Tennis anyone?

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Fast-growing court sport offers something for everyone

Tennis, anyone? How about: tennis, everyone? That's the new rallying cry for this portable sport that has been courting a growing number of players of all ages and abilities.

Shedding its country-club image, tennis is now one of the fastest growing sports in Canada thanks to community-based programming and the introduction of modified equipment that makes it easier to learn.

Tennis proponents are touting the health benefits of the game from improving cardiovascular health, flexibility, balance and strength to controlling weight and boosting the immune system. Photo by Thinkstock.com

Tennis, anyone? How about: tennis, everyone? That's the new rallying cry for this portable sport that has been courting a growing number of players of all ages and abilities.

Shedding its country-club image, tennis is now one of the fastest growing sports in Canada thanks to community-based programming and the introduction of modified equipment that makes it easier to learn.

"It's a lot more accessible than it ever has been," says Rufus Nel, senior director of Tennis Canada's Prairie Tennis Alliance. "My slogan is tennis can be played anywhere, by everyone."

Originally from South Africa, Nel coached the game for 30 years before taking on his new role with Prairie Tennis Alliance two years ago. As senior director, Nel works with Tennis Canada, Tennis Manitoba and Tennis Saskatchewan to develop the sport in the region. The goal is to get more people playing tennis, and keep them playing for life.

"Tennis is a lifelong sport," says Nel. "It's inexpensive, it's transferable - you can play it anywhere in the world - and it's for everyone, from three-year-olds to 90-year-olds."

Nel credits growing interest in the game to an approach called progressive tennis, which makes it quicker and easier to learn, as well as more inclusive. Using a progressive system of court sizes, different balls and rackets to scale the game down, it allows everyone from children and beginners to people with mobility issues to join in the fun.

He notes because tennis can be difficult to master, many give up in frustration. Progressive tennis gives players the tools to develop their skills faster so they can transition to the regular court with more ease and confidence.

Introduced at local schools and seniors' facilities, the Saskatoon Health Region has introduced progressive tennis as a therapy to improve physical and mental health.

There are numerous benefits to playing the sport. The physical benefits run the gamut from improving cardiovascular health, flexibility, balance and strength to controlling weight and boosting the immune system.

"It provides a lot more aerobic exercise than most sports because you're maintaining a high level of energy the whole time," says Nel. "Because you have to be able to control the ball, it increases fine motor skills. It's good for eye-hand co-ordination and promotes good balance and agility."

With soaring levels of obesity and diabetes - particularly among children - tennis is a way to lower the risks and promote a healthier lifestyle.

Nel says it can also go a long way to improving a person's emotional health and well-being.

"It helps develop discipline, promotes teamwork, you learn to compete one-on-one and it's a great stress release."

There are social benefits, as well.

"This modified equipment is really bringing value to the community. We are finding that is it starting to bring families together because tennis is the one of the only sports that families can really play together," says Nel. "You can get father and son playing hockey, but they're not playing the game - they're just hitting the puck around.

"We say to families, get off the couch and get your kids away from those games and be engaged with them. Come out and play tennis, and see all the benefits. There's a lot more camaraderie, families are having fun and they're spending more time together in a healthy environment."

He says many teenagers are getting into the game as an alternative to school or team sports. "Not every kid is geared toward a big team sport, or wants to play a contact sport."

Best of all, tennis is a great way to improve overall health and fitness while having fun.

"You can play it in school gyms, in the park, in the streets," says Nel. "It's a sport for life, and one you can play anywhere in the world."

Organizations: Tennis Canada, Prairie Tennis Alliance

Geographic location: Canada, South Africa

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