Category Archives: NLP

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.


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.

For more thoughts to help tennis parents, read, ‘Trophies, tears and line calls’

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. If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, then please have a look at ‘Trophies, tears and line calls’.

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

Developing Confidence: Visualising the serve


The art of visualisation is one of the skills of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). Training your mind to visualise a positive event, this can take help take negative thoughts away and aid you gain the outcome you are looking for.

Developing the skill of visualisation is one that takes time and patience. We all know when we are working with children especially our own children; time and patience are not always in abundance.

However what we can help our children with, is one aspect of visualisation and that is developing a performance routine. Probably one of the most memorable performance routines was the one used by Jonny Wilkinson prior to taking a penalty kick. The squat, the cupping of the hands, the looking up at the rugby post, look at the ball, look at the posts, look at the ball and then run and kick the ball. In the world of tennis we can look at Andy Murray always taking three balls or Rafa Nadal’s idiosyncrasies prior to serving are almost a performance routine. Whether we want our children to spend a considerable time adjusting their shorts is a debateable point!

Virtually every player has a problem with their serve at some point especially on pressure points and developing a performance routine for the serve is something we can work on with our children and go through prior to them going to sleep.

My son and I developed the following performance routine, which we would act out in an evening and visualise the ball going over the net and in!

1) Adjust racquet strings
2) Select a ball
3) Deep breath

4) Approach base line
5) Position feet
6) Chopper grip

7) Look at the ball
8) Look at the target
9) Think of the serve going in

10) Say “Hit through”
11) Toss ball & serve


We wrote this on a few pieces of card, one he used as a bookmark and another he had in his tennis bag.

Why don’t you try writing a performance routine with your child and see if helps their serving confidence?

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.