This summer Lawrence youth will have a tennis league to play in for the first time thanks to the Lawrence Tennis Association, which is bringing United States Tennis Association Junior Team tennis to Lawrence.
LTA President Fernando Zuna said the league would provide tennis players with an opportunity to play competitively during the summer months.
"The Lawrence Tennis Association is really excited about trying to get this program started," he said. "I think it's a super opportunity for kids to keep playing in the summer."
It will also introduce tennis to younger players, who might not be familiar with the sport. Kirsty Elliott, LTA director of Junior Team Tennis, was formerly a tennis pro in Athens, Ga., and there she witnessed how it helped kids pick up the game's nuances.
"This league is designed for beginners who don't know how to keep score or switch sides," Elliott said. "It's hard to explain the rules of tennis in theory. It's better to just go out there. And they learn so fast."
She said any child interested in tennis should participate in the new program.
"We've got a wonderful club here in Lawrence and now there's a motivation for taking lessons," Elliott said.
Kids between the ages of 7 and 18 are eligible to participate in the new league. Each team will have three boys and three girls and be divided by age groups.
There are already a handful of kids signed up for the league, but Elliott stressed there are plenty of spaces still available. "There will never be too many kids," she said. "This is a great opportunity to get playing experience."
Beginners who play will get a competitive environment that will prepare them for junior high and high school tennis by teaching them how to execute shots under pressure. But Elliott said older, more experienced players can also benefit by participating.
"There are three levels of play - beginner, intermediate and advanced," she said. "The intermediate and advanced players get the much-needed match play experience to be more successful on the tournament circuit."
Players will compete locally and have a chance to advance to sectional and national tournaments because the league is part of the USTA's national program. Zuna said that allows players to keep their talents "fresh over the summer" in a competitive environment.
Elliott said she expected the league to build character in the players.
"They're going to learn a bunch of lifetime lessons," she said. "They're going to learn how to deal with failure, to deal with success. They're going to learn how to pat their teammates on the back for a great match."
Ben Wilson, 8, is playing tennis for the first time this year.
"I wanted to do a sport with all my friends and all my friends signed up for tennis and I thought it was a really fun sport," Wilson said.
He has learned terms and skills with his friends every day he has been on the court.
"I like doing the forehand," he said. "It's easier than the backhand."
Like Wilson, Evan Dye, 11, plans to step her game up by playing in the league. This is her second year playing tennis, and she is hoping to improve so she can continue playing as she gets older.
Dye said players in the league improve their skills at practice with games designed to work on specific skill sets. She said she is working to hit the ball with top spin and prefers doubles to singles.
"You don't have to be going after the ball the whole time you have someone else," she said.
The Lawrence Junior Team Tennis league begins play June 6 and will hold its matches at Free State High. For more information, contact Elliott at 785-841-0636 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.