Tennis is a wonderful sport that can be played throughout life, a way to get in exercise as well as build stamina and mental toughness. These are great skills to foster in your child and playing tennis is a fun way to achieve them! Your child may initially be interested in learning how to play tennis but may progress to wanting to play competitively. Many parents may find themselves feeling supportive of these goals but wondering how to provide the right kind of support. Here are some tips to get you started!
1.Increase Your Knowledge If you are not a tennis player, take the time to learn about the game, its rules, terminology, and etiquette. Tennis has many physical and psychological demands, various technical strategies, and many tactics; knowing about them can help you relate to your child’s experience. On the other hand, if you are an experienced tennis player than try to understand that the aspects of the game that were the easiest for you to learn or parts that were the most challenging may be different from your child.
2. Develop a Good Relationship with your Child’s Coach Your child’s tennis coach will have a role in their life if they are a competitive tennis player, and is also a valuable resource for you. The coach can fill you in on what your child has been practicing or what their goals are for a tournament. Try not to approach the coach during training and instead email your questions or set up a meeting time.
3. Communicate your Tennis Goals If your child just wants to play tennis for fun, that is okay! Pressuring them otherwise is overbearing and stressful. Your child’s tennis goals may change over time so it is important to have a shared understanding and communication of what role they want tennis to play in their life. Tennis helps build many valuable skills but it is only one part of your child’s life and they should communicate how large a role that is. Keep tennis fun for your child, they will not want to play if they do not enjoy themselves.
4. Help Your Child Develop Mental Toughness Tennis requires flexibility, quick and independent thinking, recognizing mistakes and changing to avoid further mistakes. Constant decision-making is draining and can wear down a player. Children will also experience a wide range of emotions and need to build their ability to handle this range of feelings. Parents can support their children by encouraging them to hold themselves accountable for their tennis game. Don’t say, “oh well if it wasn’t windy you would have made that shot” or “Your coach didn’t prepare you well enough for that match”. It is natural to want to smooth hurt feelings and boost your child up, but phrases like these only hurt, in tennis and in life in general. This limits your child’s ability to learn and improve, why would they need to change anything if only the wind or coach was in the way of them succeeding. Questions like, “what were you proud of today?” and “what is a way you could improve?” are good starting points.
5. Provide a Supportive Emotional Environment Tennis is unique from many other sports in that your child will be out on the court alone, facing an opponent without the support of a team behind them. There are many wonderful skills to be gained from this, such as getting over stage fright, the ability to perform under pressure, and how to be a gracious loser. Teach your child how to lose like a winner and that there is much to be learned from a loss. Loss is inevitable and it is a valuable life skill to learn this.