Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For, and Offering, Advice on the Sport They Love Player to Player is USTA.com’s bi-weekly feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.
Please send any questions you’d like answered, or responses to other player’s questions, to Player@USTA.com .
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This week's question from Katie E. of Boston, MA
"I've been playing tennis often and taking lessons and clinics. As a result, I've seen my level of play move up significantly. Now my issue is how to break into a new group of tennis players at a higher level of play without offending people I've been playing with for years who no longer challenge me on the court. How do you back out nicely when people at a lower level consistently want you to play with them?"
Please share your advice with Katie E. by e-mailing Player@USTA.com and include your name and hometown.
Got a question of your own? Send that along, too.
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Last week’s question from LaRhonda A. of Los Angeles, CA
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question)
"My friend's daughter is a 12-year-old up-and-coming junior tennis player. The parents are trying to deal with their daughter's tendency to throw anger fits on the court after making a mistake, even when she's winning a match. Can you offer advice on dealing with this issue?"
From Renee H., Summerville, SC
Without a doubt, the fastest and easiest way to deal with children throwing on-court anger fits is to immediately remove them from the match. It's important that there be no discussion, no second chances, no explanations, no excuses and above all else, NO EXCEPTIONS. If junior players truly believes that they will be removed from a match every single time they exhibit unacceptable court behavior -- trust me -- they will control their behavior. This won't work if you allow second chances, waste time discussing the behavior, accept excuses or only do it occasionally. This mother of five has found that it's only necessary to do this once or twice before the problem is permanently solved. Best of luck.
From Cindy G., Encino, CA, mom of 3 kids, 17,14 & 10
There are different ways to deal with a child who throws anger fits on the court. A positive approach would be to point out superstars like Roger Federer who, as a junior, did the same thing and eventually found ways to cope because he did not value this in himself. McEnroe is an example of a superstar who continued this behavior into adulthood.
Tennis is a sport of etiquette. The most respected players are the ones who show the best sportsmanship and grace on the court. The parents can point out to their daughter while watching professional matches on television, not only the great strokes, positioning, etc., but also how the player has dealt with the frustration of missing a point, game, set or match.
It might also be helpful for the parents to videotape their child during a match and play it back for her. She may not be aware of how she is behaving in the moment and may want to work on it when she watches it. A last resort, if none of the above suggestions help, could be that the parents may need to have her sit out and perhaps take a little "time out" from tennis until she is ready to work on this other very important aspect of the game.
From Michael G., Kansas City, MO
Tennis mirrors life in providing instant redemption for mistakes. Why? There is always the next point. Suggest that the junior focus on her future and not making a mistake on the next point, rather than be angry about the mistake that is past and thus cannot be changed. Treat the mistake as a mini-lesson. Have her ask herself, “Why did I make that mistake?” Once the mini-lesson is learned, move on. Remind her that her mistake on the last point must not ruin her opportunity to win the next point. Think ahead, and think positive.
From John H., NJ
A 12-year-old being immature? Gee, what a surprise. If she is competing at this age, it will be hard on her in any case. It seems she has developed a case of perfectionism. Maybe this is internally driven, maybe instilled by her parents (knowingly or unknowingly). In any event, being gentle and understanding while reinforcing positive behavior will probably produce better results. Also, you might ask the child what she wants as far as competing in tennis. Of course, getting a truthful answer will depend on the parents giving her the emotional space to be honest. If their reaction is, "Of course she wants to play competitively" before the kid is asked, then you will probably not get the kids true reaction.
From Unknown, Rockford, IL
I was 35 years old and still breaking racquets, then something happened that changed my attitude. I was injured and on crutches for six months. During that time, I went to a women’s challenger and saw a lot of mistakes on shots that I would expect myself to make. I observed the extent of emotion -- a scream, a slap on the thigh -- and they moved on. I saw other players at my club level throw tantrums. How embarrassing it looked and how it psyched up their opponent. All of that changed me when I got back on the court. Now I appreciated the opportunity to be able to play and enjoy the emotional combat. I also couldn't afford a new racquet after each tournament. Hope I was able to help.
From Carolyn C.
Hold the player accountable, even a 12 year old. If she can't control her anger on the court, pull her off, default her from the match, and let her know that you, as a parent, will continue to do the same until she can control the emotion. Maturity is part of competition. Hold the line now, and it will benefit her in the long run.
From Dolores B., NSWTA (National Senior Women's Tennis Association)
It is so sad to see young players show anger, and it does nothing but make them play worse. The youngster must be told that even the top pros make mistakes. It is human to err. My suggestion is to tell the player to be able to laugh at the mistake, be humorous and tell herself that the last stroke was really beautiful and get on with focusing on the next ball. For example, if I forget to bend my knees for the low ball, and I hit the shot into the net, I will walk a little stiff-legged, like I can't bend my knees as I go to pick up the ball. The release of humor makes me feel better.
If the child is putting that much energy into displays of anger, she is wasting her energy and concentration by beating up on herself. She really needs to work on not reacting to events on the court and concentrate on playing the game. This will come with maturity and also with advice from coaches and parents. Read “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey.
Coach John “Poppy” Massetti, PTR Pro, Palm Bay, FL
Anger for the wrong reason is bad anytime, anywhere. Displaying that anger during match play does several things. First and foremost, it is time wasted as an emotional outlet to a situation instead of time invested in the moment to finding a solution. Anger when you are winning is even worse. You have to ask yourself, “Why is my player, my son or daughter so angry?” In my 30-plus years of dealing with kids, one thing I’ve noticed is angry kids at play are often angry kids, period.
On and off the court, anger management is a problem. Some cover this up as responsiveness to competitive situations, when actually they have learned that they feel better afterwards and the outbreaks get closer and closer together. It is the result in the drop in blood pressure at the moment of release. Sometimes is also a way, although a negative way, for them to get attention. I call it “The Wet Potato Chip.” A small child -- if given the choice of no potato chip or taking the wet one -- will take the wet one.
Coping with this matter must start early. On the court, the player needs to learn what is in their control and what is not and how to deal with those things. Easy to say, right? The past is past; staying in the moment is the best way to take control of what is within your realm.
Here are some techniques to control your thoughts that work for me and the young players I work with:
- Only the ball. Focus on the piece of the ball you will contact from the moment your opponent has it in their hand, during the point of contact stay on that spot, then look up. Repeat the process.
- Bounce, hit. During play, the ball spends more time in flight than bouncing or hit time. Some track the ball by saying to themselves, “Bounce,” every time the ball bounces and, “Hit,” every time it is hit. Add an “s” on your HITS and now you are exhaling through the contact point.
- Turn off your negative self-talk. Replace it with thoughts that revolve around what you can do to win this point.
- Know the score at the end and the beginning of each point. Should your opponent not call it out, call it out yourself. Just be sure you both know the score before you start a point. This avoids conflict, which is a major distraction.
- Only when you see the ball clearly out should you question your opponent. Then stand by the call or get a line judge. Always live by your calls unless otherwise proven incorrect. Self questioning takes you out of the moment.
- Have fun. It is hard to be angry when you’re having fun.
From Laurel S.
Take a videotape of her throwing a fit -- that might cure her!
From Skipper H.
If my child were to pitch anger fits while playing a match, whatever the reason, the next time we went to a match I would warn her, "If you have one of your anger fits at any time during this match, I will remove you from the match, and we will go home." And then if she had one of her fits of anger, I would do exactly that... walk out on the court, tell her to get her stuff, shake hands with her opponent, have HER go and tell those in charge of the tournament or match WHY she is leaving and then LEAVE. Don't tell a child you are going to do something and then not follow through.
From Tuan N., San Jose, CA
I videotaped my son’s matches and showed him how his angry behavior or tantrum made him look. All the ugliness and lack of sportsmanship could be replayed for him and others to see. He has learned to suppress his anger and hasn’t shown any anger or racquet abuse for over a year since seeing the tapes, and his game has improved dramatically.
From Carol Q., Bay Village, OH
Greetings! My daughter started playing regional USTA tournaments this past summer after she turned 9-years-old in June. We are parents in our late 40s, early 50s. She is an excellent player and doing very well now, but it was a challenge at first. At her first tournament, we nipped the anger thing in the bud right away. She's an intelligent little girl.
First of all, it just was not good manners and would not be tolerated. Second, we told her she looked stupid out there throwing a tantrum. We told her that if she wants to be a professional, she was going to have to act like a professional! We told her not to get mad but get smart. Watch her opponent and figure out her weak points and then play to them. We explained anger does nothing but short circuit the brain and keep you from accomplishing the task at hand, which is to win!
We had her make a couple of big shrugs with her shoulders and take a couple of big deep breaths to clear her attitude. We also told her to be the bigger person. If her opponent's shot was a good one and won fair and square, tell them. It puts them off guard. We told her that you never want to let your opponent know how you are feeling, especially if you are frustrated because then they know they have you where they want you. But most importantly, we tell her to just play her best. If you do lose, at least you made them work for it. Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. If you are the one to win, that's great! But if you are the one to lose -- lose graciously. Thank the other player for a good match, smiling, knowing that you gave it your best and acted your best! That's all we expect.
Her coach is also very positive and makes it fun to play, while working her to death! If your coach is always yelling and screaming about improving, improving, improving, without complimenting on accomplishments, find another coach. (Rome wasn't built in a day.) If the kids are improving and doing better, they need positive reinforcement about that, just like the rest of us. They will then have the confidence on the court to play smarter and get less frustrated, which is what leads to the tantrums. Good luck.
From Mario R., Landurm, SC
It sounds like this girl is either putting a lot of pressure on herself, or someone else is putting too much emphasis on perfection. Try video taping one of her tantrums, and let her see herself. She might decide that she needs to figure out some other way to deal with the mistake. Does she play better or worse after her fits? My guess is that she plays worse. Once she realizes that anger fits are not helping her win, she might then approach the mistake for what it is, an error. Forget it and play the next point. Don't forget you are on the court because you love tennis and want to have fun. Keep practicing and focus on your strengths.
From Irv S.
It is one thing to be upset over losing a point. However, if it hits a certain level (whatever it is determined to be), make her default. That will teach her that anger fits will not be tolerated.
Temper tantrums by anyone on the court are detrimental to the game. The parents should tell their daughter to either play with a level head and controlled temper or she cannot play at all. In other words, if she cannot control herself, she cannot play and should be yanked off the court at the first outburst. Period.
From Linda C.
The next time your daughter acts inappropriately during a match, remove her from the match and forfeit due to bad sportsmanship. That should get her attention. She shouldn’t be allowed to play.
From Ali K., Billings, MT
My advice or suggestion to the 12-year-old is just be cool, let it out. If you don’t win, so what? It’s not the end of the world. As long as you know that you played at your best level and were having fun, it doesn’t matter what other people think. I also have been reading “Winning Ugly” by Brad Gilbert and Steve Jamison. Brad Gilbert used to be Andre Agassi's coach and he gives excellent pointers in the book. Also, remember the sayings, “Patience is a virtue” and “Good things come to those who wait."
From Susan C.
An instant cure for the fit-throwing, 12-year-old junior would be to immediately default her, toss her racquets in the trunk of the car and head home. Her outbursts should stop right away. If Mom and Dad don't have the nerve to take this action then they really are enjoying her fits and probably describing her as so competitive to all of their friends and family. Another curb to fit-throwing is to make the temper tantrum thrower buy all of her own racquets. Even rich people should make their children do chores. Earning her own money and then using that money to buy new racquets (because she busted the one she was using) can curb the enthusiasm of smashing a perfectly good racquet on the court. Parents have to take responsibility for the behavior of their fit throwers. Been there, done that.
I don't know if I handled it correctly or incorrectly, but when my son started doing the same thing, I really came down very hard on him. He is cured of it now, but it took two to three times of REALLY letting him have it verbally after a match or during practice. I've never hit him, but he probably wished that I would have instead of those two or three conversations. I tried to make it clear to him that I did not care whether he won or lost, but he was not going to act like a baby on the court and that he would actually win more matches if he learned to control his emotions after each point. I constantly see kids miss serves when they're mad. You can almost predict it with some kids. You can't properly hit a tennis ball when you're angry, since the timing gets messed up and the ball ends up in the net or over the baseline.
I wish that the referees would make a much bigger deal of this at tournaments and call a match when they see a kid getting out of hand. Yes, that's a tough judgment call, but if you can hear their exclamations from two courts over, that is uncalled for. If they hit their racquet on the fence or ground, there should be penalties. I get the impression that some kids have never been told not to do that kind of thing.
I don't watch a lot of pro matches, but I've seen a couple of instances where racquets get tossed or banged. At the pro level this should TOTALLY not be allowed. I'd make the penalties stiff enough so that it would almost always result in a lost match... say loss of the next set or something close to that. It just should not be tolerated.
From Gloria, Atlanta, GA
There is nothing worse than seeing a youngster display poor sportsmanship. She may be angry at herself, but she’s revealing this bad behavior to all watching, including her opponent. She needs coaching on the "mental" part of the game -- which is about 95 percent of the game. If she doesn't fix that, she will not go as far as she and her parents may like. I would also suggest that she be taken out of competition until she demonstrates that she can control her temper. You may also want to talk with her about the stress/pressure she feels during a match to see if this is her manifestation of that stress. Does she react this way in other situations, like at school? Or just on the court? There may be a way to channel the anger into a positive energy by refocusing her when she feels this anger and frustration coming on.
From Jenny, IN
I also have a junior player who's played all over the U.S. A lot of that behavior is due to age and they usually grow out of it, but parents that are so weak (yeah, I said it!) that they can't control their OWN children make the game intolerable for the other players and parents. It's not fair that good kids have to suffer and sometimes lose to kids like that. Personally, I'm pretty sick of seeing it go on, and I even think sometimes it's strategized by the parents to throw the opponent off their game.
I suggest taking her directly off the court (in the middle of the match if need be) somewhere private, get down to her eye level and STERNLY let it be known that that is NOT appropriate behavior, that you are the one making this possible and also the one that can put an end to it. Then take her home, make her stay in her room to think about it. And go to your room and grow a back-bone. Isn't this basic parenting 101? If you can't control your kid, give us all a break and stay home please. Next match reinforce the fact that you will come out on the court and remove her again if she can't control herself.
Think of the people around you and what they think about every time you get mad on the court. So hold it in, and take it out on the ball.
From Sue S.
Displays of anger occur on the court for the same reasons they occur in life. Whenever one encounters a problem for which they have no solution, stress hormones create anxiety. Fortunately, on the tennis court one can learn how to solve all problems with the knowledge of how your brain actually functions within the dimensions of neuroscience. Then one has to understand a little physics, a little geometry and a little kinesiology. Next, one has to understand the Laws of Body Motion and Newton"s Laws of Motion. Only then can the competitor achieve the highest level of match play performance. If my six year old can learn this through visual imagery, you can too.
*Please note that any advice given out in this forum should in no way be confused with actual medical advice. Before starting any new exercise regimen or altering your existing one, we strongly urge you to consult with your regular physician.
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