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

yet-butterfly

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 Questions Tennis 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.

mindsets-one-question-wrong

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.

yet-butterfly

Child says You reply
I can’t hit a backhand volley You’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.