Melbourne Park, 9 December 2011 | Matt Trollope

Grade 5 students from Richmond West Primary School today enjoyed an MLC Tennis Hot Shots session at Melbourne Park, as part of Tennis Australia’s Schools Experience, relishing the chance to meet and hit with former Aussie pro and Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald.

The school was one of many that applied to take part in the Schools Experience, which has seen more than 1200 students from 22 schools come through Melbourne Park during the December Showdown.

As part of the experience, students are given a tour of Melbourne Park’s facilities, enjoy talks from top Australian players with the opportunity to ask questions, and also take part in an MLC Tennis Hot Shots session.

MLC Tennis Hot Shots is a fun way for kids to learn how to play tennis, with smaller courts, nets and racquets plus low-compression balls making learning easy and giving younger players the chance to serve, rally and score from the very first time they play.

Chairo Christian School joined Richmond West Primary for today’s edition of the Schools Experience, which saw students get to take part in an on-court experience with Anastasia Rodionova, Scott Draper and Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, Tennis Australia’s Tennis in Schools Ambassador, was on hand to take part in the Hot Shots session with the Richmond West students on Court 4. He says the concept allows kids to immediately enjoy rallying as soon as they get on the court.

“You see the smile on their faces straight away … so then they want to come back [to the sport],” he said.

“What Hot Shots does is bring kids into the sport. Once it gets into the schools – the Hot Shots department within Tennis Australia are having results already [introducing this] into schools – it will gain momentum, it’ll be like a J-curve. Over time, there will be hundreds of thousands [of kids] in the sport with Hot Shots where they [previously] wouldn’t have been.”

The Schools Experience forms a major part of Tennis Australia’s efforts to better link the sport of tennis with schools at a grassroots level, with the hope of getting tennis included more prominently within the school curriculum.

Tennis Australia has partnered with The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and will next year introduce a resource created for teachers that sees tennis promoted as a great option to incorporate into schools’ physical education curriculum, in the net/wall/court/striking skills category.

Rebecca McDonald, Tennis Australia’s Hot Shots in Schools Coordinator, says that a program like MLC Tennis Hot Shots is perfectly suited in this situation, allowing tennis to take its place in schools alongside competitor sports such as cricket and Australian Rules football.

“The program actively allows teachers to have 24 kids playing on one tennis court, which is basically one class size,” she said.

“From the perspective of a teacher, you can fully engage all these kids in a lesson, rather than having four kids play on a full-size tennis court while the other 20 kids are standing off.”

McDonald says the Schools Experience program is a fantastic opportunity for Tennis Australia to connect with schools, raise awareness, educate teachers, and promote the sport.

“Kids love it. A lot of schools don’t get this opportunity to come here and play on the courts during the December Showdown, and playing where the top players all play during the Australian Open is a real big thrill for all of them,” she said.

“When they get here before their session they’re all pretty hyped up and pretty excited by it.”

The exuberant, energetic group of Richmond West Primary students were certainly enjoying the chance to play on the Plexicushion of Court 4.

One student, Andy Tuano, says he enjoyed the chance to play a sport he had not previously had much exposure to.

“This [program] is pretty good for kids to pick up some experience and just enjoy the sport of tennis,” he said.