From the moment I first considered coming here, I’d thought about how my six year-old would settle in. He’s had no problems making friends before, but those bonds have often been founded on a mutual appreciation and knowledge of a film, activity or toy. However, there have also been times when he hasn’t owned the games console or supported the football team vital (in his world) to joining in, and he’s felt excluded.
Despite the prevalence of global brands, for which I am truly grateful right now, there will inevitably be more things here about which he won’t have common knowledge, whether it be football (as opposed to soccer), baseball or even nickels & dimes. It’s pointless me trying to determine everything he’ll need to know, so he’s going to have to make his own way up that learning curve, dealing with the occasional “don’t you even know that?” en route from his peers.
One thing I can do is ensure that what he does know and has done counts for as much as possible, so within a week of arriving he’s out on Court 2 in a humid 94°F, having his tennis skills evaluated; a sport he first tried out in chilly, overcast conditions when he was five. He’s on the cusp of two age groups at this club, so it’s up to Coach Rafa to decide if he’ll be the oldest Tiny Tot or the youngest Young Gun. Young Gun? Well, this is Florida.
They take their tennis rather seriously in Boca Raton, which is home to about 20 world class players past and present. These include Jennifer Capriati, Andy Roddick and Chris Evert, who established a major tennis academy not ten minutes from where I’m sitting. With that in mind I take a break from wincing every time a ball is skied or thwacked into the net to have a look at the Young Guns Code of Conduct, which I picked up on our way in:
- Evaluations are based on playing ability, fitness, respect, discipline, work ethic and the ability to follow orders without disrupting the harmony of the group
- Students will comply with the Three Strikes Policy
- Profane or disrespectful language will not be tolerated in any way
- Parents will be responsible for any physical damage caused by their children to their equipment, other students’ equipment and the club’s equipment
- Parents are not allowed on court to interfere with coaching. There is a designated seating area for parents who wish to watch their child play
- A team of professionals will meet and evaluate the degree of any violation, which could result in warnings, suspensions or expulsion
What kind of six year-olds need to be contained by such a decree? And what kind of parents? Surely at this age tennis should still be fun. A game, even. In any case the boy’s always been more comfortable being a bigger fish in a smaller pond, and while he’s hardly a Tiny Tot, I’m not at all sure he’s ready to be a Young Gun just now either. Perhaps when he’s seven, we’ll see, but not yet. Absolutely not.
As the session comes to an end Coach Rafa comes over to deliver his verdict to me in the designated seating area:
“He plays pretty good. He can start Young Guns from July.”
He then instructs a very sweaty but extremely happy boy to gather up about 200 tennis balls from around the court, before striding off.