As a former professional tennis player and current coach, some of the questions I receive involve developing confidence and being nervous in tournaments. I explain to most parents that their child is nervous in tournaments because they are unsure of what the outcome will be and they are looking into the future when they have not even struck the first ball in the warm-up.
How does a junior tennis player build confidence? The easy answer is that they go play a bunch of tournaments and hopefully win some matches. They will then be more confident in themselves. No one does well on an important test in school without learning and studying the material. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Junior tennis players do not just get lucky to have better results. Your homework is your training, and your exam is the tournament.
Your child cannot hide when they are in tournaments and the results never lie. Building confidence is as easy as preparing so well that your child is sure they are ready to perform at a good level in tournaments. Does your child feel proud of what they are accomplishing on a daily basis at practice? A junior tennis player knows and feels if they are improving, and the way to improve is to have a disciplined plan on how that particular player is going to reach higher levels of tennis. Then, you must work towards that plan on a daily basis. A one-hour lesson is not what I am speaking about, but rather, training and working on the plan for hours on a daily basis. Your child must get off the court and feel proud of what they worked on in that session and if they are not satisfied after that session, then it was not productive. No productivity means no progress. From a coaching standpoint, you can tell when the student is working on the proper things and improving because they are usually happy when they are seeing results and feeling those results on the court.
Another question I am frequently asked is, “What does my child need to work on to become a more confident player?” Each student is different and so are their techniques. Some of the players I have trained have needed some form of cleaning up on the technical side, but almost all of the kids have little or no understanding of how to properly move and balance themselves on a tennis court, nor how to construct a proper point strategically. The players have taken tennis lessons where the coach has fed or hand fed balls to them. This is not wrong, but this is strictly technical tennis teaching, and is only one piece of what your child needs. This is not teaching your child how to learn the game and how to apply their game to be able to win more matches.
Parents also wonder why their child is struggling in tournaments when they are taking many tennis lessons. The parent’s thought process is, if my child is taking a bunch of tennis lessons, then my child should be winning more, and as a result, should become more confident in themselves. This is incorrect. When your child is trained to understand what they are good at, and how to break down other opponents due to being smarter and more disciplined with their tennis, they will, as a result, win more matches and become more confident.
If you would like to have a more confident junior tennis player, that confidence will come with a greater understanding of the game and their own game. A lesson is great, but that is just one little piece of the puzzle. Understanding how to compete, understanding your game and understanding how you are going to break down your opponent’s game is how you will have better results. Productivity, purpose and understanding why you are working on a specific skill is how you are going to see results. Keep in mind that you must work on these aspects all the time so they become ingrained habits. When your child does not need to think about these aspects in tournaments, it means the habits are ingrained and they should be on their way to winning more, and as a result, becoming more confident.
Todd Widom is a former top 200 ATP professional in both singles and doubles, and owner of TW Tennis, South Florida’s top small group/private tennis training geared exclusively for the high-performance junior, collegiate or professional tennis player. Todd may be reached by e-mail at Todd@TWTennis.com or visit TWTennis.com.