Tennis and mental health: Parents' questions answered

Support your child in their competitive tennis journey through these mental health tips from industry experts.


The tips are in response to questions submitted during the USTA's lunch-and-learn webinar series, launched to help tennis parents navigate the sport’s competitive pathway. 


Through this series, parents will better understand aspects of health & wellness in the context of junior competitive play and be able to apply best practices to their child’s tournament experience. 

What is the best way to handle a loss in regard to your child? I always feel like I say the wrong thing!

This is a really good question! As a parent myself, I am always thinking of the best way or ways to help my children navigate disappointment. Some strategies that may be helpful are as follows: 

  • Normalize the disappointment or loss. What I mean is, have on-going discussions with your child about the fact that disappointment or a loss is going to happen whether it is in tennis, or other areas of life, like getting a grade on a test that is lower than expected. What you may say is, “Losses happen and I am proud of your effort."
  • Encourage your child to look at the loss as a learning opportunity. As him or her, “What did you learn from the loss? What are you proud of and what can you work on going forward?" Emphasize a loss is not the end of the world and your love does not depend on their results.
  • Validate your child. A child is going to be looking for your approval or disapproval, verbal or otherwise, following a disappointment or loss. It is important that your behavior is the same whether the child wins or loses or has a disappointment. Dr. Larry Lauer calls this “neutral positive." In addition, making comments that are negative in nature may get a short-term improvement in order to please you, but the potential damage to your child’s self-esteem and self-confidence can have long-term mental health implications. There may also be a risk in damaging the relationship with your child if there is negative feedback related to a loss or disappointment. 
  • Ask your child what might help them after a loss or disappointment. This shows you are listening to their needs and care about their feelings. Think about what it was like to be the age of your child: what did you need your parent to tell you after a disappointment? Children want to know that your love is secure, no matter the results. - Dr. Shawn Foltz-Emmons, Ph.D.
Meet our experts: 

Shawn Foltz-Emmons, Ph.D., is a former WTA touring professional and current licensed psychologist who has been recently appointed to the USTA's Sport Science Committee. A nationally and internationally-ranked junior player who went on to an All-American career at the University of Indiana, Foltz-Emmons competed as an amateur at all four Grand Slams in 1984 and 1985.


She was the second-youngest player to earn a WTA ranking in 1984, and was also the singles and doubles champion at the 1986 Orange Bowl.


In the present, Foltz-Emmons owns her own business, Advantage Performance Consultants, and consults, advises and provides her services for various companies across the country. She is also brand ambassador and psychologist for SonderMind, a Denver-based company which offers technology-driven solutions for therapists and patients seeking online and in-person appointments, and is the tennis advisor and psychological consultant for the First Serve Tennis Foundation, whose mission is to improve the lives of Arizona youth through transformative and engaging tennis programs.

Dr. Larry Lauer is a mental skills specialist for USTA Player and Coach Development and heads the mental performance team. In his career at the USTA, Lauer has worked with junior, transitional pro and professional tennis players, and the national coaching staff at the three national player development centers in Orlando, Fla., Flushing, N.Y. and Carson, Calif. He has been a sport psychology consultant for over two decades with elite tennis players at all levels of the game, having earned his Ph.D. in exercise and sport science, specializing in sport psychology,  from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. 


Formerly, Lauer was the Director of Coaching Education and Development in the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports (ISYS) at Michigan State University, where he conducted research on tennis parents, coaching, coach education, aggression in hockey, and life skills development in youth. He also was involved in training Detroit police officers and coaches to mentor youth athletes for the Detroit PAL. During his stay in Michigan, Lauer worked for nearly nine years as the mental performance consultant to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, and was an assistant coach and mental coach for Michigan State men’s tennis for three years, helping the team reach the 2013 NCAA tournament.


An AASP Certified Mental Performance Coach and listed in the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry, 2020-2022, Lauer was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sport Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport for his work in developing and leading the Playing Tough and Clean Hockey Program, and also received the 2017 “Doc” Councilman Science Award for Tennis. As an advocate of sport in perspective, Lauer has appeared on ESPN’s Outside the Lines and HBO’s State of Play show Trophy Kids, and has been interviewed by many media outlets including USA Today, the New York Times, and the LA Times.

Skip Advertisement


Related Articles

  • Tennis provides many benefits to physical, social and mental health. Discover the benefits of playing tennis from the USTA and develop your skills today! Read More
  • Tennis can provide opportunities for children to make lifelong friends, and their passion and motivation for the sport can be nurtured by creating a sense of fun. Read More
  • Jim Loehr Ph.D. discusses how tennis can be a vehicle for developing ethical and moral character for juniors and young adults. Read More