Many call Jimmy Connors the best tennis player of all time. Tennis coach Randall Edmiston calls him his claim to fame.
“I went to high school and played on the tennis team with him,” he said. “That’s how I got started and stuck with it.”
Sessions with Connors and Connors’ mother helped propel him to a collegiate tennis career at the University of Kentucky. He taught lessons before embarking on a marketing career that brought him to Dallas.
Edmiston always knew he should be teaching children. Three years ago he acted on it, introducing the Randall Ross Tennis Academy.
RRT provides tennis training focused on fun, including the T-REPS (tennis, repetition, experimentation, play) for schools program, the Topspin Factory, and his newest Tennis Tots and Club Kids at Walnut Hill Recreation Center.
While his program is open to all ages, Edmiston has a passion for sharing his knowledge with kids — even as young as 1. Children under age 10 play on a miniature court, using smaller equipment and low-pressure balls.
“About 95 percent [of kids who started playing tennis] quit because it was so difficult,” Edmiston said. “All that has changed now with this new program.”
T-REPS implements simple body movements to create muscle memory, fun games, and minimal verbal instruction.
The Topspin Factory, developed by Edmiston, is essentially a hitting alley with sports netting, a ball machine, and ball-collection device, which allows nearly 900 balls to be hit in 30 minutes. The machine reinforces repetition and muscle memory.
Edmiston’s latest program, Tennis Tots, takes a different approach to lessons.
“I took the new rules and boiled it down for even younger kids with the idea that I wouldn’t really try to teach them to hit the ball over the net. I would just find fun things for the kids to do with the tennis racket and ball, and create these mini-experiences that would give them coordination for tennis-related activities,” Edmiston said.
Local mom Allison McAfee came across the program on a whim while driving down Walnut Hill Lane last fall. She set up a lesson for her 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.
“He showed her how to hold a tennis racket and had her swat at bubbles and hit balls off cones,” McAfee said. “Things that I thought were appropriate for her age level, rather than just trying to feed balls to her. That probably wouldn’t make a 4-year-old feel very good.”
Edmiston made a point to check in on her son, chat with him, and made sure he was holding a ball or racket at all times while he worked with her daughter.
“He kept trying to get my son just interested in it and around it,” said McAfee, who participates in a few lessons as well. “I like the fact that he lets me bring my 1-year-old. He’s very good at talking with the kids on their level.”
Previously, you could only find tennis lessons at country clubs, and it was considered elite and expensive and difficult to learn. RRT aims to cancel those negative factors.
“There are a lot of things in tennis that you can take into your adult life beyond the sport. You really have to learn how to practice, concentrate, and persevere,” Edmiston said. “My message is to get the word out to parents. Get your kid in. Get them playing and having fun, and they’ll learn tennis in the process.”