September 13, 2016
Parents want the best for their child obviously but sometimes the information to help their child is not available or seems contradictory. Information overload is also a culprit to having a clear idea of what to do to support kids though tennis. Through some extensive research in books such as "Peak," "Talent Code," and "Talent is Overrated" and my own 10+ years of experience of teaching kids on the tennis court and in the classroom, I have been able to come up with some easy to follow advice for parents.
Before We Begin
It's important to have the right mindset with this. Your job is to support your child by providing an environment that allows him or her to feel supported and loved as they pursue tennis. Giving them the freedom to explore tennis how they feel is necessary is very important. Once it starts feeling like a job, they will more than likely quit. I've seen that with a lot of friends who played college but not anymore. They stopped playing tennis because it felt like work. Remember, you don't say I'm going to "work" tennis, right? :) Your reaction to their success and failures is also important. Either way, your love doesn't change. They need to know your love is the same regardless of what happens on the court. By celebrating their failures just as much as their successes allows a growth mindset, which statistically shows a strong correlation (perhaps causation) to a much higher success in school and career. Look up "Growth Mindset" by Carol Dweck for more info. As your child continues to pursue the sport of tennis at a more serious level, your support doesn't change. They do not need a coach, they need someone to love them and support them through their journey. Let's put it this way, if you take away tennis for a punishment and they are not happy about it, you're doing something right!
The Beginning is More About the Fun
There is a wonderful story about the little league baseball team in the Island of Curacaco. The island is very similar demographically as Aruba but the kids of Curacao dominated the little league baseball tournament in the early 2000s, going to the semifinals in 6 of the 8 years and winning it all in 2004 and second in 2005. So how could this be? The reason starts with Andrew Jones, who is from Curacaco, hitting back to back homers in the first game of the world series against the New York Yankees. That instant stardom Andrew received from that island ignited kids into playing baseball. They all pretended to be like Andrew Jones. This initial passion for the sport is essential for getting kids to good at the sport. Motivation for outcomes (aka "winning") will only take a kid so far. If they love the process of getting better at tennis and truly enjoy it at first, this won't be an issue. Start by introducing tennis to your child as a game or if they are young enough, a toy. Their natural curiosity will eventually get them to play. An important part of this is finding a tennis instructor that makes it fun. Yes, they should learn the fundamentals of the game but it's so important to make the sport fun and exciting for the kids. The instructor needs to be enthusiastic and encouraging to their excitement for tennis.
Once your child is "all in" for tennis, it is important for them to learn the correct technique. Making sure your child's instructor can teach correct form is essential to their development. Also, placing your kids into an environment that has equal minded competitive players will help in their development. To emphasize how important instruction is in your child's learning, think about this statistic: The majority of baseball and hockey players are born at a certain month of the year. Why? They are the oldest in their age group, giving them a physical advantage to their peers. This translates into coaches gravitating towards those older kids, giving them better instruction and attention. This shows that it's not the talent that makes or breaks a kid's chance of getting good at a sport but the instruction.
Playing Tennis With Your Child
ost kids do not want to be coached by their parents but many parents want to hit with their kid. The tip I give parents of kids I work with is to have the kid tell the parents what they learned in the lesson with me and then have them run the show for their hitting session with mom or dad. This allows the kid to feel empowered in their own practice and their isn't a conflict of interest as you can simply say, "what did you coach tell you to work on?" This takes you out of the equation on telling your child to practice a certain way. This will allow kids to practice deliberately towards certain skills which will make them improve substantially faster than just going out to hit.
Deliberate Practice vs. Just Practice
The Spartak Tennis Club in Moscow Russia is a one court facility that has trained more top 20 women in the world than all the courts combined in the United States. Why? Deliberate practice. Students of the club are required to shadow swing perfect form before they are allowed to hit. This deliberate practice is very difficult and tedious to do but the results speak for themselves. This is the dedication towards excellence that takes a lot of concentration and motivation to stay focused on always improving.
Your Kid Isn't Going Pro
ith the mindset that tennis will teach your child important life lessons rather than bring them millions of dollars in tennis winnings and endorsements, you can have the right conversations with your child that will develop them into a great human being rather than just a great tennis player. Try to put their interests above yours and realize you are there to support rather than tell the child their goals and aspirations. For more information on helping your child improve at tennis, read the books mentioned in this blog or feel free to contact me for specific questions.