'Tennis through confidence, confidence through tennis'
Paoli, Pa. — ''Atta girl, good girl, you can do it. Step and hit, step and hit. Yeah! You did it! I knew you could! You're a Wimbledon winner. Step and hit. . . .''
It's Monday morning at the Main Line branch of the Tennis Farm, and Texas owner-director Cindy Ringe is dishing up equal helpings of tennis and praise to 16 new campers.
But take a second look. These campers haven't been shunted off to summer camp by their mothers. They are the mothers themselves, many of whom have never played tennis or any other sport because sports weren't in when they were growing up.
When Cindy Ringe's Tennis Farm opened on one borrowed court in 1974, it was designed to give encouragement to juniors. But by 1976 so many mothers were pressing against the fence and leaning over the court trying to learn the stroke lesson of the day that Mrs. Ringe expanded her program to meet their needs.
Each summer Mrs. Ringe and her three instructors turn several hundred noncompetitive women into aggressive tennis players. She explains that the sports explosion in the United States has left middle-age women stranded. ''When they were growing up, muscles were out. Even if they had it they hid sports ability, because athletes sat home on Saturday night. It was more important to be a good sport and a good loser.''
Mrs. Ringe started the Tennis Farm when she discovered that her three daughters and their friends were ignored in tennis clinics. ''Whenever I picked them up, they were sitting on the bench and the boys were on the courts,'' she says.
Originally the camp was for girls only but now is co-ed. ''They learn from each other,'' Mrs. Ringe says. ''The boys are showy, but often it is a girl's consistency that wins a point.''
Mrs. Ringe now has four branches of the Tennis Farm. Her children work in the family venture every summer, since it is helping to put them through college. Her lawyer husband oversees the books.
Praise and encouragement are the secret ingredients in her teaching method, which includes the usual stroke drills and ball machines. Divorced women, women raising teen-age children, and women whose husbands are wrapped up in careers are on the giving, not the receiving, end of praise, she finds.
''They've forgotten that warm glow of encouragement. You've got to reach an attitude and confidence level before you can hit anything,'' explains Mrs. Ringe. One of her students admits she doesn't come to camp for the tennis at all. She likes the three weeks of being patted on the back and told she's doing a good job.
Campers bring towels, jump ropes for morning limber-up exercises, hats, and notebooks to the three-hour morning sessions, along with the determination to do something for themselves.
''At first, they wonder why they are here. They feel like dummies and apologize and apologize. But after three weeks they are playing with confidence and fighting for their points,'' says Mrs. Ringe. Her favorite motto is, ''Tennis through confidence, confidence through tennis.''
Mrs. Ringe believes women are shortchanged in tennis clinics and taught a survival rather than a competitive game. They wind up like one camper whose only tennis game consisted of protecting herself against her husband's serve.
Mixed doubles are her pet peeve. ''They are male chauvinism at its worst,'' she says. ''A man tells his partner that all she has to do is return the serve and watch the alley, while he hogs the court. What kind of game is that? Since only 10 percent of all balls go down the alley, you're pretty insignificant - and you get so uptight waiting that you may miss the one ball that comes your way.''
Many of Mrs. Ringe's older campers don't have the ability of a natural athlete, but they make up for it by being hard-working, consistent, and conscientious. And it pays off.
After three weeks of practicing her serve toss with meatballs while her family laughed, one of Mrs. Ringe's students beat her husband 6-love after five years of trying.