Tennis is one of the few sports enjoyed by players of all ages. It is not uncommon for small children to play alongside their parents, or even their grandparents.

What is the best age to start a youngster playing tennis? My parents introduced me to the sport at 5 years old. Whatever the age, it is a good idea first to take the child to a wall or backboard and show him or her the basics. During these introductory sessions, think up a few games to keep the youngster happy and interested. Let the child show initiative and don't expect total concentration on first exposure.

There are only two things you need to begin playing: a tennis racket (one correctly fitted for you) and a tennis ball. Eventually you'll need a partner and a court to play on, but the beginner can learn and practice more efficiently alone, hitting against a backboard. The backboard is a great learning tool. It enables you to hit many more balls than you would in a match and provides the repetition needed to groove your strokes. Even top players can work on each of the basic shots (forehand, backhand, volley, overhead, half-volley) when using the board. I use it all the time.

As for lessons, a parent should remember it is easier to learn correct habits at a young age. When picking an instructor, find someone who is well respected and excellent with children. As I mentioned earlier, equip the child with a racket he or she can handle. Many stores and pro shops have rackets specifically made for kids.

No matter at what age you begin your tennis "career," taking lessons from a professional is useful. The beginner would benefit most from a series of classes taken over an extended period of time. The intermediate and advanced player might pursue a more intense instructional program, taking more classes within a shorter time frame. I prefer to take at least two or three lessons per week. Pick the routine you're comfortable with and can fit into your schedule.

The most important goal in tennis, no matter what the level, is to have fun. It is crucial to keep this in mind at all times. It's what makes it such a great game.