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Parental Involvement in Tennis: How to help children enjoy their experience of tennis

Photographer: Paul Zimmer/Srdjan Stevanovic

As parents you influence your child’s experience in tennis through the actions you display and the opportunities and feedback you provide to your child.

However, sometimes it is difficult to know what feedback to provide to your child, what actions are the “right” actions, and how to best support your child. Below are a few tips to help guide your involvement in your child’s tennis and, hopefully, help you help your child enjoy tennis and perform at his or her best.

The key factor underpinning successful parental involvement: Strive to understand and enhance your child’s tennis journey.

All children are individuals, with different interests, needs and potential. As a parent you play a critical role in helping your child enjoy their tennis journey and achieve their desired outcome. Ensuring you focus on your individual child (rather than comparing them to other children) is important because not all children will achieve the same outcomes or need the same support. It is also important to remember that children’s involvement in tennis can span an extensive period of time and over this time what children want from parents might change.

The following three factors can help you to focus on your child as an individual and support them as they progress in tennis.

1) Shared & Communicated goals:

o Are you and your child striving to achieve the same things? What are your reasons for supporting your child’s involvement in tennis? Do you know what your child is trying to achieve this year? What is your child’s ultimate tennis dream?

o If you and your child are involved in tennis for different reasons it could lead to difficulties or conflict. If you want your child to become a professional but they just want to have fun your involvement might be seen as pressuring or overbearing. On the other hand, if your child wants to become a professional and you just want them to play for fun, you child might perceive a lack of support or understanding.

o Identifying the goals you both have for tennis, and recognising these might change over time, is crucial to successful parental involvement in tennis.

o Talking to your child about their goals on a regular basis will help you to alter your involvement as and when it is required.

2) An Understanding Emotional Climate:

o The “ideal” environment is one in which you consistently display an understanding of your child, of tennis, and the role tennis has in your child’s life.

o The development of this environment depends on 3 factors:

a. Your knowledge and experience:

The more you know about tennis the better you can understand your child’s experience. Take time to learn about the sport - the psychological challenges, the physical demands, the technical and tactical intricacies - so you can appreciate your child’s experiences.

BUT, if you have experience in tennis, be careful not to assume your child’s experience is the same as yours. Each individual may experience the demands of tennis differently and need different support and guidance.

b. The relationship you have with your child’s coach:

The coach plays a critical role in your child’s tennis life and is an extremely valuable resource for you as a parent. Use your coach to develop your understanding of your child’s tennis  - for example, what are the goals for this tournament? What has your child been practicing? What could you hope your child might achieve this year? The better your relationship with your child’s coach, the easier it is for you to learn about the intricacies of your child’s tennis journey.

However, given the extensive demands coaches’ encounter it is important to develop appropriate methods of communication (e.g., e-mail rather than in person during training) and times to communicate (e.g., schedule meetings rather than approaching coaches during training) so meetings can be as effective as possible.

c.  Your ability to keep tennis in perspective:

Tennis is likely to be an extremely important part of your child’s life (and as a result your life). But it is only one part of their life. Getting caught up in winning and losing, the tournaments your child gets into, the teams they are selected for, or being disappointed if your child doesn’t play well can prevent enjoyment and success in tennis.

Focusing on the multiple benefits your child is gaining from playing tennis, identifying the different opportunities they could gain through their involvement, and understanding the varying outcomes that can come from tennis might help you to keep your child’s tennis in perspective.

3) Individual and Flexible Parenting Practices of Competitive Sport:

o Not all children need the same involvement from their parents. What works for one child might not work for another.

o The specific behaviours children need from their parents are both person and sport dependent. So, as a parent it is useful if you strive to display behaviours that are most helpful for your child and applicable to tennis.

o There are two things to focus on:

a. Help children develop the skills to cope with competition:

Tennis is a psychological demanding sport and children need the skills to cope with this. As a parent, the way in which you interact with your child can substantially influence their ability to cope with competition.

To succeed in tennis, children need to be independent thinkers, able to adapt to different situations and tactics; they need to be able accountable for their performance, recognizing when and why they are making mistakes so they can change them; they need to be flexible, understanding that opponents play differently and might employ different tactics; athletes also need to be able to cope with the range of emotions they will experience and use these to their advantage.

As a parent, if you do too much for your child, explain away mistakes, criticise coaching decisions, or underplay the importance of different situations you might be limiting the opportunities for your child to learn and develop as an individual and a player.

b. Address individual child’s needs at tournaments:

Do you know what your child wants from you at tournaments? Some children need a pep-talk before a game, others want to listen to music, while others want to talk about something entirely different. What does your child prefer?

During games some athletes want their parents to provide a lot of encouragement; others want their parents to be silent. Some do not even want their parents to watch. What works for your child?

After games, the feedback athletes’ want is likely to depend on their performance, the game outcome, and their personality. Engage in frequent discussions with your child about what he or she wants from you.

Player recommended parental 'do’s and 'do not’s'

• SUGGEST match tactics IF your child asks for them
• Give your child time and space to be alone
• Recommend and reinforce good pre-match habits BUT do not try and do everything for your child
• Remind your child you will be proud of them whatever the outcome
• Emphasize effort, attitude, and enjoyment
• Keep relaxed and calm before the match
• Talk extensively about the upcoming match
• Repeatedly tell your child to warm-up or get ready for their match
• Encourage your child by saying, “You can/should win” because this makes players nervous
• Place excessive emphasis upon the outcome
• Express any expectations for the match

During Match
• Attend matches to demonstrate your interest
• Be attentive to the match throughout
• Show your support by clapping and cheering (e.g., “come-on”) appropriately during the match
• Have a positive and happy attitude
• Keep a neutral or happy expression throughout the match
• Keep calm
• Be respectful towards your child’s opponent
During Match
• Walk away from the court if your child starts losing
• Embarrass your child by providing over the top support
• Give players angry glares during the match
• Be negative or show emotions (don’t get too tense)
• Change your behavior if the match is close or your child starts losing
• Make negative comments to your child if they start losing (e.g., “You should be winning this”)
• Talk badly about or intimidate your child’s oppoent
• Coach your child or give them signals
• Argue with the referee, other parents, or opponent’s calls
Post Match
• Comment on effort and attitude rather than the result
• Support your child and keep your behaviour consistent whether they won or lost
• Encourage your child for the next match and boost their confidence if they have lost
• Be realistic about the outcome rather than finding excuses for the result
• Give positive feedback first
• Keep feedback is simple and keep it to a minimum after a loss
• Ensure your child has food after a match
• Talk about the match IF your child wants to
• Give your child space after a loss
Post Match
• Have a negative attitude after your child has lost
• Get angry if your child has lost or hit anything out of anger
• Worry if your child has lost
• Embarrass your child by giving them hugs & kisses when they finish
• Point out or continually discuss your child’s mistakes
• Tell players they did something well when they didn’t
• Talk about your child’s opponent cheating to try and make your child feel better (players know if they “should” have won)
• Talk about the match UNTIL your child wants to


Information in this article is drawn from: Knight, Boden, & Holt, (2010). Junior Tennis Players Preferences for Parental Involvement. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22, 377-391



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