, my head’s just in the game,” Wood says.
Another benefit of family-friendly tennis is that it can be a great way to bridge the age-gap between siblings as well, with Judge noting that sometimes it can be hard to get teenagers engaged.
“This is something both 6-year-olds and 14-year-olds can do,” she says.
“I think it’s important that families do activities together,” agrees McKay. “And I think it benefits parents. They don’t have to be the teacher or the critic – they can be the positive one.”
This summer series is just one way the USTA Pacific Northwest is providing new recreation opportunities in the South Sound area..
The Pacific Northwest group already has a partnership with area schools including East Olympia, Griffin and Evergreen Christian. Geared at third through fifth graders, Judge says the afterschool program keeps kids active and off their phones.
For more information on USTA PNW, click here.
Registration for the family-friendly summer sessions can be found here. Sessions run $25 for a group of four, with an additional $10 per extra person. Register for four sessions and get the fifth free.