Motivating A Child Back Into Tennis

Q. "My 7-year-old son took tennis lessons for a year and really seemed to enjoy them and also showed a lot of talent for the sport – his coach said he was the most talented player his age that he had ever taught – but when the class ended, he said he wanted a break from playing. Instead of pushing him to take more lessons, we decided to let him take some time off, thinking we didn't want him to feel pressured and end up hating the sport. The issue is that after six months, he still doesn't show any interest in playing. Should we try to encourage him to play again or let him continue on with his 'break'? He really did seem to enjoy himself whenever he was on court.”

From Albert H.:

I understand your dilemma. I have an 8-year-old son who shows similar promise and loves to play. I think the important thing is to find out why he isn’t anxious to get back out on the court. At his age, it could be anything, really – the time commitment, coach’s personality, compromising time that he might like to be spending elsewhere doing other things, etc. It is not only about talent but environment. If you get to the source of the environmental issue, you have a good chance of solving the problem and potentially getting him back on the court. Remember, if it isn’t fun, he isn’t going to want to play, no matter how good he is.

From Anonymous:

I suggest exposing your son to all of the sports; in time, he will develop interest and abilities in one or more. Progress to junior high with that principle, and then he will be in a better position to know what he wants to do.

Don't push him to do any particular sport; let it develop on its own. In my opinion, seven years old is too young to take tennis lessons, unless he is taking lessons from an experienced pro who is in tune with what is best taught and how to teach at that age. It is not forehands and backhands; rather it is exercise, fun, motor skills, hand-eye coordination, mini-competitions. The USTA 'Little Tennis' Program is based on that type of focus.

Be careful, it is very easy to burn out, discourage or injure a young player.

From Vic Braden:

Would like to hear any conversations with the boy as to why he dropped tennis.

From Eric R., Mill Valley, CA:

Encourage by your own playing and positive attitude about participation. All sorts of ball sports that keep him happy and active are great. This all will build ball skills and footwork that may later lead to a good tennis foundation. For example, McEnroe played soccer and hoops through high school.

Never force, always encourage. Do any of his friends or siblings, or parents, play tennis? Role models are prevalent in the bios of lifetime players.

From Dawn H., Fairfield, CT:

I have kids who play tennis, and my 12-year-old daughter shows much promise and loves to play. Her only problem is that she has periods of non-competitiveness. I just let her slide over those times and do not push. It seems like the more I push, the farther back she slides, so I don't do it.

My 7-year-old son, on the other hand, loves the game and is learning. I will not push him, either, though it is my nature to push them both... I am highly competitive. Their coaches are understanding of this, since they also have children.

Just take your son out to play some fun tennis and see if that bolsters his eagerness to play again. Not to worry, though. Seven is young, and if he has natural talent, it won't go away. There are some amazing players out there who have no desire to play until they reach 15 or so. No need to push... it doesn't help, only hurts.

Good luck... maybe we'll see you out on a court someday with our boys!

From Gary E.:

I would push him, just try to make it fun. Sometimes as a young adult we don’t see the potential in ourselves or the benefits of being talented, and we go through life not achieving anything and possibly living with regrets or what ifs? I would also encourage friends to join in his circle who also love the sport so he has others that follow in the same path.

Always love your child no matter what and all your children equally and, in doing so, they will grow and mature in that.

From Kelly C.:

I had a similar problem with my 6-year-old daughter. She is a lefty with a lot of talent. I tried to be careful not to push her into the sport and gently tried to persuade her, but she had no interest. I finally just signed her up for a rally ball team and private lessons. The rally ball is fun for her because she actually gets to “play” tennis vs. doing drills. I invited one of her buddies to the private lesson so she looks forward to going. After signing her up, I simply told her she was going and had to try once to see if she liked it. Thankfully, she did and now looks forward to it.

From Robert G., San Leandro, CA:

I strongly suggest reading the book, "Raising Your Child To Be a Champion," by Wayne Bryan. Who's better to take advice from than the man who raised Mike and Bob? Both are arguably the best role models for the sport right now. I'm quite sure you will find valuable advice about the problem you are facing now and then some.

This book reinforced the things my wife and I already do and showed us other things we could be doing, as well. The best part is the whole book is quite engaging and easy to read. I won't be surprised if you go through it in one sitting. This is like a field manual for parents!

From Jacqueline G.:

Even though exceptionally good for his age, your son is only 7 years old. I am assuming that he is taking private lessons. I have found out that at that age many children enjoy and do better in group lessons. You should try it for awhile and see how your son likes it. He has to enjoy tennis to want to play!

The USTA Quick Start Tennis is for beginners, yet I suggest that you visit that site at www.partners.quickstarttennis.com.

From Jenny H., NC:

I have two kids who have experienced about every sport I can toss at them since the age of 3.

My 11-year-old daughter never really took an interest in anything until about a year ago. She was good at all the things she tried, but she just didn’t have the drive or desire until she found the sport of tennis that she loved. My son, however, tried lots of sports and realized soccer was his love at probably around age 7, so I feel the need to let them experience it all and let them pick.

I personally wouldn’t want to force it, but it doesn’t mean he can’t get out there and hit or take lessons/clinics still.

From Len, Manorville, NY:

You didn't say if you had a conversation with your son as to why he doesn't want to continue with the sport. Maybe he had a negative experience with the coach, or maybe he found another interest to take up his time, or maybe he just wants to play with his friends. In any case, a lot of communication is needed to find out what the problem is (if there is one). Good luck.

From Doris D.:

Joan: Ask him if he would like to try a different coach.

From Susan M.:

If you are hoping for a tennis professional, stop here. But if you want your child to enjoy tennis later in life, read on.

I was a good player (this is back in the dark ages when only Rockefellers played year-round). I would win matches, etc. Then, at the age of 12, I lost interest. I knew I'd been pretty OK up until then, so when I rediscovered tennis in my early 20s, I felt quite confident.

When I got committed to tennis after children in my early 30s, I was ecstatic. I've been an avid player ever since, as well as a USTA player, and, after all, that's all we want from the sport, right? Enjoyment, exercise and competitive play.

From Lindy Lou, Bensalem, PA:

Your 7-year-old son was telling you something, and you LISTENED. Good for you. Maybe he was feeling too much pressure, or it wasn't fun any more, or some other reason.

Let him stay on his "break" for as long as he wants. He is so young that there is plenty of time, and when and if he does want to start up again, it will be his choice. And if he never does, that will have to be OK, too. At his age he may have a lot of competing interests – basketball, soccer, etc. By the way, all other sports are good cross training for tennis, and he won't really lose any time by being involved in other sports.

It is my personal opinion that tennis is too good of a sport to give up for good, and I suspect he will return. This could be as a teenager or even an adult.

In the meantime, here is a little "trick" you could try. I don't know if one or both of you play tennis, but if you do, say something like, "Oh, Daddy and I are going to hit for a little – want to come along?" Turn it into some family fun, and it will be a win-win situation, whatever happens after that.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Joan, I read your question several times to see if I missed something. I see that your son is 7, took lessons for a year, his coach spoke highly of him and that he wanted a break. Sounds reasonable.

This sounds reasonable because he is "7," and for the last year, he took what sounds like traditional lessons. We all heard the song, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” It holds true for little girls and boys alike. Kids wanna have FUN.

Here is a suggestion: Get him playing NOW. Easy for me to say, but if asked what would I be doing differently in 2007 than in 1987, it would be getting kids to play games to build towards keeping score, to build towards playing real games and sets and matches.

Joan, take him and play with him. Let him show you how to have FUN. Just get a racket, a speed ball (large foam transition ball) and play.

I know you are going to say, “Thanks, Coach Poppie,” so here is your, “You are welcome” now.

Have fun. Play tennis.

From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

At 7, his social skills and mental skills are still developing. At that age, an athletically talented kid should be playing other sports – basketball, football, soccer, baseball, martial arts and other sports – that will develop his eye-hand coordination and make his footwork and love for sports grow.

Rent a half hour at your local club, get 10-15 balls, and toss or hit them with him one day. Watch tennis when it is on TV; I would recommend getting the rather new and fun "Tennis Channel." Hopefully, if he is a real-deal skilled young athlete, you should put him in a lot of sports.

By 9 or 10, put him in a USTA 10-and-under tournament; there are 8-and-under, but in this case I would wait. Sign him up for some group or semi-private lessons at your local club. If he has the love, talent and desire, then get him some private lessons.

I remember my first tournament at the McFetridge Sports Center in Chicago. I lost but learned so much in the process. You need to want it at that point, have the love for tennis like myself and so many others have. At that point, make sure he wants it, has the physical and athletic gifts needed to be a top high school player, national player and, one day, college player.

Good luck, be patient, and don't live your dreams through your children.

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