Is Your Child Playing Tennis The Way You Want?

Special thanks to Elly Prior from for this guest article!

Are you concerned about your child's behaviour and/or performance in tennis - whether during tennis lessons or at tennis matches?

tennis kid

Here are some of the most common reasons why you may feel anxious/ worried or downright 'stressed out'.

You may perceive your son or daughter:

  • generally 'not behaving' as you would like him/her to
  • not paying enough attention to the tennis coach
  • 'playing about' and not focusing on playing tennis
  • generally not being competive enough
  • not winning important or 'easy' games
  • not confident enough when playing tennis
  • not coping with the pressure of playing tennis at a high level
  • tired, stressed and 'fed up' with tennis

In addition you may feel that your child's tennis coach is not dealing with your son or daughter as you would wish - too harsh or too soft.

The Tennis Coach's Concerns

You can be sure though that your tennis coach is concerned when he/she hears such expressions as:

  • How could you lose to him / her?
  • Why did you make so many double faults?
  • You shouldn't miss such easy balls!

Yet, he/she wants the same for your child as you do: a great tennis experience whilst developing the child into the best tennis player he or she is capable of.

He or she will be teaching your son/daughter: teamwork, 'stickability', hard work and determination.

As well as practising tennis skills, your child will also learn how to fail, pick him/herself up and 'move on' without fuss.

You Or Your Child?

You may have noticed that the concerns I mentioned rougly fall into two categories.  One category consists mainly about your concerns for the well-being of your youngster, the other is more about your child's performance.

However, your concerns may say more about you than your son or daughter.  I know this may feel a little harsh and you may instinctively want to defend yourself.

However, just stick with me for a moment - I truly want the best for you and your child.  I really want the both of you to enjoy and make the most of this great opportunity of playing tennis without any unnecessary pressure and/or distress.

What Is Bothering You?

How you think, feel and behave, not only with regards to your child's tennis lessons, but also in general, may reflect how you feel about your own childhood.  It may be about how good you feel about yourself.

Try to be really honest with yourself - it is confidential. ;-)

  • Were you criticised a lot as a younster?
  • Do you feel it did you 'no harm'?
  • Do you find it hard to deal with criticism yourself now? (See: Dealing with criticism)
  • Do you feel you missed your chance in life?
  • Are you trying to prevent your child having to learn the lessons 'the hard way', like you?
  • Do you feel self conscious around people 'in authority', such as the tennis coach?
  • Are you trying to compete with other parents?
  • Do you feel embarassed when your child 'misbehaves'?
  • Do you feel 'let down' when your child is not playing well?
  • Do you and your partner have very different opinions on 'discipline'?
  • Is this causing arguments between the two of you?
  • Is that adding to the stress of other relationship problems?
  • Do you feel anxious in social gatherings/at major competitions?
  • Do you tend to suffer from stress and/or depression?
  • Are you worried about the tennis is now stretching your finances?

How many questions did you answer with a yes?  Maybe you can begin to see now how your own experience and your anxieties may be affecting the way you deal with your son or daughter.

In addition, you may have other - very real - concerns:
  • Is your child's tennis taking up more of your time right now?
  • Is this child taking more of your time at a cost of siblings?

How Children React

Your anxiety may present itself as such, or it may 'turn into' frustration and/or anger with your child.

The more stressed or distressed, frustrated and/or angry you are, the more anxious your son or daughter will be, whether consciously and/or unconsciously.

Your Genetic Inheritance

You were born with an innate set of responses - for survival's sake.  Thousands of years ago, being anxious would have meant an instinctive warning that your life was in danger - there might have been a tiger in the bush and you were about to become its lunch!

In many ways your brain still reacts in that same way.  The greater the perceived threat, the higher our emotional arrousal in terms of anger or anxiety, and the more likely we want to flee or fight.

An Anxious Child Does Not Play Tennis Well

Anxious tennis child

Now consider, how distructive this state of mind is for your son or daughter, when he/she is learning how to play tennis.

His/her focus won't be entirely on the ball and their hearing will instinctively filter out the tennis coach's voice and tune into yours (alike tuning into twigs crackling underneath the tiger's paws).

The more stressed/anxious your child is, the more difficult it is for her/him to think straight, pay attention and process whatever the coach is saying.

He/she will be acutely aware of you and your state of mind. Subconcsiously its focus is mainly on you, rather than the coach and the ball.

The harder you shout that he/she should pay attention and/or the more critical you are, the more anxious your child becomes - the worse it behaves and or performs. In a sense you are alike the tiger - a 'threat'.

I hope that this information helps you to better understand your child's reactions on the tennis court, with the tennis coach and at home, with you, your partner/husband and with their siblings and friends.

Learning To Deal With The Pressure Of Competing

Of course your child will need to learn to deal with pressure and stress.  Playing tennis is a great way of doing that.  He/she will learn - over time - how not to let the pressure turn into stress.  Playing tennis - or indeed any form of sport - and competing are a great way of doing that.

Several developmental factors have an impact on and determine your son or daughter's behaviour and performance on the tennis court, such as:

  • their sense of safety and security at home
  • their social well-being
  • their physical well-being and development
  • their emotional and mental well-being

Clearly playing tennis can potentially contribute to all of these factors - if you allow it to happen - over time and in cooperation with the tennis coach.

Too Much Pressure To Perform?

What happens if your child continuous to feel under pressure to perform or 'do the right thing' beyond the reasonable?  If your son or daughter starts to suffer badly from stress on the tennis court, it may result in anything to do with tennis becoming a problem.

Moreover, he/she may be storing up serious problems for the future, such as a general lack of confidence, which may express itself in:

  • generalised anxiety
  • fear of failure/performance anxiety
  • eating disorders (related to a sense of control)
  • depression (never feeling 'good enough')
  • relationship problems (not trusting that someone will like them simply for who they are)
  • stress related health problems, such as an impaired imune system

What You Can Do Now

  • Identify your own fears
  • Write your worries/insecurities/issues down
  • Re-evaluate what you have written
  • Calm your nerves: meditate, Tai Chi and yoga are great
  • Stop arguing with your partner - improve your relationship
  • If necessary, review my anger management tips

You, Your Partner/Spouse And Your Child's Tennis

It is not at all unusual for you and your partner to differ in opinion on how to deal with the children. What matters is how you deal with that difference.

If you are anxious about how the two of you deal with the challenges your child brings, than you can bet that your child is aware of that anxiety too.

If there is an obvious conflict between the two of you with regards to the tennis (or anything else), your child will have long picked up on that and without a doubt that will be affecting his/her performance.  There is no point in blaming your partner or yourself - that only leads to further trouble.  Just do something about it.

Does Your Child Really Have Natural Talent?

If the tennis coach has let you know that your child can play fantastic tennis, but does not have a natural talent, then please do accept that.  The time and energy taken to learn to play to a high standard may come at a cost to other aspects of your child's development and overall well-being.

Overdevelopment in one area - here tennis - may mask your child's natural ability and talent for something else entirely.

Happy tennis child

I hope that the information in this article will reduce any stress around your son/daughter's playing tennis and your watching and encouraging him or her.

I would so much like you both to enjoy yourself.

Elly Prior
Relationship/Couples Counsellor

You may also be interested in:

Proof that a teamsport is good for you

Why we do - and why we don't play sports (PDF document - Right Click to save)

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