Every parent has been there. Watching their child play great in a match. Then, one small thing happens. They miss a set point opportunity, think they got hooked, they double fault, you name it. But after that moment, it all starts crashing down. Now they have resorted to pushing the ball and are losing points left and right. A match that was close is now one-sided, and all you can do is watch.
Like most things, mental toughness can be improved through practice. The more comfortable your child is with a situation, the less of a chance that they will mentally break down. Being able to keep a cool head on a tennis court often comes down to how much experience your child has in any given on court situation. Whether they are up 5-3 serving for a match or down 15-40 in their service game trying not to get broken, the outcome will most likely be determined by how comfortable they are with that situation.
You can improve your child’s mental game by putting them in tough and uncomfortable situations while in practice. This can be done by either putting them in situations that they are not used to or by forcing your child to be in a rough spot by imposing handicaps during practice matches.
Uncomfortable situations will help your child be ready for difficult circumstances in a tennis match. A few simple things you can do to make sure your child gets used to being a little uncomfortable are having them play against new people, have them play with different racquets throughout practice, and have them play against someone and tell them they ‘should’ beat them. Having your child play against new and different people is important because this is what playing in tournaments is like. The more comfortable your child is with playing someone they don’t know, the faster they will be able to get in a groove in a tournament match. If they are not bothered by this situation, they will also have one less thing bothering them in their mind which means they will be less distracted. Having your child play with an old racquet or one that needs to be restrung once in awhile will help teach them to be okay when they break a string in a match. If they are used to switching racquets during practice, then this will carry over into matches, and you won’t see them lose momentum if something happens to their racquet mid-match. Lastly, while most kids have no problem playing kids that are better than them, they often have a tough time playing kids they should beat. By forcing them to play practice sets against players, they should beat you can get rid of some of the nerves they face in tournament matches against these players. Way too often players lose to kids that they should beat in tournaments simply because they are nervous and haven’t experienced being in that situation enough.
Another easy thing to do is to impose handicaps on or against your child during practice sets and matches. By having them practice being in tough situations, they can get more comfortable with them in tournament matches increasing the chances that they will stay calm and succeed. A couple of situations your child should practice are starting down 15-30 or 15-40 in their service games, starting up 30-0 in both their service and return games, starting with a 1 set lead, and starting with a 1 set deficit. Your child will find themselves in all of these situations while playing matches which makes it incredibly important to practice them. By practicing these situations, they will gain confidence and mental fortitude when they are faced with similar situations in tournaments, allowing them to come out on the winning end more often than not.
Bonus Tip! Giving Your Child A Go To Strategy
An easy thing you can do to give your child better mental strength in a match is to give them a go to strategy to use when things get tough. This strategy can be as simple as telling them to hit every ball to their opponent’s backhand. Simply having a strategy to go to can take a lot of pressure off your child while in a match which will allow them to play better.
At the end of the day, it comes down to practice just like anything else. The more your child is put in a situation, the more comfortable they will become with it, and the better they will play while in them. If they don’t practice being in a tough spot in a match, they will never get used to it, and it will always be an uphill battle for them while they are in a match.
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