Mental health: Your child and tennis  

March 13, 2024

In a pre-recorded webinar, Dr. Larry Lauer and Dr. Shawn Foltz-Emmons discuss the importance of mental health and answer key parent questions.

Frequently asked questions from parents


Q. How do I help my child deal with adversity in competition?


Much of the anxiety that players feel at tournaments relates to the uncertainty of the outcome, how they are going to perform, and how others will respond to the performance (specifically their parents and coaches). Uncertainty is the basis of fear and anxiety, thus the more we focus on what we control the better. To manage anxiety one must not try to avoid it or consider it an awful feeling. Instead, it must be accepted as normal and a part of competing. When you as a parent normalize how they feel and then help them focus on the preparation plan and the process goals (of how they want to play and compete) it enhances comfort and confidence. Using skills such as journaling and visualizing the process goals enables players to move their focus to the present. In addition, have them learn a refocusing routine such as Breathe and Believe to counteract their anxiety in the moment.


As a parent, create certainty where you can to enhance feelings of being at ease and ready. Put winning and losing in their place, they are never as important as the process and your character. Talk more about giving effort, having fun, being a good sport than on the outcome. These qualities lead to better performances and push the outcome to the background making it easier to perform because you are calmer, focused and more confident. As a parent, control your responses; be cool, calm and composed when adversity hits because it is going to at some point and it is part of the learning process. A player that learns to deal with adversity well is a player (and person) that can continue to grow and perform at later stages.


As Dr. Shawn said during the webinar, your ranking doesn’t define who you are. Relate this to players. Remind them of their strengths and let them know tennis is about long term development, and not the immediate gratification of having to win today. Losing is not a reflection of how good they are; it’s just a moment in time to be learned from and then you move on 


Q. How do I help my child balance playing tennis (sports) and school?


Helping your child balance playing tennis (sports) and school can be challenging. It may help to begin each day with a schedule in order to assist in organizing the day. Determine what your priorities are - not just for the day, but is overall sport the priority or is academics? Make sure family time and self care is included daily - this becomes an anchor for stability when life can get busy and pressures build up. Eat nutritional food and stay hydrated - if the right fuel is not in the engine, the car won’t run. Have a social life - keep interests alive that are outside of sports and academics. If your child seems to experience anxiety, it may be an indicator that the balance is off in their life or the family life. Anxiety - whether it's performance anxiety or anticipatory anxiety or another form of anxiety - is like a warning light going off in the car, something is not working correctly and needs to be attended to. Teaching your child that the process of learning is important and the results are not the focus will help in keeping a mentally healthy balance.


Q. How do I help my child keep playing tennis and having FUN?


Keeping children in the game and having it be a fun experience can be broken down into three important experiences. 1. They are improving and are becoming competent at tennis. 2. They feel they make some of their own decisions in tennis; they play for their own reasons not for anyone else. 3. They build important peer relationships as well as coach-player relationships where they feel a connection (or cared about by others). In this way they will feel more self-determined to stay involved in tennis.


Point number 2 of the question requires some more insight. Having FUN while playing tennis has been suggested as a huge determinant of playing more tennis and doing so for a lifetime. Tennis is a sport for a lifetime and has mental, cognitive, physiological, and social benefits. Playing tennis is a way to keep your child active and healthy into adulthood. The challenge is that having fun can have different meanings for each child. A way to understand your child’s definition of what they think is fun while playing tennis is to ask them. It could be an array of things from playing with their friends, playing as a family, playing in a team, improving their play, receiving praise from their coach, discovering different things about tennis, going to watch a collegiate or professional event, trying their best, or playing their favorite game. From a tennis play perspective, free play is suggested by youth development experts. The beauty of free play is that it can be in any environment and challenges your child's creative juices. Free play could be making up their own game, playing different strokes, playing at home, coming up with fun challenges; the list is endless. Play and creativity are excellent aspects to consider in defining what can shape your child's fun with tennis and translate into a lifelong love of tennis. 


Q. How do I help my child with mental health and growth as a tennis player?


The team involved with the child is essential for mental health stability and growth as a tennis player. What needs to be at the helm of the development of the player is prioritizing the player as a person first, with balance and self care as key components of that process. That includes paying close attention to changes in behavior, changes in grades, etc. to get ahead of any possible mental health conditions.


The team can include coach, parent, trainer, etc. In order to assist in facilitating the mental strength of the child, keep in mind that clarifying the roles of each member of the team will help in providing maximum growth and development. Clarifying the roles while also maintaining a spirit of collaboration with each member contributing their expertise can provide the child a sense of security to take advantage of the opportunities given as a result of playing tennis. 



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