by: Matt Vaughn, PsyD | Professional Tennis Coach | Doctor of Psychology
Many years of traveling with players to tournaments has shown me that many (if not most) parents don’t know the most effective way to talk to their child after a loss. The way parents respond and talk to their child after a tough loss often causes significant detriment to the child’s performance and mental fortitude in future matches. Many fellow coaches know this, since they’ve witnessed a large variety of parent-player relationships and have noted the differences in outcome, but parents are often unaware. It appears all too tempting for parents to analyze the tennis component of the match immediately afterward and offer their critique: “Why didn’t you hit more shots to their backhand?” “You can’t win by not going for your shots.” “All you had to do was ____________.” Fill in the blank as you please. Or even worse, “This is getting ridiculous! You can’t keep playing like that.” “Now you really need to do well in your next tournament.”
Talking to your child in this way will cause him or her to focus primarily on short-term results. The player will feel immense pressure from the parents (even if the child denies feeling pressure), and won’t be able to perform even close to their potential.
The most effective way for players to approach their tennis development is with a long-term vision. Obsessing over winning and short-term results inhibits their ability to work on what is necessary to improve and perform at their best. If the child wins, of course let him enjoy the moment. Focus on all the hard work he put in to reach the victory. But when he loses, let him feel the emotions. Gently tell that him it’s okay to feel sad or frustrated. Be empathetic and consider giving a hug. After a few minutes, or however long it takes for the initial and heightened painful emotions to begin to subside, ask what happened in the match. Do not talk about the tennis aspects during this time—the focus should be on the psychological. Did he lose concentration? Did he become frustrated or angry, causing a downward spiral and lots of errors? Was he distracted by his opponents behavior or poor line calls? Through this calm conversation, he can reflect on what happened psychologically and will be able to generate ideas of what can be worked on going forward. He now has an important short-term goal to focus on that is part of the long-term vision. The painful loss becomes an opportunity for growth.
When the time is right, after the child has had time to reflect on what happened psychologically, the coach will talk to the child about the tennis aspects. In almost all situations it’s better for the parents to leave the tennis part of the discussion to the coaches.
by: Matt Vaughn, PsyD from ProWorld Tennis Academy | Professional Tennis Coach | Doctor of Psychology
The elephant in the room of the junior tennis world
There is an elephant in the room of the junior tennis world—overbearing, overly-involved, and fanatical tennis parents. These parents, brimming with unhealthy obsessiveness and other clichéd behavior, put immense pressure (often unknowingly) on their child and tremendously hinder his or her development as a player. This issue is not discussed openly, but behind close doors these parents are often just referred to as “crazy” tennis parents. Of course there are degrees to which a parent can be too involved and obsessive, as many are much worse than others, but helping all of these parents recognize their negative impact on mental and physical tennis development needs to be a primary focus.
What are some of these clichéd behaviors and feelings that too many tennis parents exhibit? Seemingly always watching practices and private lessons, talking frequently to their child during practice, sometimes complaining and being demanding to coaches, and feeling frustrated or even angry when their child doesn’t perform on court as they desire. At tournaments, these parents often communicate to their child during the match, get involved with line calls (always biased toward their child, of course), and display their emotions with unmistakable body language: frustrated and disappointed facial expressions, dramatic hand and arm movements, looking tense, and sometimes even pacing. Quite simply, as most players and coaches can attest, they give off an aura of being too intense and involved. Sometimes they will try to act calm, but it’s obvious that they are either boiling inside, anxious, or both.
Overly-involved parents tend to criticize their child’s performance at practice and/or after matches—sometimes publicly, but usually during the car ride home or in the privacy of their own house. They almost always make their disappointment known and ask why the player isn’t doing something the “right” way, isn’t getting better, or isn’t winning.
Parents that feel and act this way negatively impact their child more than they realize. I’ve spoken to many of these parents over the years, and it’s remarkable how many are in their own world and convinced that they aren’t doing anything wrong. They are completely blind and oblivious. I have heard many parents confidently state that their child does not feel pressure from them, when, in fact, the opposite is clearly true. Even if parents tell their child that they do not care whether the player wins or loses, it does not work. If coaches can feel the pressure from parents, the child can as well. Parents’ body language tells children everything they need to know.
How does this problem impact tennis results?
Parents that are overly-involved—emotionally and behaviorally—instill fear, stress, and anxiety in their child, and remove the fun from tennis. The player then becomes nervous during practice and tournament matches, and sometimes even during routine practice without point-play. The fear, which is at the core of most unpleasant emotions, comes out in practices and tournaments in a variety of ways: expressions of anger, extreme frustration, tightness, anxiety, lowered problem-solving ability, poor shot-selection, decreased effort, and tanking. In too many cases, players begin to attach their self-worth to their tennis results. As one highly-ranked and prominent male player recently told me, “players with these parents kind of feel like they have to earn love through winning.” It’s hard to illustrate the problem more succinctly than that. The scary part is, most of these parents have no idea their child feels this way.
These issues with parents hinder the player from reaching his or her potential. Many players with fanatical tennis parents are very good and highly ranked, but usually not close to the level they are capable of. When the player becomes overly concerned with immediate results because of the pressure they feel from a parent, it becomes nearly impossible to maintain a long-term vision with their development (see #6 on Improving Our Coaching To Help Players Reach Their Potential). Development becomes slow at best, non-existent or regressing at worst.
What causes tennis parents to become emotionally and behaviorally overly-involved?
Why do some parents feel and behave this way? It might appear simple on the surface: parents have a large emotional and financial investment in their child’s tennis, are obsessed with their child winning, and feel a “need” to win. They are not secure with themselves and are in ways living vicariously through their child. This is accurate for most overbearing, overly-involved, and fanatical tennis parents, but why is this true? Eckert Tolle, in A New Earth, elegantly illuminates the core issue that these parents are experiencing (bolding is mine and added for emphasis):
The all-important question is: Are you able to fulfill the function of being a parent and fulfill it well, without identifying with that function, that is, without it becoming a role? Part of the necessary function of being a parent is looking after the needs of the child, preventing the child from getting into danger, and at times telling the child what to do or not to do. When being a parent becomes an identity, however, when your sense of self is entirely or largely derived from it, the function easily becomes overemphasized, exaggerated, and takes you over. Giving children what they need becomes excessive and turns into spoiling; preventing them from getting into danger becomes overprotectiveness and interferes with their need to explore the world and try things our for themselves. Telling children what to do or not to do becomes controlling, overbearing.
Overly-involved tennis parents feel and behave as they do because their role has become part of their identity—their sense of self wrapped up into their child’s tennis results. Tolle continues:
A mother or father who identifies with the parental role may also try to become more complete through their children. The ego’s need to manipulate others into filling the sense of lack it continuously feels is then directed toward them. If the mostly unconscious assumptions and motivations behind the parent’s compulsion to manipulate their children were made conscious and voiced, they would probably include some or all of the following: “I want you to achieve what I never achieved; I want you to be somebody in the eyes of the world, so that I too can be somebody through you. Don’t disappoint me.
For some parents, getting them to recognize this problem and make changes will be an uphill battle. But, I have confidence that transformational change is possible throughout the tennis world if coaches, academies, and international tennis federations are motivated to see their players reach the highest level possible.
What can we do about this problem?
I think it’s time for coaches, academies, and international tennis federations to educate parents on this issue and pressure them to make changes. Coaching is more than working on strokes and strategy—it involves helping players improve their effectiveness and performance on the court, and helping them achieve their full potential through any means necessary. For some players, overly-involved parents is the primary factor impeding tennis performance and development. It’s important to not be afraid to discuss this problem with parents, as they might be more open than you realize; awareness is the first step in change. Compassionately engage them in conversation regarding the issue, and maybe even encourage them to read A New Earth by Eckert Tolle, the book quoted from above, as it should be required reading for all tennis parents.
The ultimate goal is to enable the child to practice and play with emotional freedom. The only pressure should come from within. In almost all cases, the coach should do the coaching and the parent should do the parenting. Lets help these players by no longer confining these conversations to behind closed doors—coaches, academies, and federations can bring awareness and change through open conversation and direct discussion with parents.
by: Matt Vaughn, PsyD from ProWorld Tennis Academy | Professional Tennis Coach | Doctor of Psychology
Consistent quality sleep is one of the most important aspects to playing tennis at the highest level. It is also one of the most ignored, especially among junior players. Lack of sleep causes reduced performance, poor emotional control, loss of motivation, decreased ability to concentrate, poor decision-making and shot-selection during matches, and a lowered ability to master new information and skills learned during practices. You will get tired more quickly during matches and your body takes longer to recover. Even injuries take longer to heal.
For most people, 7-9 hours of sleep is needed for good cognitive abilities, emotional well-being, and overall performance in daily life. Elite athletes require even more—at least an hour extra. Because of the long training days and how hard the body is pushed, high-level tennis players require a consistent 9-10 hours each night to perform at their best. Throughout the night, sleep goes through four cycles, or stages. These stages progress one by one (1 through 4) over the course of 90 to 100 minutes. After the body passes through each of the four stages, the cycle starts over again at stage 1. The goal is to complete as many full cycles as possible. The most important stage of the sleep cycle is the last one, which is why athletes need a lot of sleep to perform at their highest level during practice and matches—9-10 hours.
Follow these tips to improve your sleep hygiene (different practices and habits that help improve quality and length of sleep) and sleep environment to maximize on-court performance.
- Maintain a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and night, even on weekends. Staying up too late and sleeping in on the weekends negatively impacts your sleep cycle for the rest of the week.
- Put away all electronics with a screen (smart phone, television, video games, tablets, computer, etc.) at least an hour before bed. The blue spectrum light from these devices severely disrupts ability to fall asleep and sleep quality.
- Turn your phone on silent and keep it out of arm’s length from your bed (even if you use your phone as an alarm clock).
- Avoid food and drink (especially caffeine and fatty foods) within two hours of sleeping. For some, a small snack before bed might help sleep. If so, make it healthy.
- Avoid stimulating activity within two hours of sleeping.
- Do not use your bed for anything besides sleep (homework, watching television, etc.) because your brain will learn to associate lying in bed with being awake.
- Take a warm shower before bed and brush your teeth well. The shower helps to relax the body and being clean has calming effects.
- When you wake up in the morning, get out of bed immediately and into the lights. Turn your lights on and open the blinds. Your brain is expecting and needs bright light to keep the sleep cycle stable. Get up to your first alarm and do not hit the snooze button. Washing your face right away is helpful.
- If you become tired during the day, take a nap if you have time. Make sure the nap is before 2:00 PM and is 30 minutes or less, otherwise it will negatively impact your sleep cycle.
- Keep the temperature cool. It’s usually much easier to fall asleep in a cooler environment.
- Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Even tiny sources of light can impact ability to fall asleep. Your brain releases a hormone at night called melatonin that signals the body to begin falling asleep. Light sources, even if small, decrease the amount of melatonin released. Consider using an eye mask if necessary.
- Make the bedroom as quiet as possible. If helpful, especially if needed to drown out other noise in the household, use a white noise maker to generate constant and peaceful ambient sound. Consider using ear plugs if necessary.
- Your mattress, pillows, and covers should be high quality and as comfortable as possible. Pillow cases and covers should be cleaned frequently.
- Keep your bedroom as neat and organized as possible. Your brain associates clutter with stress and organization with relaxation. For example, clothes lying on the floor and a disorganized desk actually makes falling asleep more difficult.
- Keep your bedroom as clean as possible by vacuuming and dusting. Airborne particles negatively impact sleep.
- Make your bed in the morning. Your brain is more relaxed at night getting into a made bed.