Category Archives: confidence

County Closed Week: The highlight of the year?

Many coaches and parents would have us believe that the county closed tennis week, historically taking place in the final week of August, is the high point of the junior tennis year. The result is that many parents feel under pressure, that their children have to play. In the past I have arranged holidays and work so that they did not clash with these few days.

Trophies, tear and line calls: The guide for tennis parents written by the @tennisdaduk is available. The book contains many strategies and reflections that parents can use to support their children.

As a tennis parent, this week has brought some of my children’s biggest highs and also some of their worst lows in their junior tennis. I have also seen some of the worst behaviour from young people on finals day which I have observed on tennis courts and appeared to have been tacitly condoned by spectators.

If you are not from the host club, your child can feel like the world is against them, as seemingly the majority of spectators are players from the club or members. There is also a considerable pressure on players, that this small group of matches decides who is the ‘best’. However, in the long term, does this really matter? Afterall it is not who is number one at fourteen, it is who is still enjoying the health benefits of tennis at twenty-four or even sixty-four!

It is not who is number 1 at fourteen but who is still playing at twenty-four…

There are some children who thrive in this environment and are fully committed to the style of competition. They will learn important lessons for the next tournaments that they play in which will help them perform to their maximum. Some children will use the losses to help motivate them for the journey ahead. This will not be true of all children. For some it will be opposite and it can damage their long-term tennis enjoyment.

Many parents feel that their children have to play. Yet who does this come from? And are those people actually considering the interests of your individual child?

I made the decision that county closed week was not a healthy experience for my children and they were better away from that claustrophobia. Instead, it was the ideal week for a family holiday to make the most of the final days of being off school before the unrelenting Autumn term began. My children were pleased to be away from that spotlight. I have received some criticism for this, which at times did hurt but over time I tried to think of what had the biggest positive impact to my children rather than the expectations of others.

What had the biggest positive impact to my children?

If you have found this week an emotional experience and have wondered whether it was a positive experience for your child, then you can choose to do something different. Consider carefully about what is the best interests of your child, supports their progress and make your decision accordingly. You can make a decision each year according to how your child is feeling. After all what is more important, one pressurised week of competition or the whole tennis year in front of your child?

I am a tennis parent, educationalist and author. My guide for tennis parents, ‘Trophies, tears and line calls’ is now published . Please follow me on on twitter @tennisdaduk.

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

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 feelbe an encourager
  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, 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



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

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’!


Wall of Positivity

Wall of positivity

Yesterday whilst I was watching my son play in his latest tennis tournament I was yet again struck that the winner of the matches tended to be the player who managed their positivity and negativity best. The winner would be the player who stuck at the match and did not have the full rollercoaster of emotions. In my previous blog I wrote about the idea of a positive diary. Another technique which you can use is to create a wall of positivity in your child’s bedroom. This can be quite a fun task which you could work on with your child.

I am sure that if your child has gained some trophies from their tennis (or any activity) these are often very treasured possessions of which the value to your child (and to you) is disproportionate to their monetary value. These small items are obvious examples of the positives that your child has gained from their sport. However these medals or trophies will only be a small amount of the success that your child has had and are only some examples of the positives.

In my son’s bedroom we have made a number of posters… probably too grand a word, I have drawn on A4 paper with felt tips pens.

The first set are two are lists of all his competition 1st and 2nds. I have found that many of the tournaments do not give out ‘silverware’ and it can be easy to lose track of all those good results.

The second set of posters are his position in the end of the season leaderboards (county, regional and national) and how his ranking has changed over time. This has been particularly useful when he has changed age range and is having to start from the bottom again. Children often forget this journey and remember the end points along the way and forget the progress they have made.

Thirdly I have made two signs with my son’s name in and pictures of him playing. One says ‘—– is a top tennis player’ and the second says ‘—— is champion tennis player’ with the date of his first competition win.

Finally we put up two sets of motivational posters. One is based on tennis alliterations that my son and I created together and include:
Ferocious forehands
Slamming serves
Venomous volleys
Devilish dropshots
Blistering Backhands

We also discussed positive phrases that he could use in a match and made motivational posters of them including:
I can do this
One more point
In with spin
On my toes

It has been a fun thing to make together and constantly highlights the power of positive thinking. The club house at the most recent tennis tournament also had positive phrases from famous sports people which my son found interesting. Perhaps that will be the next thing we do to keep ‘the wall of positivity’ fresh.

Positive Diaries


In my last blog I gave an introduction to Life Coaching and Neuro Linguistic Programming and commented that there were lots of useful techniques which may help your junior tennis player. The first technique I want to look at is a ‘Positive Diary’. I’ve used this with pupils when I was teaching Maths, my son for his tennis and also myself when work has been tough!

As a classroom teacher I would sometimes find with some pupils that they had difficulty or lack of confidence in only one subject. Ironically I taught Maths and often this lack of confidence was in my subject.

‘What have I achieved today?’

I would suggest to the pupil that at the end of each lesson they should record at least one thing that they have been able to do in the lesson, under title of ‘What I have achieved today?’ The inside of the front cover of their exercise book was often a good place. These comments could be very specific points where the pupils consider the learning objectives that the teacher has shared with them at the beginning of the lesson and identify those that they have achieved or understood. Or the pupils could write more general positive thoughts related to presentation, accuracy, a verbal answer given or a piece of praise the teacher has given them.

‘What three things did you do well?’

You could do the same thing after a lesson or a match where your child has to write three things that they did well. If they have lost a match and feel they have played terribly, they may find this really difficult and it may be something that you have to return too once they have calmed down. You could do the same thing when they are playing so that you have some good things to say no matter how badly it has gone.

The advantage of the children writing down a specific thing that they had understood was that when was building upon their learning in future lessons the pupils could relate the vocabulary used with previous positive thoughts. If a pupil retorted in a future lesson, ‘I can’t do this ….’ I would encourage the pupil to revisit their learning log and then they could see all the occasions when they have succeeded.

‘Remember when your serves were going well’

A good comparison here would be if they had been working on their serves in a lesson and they had gone well or in a match were their 1st serve percentage was high and their double fault percentage was low, write it down. If in future their serves have gone badly, it happens to the best, ask them to read the times when they have been positive about them.

A tough match

If I thought the topic I was about to teach was challenging to that pupil I would ask them to spend a few moments reading their positive points at the beginning of the lesson. You could do the same if your child is about to play a really tough match either one against a much higher rated player or maybe one of those occasions when you just know it’s going to be close. If they can go on court thinking of positive previous experiences it can only help them.

Discussing the Positive Diary

Not many of our children’s coaches are able to attend competitions so you could encourage your child’s coach to spend five minutes discussing the positive diary with your child, so that your child could explain their positive statements to them. Hopefully this will mean that they begin the lesson in a good frame of mind.

Coaching confidence is as important as coaching shots

There are times when we watch our children play tennis and we can see that they are suffering from a lack of confidence. It may be their enthusiasm or lack of it that they show towards competition, what you see in their body language when they are on court, the shots that they play or the way they react to the match going against them. As parents, we often just want to see our children approach life in general with confidence, let alone their tennis.

In ‘Dealing with Dips’ the link was made between junior tennis players and the group of pupils in schools who are labelled as Gifted & Talented. This group of children sometimes suffer from a lack of confidence as they approach their studies and the skills and techniques which schools use to help support them may be equally useful as you try to help build your child’s confidence when they are in a dip which is damaging their confidence.

A method that is increasingly amongst adults with dealing with the stresses and strains of everyday life is Life Coaching. In effect many of the ideas from life coaching whether you read, ‘Feel the Fear and do it anyway’ or one of Fiona Harrold’s books are all based around building confidence. In effect life coaching is a form of mentoring, which gives individuals the confidence and ability to move forward in a positive manner areas of their lives where they crave change. Life coaching is an approach that looks at the present and sets goals for successful future. For our children, success could be walking tall onto the court and approaching a match with a can-do attitude.

Life coaching is not counselling or consulting but a different form of intervention. In terms of supporting our children with their tennis we do not necessarily need to move to deeply towards the long term goals which adult life coaching may look at. However what is very useful are the techniques which coaches will use to help people work towards their goals. You may also know some of these techniques as aspects of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) which just means training the brain to act in a certain way, particularly when under stress.

As a secondary school teacher, I would explain this background to G&T pupils as I found that they have been often very interested in the power of the mind especially when it is linked to famous people who have achieved success. Those with a scientific bent enjoyed the psychology behind the ideas. Whereas those pupils with sporting or dramatic talents were fascinated by how particular performers have used these techniques to reach the top. I also used to find that they would be interested in the techniques as they would see them as being for adults which were rarely taught in schools. Depending on the age of your child it may be just a question of working through the techniques over time.

In my next blogs I will cover four techniques including writing a positive log, creating a wall of positivity, visualisation and self-affirmation. In the meantime why not have a look at any self-help, life coaching or NLP books that may be on your bookshelves, flick through the pages and consider what links you could see between the ideas in them and your child’s tennis.

Dealing with dips

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.

Competition and Confidence

Building confidence through competition

junior tennis competition

If you’ve read my previous posts you would be aware that ‘green’ tennis has not been the smoothest transition for my son. I have certainly seen that winning is far easier if you walk onto court with confidence. The reality for many children is that winning matches brings confidence but if you are losing matches, confidence rapidly dissipates. Hence like a canny boxing promoter, I have been carefully selecting competitions which give my son the biggest chance of winning some matches.

I’ve stopped considering the slog of one tough match after another at the grade 3 regionals but instead looked for grade 5 competitions in a bid to build that fragile confidence, one match at a time.

This leaves me with a quandary though as I have always believed the surest way of improving at anything was to test yourself against the best. In addition if the competition is weaker does this give a false impression of your achievements.

This was certainly the case at ‘orange’ as the better players were limiting themselves to the roundabout of regionals. However in Green competitions there is always a strong player, so inevitably there is a tough test.

Such a strategy appears to provide a good balance, the opportunity for some confidence restoring wins but also one or two challenging matches that ensures my son realises that it is not all one way traffic.