Tennis is an individual sport. This is one of the reasons this game is so great. You own your own game, you are responsible for your wins and losses and this is very rewarding for those who have made sacrifices for their game. It is also the reason that losses are so hard to take in tennis. In a one-on-one sport there is no second place and no teammates to lean on, only a winner and a loser. Teaching your junior players how to approach competition in tennis is very important, not only to how they approach competition in the future but how they deal with trials and tribulations before, after and during the event.
The biggest influence in a young players life is unquestionably the parents. Parents need to understand the pressure and stress that competition places on developing players and while I am a big believer in playing as many matches and tournaments as possible during junior years (to promote tournament toughness), approaching competition with the right mindset is most important. Parents need to support their children in a positive manner no matter what the result of a match is. Being eternally positive towards your players will give them the hope and motivation needed to pursue their competitive goals. Parents who make excuses for their players losses are not helping them develop as independent players. Taking the responsibility away from the player creates soft competitors that look for outside distractors when things get tough.
Good tennis parents and coaches help condition emotional toughness in a variety of ways. They prepare their players for the matches ahead, with practice, nutrition and a mindset that to win the match they must ‘play well’. Your players goals should always be about performance and not outcome! Tennis players are able to control how they play, but not always the outcome of the match (We all have our let cord or cheat stories). This is something that young players need to understand. It is ok, to play well and still lose the match, progress is still made. Making excuses, poor attitude, bad behavior or lack of effort should always been addressed immediately after the match, but the focus for junior players should always be on the performance. This is an area that coaches and parents alike can improve, to help progress their players they need to give them more responsibility.
I’ve learned in my experiences as a competitor to deal with match stress and pressure more logically than emotionally. Think of a tennis match more like a chess game or math problem than the roller coaster that it can be. Players who regularly pump their fist and scream “C’mon” are commonly, either trying to externally motivate and encourage themselves, or project their toughness on the outside instead of staying mentally tough on the inside.
Taking some of the emotion out of the match can actually be good for a players game in settling their nerves and mind, allowing them to figure out and execute a strategic game plan or counter their opponents. Players need to evolve the ability to be level headed under pressure to perform at their peak, rather than folding under pressure.
What you can do as a Parent/Coach
- Let your players know in a positive light whether or not they did a good job of controlling their emotions during a match.
- Let them know if they did a good job recognizing their opponents strategy and countering with a game plan.
- Let them know what they did well, and what they need to put more work into to improve.
- Listen to their post match analysis and let them rate their performance against their expectation for that performance
The most important thing parents and coaches can do to allow their children and students to be successful in tennis is to help them realize that developing your tennis is a process and a journey and not a destination. Even the best players in the world are constantly evolving their games to stay on top. Seeing the bigger picture for your players will not only help them achieve their goals faster but more importantly help them to become independent athletes and great competitors.
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