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Monday, November 5, 2012

Five Things a Tennis Parent Can Do Immediately to Help Their Child Play Well

Tennis parents, there are at least five ways you can help your child play better tennis in matches, immediately. And, it does not involve hitting balls with them, providing extra instruction, having them lift weights, run sprints, or do agility training.

It does involve you regulating your behavior in a way so that your parent performance is better. What, parent performance? That is correct. You have a role to perform and when you perform it effectively it helps your child relax, have fun, and play like they do in practice.

So, on to five ways to enhance your tennis parent performance.

5. Avoid getting involved in on-court disagreements if possible. You know the situation. Your child's opponent is making dubious line calls. You are sure she is cheating. You want to say something. However, remember parents become furious when adults yell at or confront their children. It is the paternal/maternal instinct to react aggressively. Even if you just plain suggest that their child is cheating and go talk to that parent you may get into trouble. Instead teach your child how to deal with cheating.

How to Play Great Tennis when Your Opponent is Cheating

Thus, when the situation arises instead of being shocked, surprised, and confused your child will have a plan, execute it, and refocus on playing tennis.

4. Avoid boosting your child's confidence pre-match by telling her she will win. Instead tell her she will play well and remind her of the reasons why. She has been working hard in practice. Her backhand is improved. I know some will disagree with me on this, but here is the rationale. When you tell your child prior to the match that she will win or that she is better than her opponent what happens when she is still on serve late in the first set? Or, down an early break? Often panic. The child has been told she is better and feels no margin for error. Now she has to win to live up to the expectation. Focus on playing good tennis and let the outcome happen as it will.

3. Avoid comparisons and stop talking about the draw. Trust me players dislike comparisons to other players. Even if it is to help them learn an important lesson. And, especially prior to and right after matches. In contrast focus your child on his strengths and his game plan. This is what he controls.

Furthermore, stop talking about the draw whether it is to project who they will face later in the draw or the degree of difficulty in the draw. As a sport psychology consultant I want the player engaged in the moment. This is when he will have his best performances. If you are pulling him out of the moment to talk about the past or future it probably is just creating distraction and stress. Instead, help draw him in to the moment focusing again on what he controls.

2. Avoid nagging and allowing your nerves to stress the player. This is another parenting behavior that eats at a player's nerves. Think about the mindset a player wants to achieve prior to the match; relaxed, calm, confident, ready and sure of the plan. When you ask whether or not she has her shoes or enough water it only serves to irritate your child. Instead, talk to your child about what they like to talk about before the match, and if they want to talk at all. I like to have the players I work with visualize their performance prior to the match while listening to music so they are going to need their space to fully prepare for the match.

Just so we are on the same page, this is not a free pass for a player to be mean to his parents. Player and parent(s) need to understand the others' needs and idiosyncrasies and at the same time be flexible.

Finally, if you are concerned your child will not be prepared without some nagging implement a checklist. List all of the things that your child will need in his bag and the night before the match have him check off that everything is ready. This will make you feel confident that he has what he needs, and your son will not have to feel nagged at prior to the match.

This Bag Checklist and other great resources can be found in the USTA Mental Skills and Drills Handbook.

1. Avoid emotional reactions in the stands. I list this number one because players are highly influenced by their parents in the stands. Supportive, calm, composed parents in the stands can have a calming effect on the player in pressure moments. Fidgety, nervous, angry, distracting parents can distract the player and be embarrassing. In these cases the parent becomes another obstacle to hurdle. Do your best to stay relaxed and supportive in the stands even if things are not going well. If you think about your role as the person who helps keep them even keel then it will be easier to stay calm in pressure situations.

To improve your performance as a tennis parent you should do these five things immediately. Your child will appreciate it and you may just help them perform better in their next match.

Want to take a full online course on being a Parent Performer? Contact Mental Training, Inc. to enroll in the Parent Mental Trainer written by myself and the staff at the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.


  1. Useful information shared. I am very happy to read this article. Thanks for giving us nice info. Fantastic walk through. I appreciate this post.
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  2. Avoiding comparisons is definitely one of the keys. Some well-meaning parents make the mistake of comparing their child to another player or an older sibling who has greater abilities but that's not really a good idea. It discourages more than encourages a future player.

  3. Stupid advice. If I'm paying the bills I will tell them great shot when they hit it in the net. Laugh at them when they hit a pancake serve in the net. Advice like this author gives is why he is a coach and not a pro. I treat my employees the same way!

    1. "If I'm paying the bills I will tell them great shot when they hit it in the net. Laugh at them when they hit a pancake serve in the net." Huh?

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