by Dr. Patrick J. Cohn
Tennis parents have a big impact on their young tennis players mental health. A healthy and successful experience in tournament tennis depends on tennis parents’ ability to instill confidence and positive mental game skills in young athletes. In this article, I discuss 8 tips for tennis parents to make tennis a successful and fun experience for junior tennis players.Junior tennis and youth sports are huge in today’s society. Coaches and parents have a tremendous impact on how children will engage in sports. I get several emails a month from concerned sports parents asking me how they should help their child superstar win at and enjoy sports.When working with young athletes, I often work with the parents themselves so parents can reinforce the concepts I teach to athletes in our mental game coaching sessions. Below are eight sports psychology guidelines for tennis parents to adopt with youth athletes.8 Tennis Psychology Guidelines for Parents of Juniors:
1. Tennis should be fun for kids. Treat tennis as a game-It’s not a business for kids. Parents can get so wrapped up in their child’s ranking, the next tournament or the possibility for a college scholarship. With all the money in professional sports today, it is hard for parents to understand that it’s just good fun for most tennis players. The primary goal should be to have fun and enjoy the healthy competition.
2. Your own agenda is not your child’s. Young tennis athletes compete for many reasons. They enjoy the competition, like the social aspect, engage with being part of a team, and enjoy the challenge of setting goals. You might have a different agenda than your child and you need to recognize that tennis is your child’s sport, not yours. Young tennis athletes need to compete for their own reasons, not to satisfy a parent.
3. Emphasize a mental focus on the process of playing one point at a time instead of results, scores, or trophies. We live in a society that focuses on results and winning, but winning comes from working the process and enjoying the ride. Teach your child to focus on the process of the challenge of playing one shot at a time instead of the number of wins or trophies.
4. You are a role model for your child athlete. As such, you should model composure and poise courtside. When you’re watching matches, your child mimics your behavior as well as other role models. You become a role model in how you react to a close match or the questionable behavior of a competitor. Stay calm, composed, and in control during matches so your tennis superstar can mimic those positive behaviors.
5. Refrain from match-time coaching. During tournaments, it’s time to just let your kids play. Most junior tennis tournaments do not allow parents to coach their young athletes anyway. All the practice should be set aside because this is the time that athletes need trust in the training and react on the court. “Just do it” as the saying goes. Too much coaching (or over-coaching) can lead to mistakes and cautious performance (called paralysis by over analysis in my work). Save the coaching for practice and use encouragement at matches instead.
6. Help your tennis players to detach self-esteem from achievement. Too many athletes I work with base their self-worth on their performance or the outcome of the match. Help your child understand that they are a person FIRST who happens to be an athlete instead of an athlete who happens to be a person. Success or number of wins should not determine a person’s self-esteem. Help your child find other activities or roles that are different from sport, such as music, theater or being a student or sibling.
7. Ask your child athlete the right questions. Asking the right questions after matches will tell your child what you think is important in tennis. If you ask, “Did you win?” your child will think winning is important. If you ask, “Did you have fun?” he or she will assume having fun is important.
8. Pledge the: P.A.Y.S. Parent’s Code of Ethics. PAYS (Parents Association for Youth Sports) provides a parental handbook and code of ethics that adults must sign before each competitive season. This is a great tool to guide tennis parents in their interaction with young athletes.