Opening the conversation… What I’ve learnt from junior tennis

tennis parent
It’s a Sunday morning and I imagine like many tennis parents, I’m sat by the side of a tennis court. It’s competition time though not coaching so as a parent I am more engaged in the process. When children are younger and have coaching (or squad practice) as a parent it feels as though we are effectively a combination of chauffeur or food provider. As my children have got older I now use that time as an opportunity to get in the gym or go running myself. Still on tournament days, I’ll watch closely, and I know that interactions that I have with my children prior to and after matches, can be important.

I remember reading a blog that described sets of four words that we should never say to our child:
• How did you do?
• How did it go?
• Did you win today?
• How was your … (backhand, volleys, kick serve)?

The blogger commented that even with good intentions, if a parent constantly asks their child these questions, they can feel as though they are being either constantly interrogated or judged on the day’s performance.

This certainly seemed an interesting concept but I did wonder if this was advice was more suited to parents of secondary aged youngsters rather than primary aged children.
Whilst I was at the tournament today I did try and think, what would be the most effective pieces of communication that I could give to my child.

focus on the positivesOne of my regular comments after a loss is, ‘tell me the positives?’ I am always so aware that moving a child back on positive track is so important when they have a series of match to play.  I also believe that as the image says if you do focus on the positives, the negatives can soon disappear.

So I’ll also ask, ‘What went well?’ My child along with many others I would imagine, can always tell you everything they did badly. Sometimes I will watch and try and remember one great rally to try and remind my child. ‘Do you remember that amazing backhand slice you hit?’ What I am trying to do is to begin a positive conversation to try and get him feeling upbeat before the next match.

Tell me the positives?

What went well?

Do you remember that amazing backhand slice…

I loved the volley you hit to win that game…

timing is everything

I do realise that with all conversations the trick is timing. If I ask my child these things too soon after a match, he is not receptive at all and whatever I say will not help move him forwards.

However sometimes there is a limited gap in between matches and I need to get him up and ready as soon as possible. I often find that is one of the biggest challenges in being a tennis parent, trying to turn that mood around. I must admit its one I don’t always get right. I think one of the funniest moments was when after I’d done one of my little monologues, my son turned round and said with heavy irony, “Great motivational speech Dad”. He was right, it certainly wasn’t but he got back on court and won the next match, so perhaps something went right!

Good luck!

I am a tennis parent, educationalist and author. If you’ve found this blog interesting, then please buy a copy of my guide for tennis parents, ‘Trophies, tears and line calls’ which is available from Amazon. Equally please follow me on on twitter @tennisdaduk.

Trophies, tears and line calls: The guide for tennis parents

8 thoughts on “Opening the conversation… What I’ve learnt from junior tennis

  1. chrisps

    There’s an emerging consensus amongst those heavily involved in sports development that parents should say nothing more than “I loved watching you play.” Indeed, I think (and witness) many parents make their kids unhappy after sports through their ‘communication’. I’ve also read research that saw kids identifying the car journey home as their least favourite part of playing sports.

    It’s a tricky issue. I probably lean towards your approach of staying upbeat or reminding my kids of something notable they achieved. But when, say, my younger son has been repeatedly fouled at a football match, I think it’s important I recognise he has a grievance – as well as praising him for keeping his cool.

    The answer will be different for each child and we should treat them as mature beings capable of telling us how we can be of most help, shouldn’t we? I remember an interview with England cricketer Stuart Broad when he was asked about his parents’ influence. It wasn’t his Dad – Chris, also an England cricketer- that he mentioned, but his Mum. She drove him around the county to matches, never putting him under pressure before games; allowing him his own time & space to deal with disappointments after matches. If in doubt, that has to be the example to follow.

    1. tennisdadblog Post author

      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you found my blog interesting. I like the Stuart Broad story, I’ve read a similar one in tennis about Chris Evert being taken to tennis competitions by her mum too. I wonder what other readers think? Be grateful for other parents comments?

  2. Debbie

    Love your blog as I’m a new tennis parent.My daughter is 10 yrs and has been playing tennis for 3yrs now and has done really well..she is quite fiery on court and gets so upset when she loses.She is number one in her age group at school currently(ladder system)but number 2 and her always swopping positions..I always tell her before her games against number 2 is whoever plays the best on the day will be the winner but she refuses to believe this and says “rubbish mom why don’t you just say ,whoever wins is the best tennis player!Its as if she has figured it out that I’m trying to prepare her for a loss..What is your advice to say to your child before her games and team practices?How to prepare them for a loss without breaking their spirit?Also how to encourage them before a game without giving them too much false hope? My daughter is super confident but when things are going tough in a game I can see she is affected. When she is winning she is super calm..Kind Regards Debbie

    1. tennisdadblog Post author

      Thank you that is really kind of you and I think you’ve given me an idea for a new blog. It is always difficult in such a close rivalry and I think so many children think in that short term of who ever wins is the best player. I’ll have a think about longer reply in blog format.

      I wonder what other people think too?

      I’m glad you like my blog. I’ve just completed the manuscript for the tennis parents survival book which should will be available in the New Year. I’ve developed the ideas in my blogs in more detail and in a properly ordered format so that could help you too.

      Good luck.


    Hey there would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with?

    I’m looking to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a tough time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.

    Thee reason I aask is bcause your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for
    something unique.P.S My apologies for getting off-topic butt I had to ask!

    1. tennisdadblog Post author


      My tennis blog is just a standard wordpress one. I just when on the themes and chose the one I liked best.

      Thank you for your message. I’m quite you like the look of it.

      Best wishes.


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