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Player to Player: Boosting My Child's Confidence

June 11, 2012 11:35 AM
Have a question? Receive advice from your fellow tennis players!
Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For and Offering Advice on the Sport They Love
Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular 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.

Player to Player:
This week's question from Mike:
If I hit a bad lob and I know the net person will put it away with ease, I often say out loud "OOOH OOOH" or "Mercy" or something else. It's just a bad habit I've developed. Most of the time, the net person successfully puts the overhead away, but on occasion will miss. It's possible my words distracted them, but when I've apologized, they say it was their mis-hit. How can I learn to keep my mouth shut?
Please share your thoughts by e-mailing Player@USTA.com, and include your name and hometown.
Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!

Last week's question from Teofila
(Please note: There is no need to send additional responses to this question.)
How can I help boost the confidence of my 11-year-old so that he plays tournaments with enjoyment and not fear? He has a hard time managing his emotions, becomes paralyzed on the court and ends up forgetting all his tennis skills.
Player Responses:
Kenny S., Chicago

Too much tennis could be bad at this time. Maybe mix up the child's activities more. You might want to make sure that winning isn't always the most important thing, but make sure learning and having fun are the goals. Hopefully tennis technique is also a very important goal. Getting the fundamentals of the game on each shot at that age or any age is key. Don't be too hard on the little one, but a little push can help -- just not a shove.

Eric R., Northern California

You say that your 11-year-old has excess angst and fear during tourney play. How many times has this happened, and are these local, sectional or national? Experience will be the best antidote. I do not know from your question what that may amount to at such a tender age.

In any case, why not try some imaginative role playing? This approach worked wonders for me at his age. I imagined my favorite top pro and said to myself, "Today, I am going to enjoy pretending being someone else."
I never played any better, and when something went badly, I would repeat that "The Great Mr. X is never bothered by adversity. Mr. X laughs at danger and proceeds with confidence to visualize the next point going well."

Tell your child that "enjoying the moment" is truly what will make the game fun and, as a big side benefit, he will hit the ball better when he is truly having fun.

Read Tim Galwey's "The Inner Game of Tennis." This is the single best-selling book of all time on tennis. This will help you to articulate to him how to "stay in the present moment" during a match.

Next step: He needs only to have carefully observed a composed, well-focused and playful, relaxed role model. Go to YouTube or other archives and get him to choose a favorite. One popular choice, Roger Federer, had these same fearful, often angry outbursts as a youngster. Just look at him now.
Fed vs. del Potro showed that he is human. The overflow crowd had been disruptive, and when one woman yelled loudly "Out!" before Fed's ball had landed, Fed then said in English, "Shut Up." This was a very crucial point at the very end of a second-set tiebreaker. It would put him down two sets to none, to a fearful 6-foot, 6-inch big hitter and former US Open champion.

I say Fed deserved to vent his anger over the crowd's unsportsmanlike yelling of an out call before it had bounced. The point that really matters is that Fed got his legendary focus and calm demeanor right back on track. Down two sets, Fed won the next three, 6-2, 6-0, 6-3, to get to the French Open Semis.

We all need role models. Kids have a great and active imagination.
Put his imagination skills to work and increase his positive attitude in tourney play.

Enjoy the journey.

Coach Leonard, Concord, Calif.

Your question is unclear. Do you want your son to play tournaments for the enjoyment or to be competitive by using the skills that he has developed? It sounds more like you want him to be a good competitor. At age 11, playing strong tennis and having fun may not be that simple.
At 11, he's playing the 12-and-under age group. That can be an awkward adjustment after leaving the 10-and-unders. Different tennis balls, court size and adapting to the bigger, stronger 12 year olds. Here are my tips for this week:
1) Match time. Set up practice matches. The more exposure to match play, the better.
2) Be supportive. Cheer when your son plays a good point. Avoid groaning, sighing or showing negative body language when he misses a shot.
Instead, be encouraging. A "that's OK" or "great try" helps out. Hearing the opponent's parent cheering while your son loses a point can be
rough to handle. Let him hear your words of encouragement to keep his spirits up.
3) Self help. When I do drills or play points, I like to train players who I have worked with not to always rely on my feedback or tips on how to fix an issue with mechanics. Instead, I ask them calmly, "What happened? What needs to be done to correct it? Show me the right way." This reinforces a player using time after an error to correct, instead of getting frustrated or depressed. It is common to see Rafa, Roger and Novak take a practice swing after a missed point.
4) Jobless can be fun. Most 11 year olds haven't worked, so try not to make tennis a job. I had a 12-year-old player who loved to hit the ball as hard as possible. Her passing shots were awesome, but she also found a good number of shots way over the baseline. I developed a drill that I call "The 5-Hit Drill" just for her. I told her parents before I started the drill to watch her progress. I explained to my student, Gina, "I have this new game today. It's called '5 Hits.' This is how it works.

"We start on opposite sides of the court at baseline. Hit five hits back to each other. On the fifth hit, we move to midway between baseline and service line... five hits. Be sure that the hitter counts out loud. We close in on service line... five hits. Then we close midway between service line and net for five volleys. Then we back up to service line... five hits. Go back between serviceline and baseline... five hits. Finally we go all the way back to baseline for five groundies. That's a full round.

"Here is the key to making this work. When moving forward on the first half of the round, hit the fifth ball short to make it easy to close. On the second half, push the ball higher and deeper to allow time to move back. Let's start." 

I developed this to focus on footwork, timing, touch and hand/eye. When we completed our lengthy drill, I asked her, "Gina, how many balls did we hit?" She replied, "Five." I corrected her by saying, "We hit 250 in a row." Her confidence grew tremendously from that drill. It worked primarily since she only thought about five hits.

Another drill I had was called, "Hit the Racquet." In this one, I sit on the court just opposite the net. I feed balls while holding my racquet face above the net. It's the player's job to hit my racquet. You can feed the ball short, wide, deep, whatever you choose. It's even more fun feeding to two students. Gina wasn't a big fan of conditioning. I used "Shadow Tag" as my answer. For warmup, I would step on her shadow with my right foot. Now she had to chase me until she could step on my shadow with the same foot. Likewise with my left foot with hers. I found with a little creativity, I could motivate Gina into enjoying tennis. It paid off later. She went three sets with Jennifer Capriati in the 16s Hard Court Nationals.
Pressure and stress can take a toll on an 11-year-old. Every parent wants his or her child to win. Attend your son's tennis lessons and listen to the advice the pro is giving and ask the pro afterwards how you can help. Often using the same key words that clicked in the lesson will work. Observe his next match. Afterwards, discuss what was correct and praise before giving constructive criticism. Be sure that the positive side weighs more than the criticism.

Here is an example. "You almost won it. Great effort. Your serve returns were nice and deep. You were hustling out there. You retreived a lot of tough shots. Your lobs were well placed. You kept him off the net. Way to pop those volleys. The wind was rough today. It looked like it affected your service toss. If the toss isn't right, do another. Remember what Coach Leonard said. A batter doesn't need to swing at every pitch."
Don't forget to smile and give a high five and hug afterwards. That means just as much.
*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.
Click here for USTA.com's Player to Player Archive.


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