Hawkeye tennis camp focuses on fun

BY CARLOS SOSA | JUNE 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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Most of the kids on the courts in the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Center won't likely compete at high-school-level tennis matches.

But that's OK.

The Tennis Center will host various tennis camps throughout the summer for more than 60 kids between the ages of 4 and 18. The camps are not necessarily trying to build champions; their main goal for the summer is to just have fun.

"Many kids are first-timers," Tennis Center tennis coordinator Michele Conlon said. "The goal is to play tennis in a fun and challenging environment."

Keeping children active is a difficult task, but one that Conlon and her staff take pride in. Only a few camp attendees will reach the high-school level and compete. The others however, will look to just gain knowledge about the sport and have a fun while doing it.

Conlon said that the instruction the kids will receive over the next four days would be to "train them to learn to play tennis" instead of teaching the children the gritty details of the game.

The kids warmed up with their respective counselors on Tuesday, the second day of camp. The staff consists of ex-Hawkeye players and current high-school athletes.

It's crucial to maintain an active learning environment to hold the kids' attention span. They'll want to keep learning if the environment is challenging and, more importantly, keep coming back to camp.

"We want [the kids] to develop basic tennis skills and to introduce them to the tennis game," said Milica Veselinovic, a former Iowa player who competed from 2004-08. "However, we want to make [the camp] fun and to have them play together to learn about teamwork."

One way the counselors help provide kids with the necessary enthusiasm for the day is to share stories of their experiences on the court. Karl Wenzel, a junior at West High, told his campers about his most recent tennis adventure: winning the class 2A state title in May.

"I can easily relate [to the kids]," Wenzel said. "The other high-school coaches and I were in the same position five or six years ago, and now our job is to be role models for the kids."

Providing the kids with the necessary skills to learn the game of tennis is important not only for the kids wanting to have fun while at camp but also for those who want to eventually compete at a high level.

There's a tricky balance, however, to make sure young athletes aren't overworked.

"I feel like it's a sport that develops a child's maturity level like very few sports," said Stewart James-Lejarcegui, the father of two daughters attending the camp. "As a parent, my job is to reduce the frustration, and the main way to do that is by helping them develop and keeping it fun."

Tennis requires an immense amount of energy and is difficult to learn, especially for kids who are more focused on what they'll be doing after camp. The camps offer a way to avoid those problems.

The Tennis Center takes a complex sport and turns it into an activity that the developing athletes can learn together. By keeping things fun, the Hawkeye tennis camps provide kids with fun options for the future.

"Were very active [during camp]," Conlon said. "We allow time for improvement, but most importantly, we allow them to find success."

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