The six year old excitedly runs around the court during warm up.
When it comes to hitting the tennis ball with the racket, the young boy does quite well for a child who only a few weeks ago had never held a tennis racket.
Tennis has an air of being an elitist sport played at exclusive club with expensive racquets. But a Sooke man is slowly changing that attitude as he brings the sport to local schools and summer camps.
“Part of what I do is make tennis a more accessible sport,” explained Brendan Patel. 42, with Society for Kids at Tennis, also known as KATS, a non-profit program that offers tennis lessons to children for free.
“If children can get their hands on a racquet, some sneakers, and get even basic instruction, they can play anywhere.
Patel ran programs in four Sooke district schools this past year, including Saseenos and John Muir locally. He estimates at least 350 were taught lessons. He’s doubled down this summer teaching several summer camps and plans to run a program through SEAPARC this fall.
Last weekend, he attended Shawnigan Lake School, where he helped teach children with autism at a Canucks Autism Network camp.
“The kids are unbelievable. The reaction has been great. Once they pick up the racquet and start hitting the tennis balls, it makes my job so much easier,” Patel said.
Patel was introduced to tennis in his native Zimbabwe in high school. The program there produced some top tennis talent, but that wasn’t the ultimate goal.
“It took me away from the street life and from getting into trouble,” he said with a smile.
Patel gave up tennis about 15 years ago to concentrate on his auto body career, but when he was looking for something new to do with his life, he turned to the sport again.
He continues to play competitively in men’s doubles and is planning to play in a few tournaments this summer.
Last fall, he took a two-week certification course through Tennis Canada, and has never looked back.
“My focus is putting all I’ve learned in the training and using all the experience I have to teach a new generation of kids,” Patel said.
For more information, please go online to kidsattennis.ca.