Andrea Nichelson likes to play tennis after a day at school. She is only 10 years old, but she has been playing the sport for five years, and she loves it.
"The one thing I like most about tennis is the game. It just really gets my attention [more] than anything I do. It just brings up the fire in me."
Andrea lives in Washington, D.C. She is one of around 900 children who use the free services of the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation.
The Foundation was set up in 1955. It gives children from eight to 18-years-old a chance to play tennis, and learn school-related and other skills. By combining sports and education, the group helps young people keep physically active and continue working on their studies.
Skills and sense of belonging
The Washington Tennis and Education Foundation has two programs. In one, tennis coaches go to schools around the city, and teach the game to students there. In the other program, children go to the group's tennis center to learn the game on indoor courts. Teachers also help them with homework from school, design robots and play games like chess.
Audra Bell works with the Foundation. She says the lives of children change when they decide to join the program.
"They learn discipline and they learn mental toughness and all of the things that tennis teaches you as a whole, it's really amazing to see."
The group’s president, Rebecca Crouch-Pelham, agrees.
"You're on the court, you're playing singles, you're by yourself, you're relying on yourself."
She says that is the same strength and ability to react to change that the children need in the classroom.
Children in the program are successful in school. Crouch-Pelham says all children should have this kind of contact with sports and educational services. It gives them a sense of belonging to a community, she says. Children who have completed the program come back to help in the summer as coaches.
Mike Ragland is one such graduate. He says joining the program at age 13 changed his life.
"I was doing things I shouldn't have been doing, got myself in a lot of trouble. When I started playing tennis, it gave me a different path to life."
Because of his skill on the court, Ragland went to college and received enough financial assistance to pay for all the college costs. He then launched a career as a tennis coach.
Coaches, in many cases, are like a parent for young players. They teach young players more than how to play tennis. Ragland explains that they teach the children good behavior.
"We take the kids in, we talk to the kids about life, how to carry themselves, how to behave and give them a structure, something that they can go forward with."
Coach Ragland visited 18-year-old Xavier Boone's school 8 years ago to get young children interested in playing the sport. Boone says the program helped him learn much about tennis and life.
"It teaches you not to give up and it teaches you just to kind of push through life. Everyone here is doing very well in school, and that's just all thanks to the tutors and the teachers that we have here."
The Foundation’s coaches say a few of their kids go on to become tennis pros. Others excel in other fields and receive full financial aid for college, while the rest - officials say - get a solid basis to help them succeed in whatever they do in life.
I’m Jill Robbins.
Faiza Elmasry reported on this story for VOA News. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
coach - n. a person who teaches and trains a player or performer
court - n. a large flat surface that is used for playing games like tennis and basketball
discipline - n. the ability to keep working at something that is difficult
toughness - adj. strong and not easily broken or damaged
rely - v. to need (someone or something) for support or help; to depend on (someone or something)
pro - n. (short form of professional) someone who is paid to take part or play in a sport or activity
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