6 ideas for staying calm… What I’ve learnt from junior tennis

In my last blog I raised the ‘parent sportsmanship’ challenge; can you keep your emotions in check and stay relaxed so it is not obvious whether your child is winning or losing? Though in fact the real challenge is trying to remain calm. This is the best support you can give your child during a match and then immediately afterwards. This blog recommends six techniques that I have tried in the search for inner calm or other parents have suggested to me.

  1. Smile! Yes it sounds simple yet also so hard but it is true that if you can smile you will stay calmer. I particularly like the idea of breathing to calm down  and then breathe out with a smile.breath in
  2. Make two lists. The first list is all the things that your child has done right. It could be individual shots or rallies and certain points in the match or it could be tactics or strategies that they have employed. The second list is things that have frustrated you during the match. It could be when your child has struggled with their tactics or it could be the way that they have managed their emotions. Before the match ends, pick up the negative list, rip it up and throw the bits in the bin. There is nothing to be gained by sharing these with your child and the act of destroying the list is a way of emptying your mind of them. The positive list are things to share with your child and you choose when is the most appropriate time.
  3. Do some counting! Why not count different aspects of your child’s tennis. I have found that by doing this, you reduce your stress over points in the match. You could count how many shots each point lasts or much more complex things too. Below is some counting I have done and here is the explanation. (http://ow.ly/BAJr30gCWEK)tennis recording
  4. Try and sit where you do not have an exact view of lines. Don’t sit immediately behind the courts or on the baseline. If you have a view akin to that of a line judge you will inevitably see mistakes from both players which are likely to be purely accidental. You will actually have a better view than players who are also trying to hit their shots at the same time. If you sit a little distance from the court you can try and enjoy watching their rallies and at times being unaware of the exact score can be a good feeling.
  5. thermosI always have a flask of coffee with me and pour myself lots of small drinks. I never fill my cup as I find the act of taking the top of the flask, pouring a small slug of coffee, putting the lid back on and then sipping the drink quite therapeutic. It is also a small physical activity to do with my hands.
  6. just-be-in-the-momentTry and practice mindfulness, so stay in the moment rather than trying to work out the rest of the draw and the possible result of each win and loss. See my blog on mindfulness.

 

If you have suggestions of your own, then I’d love to hear them. Why not leave your thoughts as a comment below for other readers to see.

Good luck!

I am a tennis parent, educationalist and author. My guide for tennis parents is written and I’m now looking for a publisher. Please follow me on on twitter @tennisdaduk.

Responses from Twitter:

@jameswweir1 – A great article, I’ve been to many competitions with my girls and keeping calm and giving the right support is not easy, enjoying the blog!

@handwtennis – One of the best blogs out there.

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Parent Sportsmanship…What I’ve learnt from junior tennis

I really love this quote from Jim Courier. The idea that your child could walk off court and win or lose and they show their pride. It is very similar to the some of the lines from ‘If’ by Kipling:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

I suspect that for many of us, we would love to see that in our children. The ability of remaining positive and proud even when faced with disappointment and personal agony. That would be a lesson that could be applied to all their lives not just the tennis court.

However it it one of the hardest things to achieve. Our children are striving as hard as possible to win every match, they will give their all and when in their eyes that hasn’t been enough, they will feel that they have failed and will show that emotion in their own, unique way, ranging from tears to screams. After all they are children and learning so much every day about themselves and about life in general.

federerI have previously written that children will follow our examples in many different ways. We are the people they spend the most time with and whether we like it or not, they will notice the little things that we do and without them even realising, they will display our traits. Now that is a truly scary thing!

Can you be as cool as Chrissie,

as calm as Bjorn or 

as sanguine as Roger?

chris evert calm

 

So if we would like our children to play the game like a Federer, a Borg or a Chrissie Evert. To show that relentless outer calm in the face of whatever is thrown at them, then we must try to show an equal lack of emotion.

So can you show an outer exterior of tranquility no matter what happens over the course of a tournament? No matter how disappointing the loss, however bad the line call or whatever let service that lady luck allows at match point in Fast4 tennis, can you keep that easy smile? Can you show that ice cool calm temperament? Can you meet the parents sportsmanship challenge? Maybe that is something you could try this weekend!

Chrissie Evert like

If you take the challenge I wonder what techniques you use to appear chilled. In my blog next week, 6 ideas for staying calm, I’ll suggest some of the strategies that I have used but I would love to know yours too so that I can include them.

Good luck!

I am a tennis parent, educationalist and author. My guide for tennis parents is written and I’m now looking for a publisher. You can follow me on on twitter @tennisdaduk.

Mindfulness…What i’ve learnt from junior tennis

mindfulness-colouringMindfulness has been one of those words that has been difficult to escape from in recent years, whether it is adult colouring books or in my sphere of education, the introduction of mindfulness into the curriculum for year 7 children.

 

Have you ever stopped to consider what does Mindfulness actually mean?

There are two definitions given to the noun, mindfulness:

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
    “their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

The way I like to think about mindfulness is bringing my whole attention to the current situation. So if I’m having a conversation with somebody, I’m entirely focussed on that conversation, rather than thinking about the next thing I have to do or the next person I have to speak to. If I’m watching a television programme, I’m not checking my twitter feed or some other function on my smart phone instead I am concentrating on the plot or programme content.

I would suggest that mindfulness is interesting to practice during a tennis tournament your child is playing in but only if your child is happy with that. I am not suggesting that you stop choosing to read a newspaper, a book or complete another task during tournament if that keeps you calm or because your child doesn’t want you to become to involved in their matches.

just-be-in-the-moment

What I mean is that if you are both happy with you being fully focussed on your child’s play, the mindfulness you should practice is staying in that moment. How often do you sit during a match and begin to work out who your child’s next opponent could be? Check your child’s results against that player? Or start counting the ranking points or ranking wins your child might gain before they’ve even completed their first match.

 

mind-fullIt is often found that by having so many different things in our minds or trying to consider too many different outcomes, what we are inevitably doing is creating additional stress for ourselves. By practicing mindfulness and trying to focus on a smaller number of events, our personal stress should reduce too.

Mindfulness means that as a tennis parent you take one match at a time. Just watch that one game and try to enjoy the skills that your child is displaying? Admire the new shot or serve that they have been working on in practice? Or listen to them encouraging themselves?

You will find that if you can do this, you will be less affected if the tournament does not go according to plan and most importantly be better able as a parent to support your child in their disappointments too.

Good luck in your mindfulness.

I am a tennis parent, educationalist and author. My guide for tennis parents is written and I’m now looking for a publisher. You can follow me on on twitter @tennisdaduk.

40 ways to encourage you child… what I’ve learnt from junior tennis

We all want to encourage our children. We know that if they are positive they will be happier and perform better. So here are 40 comments or actions you could try and tick off to encourage your child:

  1. smiley face thumbs up(Thumbs up)
  2. You’ve worked so hard on that shot
  3. Your game plan is on the right track
  4. That shot turned out really well
  5. I’m proud of the way you tried today
  6. That game in the 1st set at …. is one of the best I’ve seen you play
  7. That’s it!
  8. That’s a big improvement
  9. Congratulations
  10. You can really see your practice in that shot
  11. I could see you thinking your way through that match
  12. You knew just what to do when he/she….
  13. Fantastic!
  14. I loved the way you expressed yourself with your tennis today
  15. I knew you’d be able to figure that out
  16. I know it’s hard but you are almost there
  17. Brilliant movement today
  18. I love hearing your ideas
  19. Your game is coming on really well
  20. I think you’ve really got that movement now
  21. You stayed so calm in that set
  22. I reckon you’ve figured out that shot now
  23. I knew you could do it
  24. I love hearing you encourage yourself
  25. Sensational!
  26. You handled the weather really well
  27. It was great to see you remember that from last time
  28. You are really persisting with kick serve
  29. You did it!
  30. Excellent job saying how you feel
  31. Brilliant problem solving
  32. Great shot!
  33. I know that was really tough but you stayed so calm
  34. You really kept battling today
  35. I was so pleased that you went for your shots
  36. You never gave up today
  37. You looked really strong out there
  38. You kept your head up all match
  39. You couldn’t have tried any harder
  40. (Big Smile)

I am a tennis parent and author. My guide for tennis parents is written and I’m now looking for a publisher. You can follow me on on twitter @tennisdaduk.

 

be an encourager

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

 

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!