A big challenge for many juniors is that they are too concerned about what others think when they play. Worrying about what others think is a huge distraction and interferes with most every aspect of their developing game.
Don’t get me wrong, we want our kids to care, but caring too much about what others think about their game when playing a match is a major distraction. You can’t focus on each point and hit shots with the same freedom as when they are looking for their parents’ or coaches reaction after every point.
This concept of social approval has grown in recent years with the advent of social media. It causes young athletes to crave others’ respect, admiration, or approval, especially parents and coaches. Even worse, some young athletes might even feel a need to avoid embarrassment, negative evaluation, or criticism from others (fear of failure). Tennis is a tight group and the need for social acceptance can be pretty intense at times. This is exaggerated due to the fact that it is such an individual sport and social acceptance helps diffuse that feeling at times.
Plain and simple, you can’t focus on playing good smart tennis when they worry too much about what others think!
This is a complex issue and one that varies greatly from young athlete to young athlete but being aware is a good start. A good way to approach this is to encourage the kids to play for themselves based on their own goals and not others. Don’t assume you know why they are playing or what their goals are, you have to ask them and revisit periodically to make sure they are still in line with how they are training.
At Celsius we like to mix in inclusive, non-competitive drills that focus on solid mechanics and have lots of interaction with other athletes to promote that group feeling without the pressure to help turn gratification inward.
Above all, young players (and players of any age for that matter) need to understand that on-court performance does not define them as persons. They need to first learn to respect themselves and let go of the need to be approved by others. Tennis is a life sport and should be fun and rewarding for the individual first and foremost.