Balancing the move to secondary school with tennis: What I’ve learnt from junior tennis

The new school year brings challenges to all children and their families. This can be increased for children who are juggling the pressure and commitment of playing competitive tennis. This can be even greater for children who are starting a new school and a new phase of education.

 

secondary schoolFor the vast majority of children in this country, the big change to secondary education is at the age of 11. (I recognise that some parts of the country have middle schools and also in the Independent sector this may be at 13 or 14).

 

It is easy to underestimate the huge change of moving from a primary school to secondary school and hence the impact this may have on your child. At the same time your child is in the second year of under 12s tennis and you may be thinking this is the time to plot a rise up the national ranking as they are now one of the older ones in this age bracket. You may already be planning a campaign of tournaments through till Christmas alongside an increase in practice and coaching court time. Hoping to maximise your child’s increased strength.

thinkHowever just pause for a minute and think about the challenge your child is facing at their new school.

They’ve gone from an environment were they knew everybody and had a very established social group and now they have to make new friends. They could be in in a form group were they know no-one and then may move to different groups with a new set of pupils. For anyone this is very nerve wracking and tiring.

homeworkAt primary school they will have likely to have been in one class with one teacher. They now are moving classroom at least five times, walking across a school, carrying a heavy bag. They may have to get up earlier in the day and be on their feet walking to school or waiting at a bus stop. It is surprising how physically tiring this.

They could have fifteen different subjects with as many different teachers. Each will be pushing the children mentally. On top of this is the homework at the end of day which now can take 90minutes an evening, when at primary school this may have been 90minutes a week.

Finally your child could be having a rapid growth spurt with a cocktail of hormones running through them.

Is this the time to be upping your child’s tennis or perhaps this may be the time to just focus on the core of their tennis programme up till half term. You may actually reduce the duration of practice a little in comparison to before the summer and you may put a pause on tournaments.

I intend to watch really carefully how my daughter manages school and tennis. I think in effect the next four months is not the time to be pushing. As even when you’ve got to half term; we’ve then got the dark of November and December before the Christmas holidays. I can remember as a secondary school headteacher seeing the year 7 children looking exhausted in school assemblies prior to Christmas, thinking they just needed the break.

It is mentally exhausting playing competitions and your child considerable resilience and reserves of energy to give of their best. They may struggle with this over the next few months.

There is always time to play more competitions or do more lessons when your child is ready. What you can’t get back as easily is if your child starts to fall out of love with tennis because of the pressure they will feel during this term.

unhappy teenager

 

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What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: The agony of tiebreaks!

 

Most children have a love or hate relationship with tiebreaks when they move to full ball. The advent of fast 4 tennis means children probably face more of them with the introduction of set tie breaks at 3-3. Incidentally this is one innovation that I do like. I often found that if it went to 3-3 it would go to 4-4 and would need a tie break to decide. In addition the sudden death point at 4-4 in a set tie break or at 9-9 in a championship tie break certainly adds to the love / hate feeling.

tie break 6-6For a parent there will be far more nail chewing or sitting on hands in those tie breaks than probably at any other situation in the games.

My daughter, after one competition said that she hated tiebreaks and always lost them. This was the emotional reaction to having been 8-6 up in a championship tiebreak, before losing 10-8 against a girl with the same rating as she has.

tiebreak self esteemThere is no doubt that losing tie breaks can really reduce a child’s self esteem and confidence at that point in time. Something which is clearly shown by the following graph.

If you are a regular reader of my blogs you will be aware that a key part of my tennis parent and parenting in general philosophy is wanting to raise the confidence of my children and develop their growth mindset. So my first aim was to build her up in her general. I also knew that if she convinced herself she was bad at tie breaks then she would start the next tie break low in confidence which would be a further hindrance her in coming out on top.

As she was upset at the time, I just tried to say that she had won some good tie breaks and returned to my usual mantra that tie breaks are just luck and you probably win half and lose half. She got herself back on court and played her final match, lost it, but fortunately no more tie breaks.

coin flipThis led to me think, over this year of full ball, was it luck, and was she winning half and losing half of the tie breaks she played?

I went back through her matches and found that this year of all the tiebreaks she had played she had won fifteen and lost twelve, which was broadly half and half.

I then looked into in a little more detail and the following table shows my findings.

Won Lost
Opponent with higher rating 3 6
Opponent with same rating 5 5
Opponent with lower rating 7 1
15 12

When she playing a child with the same rating the ratio of tiebreaks was even which seems to indicate that there is an essence of luck in tiebreaks in that she is winning half of them. When she was playing someone with a lower rating she won most of them, which seems to show that the tiebreak did allow the ‘better’ player to win so it wasn’t luck. I was particularly pleased that against ‘better’ players she was winning some tiebreaks but as expected the better player was coming through more often than not.

However when I’m talking to my daughter, I think I will keep with the luck scenario and give this advice.

“Just do your best, losing or winning a tie break doesn’t make you a good or bad player, its just some days you’ll be lucky and some you won’t”

I’d be intrigued to know what other tennis parents think? Are there some children that do have a very high rate of tie break wins and some who have a very low rate? If your child plays orange ball perhaps the same is true of who wins the sudden death point sets or those that go to two clear points? It is something that I will keep looking at but probably won’t make much of it.

I would suggest that you whatever you find you don’t make a big thing of it but try and remember the mindset advice:

Firstly praise the effort your child has given in making the match go to a tiebreak.

Secondly remember the power of yet. ‘You’re not winning all those tie breaks yet’.

tiebreak 7-6

No need to rush: What I’ve learnt from junior tennis

It’s the time of year when the joys of AEGON tennis introduces so many children to competition and parents find out about LTA ratings through the order their children are placed on team sheets.

 

You may be one of those parents who uses this a motivation to begin taking your child to individual competitions. Perhaps your child is an Orange / Green 3 from playing some matches last year. They attend a couple of club nights or squads a week and enjoy the game. You look at an Orange / Green 2 and think your child could / does beat them and suddenly you are on your way on the sticker book of collecting ratings.

 

It is easy for this to become addiction and before you know it, you have grappled with the LTA website and your child is now entered in six competitions over the next month.

pause

Now we all want our children to do their best but maybe just press the pause button for a moment. If your child is currently an Orange 3 or Orange 2 player, and moves to Green in September, it is going to be tough to get Orange 1 before the end of the summer as they have to win twenty matches against O2’s or better. It’s going to be even harder if your child is a green player to make the same progress.

 

I would also argue it isn’t necessary. I can think of a child who didn’t play any orange tennis and then played about ten green matches. Yet when they got to under 12s they began to practice a reasonable amount perhaps 6 hours a week and have had massive progress, racing up the ratings from 10.2 and achieving a high ranking quickly. I think part of the child’s success is their freshness for tennis. They haven’t been through the almost relentless battle of orange and green matches.

 

If your child has got the tennis bug, do not worry too much if their rating seems lower than other children. Don’t feel the need to have to play catch-up. Instead let your child enjoy their tennis. Yes play some competitions at different levels so they can see what its like and to build their experience but don’t set yourself targets too high. They will get there at the right rate for them. You will also find that by taking your time, a little your child is far less likely to burn out and more likely to enjoy their tennis. It is the latter that we all want!

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

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 thought 64 times and lost five times. He has not been in too many ‘wars’; fights were 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 will 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: Advising your child?

So how often have you given advice to your child about their tennis? Perhaps that their volleys would be better if they shortened the shot? Or that their serve would improve if the ball toss was slightly in front of them? And the response at best has been ignoring you or at worse a full-blown argument as to they don’t want your help?

I’m sure we have all been there at some time and all we’ve wanted to do is to help them with their tennis as at the end of the day, we want them to be happy and we know they’ll be happier if they do better.

We probably go silent for a bit and then maybe remind ourselves that we were the same with our parents. At worst some parents can get very cross about this response and the argument can continue over time.

Do we actually consider why this response is actually given to our advice?

The answer could be in an element of our child’s personality traits. Some researchers have considered two extremes of personality trait, internal and external and the description above is of a child showing an internal personality trait.

It is often found that in work contexts; 40% of people are classed as internal, 40% as external and 20% are combination of both traits. Interestingly this classification can change according to the context and I would imagine that most pre teens and teenagers would be Internal when they are receiving feedback from their parents!

 

What is an Internal Personality Traits?

Someone showing an internal personality trait will assess their performance according to their own internal standards or beliefs. So for example a child with an internal personality will make the decision on how well they have played themselves from information they have gathered. We probably recognise the situation of watching our child play and thinking they have played well but they come off court saying they were rubbish and they will base this purely on the score and a couple of isolated rally’s which may not be representative of the whole match.

upset-tennis-girl

If you ever give someone displaying an internal mind-set, negative feedback they will question the judgement of who is giving the feedback. Many parents will have experienced the situation of giving any type of feedback to their child and their child immediately debating the parents view. “What do you know?” can be one of the kinder responses our children give.

 

How do you motive internal people?

If you are trying to motivate someone showing an internal mind-set as we’ve already established we should not tell them what to do, even though this is very tempting and seems much quicker. Instead we should be looking to start sentences in some of the following ways:

  • You know what’s best…
  • Only you can decide…
  • It is up to you…
  • I need your opinion…

If you would like to find out more on internal personality traits the following video clip is worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8f98AaDQys

 

This blog is from the tennisdaduk, follow him on twitter @tennisdaduk

What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Mindsets

 

The book ‘Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential’ by Carol Dweck has been widely used in the UK and the USA. Certainly in the world of education it is a set of ideas that have been seized upon by teachers and school leaders to try and help children achieve their potential.

 

It is just as applicable in the world of sport particularly junior sport as it provides some suggestions as to how we can encourage our children to get the most out of their practice and more importantly deal with that thin line between triumph and disaster which flows through all sport and is amplified in individual competition.

 

If you haven’t got time to read the book, the following three blogs give you an introduction to the theory of mindset and how you can use it to support your child or the children you coach.

 

Blog 1: ‘Growth and Fixed Mindsets’ introduces you to the two different mindsets and you will no doubt begin to ponder where you or your children are on the mindset continuum.

mindsets

 

Blog 2: ‘Identifying Mindsets’ provides a set of points, which delve into the different mindsets in more detail.

impossible-possible

 

Blog 3: ‘Towards a Growth Mindset’ is perhaps the most important of the three blogs as it gives suggestions for questions or praise that you can use to help your child develop a growth mindset and also explains the power of yet.

yet-butterfly

 

As with all things that you will work on with your child, this is not a quick process and there will be days when you see your child show a growth mindset and probably more days when they do not. Try not to criticise your child if they seem locked in negativity and do not expect to immediately turn your child’s mood round. It just means they haven’t solidified their growth mindset, yet! All children struggle at times and we just try to do what we can to support them.

 

Good luck!

@tennisdaduk

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

growth-mindset-signsDeveloping 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 fulfil 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.

@Tennisdaduk