HEPHZIBAH --- Rose Spain watches tennis on television, plays the Wii tennis video game and even rigged a ping-pong paddle and wad of paper to try and play tennis on her own.
Despite all of this effort, however, the 9-year-old had never had any hands-on instruction until a recent Kids' Day Clinic held at Diamond Lakes Tennis Center.
At the clinic, Rose and her third-grade classmates from Diamond Lakes Elementary School were split into small groups and cycled through eight stations, learning basic tennis techniques while Diamond Lakes tennis pro Todd Norton and court manager Geoff Norton looked on.
The clinic was part of the United States Tennis Association's Quickstart program. Quickstart is a tennis initiative that gives money to tennis programs across the country for pint-sized rackets and special nets that convert a standard tennis court down to a more negotiable scale for children ages 10 and under.
As the Diamond Lakes staff taught the kids about tennis, they emphasized that it is a lifetime sport and a good way to stay active all year long.
Obesity rates in the United States have tripled in the past 30 years, Todd Norton said, but he thinks early exposure to sports like tennis can change that statistic.
"In addition to teaching tennis, we educate the kids on lifestyle habits, like healthy eating and physical activity in general," he said.
Diamond Lakes Tennis Center staff members hold these clinics frequently, and would love to hold even more of them.
"We would do this for every school, every day, all year long," Todd Norton said.
In addition to teaching the kids how to play tennis, the Diamond Lakes staff teaches physical education teachers how to use tennis in a class setting.
Coach Carl Robinson is a physical education teacher at Diamond Lakes Elementary, and came with his students to the clinic.
"This has just been outstanding," he said. "It really seems to be making tennis real for the kids."
As the students ate lunch and got ready to leave, they talked about the day at the tennis courts. Rose and her friend Jayla Jones said they both wanted to keep playing tennis.
"Now when I watch Venus and Serena, I'm going to practice what I learned," Jayla said. "I want to learn how to play tennis really good like them."