| By Dr. Tom Ferraro

I just finished an interview with Jason Rolle, a 22-year-old tennis pro out of Sportime Roslyn. I started the interview with a simple question: “What is the biggest issue your students present every day?” Immediately, he said, “That’s an easy one. The biggest issue I face each day is that the young player often lacks a certain fire during matches.” I asked him how he could tell this, he replied, “You watch how they react to a loss. If they joke around and do not seem to care, this is a sign they lack real desire to win in tennis.”

Jason has touched upon something that I have rarely read about, but is very real. Many of the young elite athletes I work with suffer with anxiety which causes them to under-perform under pressure. In short, they care too much.
But, there is also a set of athletes, the ones Jason is referring to, who do not care enough. Every coach and every parent is faced with the dilemma of how to deal with this or how to inspire their players. These may be the students who frequently miss lessons and wreak havoc with the lesson book of the tennis pro. These are the players who may be playing multiple sports and also have academic stresses as well. I think this is an exceptionally common problem where the ambitious coach and parent who has great expectations for the young one is disappointed when they encounter a lackadaisical attitude. Let’s face it … not every tennis player has the passion or drive of a John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors. The fire in the belly is something that cannot be manufactured or maintained every day, but there is something that can be done. Typically, passion comes from childhood experiences which cause pain in the person and this gives that person the fire to do better and to show the world they are worth something.

There are days when the student is lax, but you can remember how truly talented they are. You must carry the fire on these days and remind them of their greatness. Other days, the parents must do this. And other days, this will not be so necessary. The young athlete will carry the torch themselves.

So, if you have a young athlete who lacks motivation and you feel frustrated by all of this, here is what you can do:

►Sit them down and ask them if they like tennis and want to continue

►Ask them what their goals in tennis are. Then remind them of just how much you believe in them and say that it takes hard work to achieve the big dreams.

►You can ask them if they feel burnt out or if they need help in some way. Of course rest and relaxation is part of every athlete’s development.

►Make sure you are not investing more than they are. Your investment may not match theirs and this can only lead to fighting and misery.

►Make sure you post news of wins and trophies earned in a place seen by all. Give special attention to all wins and all accomplishments that the young player makes. In addition, if you are a parent or coach make sure you display all your trophies as well. This serves to motivate the young player as well.

Most coaches tell me that they always take the student who shows effort over the student who just has talent. Keeping fire in the belly of your students or children is one of the greatest skills that a parent or coach can muster. Do this and the student learns to overcome all odds against them.

Dr. Tom Ferraro

For consultations, treatment or on-site visits, contact Dr. Tom Ferraro Ph.D., Sport Psychologist, by phone at (516) 248-7189, e-mail DrTFerraro@aol.com or visit DrTomFerraro.com.