Wii Sports, specifically the tennis module. They are often a little sheepish or hesitant in bringing up the subject, as if they may offend me, or perhaps are concerned I will think less of them for admitting they allow their children to play Wii instead of the real thing. Parents everywhere, hear me now: I Love Wii! Let your kids play it all night long. Heck, keep them home from school a couple of days a week for a Wii Tennis marathon! Okay, maybe that's going too far. But seriously - I love Wii and am so thankful that the nice folks at Nintendo selected tennis as one of the five sports featured in their 2006 groundbreaking kinetic game console (the other four are baseball, boxing, golf, and bowling). Think of all the other sports they could have included. Soccer, lacrosse, and archery come to mind as newcomers to parks and rec offerings, direct and serious competitors for childrens' play time and parents' registration fees. I don't have any stats to back this up, but I think sports management types will one day look back on this event as the catalyst for an uptick in tennis participation. That, and the advent of 10 and Under Tennis, of course! :)
So what's so great about Wii Tennis, you might ask?
You can play it in your living room. A recent informal survey by Yours Truly indicates that while very few of us have a tennis court in our back yard, many of us do have a living room. Wii Tennis lets us scratch our itch just about any time we want to! In our jammies! Seriously, accessibility is great. Wii removes one more barrier (excuse) to playing tennis whenever you want. Playing more often leads to improving quickly which leads to loving tennis which leads to playing more often . . . you see where this is going.
Score keeping. Even if you don't play tennis, you may have heard that it has a bizarre scoring method. You need at least four points to win a game. However, the four points are not 1-2-3-4. No, they are designated Zero aka the seemingly random 'Love'; Fifteen; Thirty; and Forty. And heaven forfend if you end up tied at Forty-Forty aka 'deuce'. You then proceed to the 'ad' portion of our show (short for 'advantage') which could go on forever or until someone wins by at least two points. Confused yet? Several theories abound as to the origins of this strange scoring method. Suffice to say it has long been considered too confusing for young players. In fact, part of the 10 and Under teaching method includes the much simpler 1-2-3-4 scorekeeping system. However, if your children play Wii, they will learn this 'real' method because that's how tennis is scored in Wii, even the dreaded 'ad' portion. It is considered a very desirable skill among the 10 and Under crowd to be able to use and understand the grown-up scoring system.
Technique. I think parents are equally disturbed that 1) this is a dreaded video game and 2) using the Wii remote will create bad habits/poor technique that will be harmful once the kids get out on the real court. Point 1 - hey, at least you have to move a little bit to play Wii, so it gets a pass IMO. Point 2 - mmmmm, maybe. But here's my experience: even though kids may quickly discover they can play this game with lots of wrist-flicking rather than using true tennis swings, they still need to think carefully about what shot to hit, where to place it, and most importantly, WHEN to hit the ball. Wii is excellent at the WHEN. In fact, there is another group of tennis-related activities under the Training section of this game. Unlike the main Wii game which is played as doubles, they are in an individual player format. They are fantastic in forcing you to watch the ball and time your contact properly. This translates directly to some excellent ball-watching and timing skills on the court.
So parents, relax. Your instincts are correct. It is perfectly fine to let your children enjoy this game. In fact, I challenge you to beat them at it. Bet you can't!