Often, parents have the best of intentions when they give their kids pep talks. They might say something like, “You’ve beaten this opponent before!” Or, “I want you to win this match in two sets.” Or, they might say, “Remember how to use your footwork, right? Make sure your racquet face is in the right position….”
Based on what I know about tennis and your mind game, pre-match pep talks like this – too much coaching from tennis parents – might not help tennis players perform their best in matches
Telling your young athletes they could win the match—or achieve some other target—often imposes expectations on them. Young players can take on these expectations as their own very quickly. When your kids adopt your expectations, they might feel pressure and bad about themselves if they don’t meet them. For examples, they also might even feel like they let you down.
Some tennis players go as far with their mind game to call themselves names (“I’m a terrible player”) or they might get frustrated or lose confidence (“I’m never going to be able to win a point at the net!”) Either way, you’ve inadvertently sparked your child’s high expectations with the potential to sink his confidence—when you probably intended to build it up!
When you give your young tennis players very specific and technical instructions before a match, you’re likely filling their heads with extra details they don’t need to be thinking about at that moment.
If you tell kids how to move to the ball, how their feet should be positioned, where their racquet face should be and where they should hit the ball, it’s too much information and too technical! If their heads are full of technical instructions, they’ll likely freeze up and play more tentatively.
Instead, with a good tennis mind game, kids must feel confident enough to play intuitively and freely based on their practice. Less information is often better before a match. Athletes must be free to react in a match situation and trust what they have learned in practice. That way, they’ll take risks, play freely and feel more confident.
Try to avoid those pre-match pep-talks or parental coaching sessions. What’s the most important thing you can tell your tennis player before a match? “Have fun out there!”
Award winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Sports Psychology for Tennis expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book: “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes.”