Robinsons' NetPlay Bringing Tennis to More Kids
By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer
When their kids were younger and in preschool, Melissa and Cris Robinson watched them take part in sports like soccer after school.
The tennis-teaching husband and wife were also very involved in the United States Tennis Association’s new QuickStart program. That’s where the game is taught to children 10-and-under, using shorter courts, smaller racquets and lighter balls.
Thus was born NetPlay, an after-school program for preschool and elementary-aged children that is committed to developing a life-long love of tennis. It was developed by Cris Robinson, director of tennis at Willow Oaks Country Club.
“They [kids] were doing SoccerShots [a Richmond Kickers initiative], so we had the idea of coming up with tennis,” said Melissa, winner of the women’s singles title at the 2002 State Clay Court Championships at Salisbury Country Club.
“We take the nets, the balls and the racquets with us. We set everything up in parking lots or auditoriums at the schools. We started at St. Mary’s, where our kids were in preschool, and we’ve gotten more schools over the years.”
This will be the fifth year of NetPlay, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
“Normally, in elementary school, we do kindergarten through second or third grade. When we’re in the preschools, I take four, five and six-year-olds. Mainly four and five-year-olds. I’ve tried it with three-year-olds but it’s just glorified babysitting.”
The Robinsons also are involved with summer camps for Collegiate on the Blair Road campus.
“This is a great opportunity for parents to have an extra hour in their day, and their children are doing something productive and athletic while forming the basics for one of the great sports for a lifetime,” said Cris Robinson.
“It’s conveniently at the end of the school day, and the parents don’t have to travel anywhere different to pick them up.”
With the younger groups, Melissa Robinson uses simpler games and exercises.
“I do different things,” she said. “With the younger groups, we do koosh ball tosses. Racquets and koosh balls, and they toss it to each other. We use the orange [lighter] balls with the younger kids. Relays, footwork, ballhandling, ball tosses, jumping jacks.
“The idea is to get them interested in tennis and to make it accessible to the kids that don’t have access to it.
“A lot of it is fitness, too, because the four, five and six-year-olds aren’t going to hit the ball over the net to each other.”
Robinson pointed out that NetPlay can also be set up at day-care centers around town. Sessions typically range in duration from four to eight weeks, with each session lasting 45 minutes. NetPlay goes to all locations and provides all of the equipment that’s necessary.
“The biggest challenge is they get so excited about the program — and we have full capacity at nearly every school — and most of the kids want to do something more. They want to continue playing tennis, and I see them playing at other places.”
Robinson said NetPlay has probably reached over 1,000 children since the program started.
“I would like to expand but it’s hard to find people to help me on a part-time basis,” she said. “I can’t be at every school every day. My next goal is to try and get the parents involved at their preschools. I could do even more schools like that.”
To contact Melissa about helping or set up a program, she can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 804-350-0668.
“Cris and I have always been big advocates of QuickStart tennis,” said Melissa. “Our kids were into the QuickStart [method], and we just wanted to get other kids into tennis. We’ve always been passionate about that, so this is the perfect way to get them started.”