In addition to coaching a lot of young talented tennis players, i2c run a lot of junior tournaments. So we regularly talk to a lot of parents who are not just confused but frustrated by the advice they receive about their child’s tennis. We are therefore delighted to be able to share David Mullin’s response to a parent letter regarding the tournaments that their talented child was being recommended to enter. The article was recently published at https://www.tennisconsult.com/how-to-train-young-talented-tennis-players/ and is reproduced on Tennis(24/7) with permission.
David Mullins represented Ireland in Davis Cup from 1999-2004 and worked as a College coach in the US, most recently at the University of Oklahoma. Dave can be contacted at www.davemullinstennis.com
David’s key points for parents of talented tennis players
- At 8 years old a child’s personal development is more important than winning tennis tournaments
- Sometimes coaches forget that life is more than just tennis
- Goals for someone of this child’s age should mostly be centred around his technical development and his enjoyment of training and competition
- The ITF recommends that junior players maintain a 2:1 win/loss ratio. So, when choosing tournaments to enter think about where your child will get competitive matches that will allow them to maintain this 2:1 ratio. Essentially, tournaments are “right” if they maintain that win/loss ratio.
How to Train Young Talented Tennis Players
I received this letter from a concerned tennis parent:
My son is 8-year-old. He plays tennis at an academy 4 times a week. The coaches are young and ambitious and the academy exists for about 3-4 years. My son started playing tournaments with 7y and started to win quite quickly. Everything went quite fast, before his 8th birthday he was given an adult racket (265 gr) and soon afterwards they changed from green to yellow balls.
In February he was advised to play U12 tournaments. First, he was able to win the first match but since spring he‘s loosing only, no matter who he is playing against. There is no following-up after the matches. I tried to discuss but was told that it‘s my fault he‘s loosing due to the fact, that I’ve chosen the wrong tournaments. He now started again after the summer break (4 weeks) and played another U12 tournament chosen by one of the coaches but the result (a loss) was the same). They advise now to keep on playing tournaments (the more the better) but to go back to U10. Since may he played tournaments 2-3 weekends a month (with no effect on his performance in my opinion).
Now they want to go on with this, saying that at some point he will start to win again. My son is a fighter and always wants to do everything (also in school) as good as possible. He‘s disappointed about his results in tennis but doesn’t want to show it. He‘s working hard. I fear, that the coaches do not know what they are really doing and that my child loses his self-esteem totally. Can you pls help?! The target from the academy for my son is to play top 5 in his age group in Switzerland. What would you suggest in this situation?
I know that many parents who have young talented tennis players more or less ask the same questions. So, I asked our tennis expert David Mullins to give his advice on the topic.
It sounds like your son has been on quite a “tennis journey” already and there is a lot going on. Due to your child’s talent and rapid improvement, it is possible the coaches have maybe lost track of the fact that your son is only 8 years old. I have no doubt they want what is best for his tennis development but ultimately his personal development is far more important and sometimes coaches forget that life is more than just tennis.
Having a target to be top 5 in Switzerland for his age group appears to be a very unnecessary goal for a player so young. The goals for someone his age should mostly be centred around his technical development and his enjoyment of training and competition. It appears that it has all become very serious very quickly. If he sticks with the sport there will be plenty of time for all that serious stuff!
In terms of what competition to play it doesn’t matter so much the age category but it does matter how many competitive matches he plays (meaning the final result is in doubt). If he is winning too easily or losing too easily then he may not be seeing many of the benefits that competition offers. The ITF recommends that junior players participate in about 100 competitive matches per year, and that the player maintains a 2:1 win/loss ratio.
So when entering him in tournaments, think about where he will get competitive matches that will allow him to maintain this 2:1 ratio. He also does not need to be playing 100 matches at his age, maybe shoot for 50. If he is losing a lot then he may start to compromise his technique and look for short cuts to win which will have longer-term implications.
Don’t worry about top 5 rankings or any other targets such as these, they are quite irrelevant at this point in his development. It sounds like he loves to play the sport and that is where the emphasis should be, not on some arbitrary number. If his ratio is backwards right now, 1 win for every 2 losses, then you need to find him so lower level tournaments where he can get this moving in the right direction as long as he is enjoying competition. If he is not enjoying it then take a break and come back to it later in the year, I assure you that there is no rush, and that it is much better to take a long-term view of these things rather than looking for a quick fix.
Thanks for the question, I hope it was helpful, if you need any further input you can just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to help.