One of the real difficulties for tennis parents is dealing with the situation when their child appears to be having a dip in their performance and it feels like they are overwhelmed with the challenges they are facing. We can spend huge amounts of angst considering what is the right thing to do? Is it more lessons or fewer lessons? Play in more competitions or fewer competitions? Does the child need more fitness training or less training?
Earlier in my career I used to be a coordinator of a Gifted and Talented programme in a secondary school and used to write articles on the subjects. There were two driving forces for the initial implementation of G&T programmes. The first was to provide opportunities for children with potential to be stretched and stimulated further. In effect this is what many tennis parents are trying to achieve with their programme of competition and training. The second driving force was an attempt to raise the attainment of G&T underachievers. I.e. children who had performed well in testing but had subsequently gone on to have a dip. For many schools this was one of the most challenging aspects of the role.
Many secondary schools operate ability sets were pupils are tested and then sets are organised and re-organised according to how the child performed in assessment. As a Gifted and Talented Co-ordinator I used to also look at Cognitive Ability Test scores which gauged the pupils’ latent ability. I would often find that there were G&T children who have undoubted ability but for a whole host of reasons this was not correlating with their school test results. I would encourage subject leaders to retain these children in higher sets on the belief that if they were placed in a lower set they would work at this level rather than being pulled up by their peers in a higher set.
In tennis the comparison with tests are the competitions that our children play in. There are occasions when the results do not seem to be going our child’s way and we can worry that they are dipping. We should look at our child’s intentions; often are they trying to do the right thing but the execution is just not quite accurate enough. It could be a physical factor and they are having a growth spurt or their hormones are affecting them as they mature. In which case just as I would encourage my Heads of Department to keep those children in the higher sets we should also be keeping our children in their current programme of training providing they are still enjoying it. One strategy we may undertake is reduce the number of competition s or the grade of competition though, until our child is ready for them.
In a school environment I would also see G&T pupils suffering a crisis of confidence. Many G&T pupils would get used to scoring highly in tests and being able to learn quickly without a struggle. Then there comes an occasion where learning in a certain subject becomes difficult or they perceive they have failed in tests even though they have still scored a high grade. Such occasions can hit these pupils hard and their confidence can take a considerable knock. Their peer group can increase this pressure by expecting the pupil to be able to do something and are then surprised when they struggle.
The same can be true of our tennis playing children when in their eyes, they are having a poor set of results and their confidence can be knocked. They can feel that everyone is getting better than them and they are getting my worse. My son will say to me that he doesn’t feel he is getting better because he cannot see any change especially if the results aren’t going his way. Yet I can certainly see he is getting better as I am having to work ever harder in our occasional hits to stay competitive with him. Unlike his peers my game is not getting any better!
When I was a G&T co-ordinator I knew that often the key was to remain patient and work to build the child’s confidence. As a tennis parent those are two maxims for us to keep hold of. All children will have dips at times. We must show the patience that children find so difficult and all the time be looking for opportunities to build their confidence. If our children can learn their own coping strategies for dealing with such misfortunes through their tennis, they will have gained an invaluable skill for the rest of their lives.