Tag Archives: Tennis

Winning Ugly


Last year I played my first ever competitive tennis match. It was in a French competition. This year I repeated the experience and the following verses describe the experience.

Winning Ugly

Separated by the net and the hot, red concrete
My opponent stood; younger, stronger and taller,
His shots all flourishing and looping arcs,
The racket providing the sweep of a paintbrush.

Nothing about this match would be pretty,
If I was to equalise his skilled finesse,
There would be no artistry from me,
Instead the clumsy carves of a butcher’s apprentice.

As expected I lost the first set quickly,
This was my practice, my first shots for a year.
I was warming up and digging in,
For hopefully, a long battle in the heat.

I needed him to play my game, the ball,
To become my friendly, willow the wisp,
I chopped and sliced, hitting short and long,
Making him run side-to-side, forward and aft.

His greying T-shirt signalled my plan to be working,
I knew even fifteen years his senior, I could still
Run and run, and then run some more,
I coldly watched his legs weaken and shots become wilder.

A second set tie break was my aim and,
Shot by shot, point by point I dragged myself clear,
Like the evening mosquito buzzing round our limbs,
I nipped and pestered till seven points were mine.

He was gone and the match was mine for the taking,
Locals realised their friends was losing,
Sucked into the non-tennis battle I had created,
Each shot slower and lower, shorter and softer.

My French was limited and the gloomy match was paused,
To go under floodlights, I wanted to keep playing,
But no they insisted and I had no choice,
Sadly with each passing second so was the win.

The third set mirrored the first,
My tricks now explained and his energy returned,
The scoreboard relentlessly marched away,
No time to weave a new set of spells.

There was to be no victory reward for me,
Instead my souvenirs, a sodden t-shirt,
Aching calves, blooded and bruised toes
And the memories of winning a set ugly.

What about doubles? Another idea for low motivation

Happiness is playing on the same side

One of the comments I hear from children when they have low motivation is that it’s not fun anymore. When they first started playing tennis it was fun. All those little games in mini tennis squads when the children were running around laughing. It wasn’t who was hitting the ball best, it was just children playing.

When we look at adult tennis from professional to a club afternoon, it’s doubles that provides most the fun. There are the crazy rallies that occur to just having company on court next to you, somebody to talk too. Certainly when Jamie Murray won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon with Jelena Jankovic, it looked like they were having fun on court together. Children benefit from that just as much as adult do, probably more so.

If you child has low motivation, could you encourage doubles in their play? What about

1) Your child could have break from individual lessons and have some doubles lessons in a group. Far less intense and pressured but still good practice.
2) Take your child to adult social tennis and see if they can join in the club doubles, they get the opportunity to see fun tennis being played (hopefully!)
3) Aegon tennis allows children to play some doubles matches
4) Enter a doubles competition, even count for leaderboards now too

What ever it is, see if it can put a smile on their tennis playing face! 🙂

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?

Girls in tennis: These girls can

girls tennis

As the father of a son and a daughter I am acutely aware of the different challenges facing boys and girls in tennis. Before my daughter started playing tennis,I must admit I did not give it much thought. Instead in blissful ignorance, i thought tennis was a great game as it was something that both boys and girls played and it would be ideal for me as both children could play the sport.

As a Headteacher I used the formation of the WTA as a school assembly and even used the theme when I had been asked to present a whole school assembly as part of a Headteacher selection process in a different school. I thought the story of Billie Jean King was inspiring as was today’s outcome that  the men’s and women’s Wimbledon champions receive equal prize money.

Yet as my daughter competes in Orange tournaments I am noticing the small number of girls that are playing the game, which reduces  further in each age category and in turn the small number of women who are paid coaches at tennis clubs, (fortunately my daughter does have the opportunity to work with one).

The campaign, ‘this girl can’ has had a considerable impact in raising the issues of women in sport and on Saturday women will finally compete in the Boat Race alongside their male counter parts. As a Headteacher I was very supportive of the female PE teachers in my school who reached out especially to girls in year 10 and year 11 to provide sporting opportunities which they enjoyed in core PE lessons rather than seek to avoid.

There is no doubt that governing bodies must act to ensure that their sport is girl friendly. In the case of tennis it is the LTA. In the following blogs I’d like to consider some actions which could be taken to make competitions, AEGON team tennis and rankings more encouraging towards girls to keep them in the sport. So that these girls can and continue to do so.

However I am also interested in what do you do to encourage your daughter’s tennis?
Do you look for a female coach as a role model? Does she attend a girl’s tennis squad? Do you encourage her to hit with other girls? Do you look for a girl’s tournament in mini tennis? Do you not enter mixed tournaments or mixed matchplay?

We all know that many girls drop out of sport and we will have our own way of trying to ensure that our daughter’s don’t do that. I wonder what idea you have?

Blog 2 in this series looks at how competition organisers can encourage girls to compete more: Girls in tennis competitions

Blog 3 in the series considers how we can make team tennis more attractive to girls: Girls in team tennis

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. Please follow me on on twitter @tennisdaduk.

Tennis parenting through the looking glass

Adidas By Stella McCartney Media Launch

“Why it’s simply impassible!

Alice: Why, don’t you mean impossible?

Door: No, I do mean impassible. (chuckles) Nothing’s impossible!”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

How many times have we watched our child play and at the end of the match had a list of situations that we wished to discuss with them. Hoping that they would reflect on a small aspect of their game that with a little tweak would improve their chances. It might be an aspect of positioning, the right time to play a certain shot or a discussion on positive thinking.

We might wait until the end of the competition, till the next day or to the next coaching session to try and help our child reflect more deeply and hope that the learning points may be more sustained.

Yet how often do we reflect on our parenting? Do you reflect on what is the best message to give your child? Or when is the most effective time to do this? We are all looking for the small margins that will make a difference to our child’s game and one of those could be reflecting on how we help the most effectively.

The theory

“I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Those in education may have the heard of the concept of double loop learning, something that Schon described in his work on the ‘Reflective practitioner’. The idea is quite simple. When you are talking to your child, there is the first loop of learning were you are helping your child learn. The second loop is when you reflect on how effective has your conversation been. Teachers will use this idea as a reflective practitioner by thinking what have the children learnt in a lesson and then consider how could their teaching have improved.

The Practice

The next time you have a list of points, which you wish to discuss with your child, why not also think

  • When is the best time to discuss this?
  • When you are having the conversation, how is your child engaging?
  • What impact do you notice in your child’s game in the future?


“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

That really is careful reflection.

Practice Makes Perfect (Blog 1)


“It is the willingness to engage in hard or, quite often, very boring, practice that distinguishes the very best”

A standard belief held by many was that the very best were supremely talented due to an inbuilt gift that couldn’t be created. Some people said that it was inherited and others may have said it was a god given gift. Therefore yes, you could get better with practice but that was never enough to be a world beater. In my childhood memories the world beater did not have to just be an Ian Botham, a John MacEnroe or Daley Thomson, I am showing my age here. Instead a world beater could be the child who always beat you in an individual sport, the child who scored the hat tricks on the football field or the child who bowled a ball you could not put a bat on.

We used to practice of course. I can remember spending hours at the cricket field persuading anybody I could to bowl at me or just running in and trying to bowl as fast as I could at unguarded stumps pretending I was Malcolm Marshall. In some sports there was some coaching. I played table tennis at a reasonable level and attended group sessions were there were 16 children all practicing the same routine. I can still remember, backhand short serve, opponent backhand push and then the  server hitting a forehand top spin… with the instruction from the coach continue the point from there. However individual coaching that really focussed on an individual weakness, well that was few and far between and only for the wealthy few. There was no doubt that practice did make a difference in comparison to those who didn’t but it never seemed to make a difference in comparison to those who were practicing as much I was and in the same style… if they were already better than me they just stayed better than me. In fact even practicing more did not seem to impact either, especially if always I was doing was just repeating the same thing and in terms of cricket, my bowling has its own individual idiosyncratic action all of its own which you would never find in a coaching guide.

The idea of practice beyond this was not really discussed in any length. I did read occasional stories such as of Ivan Lendl who was not even the best player in Russia in his teens and went onto be the best player world apparently through a phenomenal work ethic. Another story that stayed with me was Geoff Boycott having the wooden floor of a gym polished so the ball would turn and bounce to replicate the wickets of the sub continent. Yet it was the individual genius of the tabloid favourites that were much more to the fore.

The first occasion when I heard a different view was during teacher training when I attended a half day seminar entitled ‘ability.’ There two Maths education lecturers propounded the view that there was no such thing as ability it was all about the environment a child was brought up in and then the teaching they received at school. I can remember railing against this, it couldn’t be right. I commented that it wouldn’t matter how much I practiced it would not turn me into Bryan Lara! The lecturers responded to my views and those of others with a patient, weary wisdom borne out of an unshakeable belief that they were on the right track. (They were far too humble a pair to claim they were right!)

That was twenty years ago and now my view has greatly changed. Why you may ask?

First is just the life experience that has made me consider what is practice? How can it be made more worthwhile? In my teaching how could I encourage children to solve equations and then just practice, practice, practice… Those children who would do this really did make huge strides and would overtake the pupil who had appeared naturally talented at 11 but did not retain the work ethic. My biggest success was a child who was a Maths level 4 at 11 (the national average) and a set 3/4 candidate but with continual practice achieved his A* and the second highest result in the school five years later. This was a child whose primary teacher would not have said was talented in any way.

One of the biggest impact though has been two books, ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell and ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed which turn the talent myth upside down. They do this by highlighting all the stories of some of the gifted individuals I had used in my arguments such as Tiger Woods or Mozart and explained how they had achieved so much at an early age due to the incredible number of hours that they spend on their practice. Also the type of practice they engaged in. This was not just repetition for repetition’s sake but instead practice which was highly purposeful. These are books which I regularly read sections of in school assemblies as I constantly wish to present the view that the children can always practice and find a way forwards.

I wonder if the other element which has greatly changed my view is of being a father and being a tennis dad. Tennis was not a sport that I played as a child or certainly not in any organised fashion but now I spend hours at the side of a court or chauffering my children to coaching sessions. I have a reason for wanting to believe that purposeful practice is the solution because that means that if I can find the right opportunities for whichever activity my children wish to pursue whether it is tennis or something else and can then encourage a practice ethic amongst them, then there is no limit to what they can achieve. I am sure that every parent holds that dream, that our children’s outcomes are potentially limitless.


Managing yourself

Like most tennis fans, I spent Sunday afternoon in front of the tv watching the Murray / Djokovic Wimbledon final, marvelling at the physical and mental strength of the two players involved in rallies frequently over twenty shots on such a warm day.

Only a few hours earlier I had taken my son to his own tennis competition. It was a scorching morning for ten year olds to play three matches, all best of three short sets.

In his first match he walked onto court with his carefully packed tennis bag containing drinks, sun glasses, baseball cap and in pride of place the new purple hand towel he had bought on his Monday visit to Wimbledon.

He won his first two matches and there is no doubt that he carefully managed himself in the heat, evidenced by the following strategies he used:

1) Took his time in between points
2) In preparing for his second serve he bounced the ball a number of times
3) Whilst preparing to return serve you could see him bouncing on the balls of his feet (we have nicknamed this ‘happy feet’)
4) I could hear regular positive self talk in between points and when he made an error
5) He wore his sunglasses and white baseball cap all the time
6) In between games he wiped his face with his towel
7) At changeover he always took a drink

In the third match, the sun was really beating down on both players, the rallies were long with my son going for his shots whilst his opponent went for less pace and a more defensive game plan, concentrating on keeping the ball in. My son fell behind but I didn’t mind as I would rather him get good practice of going for the right shot even if the operation does not always work.

However what was noticeable than as the games went on and the sweat began to pour, the techniques he had used in earlier matches were forgotten; drinks were not taken, points were rushed, the sunglasses and hat removed, the towel ignored and self talk became more negative.

He lost the match and the other boy should be congratulated for sticking with his game plan. I don’t mind that he lost as there is an excellent learning opportunity for him to consider how he manages himself in the future. So during the Murray / Djoko final we played ‘managing yourself’ bingo and Andy Murray’s use of the towel in between points was one excellent example of this.

In addition for my son’s next match, I am going to make sure that in his notebook that he takes onto court, the seven points above are listed and I intend keep a tally of when he uses them.


Ps I shared this blog with my son, he helped me take the photograph and he is now more eager to put the ideas into action than if I had just explained the advice to him!

Hello world from tennisdadblog

Welcome to my first piece of writing for tennisdadblog. As would befit the blog title, I am currently sat by the side of a tennis court whilst my son is having his lesson. Being a tennis dad can be a fantastic pastime, as my son and I travel around different parts of the country whilst he plays in competitions and we meet some really interesting people. It can also put a considerable strain on the two of us as we are both placed in this completely new and pressurised world. I never played tennis as a child so I do not have a set of a reference points to work from.

I want to use this blog to try and explore some of the issues and challenges that we’ve faced which will hopefully be useful for other tennis parents or sports parents in general. I will also mention some of the books that I have read and the learning that I have gained from them. (November 2012)

Post script: It’s now six years later. My son still enjoys hitting with this coach and younger players and also playing doubles but hasn’t played a singles tournament for a few years. I’m now using our learning to help my daughter so is still on the tournament scene. (May 2019)

Oh and I’ve pulled all my learning together into a book for tennis parents, ‘Trophies, tears and line-calls’ which is available from amazon. Parents who’ve read it say, it is really useful. Why not have a look yourself?

Trophies, tears