Healthy Hollywood: Laila Ali's Fight Against Childhood Obesity!

Former boxing champ Laila Ali turned in her gloves for a tennis racquet. The former champ hit the court with a group of New York City kids at the U.S. Open on Labor Day. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) hosted a youth tennis exhibition before the day’s matches began. 

The event launched thousands of USTA Free Tennis Play Events nationwide aimed to introduce the game to kids and also inspire them to be active during September’s National Childhood Obesity Awareness month.

Healthy Hollywood got invited to attend the event and also chat with Laila, who told me introducing kids to sports at a young age is critical. "They’ll love it. You just have to introduce them to sports at a young age." Laila, who is the mother of two young kids, notes her kids are not coach potatoes, adding, "My kids would rather go outdoors and play sports than watch TV anytime. But, if all kids know is sitting around and watching TV and being lazy then it is going to be an uphill battle."

Studies indicate if we can reach kids before age 10, they can learn to love physical activity and sports for life. Laila, who grew up in a boxing family and married a former football player, Curtis Conway, tells me she prefers tennis since there’s little chance to suffer concussions. Plus, the USTA has made the game more accessible, noting, "I love that they made the sport more fun and accessible for children with the foam balls, the shorter racquets and smaller courts."

And, according to the USTA, tennis is an awesome sport for kids for a number of reasons.

Social Benefits of Youth Tennis

  • Tennis is a great way to make new friends.
  • Tennis is fun for all ages, skills and abilities.
  • It offers a great way for parents to spend time with their children.
  • Tennis creates a safe, secure learning environment.
  • Tennis teaches teamwork. Teamwork and communication is one of the most important aspects of playing doubles or being part of school team.

Health Benefits of Youth Tennis

  • Gets kids active!
  • Tennis incorporates aerobic and anaerobic exercise, balance, agility and hand-eye coordination, engaging kids to use a wide range of physical movements.
  • Enhances your coordination and flexibility.
  • Increases bone strength and density by strengthening bones of young players and helping prevent osteoporosis.

Psychological Benefits of Youth Tennis

  • Helps children learn sportsmanship since tennis teaches you to compete fairly with opponents.
  • Tennis provides an opportunity to develop character and to share integrity.
  • Helps develop discipline and a work ethic since you learn to work on your skills in practice.
  • Develop social skills through interaction and communication.
  • Plan and implement strategies and problem solve, since you naturally learn how to anticipate an opponent’s moves and plan your countermoves.

Families can find a local tennis event by visiting www.youthtennis.com

-- Terri MacLeod

Copyright 2014 by NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.