Give This to Your Folks
On praise and criticism, motivation, building confidence, and having fun learning tennis
                                                                                                      By Ed Collins/2019

THROW, CATCH & RUN BACKWARDS––The more careful the foundation is laid, the longer the tennis player learns. It’s cumulative, in that one lesson makes it possible for another to be learned, and so on.
Feet- and hand-eye coordination are not gifts handed to a few, but specific skills that are developed through technique and practice (of course).
Important as they are, the strokes don’t come first; they come after the coordination skills are developed. Suggestions:
Play catch––w/both hands, under- and overhanded)––then w/ball and racquet. Toss balls side to side, up and back, and over his head. Hit against the wall, or over a line (w/no net), or within the service boxes (w/just a gentle tap). To boost confidence, measure progress: How many can he make in a row?  Out of 10? Play games that develop court sense/spatial awareness and quick decision-making. (When she robotically hits it right to you, put it away; soon she’ll get the idea.) Teach him the mechanics of throwing, and how to run backwards.   
Insist on only a few things: like holding the racquet correctly in the ready position, shortening the stroke, and making contact at waist level, away from and in front of the body.
Don’t forget that she’s a kid: if she’s not having fun, something’s wrong.

CHIP AWAY––In these days of video games and smart phone apps, tennis is a mountainous undertaking for the child conditioned to instant gratification. It also can be difficult for those whose athleticism leads to early success. There’s a lot to be said for the struggle––the longer it takes to learn, the more satisfaction / confidence / pride are gained.
Challenge your kid with tasks that are doable. (His frustration level is your guide.)

I WIN, YOU LOSE––Encourage your child to focus on mastering the basics, not comparing himself to others. When the young player decides that the only goal is winning, he may lack motivation to learn the skills, strokes, shots and strategies.
A major cause of under-achieving is expectations—if they’re unreasonable the child suffers (and it’s hard to know where the bar should be placed).
    It’s easy to be overly impressed with the kind of “talent” that you can see, but there are other “talents” that, in the long run, are more valuable––such as trying hard (it takes courage), being open to criticism, and acknowledging that you can fail (in a word, humility).
    Bad habits are formed in the same way as good ones, so delay tournaments until technique is more or less developed.

GOOD JOB! GOOD JOB!––It might seem that constantly praising a child’s skills would boost his self-esteem, but this may lead to a hesitancy to attempt anything that might make him lose your inflated appraisal. Be careful not to excessively praise your child for what’s obviously a natural ability. If you insist on praise, make it be for things like effort and sticktoitiveness.
Particularly with young children, you don’t need to praise them at all; they know when they do well. By letting them come to this realization on their own, they learn to reinforce themselves.
The parent/teacher’s goal is to foster independence––not to answer as much as ask, and whenever possible, provide a good model. In the end (that really doesn’t), through trial and error, he develops a useful type of game-playing intelligence.

NOT SO MUCH––From my perspective, there’s a lot of too much too soon; this from parents who, wanting the best for their child, give it, but in excess. The abundance of opportunity
often stifles motivation (best he decides for himself).
Speaking of motivation, be careful not to reward (bribe) her for doing what’s expected––that, I see, leads nowhere.
Motivation, I know for certain, comes almost exclusively from competence.
OOPS!––The toddler takes his first steps, father beams, mother says, “Yaay, you did it!” Later, when he falls, father groans, mother scrambles to pick him up.
Think I need help from an expert on this one; I’m curious if embarrassment is a learned response. I do know, however, that kids become more self-conscious as they age; and I also know that some children just plod along, undeterred by their mistakes.
The question is, do children look to parents for cues on how to manage their emotions?
A well-meaning parent literally stands in front of his child, protecting him from anything he perceives to be harmful. His fear: that the child fails. But (occasional) failure is what’s needed to figure out how to get from here to there.

YOU DID IT WRONG!––Parent: “You know what your problem is?” Child: “Aaaugh!”
    It’s not that criticism is bad; in fact, a timely critical comment may be just what’s needed to motivate; it’s just that it’s easier to find fault than perfection. And criticism is often taken personally—the child thinks you’re judging him, not his strokes or decision-making.
Your “analysis” is best received when you sandwich it between positive statements: Do it this way; don’t do it that way; do it this way.
The parent who hasn’t been through the tedious process of learning a complex set of lifetime skills (and performing them!) may see setbacks as permanent, whereas the coach sees them as temporary, as experience––like building blocks for future success.
Be advised that it’s the stubborn, head-strong type that thrives in tennis. If you have one of these, make sure you’re working with, not against him/her.

LET’S PLAY––It bears repeating: Kids love games. And they enjoy playing with their parents, especially when there’s no “parenting” going on. So try to zip it.