As we are coming into the last couple of months of the summer league season for N’s tennis, I thought I’d share what
he’s we’ve learnt in his year of playing matches. It’s been a year of ups and downs in terms of wins and losses as you’d expect. But there have been so many benefits in match playing, rather than just playing for a bit of fun. (Although mini red tennis is really just for fun, or so the LTA like to tell us).
With any sport, children need to learn how to cope with winning and losing, and they’re not always prepared for it. Some children take longer to learn, others never learn. There’s certainly some children we know outside of tennis who struggle with their emotions, even when playing as part of the team. But that’s what the coach and parents are there for, to support children through it.
Coming out the other side will be a better person who’s more prepared for future competitions in sport and in life.
What playing tennis teaches us
The game of tennis (obviously)
Sports have so much history and culture to learn about. Tennis is played all over the world and on different surfaces. So not only has N been learning about the scoring and rules (for mini tennis tie break scoring, as well as finding out more about normal tennis scoring and courts), he’s getting to learn about other sportsmen and women, tournaments, clubs, geography and more.
Team play and support
Tennis isn’t thought of as a team sport generally, but playing for a club in leagues means you get that aspect as well as playing individually. Realising you’re just one part of what can help the team win is key and is something that will help throughout school and into working life. Being willing and able to support your team members when things aren’t going so well, and celebrating together can all help team spirit. And if you’re wavering about playing, being part of a team will encourage you to keep trying.
We’re lucky as so many of N’s tennis team are from the same school. They know each other really well, and the other children from other schools also fit in well. It’s nice to see children make friendships with children with the same hobbies, and across different year groups. They can also learn from each other, and encourage each other more as they progress. Having such good friendships despite the competition, means they have a really good team ethos which has been noticed by other teams they’ve played.
N was never a competitive person when he was younger. Compared with others, he still isn’t (he didn’t get the gene from me!). But he has flickers of it. He likes to win, he’s a better loser than I ever was. He copes with bad losses well, looking forward to what he needs to do in future and pointing out why the other person might have been better than him. His conversion when he’s got to 9-9 is pretty good so he’s obviously got something in him to grab that last point or two.
But in being in competitions, he’s good at controlling any disappointment. He doesn’t dwell on the past points, he just gets on with the next one. And that’s a really good trait for someone playing sports.
This is still work in progress. At coaching sessions, N is focused on learning. He gets irritated when other children don’t want to learn and mess around. I expect he’s a good child to teach because he behaves, he listens and does what’s asked.
At matches, generally N has learnt to be a good sport. He’ll shake hands with opponents, he’ll take note of what the scorer says, and he’ll just get on with the game. He doesn’t cry or sulk if he loses while on the court. But there’s some practice needed when something happens that he doesn’t think is fair.
Fairness is everything with N (and I was just the same). If there’s a call that doesn’t seem right, or a parent scorer who gets something a bit wrong. Or they turn up and find out they’re playing a match on clay for the first time ever and get wiped out, where they might have done better on normal courts they’re used to. N will be annoyed after he’s come off court and will moan to me. That’s fine, but moaning in earshot of other players’ parents isn’t. So we’re working on that.
I also need to encourage him to challenge if he believes a call isn’t right especially where there’s an inexperienced scorer.
7 and 8 year old boys seem to have a lot of confidence in themselves anyway. Give them a bit of a boost in winning a few matches and that rockets. Even when N loses, he can easily put the reason for the loss onto the winner rather than anything he himself has done wrong! N isn’t really one for shouting about what he can do so the confidence is (hopefully) limited to family rather than anyone who can listen.
Thinking positive about his ability is a good thing, but he has to learn that everyone can learn more, even people at the top of their game. He needs reminding sometimes that his team are in division 2, so there’s always a whole division better than him, and he’s got people to aim for as he improves.
Learning a sport from an early age is a great way to make children more aware of their bodies and what they need to do to keep it working the way they need to use it. They learn to warm up and cool down, and different ‘circuits’ and movements they’ll need to be able to improve to help them play better.
Ambition to improve
To improve at sport, children can’t just assume they’ll improve. They need to want to improve and work hard. N is a people pleaser and rule follower which helps. Yes, he likes to mess around with his friends before and after training, but once their slot starts, he concentrates and works hard.
In the warmer months, he’ll quite often drag me, his uncle or even his dad (not that they play much), out into the garden to play tennis. Or we have to go down to the tennis courts. I need to get a rebounder net for him, so he doesn’t have to rely on having someone else there to play with. But getting better and being as good as some of the older children he know, is something he’s aiming for. Even if he doesn’t want to continue playing matches in future, he seems to have that want to improve his game.
N’s at the stage where they’re learning how to think in advance where they’re putting the ball. Looking for where their opponent is standing and what their weak points are. Starting to be more strategic as well as getting the ball over the net. Add in learning quick thinking, and even mini tennis is bring benefits to what they’ll need to be able to do in school and work later on in life.
From an early age, children have heroes of sport – quite often football – but for N it’s more about tennis players. He likes Rafa Nadal (based on him having a ‘Nadal’ racket), Andy Murray and various others he sees play. He’s still holding out for me getting hold of Wimbledon return tickets so I can take him. Alongside following his tennis players, he’s also learning about injuries, tournament structures, pay differences between women and men, and how long sports careers can last (or not).
These are only a selection of the things you can learn from tennis. It just goes to show how early children can learn these things, many of which will continue to be important through life.
What sports are your children involved with?
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