Monthly Archives: February 2017

What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Mindsets

What is it that some children and adults appear better able to cope with the ups and down of sport, life and academia? How is it that some people do not see that a match has been lost but instead seize another opportunity to learn? As a parent, sportsman and an educationalist, this has fascinated me and I researched many books to try and explain this. The book which in my mind has come closest to unlocking these mysteries is written by Carol Dweck.

Her book ‘Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential’ 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. As tennis parents this seesaw between happiness and tears can define many a weekend for our children. In the world of fast four tennis, one point can be the difference to whether our children love or hate tennis.

In the following three blogs I have aimed to give an introduction to the theory of Mindsets with a foundation in the world of tennis so that you can use the ideas to support your child or the children that 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.


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


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.



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 picks up their racquet shows an obvious growth mindset and probably more days when they do not. Try not to criticise your child if they seem locked in negativity about a certain aspect of their tennis 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 know what a brutal sport tennis can be. What we must do is be there and just try to do what we can to support 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.


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.


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.


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.



What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Identifying mindsets

In my last blog, I introduced the idea of mindsets and explained the difference between having a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. You have probably been thinking about whether your child (or even you) displays a fixed or a growth mindset.

I believe it is little more complicated than always having one or the other. Firstly there is a continuum between the two, so two people may have a growth mindset but one is more secure in this than the other. Secondly I think someone’s mindsets can change in different areas. For example you might say that someone can either draw or they can’t, hence a fixed mindset. Yet at the same time you may say that with revision for Maths someone can improve their score or grade, hence growth mindset.


This blog looks at how you can identify whether your child displays a fixed or growth mindset for their tennis. You could easily adjust the identifying questions for different skills and activities.


Fixed Mindsets

Last time we considered that people with fixed mindsets believe that ability is all about talent. If a child has a fixed mindset and believes they are successful because they are talented, they will not strive for more challenging practices or higher-level tournament. If they are winning they may became smug and too comfortable in their ability to succeed. If they think that another child is better than them or beats them, they will consider that their opponent will always be better than them. In addition if they lose a match they think they should win or if they are struggling to develop a skills, their confidence will plummet and they can become very dispirited.

If your child tends towards having a fixed mindset they may say some of the following statements:

  • I’ll beat him/her because I’m better than them.
  • He/She is no good because their rating is…
  • I don’t need to warm up for this match.
  • I always hit my backhand topspin out.
  • I’ll never be able to hit a kick service.
  • I’ll never beat him.
  • I can’t believe he/she beat me because I’m miles better.
  • How did I lose that!
  • I can’t do it.
  • I don’t want to play them as they always win.
  • I’m rubbish!


Growth Mindset

A child who tends towards the growth mindset continuum will believe that they can get constantly better. They will look at players who are beating them and will consider that is the practice they are doing. They will want to complete certain drills so they can improve their skill. They may make the some of the following comments:

  • I worked really hard in practice today and I’m improving.
  • I’d like to play in some higher levels tournaments and have tougher matches.
  • I will be able to beat them; I just need to improve my second serve.
  • They must have practiced loads to get that good.
  • Can I practice…?
  • It worked hitting it to their backhand, I’ll try that again.
  • Can you tell me what I need to improve on?
  • Why do you think I lost?
  • I can’t do it…yet!


In my next blog, I’ll consider what you can say to help develop a growth mindset and also what to avoid saying to stop you inadvertently developing a fixed mindset in your child.


What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Growth and Fixed Mindsets

mindset-book-coverDo you ever wonder what is it that makes some children and young people really want to practice a skill, whether its drawing or a certain tennis shot? What is it that some children will collect a basket balls and spend half an hour on their own practicing their serve?

When you watch your child train or play in a match, what attitude do they display? Do they believe that with practice that they will improve, they will perfect a particular shots or are they convinced that they are just better than some children and that other children are better than them? If so why do they think these things?

Well two years ago I read a book, which shed some light on this. The book really stayed with me. It was also one being read throughout the education world at the time but interestingly has not necessarily become a go to read in the world of sport. The book is “Mindset” by Carol Dweck.

When I read the book I was providing intensive support to three schools specifically in the final push towards GCSE Maths. I was fascinated by the different approach the students took to their learning. Every student I worked with was positive about their studies; they enjoyed working with me and wanted to gain a good grade. Yet some were prepared to practice and others just could not bring themselves to do it irrespective of the grade they were at. I could not help but compare it my weekend and evening world of junior tennis.

fixed-mindset-cartoonI felt it was their Mindset that made this difference. Carol Dweck said there were two mindsets, I would suggest on a continuum. At one end is the fixed mindset. These are the students who in their hearts believe that basic qualities are fixed traits, which cannot really be changed. Mathematical skill is something you are born with; it cannot be altered. These children believed that talent was key to a student’s success. One group told me about a student who scored 197 out of 200 in their Maths GCSE mock. “He must be well clever’ they said and began to discussion as to what it must be like to be that clever. In tennis terms this is the child who believes they are better than one player but another is better than them. If they lose to the first child they will be beside themselves. Before they go on court with the second they will have lost.

growth-mindsetAt the other end of the mindset continuum is the growth mindset. This is the belief that all qualities can be improved. Effort and resilience are the keys to success. These are the students who are prepared to put in the high levels of work; these are the students who completed the practice papers. In tennis terms this is the child practising their serve.

So what was my reply to the ‘he must be well clever’ comment. I challenged their comments with, ‘no he’s not born really clever, instead he’s put loads of effort in, and he’s tried really hard.’ I can remember the children looked at me curiously and then one of them said, ‘yeah he works for 4 hours a night, every night’ the discussion moved on as to why they couldn’t do that as they would have no social life.

I suggested that 4 hours were not necessarily required; if they had spend 20minutes a night on Maths since the start of year 10 every one of them would now be on a grade B. A few of the students then said how they wished they could start year 10 again. I asked them about doing 20 minutes a night from now? Sadly this seed still fell on stony ground as they did not truly believe that practice would make much difference to their grade. In tennis terms the child with the growth mindset, will believe that they can practice and will improve and will also recognise that another child can improve too.


With our children whether it is in tennis, sport or the academic world, we need to be trying to develop a growth mindset so they believe that there is no limit to performance if they are prepared to practice enough. In my next blog, I’ll look at how you can identify your child’s mindset and then in my third blog on this topic, I’ll look at practical strategies you can use to develop a growth mindset in your children including the power of ‘yet’!


What I’ve learnt from junior tennis: Children struggle

One of the most challenging things for all tennis parents to deal with, is what to do when your child is ‘behaving badly’. It is likely that we have all encountered it at some time. It could be smacking the racquet on the ground, the shouting,the crying, the arguing over line calls or even bad calls.


If you’ve not said it yourself, there is no doubt that you will have heard a parent tell their child. ‘If you do this again, you’re not playing’. You may have heard more critical comments than this from other parents towards their children, another punishment threatened or even dished out.

I think this is were the quote at the top of this blog is so important, rather than thinking your child is badly behaved and then reaching for a punishment. Think of your child as being distressed and struggling to handle their emotions. They are after all only a child.

Consider the following questions:

  • How is your child behaving in squads with their friends?
  • How do they behave when they practice with their coach?
  • Are they having fun or just being much calmer?

If this match behaviour is not replicated in these situations, perhaps one of the answers is to reduce the number of competitions that they are playing in so that they don’t get so distressed. What about selecting the competitions more carefully so that they are not up against people they don’t like playing against such as their friends, children they’ve had arguments in the past with or children they always seem to lose to?

In addition many children will react to their parent emotions and getting cross with a child because ‘they have behaved badly’ is often counter productive. So again don’t think ‘badly behaved’, think ‘distressed’. (In a future blog, I will give some suggestions as how parents can stay calmer).


As a loving parent it is our duty to look at the situations we place our children in? You may reach for the comment that they’ll only learn by going through such events. However the question is what will they learn? That tennis is not fun and competition is bad. For most of us that is not what we want our children to learn!