Understanding Kids and Competition
Competition can be fun for all children if it is at the appropriate level. The most important thing to remember is that it has to suit the maturity and tennis experience of the player and be organised with the right approach.
Children can progress along a progressive, competitive journey in the same way that they develop their skills and competence. Like all skills, children develop competitiveness at different rates so be sure not to push any child into a competition that they don’t feel ready for, even if you know the child is the required standard. A child’s level of competitiveness is often closely linked more to their own perception of their competence rather than their actual competence. Learning to compete is best done first in familiar surroundings before going further afield.
Why Competition is Essential
Competing is at the heart of children’s sport, including tennis. The vast majority of young players aspire to improve their game and compete in appropriate surroundings. This is important for players because, appropriate competition:
- Makes learning meaningful
- Provides a measure of improvement, and a value to coaching
- Assists mental and competitive development
- Teaches respect for others, the game and the understanding of rules
- Gives a sense of achievement and aids progress
- Motivates all players and in particular identifies those with a specific talent for the game
- Provides an off court social element which is also enjoyable
How Tennis fosters Learning through Competition
Tennis has mental challenges such as:
- It’s never over until it’s over (you can be ahead and still lose or be behind and win)
- There is no time limit
- There is no immediate way of telling how well you played (it’s not like golf or swimming where times or scores tell you how you performed irrespective of the result)
- Best of 3, means that you can win even when you lost the first set
- The match is split up into small blocks that keep restarting; points make up games and games make up sets
- You can win more points than your opponent and still lose
- Some points can have different consequences, for example, game point or break point
Do Girls and Boys benefit from Tennis differently?
No. Below the age of 10 years, there are only a few differences between boys and girls. Boys will tend to have a better grasp of tasks that are centred on force or power while girls tend to have an advantage when performing tasks that are focussed around fine motor skills, balance or footwork.
Mentally, boys tend to be more focussed on the outcome of the task (winning or losing) and girls may be able to more easily distinguish the difference between the outcome and the actual performance of the task.Boys:
- like to play points
- are competitive in most situations
- may not see how well they performed as they are usually focussed only on the result
- may work harder at the task and performing it well
- may be more self reflective and more self critical, therefore may need more confidence and positive feedback from those around them
- may more easily compare themselves to others
- may find it uncomfortable to compete against other children, especially friends or other girls
Below the age of 10, boys and girls should compete and train together because they stand to benefit as players by learning from the other gender. Boys will see the girls control the ball and being more patient while the girls may see the boys being more offensive and competitive.
Beyond 10 years, boys and girls start to develop more individual game styles and use tactics that are more related to the tennis that they will ultimately play. Most competitions therefore naturally become gender-based events.
The Role of Parents in Competition
The parent’s role is most crucial during the age group of 4 years to 12 years, than at any other stage because children are so influenced by the behaviour of their parents at this age.Parents should:
- Understand that competing is an important part of the player’s development and their children should compete as well as have lessons
- Understand that learning to compete is a gradual process
- Focus on how their child is developing rather than results
- Praise and encourage other children as well as their own
- Not go on court during a competition, unless they are helping with the event
- Learn about rules, court lines and scoring methods to help explain it to their children
- Understand how to behave at an event