What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Avoid the knockouts

The following article is the fourth in the series by Paul K. Ainsworth, a Tennis Parent in the UK (click here to go to his blog) and author of six education books who has given me permission to reprint the series here. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

Do you ever wonder what is it that makes children stop competing in tennis? You might look around at tournament fields in the second year of under 12’s or in under 14s and think where are all those children who used to enter competitions. You might be the parent of a younger child who is being asked to play up in AEGON under 12s or 14s and again wonder were have the older players all gone.

There are many reasons why children stop competing; different children will have stopped for a range of reasons. I think one of the key reasons is having played too many tight matches as eventually children can just lose the resilience.

Last week one of the major sporting events of the year was the World Heavy weight title fight between the young prince, Anthony Joshua, and the aging lion, Wladimir Klitschko. We all know the result, that Joshua stopped Klitschko in round 11 with a barrage of blows. However, what was most surprising was how competitive Klitschko was at the age of 41.

I think the key to this was that whilst Klitschko has fought 64 times and lost five times, he has not been in too many ‘wars’, fights where the two combatants had fought toe to toe. He has also been well managed in that his fights have been spread out over the years.

The result of this careful management is that Klitschko has not lost his resilience and as we saw last Saturday he could give an excellent account of himself against a much younger man.

In the world of junior tennis, I think as parents we have to try and guard our children from too many very tight losses. These are the equivalent of the toe to toe slug fests. I think the match a child loses 4-0, 4-1 does not have a massive impact on the child. Instead those two-hour matches with the result of 5-4,3-5, 12-10, those are the ones that really affect your child and too many can make them not want to compete.

So if your child is the type of player who has lots of tight matches, perhaps the advice is not to play as many competitions as the child who either wins or loses easily does. It’s the not the number of matches they play, instead it’s the number of wars they have, which really have the long-term impact on a child.

What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Building a growth mindset


The following article is the third in the series by Paul K. Ainsworth, a Tennis Parent in the UK
(click here to go to his blog) and author of six education books who has given me permission to reprint the series here. Click here to follow him on Twitter.Media preview

Developing a growth a mindset in our children is an aim for many parents. Children with a growth mindset will be more able to cope with setbacks and when things go wrong they are less likely to lose focus. A child with a growth mindset may even find losses motivating and give them a fresh impetus to practice an element of their game. A child with a very strong growth mindset will find success in their learning or their training. So rather than winning a match it is what they have improved on that is the most important driver. (A key tenet of ‘The inner game of tennis’)

growth-mindset-wordallIf we know what mindsets are and we can recognise where our children are on the mindset continuum, then one of our challenges is to consider what we can do to develop a growth mindset in our child. However it is important before we begin that we must never criticise our child for showing a fixed mindset. If our child has played a match and is displaying fixed mindset language we should only encourage, however hard that may be. If we think about our own lives, one negative comment can often be worth 50 positive ones.

You can ask your child questions to try and help develop their growth mindset.

General QuestionsTennis Questions
What did you today that made you think hard?What did you practice today that made you think or work hard?
What happened today that made you keep going on?When you were practising your kick serve what made you keep trying?
What strategy are you going to try now?When you next practice what do you want to work on?
What will you do to challenge yourself today?What do you want to practice or work on today?
What will you do to solve this problem?In this match what are you going to try? What else could you try?

How you talk to and praise your child can also move your child towards either a fixed mindset. Think about what you are saying and whether unintentionally your comments suggest that your child has permanent traits and you are judging them rather than giving the message that they are developing themselves and you are interested in their development.


When you praise them, try not to praise them for their intelligence or their talent. Its very easy to say when they’ve done a piece of homework, you’re really clever or when they’ve won a tennis match, you’re great player. We want to build their confidence up but actually at the same time we are reinforcing a fixed mindset, that talent and intelligence are predetermined. Instead what we need to try and praise is their strategies, their efforts or their choices.

praise-the-effort-not-the-ability-growth-mindset-kindergartenchaos-com_-1024x1024Growth mindset praise could sound like this:

  • You worked really hard today.
  • I could really see what you’ve been practicing on in that match.
  • I liked it when you got into a long rally and kept going.
  • I was impressed that you kept going for your winners.
  • I’m really proud of you for trying so hard.
  • You deserved to win because of all your practice and how hard you’ve been working.

The final aspect of developing a growth mindset is making use of the power of ‘yet’. If you are really working towards a growth mindset, you are saying that if you keep working you will keep improving. When your child says they can’t do something, you turn it around with yet.


Child saysYou reply
I can’t hit a backhand volleyYou’re not making your backhand volleys yet.
I’ve never won a competition.You’ve not won a competition yet.
I’ll never be able kick serve.You’re not hitting your kick serves yet

I hope these three blogs have you given you some food for thought and some ideas on how you can develop a growth mindset in your child. If you want to find out more; I’d suggest reading ‘Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential’ by Carol S. Dweck.

Finally I am not saying that Mindsets have all the answers nor is it an easy process to follow but I do believe it is another useful set of ideas for you to use as a parent and a tennis parent.

What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Identifying mindsets


The following article is the second in the series by Paul K. Ainsworth, a Tennis Parent in the UK
(click here to go to his blog) and author of six education books who has given me permission to reprint the series here. Click here to follow him on Twitter.Media preview

In my last blog, I introduced the idea of mindsets and explained the difference between having a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. You have probably been thinking about whether your child (or even you) displays a fixed or a growth mindset.

I believe it is little more complicated than always having one or the other. Firstly there is a continuum between the two, so two people may have a growth mindset but one is more secure in this than the other. Secondly I think someone’s mindsets can change in different areas. For example you might say that someone can either draw or they can’t, hence a fixed mindset. Yet at the same time you may say that with revision for Maths someone can improve their score or grade, hence growth mindset.


This blog looks at how you can identify whether your child displays a fixed or growth mindset for their tennis. You could easily adjust the identifying questions for different skills and activities.

Fixed Mindsets

Last time we considered that people with fixed mindsets believe that ability is all about talent. If a child has a fixed mindset and believes they are successful because they are talented, they will not strive for more challenging practices or higher-level tournament. If they are winning they may became smug and too comfortable in their ability to succeed. If they think that another child is better than them or beats them, they will consider that their opponent will always be better than them. In addition if they lose a match they think they should win or if they are struggling to develop a skills, their confidence will plummet and they can become very dispirited.

If your child tends towards having a fixed mindset they may say some of the following statements:

  • I’ll beat him/her because I’m better than them.
  • He/She is no good because their rating is…
  • I don’t need to warm up for this match.
  • I always hit my backhand topspin out.
  • I’ll never be able to hit a kick service.
  • I’ll never beat him.
  • I can’t believe he/she beat me because I’m miles better.
  • How did I lose that!
  • I can’t do it.
  • I don’t want to play them as they always win.
  • I’m rubbish!

Growth Mindset

A child who tends towards the growth mindset continuum will believe that they can get constantly better. They will look at players who are beating them and will consider that is the practice they are doing. They will want to complete certain drills so they can improve their skill. They may make the some of the following comments:

  • I worked really hard in practice today and I’m improving.
  • I’d like to play in some higher levels tournaments and have tougher matches.
  • I will be able to beat them; I just need to improve my second serve.
  • They must have practiced loads to get that good.
  • Can I practice…?
  • It worked hitting it to their backhand, I’ll try that again.
  • Can you tell me what I need to improve on?
  • Why do you think I lost?
  • I can’t do it…yet!

In my next blog, I’ll consider what you can say to help develop a growth mindset and also what to avoid saying to stop you inadvertently developing a fixed mindset in your child.

What I’ve Learnt From Junior Tennis: Growth & Fixed Mindsets


The following article is the first in a series by Paul K. Ainsworth, a Tennis Parent in the UK
(click here to go to his blog) and author of six education books who has given me permission to reprint the series here. Click here to follow him on Twitter.Media preview

Do you ever wonder what is it that makes some children and young people really want to practice a skill, whether its drawing or a certain tennis shot? When you are looking at your child train or play in a match, what attitude do they display? Do they believe that with practice that they will improve, they will learn certain shots or are they convinced that they are just better than some children and that other children are better than them? If so why do they think these things?

Well two years ago I read a book, which shed some light on this. The book really stayed with me. It was also one being read throughout the education world at the time but interestingly has not necessarily become a go to read in the world of sport. The book is “Mindset” by Carol Dweck.

When I read the book I was providing intensive support to three schools specifically in the final push towards GCSE Maths. I was fascinated by the different approach the students took to their learning. Every student I worked with was positive about their studies; they enjoyed working with me and wanted to gain a good grade. Yet some were prepared to practice and others just could not bring themselves to do it irrespective of the grade they were at.

fixed-mindset-cartoonInstead I felt it was their Mindset that made this difference. Carol Dweck said there were two mindsets, I would suggest on a continuum. At one end is the fixed mindset. These are the students who in their hearts believe that basic qualities are fixed traits, which cannot really be changed. Mathematical skill is something you are born with; it cannot be altered. These children believed that talent was key to a student’s success. One group told me about a student who scored 197 out of 200 in their Maths GCSE mock. “He must be well clever’ they said and began to discussion as to what it must be like to be that clever. In tennis terms this is the child who believes they are better than one player but another is better than them. If they lose to the first child they will be beside themselves. Before they go on court with the second they will have lost.

growth-mindsetAt the other end of the mindset continuum is the growth mindset. This is the belief that all qualities can be improved. Effort and resilience are the keys to success. These are the students who are prepared to put in the high levels of work; these are the students who completed the practice papers. My reply about the maths student was, ‘no he’s not born really clever, instead he’s put loads of effort in, and he’s tried really hard.’ I can remember the children looked at me curiously and then one of them said, ‘yeah he works for 4 hours a night, every night’ the discussion moved on as to why they couldn’t do that as they would have no social life.

I suggested that 4 hours were not necessarily required; if they had spend 20minutes a night on Maths since the start of year 10 every one of them would now be on a grade B. A few of the students then said how they wished they could start year 10 again. I asked them about doing 20minures a night from now? Sadly this seed still fell on stony ground as they did not truly believe that practice would make much difference to their grade. In tennis terms the child with the growth mindset, will believe that they can practice and will improve and will also recognise that another child can improve too.

With our children whether it is in tennis, sport or the academic world, we need to be trying to develop a growth mindset so they believe that there is no limit to performance if you are prepared to practice enough. In my next blog, I’ll look at how you can identify your child’s mindset and then in my third blog on this topic, I’ll look at practical strategies you can use to develop a growth mindset in your children including the power of ‘yet’!

Love of the Game

Image courtesy of tennisfixation.com
Image courtesy of tennisfixation.com

Today’s post was written by Coach Ryan Segelke (yes, I’m sure this time!) of High Altitude Tennis. Enjoy!

This month’s article is a little different from my previous ones in that I am not really going to talk about fitness techniques, exercises or best practices.  I am going to talk a little bit about what I have seen in my own personal experience that truly separates the most successful athletes in the world from the rest of the pack.

Throughout my training career, I have had the opportunity to train many National and International level athletes in tennis, swimming and various other sports.  These include a 6’1” Chinese female tennis player that could do multiple sets of step-ups with a 50-pound dumbbells in each hand with ease, a Big 10 Freshman of the Year and contributing members of teams that have won 7 NCAA Titles as of the writing of this article.  I have also had a lot of athletes that may have been more talented physically or maybe were one of the premier athletes in the country at a young age that never reached their full potential.  Why not?

All of these athletes were obviously gifted with superior physical abilities that set them apart, but what was really the determining factor in their success was their passion for their sport.  If they truly loved their sport, their work ethics and competitiveness were off the chart and fueled by this passion.  It is important to note, developing this passion for tennis (or any sport) requires time and is different for every one.  Some have the passion at 10 years old, some do not truly begin to love something until years down the road.  It all depends on the student.

As many of you know, the #1 player in Peru, Marcos, just finished up his training block at High Altitude Tennis on Saturday to head back to Peru for his school year. One thing about Marcos that stands out is that he truly has a love for the game of tennis. When I took Marcos and two of our Full Time Students to a tournament a couple weekends ago, Marcos was so excited during the car ride up there, he could not contain himself: he was dancing, clapping and singing (shouting) along with every pop song on the radio.  There was nothing else he would rather be doing than get out on court and compete – this will make Marcos successful in the coming years as he gets closer to his goal of attending and playing for an American college.

My advice to you is this: come to practice everyday, truly listen to what is being taught to you, smile and give 100% in every drill, exercise, rep and set.  If you do that over a period of time, you will begin to love the daily grind and begin to truly enjoy what you are doing.  The most successful people in every category have a love for what they do and if you can develop this same love for tennis, you will be successful.


Neurology & Past Belief Systems in Sports

Photo courtesy of mdneuroeyeandear.com
Photo courtesy of mdneuroeyeandear.com

Today’s Guest Post is by Frank Giampaolo. He is a 30 year sports education veteran, author, popular convention speaker and instructional writer for national and international publications. Frank is the best-selling author of Championship Tennis (Human Kinetics Publishing), The Tennis Parent’s Bible and The Mental Emotional Workbook Series. He will make a return appearance on the ParentingAces Radio Show later this month.

You may be asking yourself, what does neurology (central nervous system) have to do with athletic performance? The answer is everything.  Thinking, seeing, breathing, moving, sleeping…everything the human body does is reliant on their central nervous system. It is the system of the body that receives and processes all information from all parts of the body. It is arguably the most important system of the body.  The following collection of questions addresses common athletic development challenges.

Q: Why is it hard for some athletes to try new things & new ways of thinking?

A: A person’s upbringing forms their belief systems. Humans naturally protect their existing beliefs. When confronted by different ideas or opinions a chemical reaction in the brain takes place. The new idea is then viewed as a threat, because it hasn’t been analyzed yet, so minimizing and avoiding it is often normal.

When new techniques are presented they are often uncomfortable simply because they’re different. The new method clashes with the old comfortable method so the new method is disregarded as wrong. Sometimes the new way is actually the right way…but it feels wrong to the athlete.

Q: After a loss, why do smart coaches ask their athletes to go back to the event/site to watch other athletes still in the event?

A: The brain mirrors events it recognizes.  Viewing the final rounds creates a mental and emotional picture for the athlete to absorb and become comfortable with…

It is very common for up and coming athletes to experience complete performance meltdowns in the final rounds of their first big tournaments. Why? The finals are an unknown entity.  Unfortunately, most athletes choose to leave the site after a loss and not stay to watch the final rounds.

The more the athlete physically, mentally or emotionally gets dialed into a situation, the less uncomfortable the situation becomes and the more comfortable the athlete becomes performing in the manner in which they have trained- regardless of the round.

Q: Why do smart coaches inject humor while training for upcoming athletic events, which is often perceived as a very stressful situation?

A: Neurological studies prove that laughter helps relax and calm nerves.  Laughter decreases stress hormones and triggers endorphins – the body’s natural feel good chemicals.  Adding humor to stressful events will help the athlete enjoy the battle! Playing in the zone demands a calm and stress free preparation phase. Laughing is also a terrific ab workout. Hello six pack!

Q: Why is repetition so important in developing athletic royalty?

A: Physical repetition is essentially motor programming. Developing a motor program begins with a thought, which is messaged through the nervous system, down the spinal cord and into the muscular system. The more we pre-set the protocols (pre-set plans)… the easier it is to execute the proper protocol during match play.

Cognitive processing skills and emotional responses are neurological programs that also need to be organized, developed and constantly nurtured.  It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it, imagining it or observing it, you are developing a pathway. Neurological-connections are strengthened by repetition.

Q: How can a coach assist a perfectionist who is his/her worst enemy?

A: First, I suggest the coach share with the player his/her personality profile.  This should provide the player, parent and coach with a better understanding of the player’s preferred learning style.

Understanding that neurology studies show that the human brain undergoes tremendous pruning of the neurons and myelination (which translates to growth) throughout adolescence. Scientists agree that the human brain doesn’t reach full maturity until the early 20’s. Performing perfect 100% of the time is an illusion.

Second, in my opinion, the age old motto of trying 110% in competition is dead wrong. Athletes who constantly attempt to force perfection over press and play sloppy. Protectionist should simply be asked to aim for an A- grade versus an A+ grade. The athlete should try 90% instead of 110% and learn to accept a few minor errors along the way to victory.

Third, ask the player to “Shoot for an excellent performance versus a perfect performance.” Perfectionists are so worried and stressed about being perfect that it often stunts the actual growth they seek, and leads to misery for everyone around them.
The coach should encourage their athlete to seek the courage to let go of unrealistic and damaging beliefs like athletic perfectionism and enjoy the journey. Visualize Kobe Bryant smiling …enjoying his performance as he dominates the NBA.

W with an Asterisk


I don’t usually write about my own experiences on the tennis court. They’re usually not all that interesting or useful for the readers of ParentingAces. However, today’s match is an exception.

Right now, I’m playing on two USTA 4.5 women’s teams, one on Thursdays and one on Saturdays. I typically play singles on both teams.

For today’s match, I really had to gear myself up to play. It’s been pretty chilly here in Atlanta for the past week or so, and I’m not a fan of the lower temperatures. But, I bundled myself up and headed to my match which was being held at a local public park alongside several other team matches and a junior tournament.

My opponent was much younger than me, probably in her late 20s or early 30s. During our warmup, I could tell she was pretty solid. She was a lefty, like me, but – unlike me – had the advantages of a lefty like a great serve and massive topspin. I definitely had my work cut out for me.

My opponent, Holly, came on like gangbusters right away. I was barely touching her serves, and she was killing me on her serve returns, pushing me way behind the baseline. She quickly went up 4-0. Okay, this was going to be one of those humiliating experiences where I would have to apologize at the end of the match for not giving her better competition.

But, then, something happened. I was serving down 2-5, up 30-love, when we suddenly heard yelling from several courts away. Word was making its way down the bank of courts asking if there was a doctor or nurse on site. My opponent put down her racquet and made her way over to a crowd of people about 8 courts away from where we were playing. The tennis had come to a halt on all the nearby courts as we tried to figure out what was going on. My teammates who were there waiting to play kept trying to see what was happening, but all they could see was Holly giving chest compressions to someone on the ground. About 10 minutes later, we heard sirens as a firetruck, ambulance, and EMT truck arrived on the scene. Another 10 minutes passed before Holly returned to our court.

It turns out that a man playing doubles had run for a short ball, lost his footing, and face-planted on the court. He immediately went into seizures then his heart stopped beating. Holly gave him CPR while someone else ran for the AED inside the building. Holly then hooked him up to the defibrillator, gave him one round of shocks, and his heart started beating again, thankfully. The paramedics put him on a stretcher and carried him up to the ambulance. They left about 5 minutes later.

I asked Holly if she was okay. She said she had no idea what the score was but that, yes, she was fine to continue playing. Turns out, she’s a nursing student studying to work in the emergency room. How lucky for that man on Court 18!

So, we resumed our match with me serving up 30-love. I won that game and the next 4 to take the first set 7-5. Holly just wasn’t the same player she had been prior to the emergency.

We took a very short break then started the second set. I quickly went up 3-0. Yes, I was playing well, but Holly was missing. A lot. I wound up taking that set, too, 6-2. The match was over, and I had won.

But, it was a hollow victory. I mean, how can you feel good about a win when the person you beat just saved a man’s life? If we hadn’t had to stop play with Holly up 5-2 in that first set, I’m pretty sure the outcome would’ve been very different. Yes, I started playing better, but I was playing a totally transformed opponent, one whose mind had to have been somewhere other than on the fuzzy yellow ball we were batting around. She had come to the rescue of a stranger in dire need. She had remained calm, administered the care he needed, and stayed with him until the paramedics arrived. She had done the things she was training to do, and they had worked. Beautifully. The man was alive and would likely be back on the tennis court in a matter of days or weeks because of Holly. Wow.

So, yes, I got the W today. But so did Holly. And her W counts for way more than mine.