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Kids hit the courts for the first time

Children from Preah Norodom Primary School were invited to the National Tennis Centre on Sunday to participate in quarter-sized court mini games on the recently built hard courts

IT was a day to remember for 25 children from Preah Norodom Primary School, who have been involved in the Tennis Federation of Cambodia (TFC) Mini Tennis programme for the last three months. They were invited Sunday morning to attend an hour long training session at the National Tennis Centre for their first real experience of a tennis court.

All the kids had picked up the rudiments of the game in their school playground, and it was not hard to see they were thrilled to bits at the chance to play each other at the recently completed facility. The three courts at the centre served as a dozen mini courts, with mini tennis games played across quarters. Children wielding International Tennis Federation supplied junior rackets and specially designed balls swarmed all over with boundless energy and enthusiasm.

“This was the day I was waiting for,” exclaimed TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit. “It is an exhilarating and uplifting experience for all of us, and I am sure it must be for all those kids as well. This is the new phase of development in Cambodia which desperately needed a grassroots scheme like this. We want to involve more schools, and the TFC is determined to spread this programme to the provinces,” he asserted.

“It is a sight to behold,” enthused national team coach and TFC technical director Braen Aneiros, as he marshaled his assistants and a few junior players to mingle with the kids and trade a soft knock or two with them.

“Probably we are unfolding pages of Cambodian tennis history here. [It’s] a close and intimate first look at its future.”

Chrin Saly, deputy director of the primary school, was beaming a broad smile Sunday. “I am extremely happy that our students have gone this far,” he said. “I am sure with the help of the TFC, the children will grow better and stronger in the months to come.

“The level of interest for tennis in the school is very high,” he continued. “More and more children want to start, and we at the school feel it is a positive sign. I want all other schools also to join this programme so that we have a strong network of school-level tennis.”

According to Tep Rithivit, parental involvement in this crucial formative stage is very important. “One disappointing aspect today is that not many parents turned up,” he noted. “I hope the situation improves. Tennis awareness is still low but there are signs of progress.”

One enthusiastic parent who did not want to miss the action Sunday was Pheaktra, an official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. With his wife in tow, he watched every minute of his son and daughter’s court time. “Parents will have to take greater responsibility if they want their children to grow up in tennis,” he affirmed. “Parents need to commit themselves to the cause, not just support it.”

Mini tennis is a popular concept all over the world. It involves smaller playing areas, shorter nets, junior rackets and specially colour-coded balls. A ball with a red patch is what first-up trainees use. They switch to orange later, and when they are ready for a full court press, they use yellow balls with a green patch which is slightly less pressured than standard ones.

What next for the stars of the future? “They keep doing what they are doing now for a few months more and based on how well they progress, their course will be charted out,” disclosed coach Aneiros. “Somewhere a kid needs to put a racket to the ball if he wants to play tennis, and this programme is possibly the best and most effective way of doing it.”



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