The so-called ‘windows of opportunity’ for developing physical and technical motor patterns from age 7-11 are well known. However, a child’s psychological development from age 6-12 is also key to future success. This is the period in which they develop their sense of competence and learn their response patterns to stress (‘the child is the father of the man’).
Psychological skills can perhaps be considered the most important performance factor, since being able to perform skills under pressure is ultimately what being successful at tennis is all about. Like all skills, mental skills take time and focused effort to acquire. Work in this area can also be very useful in nurturing the ‘life skills’ we all talk about tennis providing; resilience, determination, discipline, self-confidence, social skills and autonomy.
Most performance tennis programmes will incorporate elements of mental skills training into every day sessions. There is a focus on work rate, concentration, staying positive etc, However, developing emotional control in such a challenging sport can be very tough and requires additional time spent off court supporting the child’s development.
Why is tennis as a sport, and mini-tennis in particular, so demanding of our young players?
- Dead time – the time between points needs careful management to avoid negative thoughts seeping into the consciousness that can be detrimental to performance
- Scoring system – tie-breaks create lots of ‘big pressure points’ and from green ball onwards the system means players can win loads of points without it being recognised on the scoreboard.
- Responsibility – from 8 upwards, and sometimes before, players are expected to call their own lines, keep the score and manage disputes.
- Competition structure – varied formats, officiating and supervision can make the competition environment unnerving at times.
- The battle – the one to one, gladiatorial battles that constitute singles matches with no adult support allowed, the development of ‘pecking orders’, seeding, leaderboards, team selections bring lots of external pressure on the young children.
- Expectations – real or imagined from peers, parents and coaches can be difficult for young children to handle.
- Early specialisation – the sport requires expertise at an early age. They are like little professionals but they are not yet adults!
Why choose Justin Chacksfield to support?
- Sports science degree, majoring in sports psychology from Loughborough University
- Advanced diploma in counselling skills and psychotherapy
- Vast experience working with high performance players and the issues they face
- Parent of an aspiring young player himself!
Specific Sports Psychology Support through Focus Tennis
A quarterly two-hour ‘Focused Competitor’ meeting at the child’s home – alongside parent(s) – to support players to cope with the emotional challenges of the competition environment. The purpose of the meeting is to increase everyone’s understanding of what goes on in the child’s mind when participating in competition.
The process allows the accurate identification of issues faced and the development of useful strategies that the child and the parent can use to turn competitive opportunities into the most constructive learning environment possible. A report clearly identifying issues and agreed coping strategies is written for the child after each meeting.