TENNIS LIFE (5/29/2009)

Managing Your Child’s Behavior

One of the most difficult experiences for parents is to watch their child “explode” or “implode” on the court and not knowing or being able to do anything about it. Behaviors may include varieties of whining, crying, berating, arguing, cursing, throwing rackets, smashing balls, choking and tanking.

Here are some ideas and suggestions to survive these trying times:

  1. Avoid self-blame.

In spite of your best efforts to guide your tennis youngster a certain amount of his or her behavioral tendencies are genetically determined. Shyness and aggressiveness are examples of this. Your goal is to channel these tendencies in a positive direction knowing at times you will be swimming against the current.

  1. Establish clear rules of conduct

Talk with your children early and often about how you expect them to conduct themselves on the court. Help them anticipate difficult situations. Give them examples of what they can and can’t do. Role play/rehearse these situations off court. For example, how to think and act when they are missing shots, how to cope with perceived bad calls etc.

  1. Catch the child being good.

Your praise and approval are very powerful motivators and reinforces, especially in younger children. Encourage and compliment examples of good sportsmanship, self-control and effectively coping with adversity. Talk up about these aspects of the competition as being as or more important than playing well or winning.

  1. Provide consistent, immediate, proportionate consequences.

Sometimes, expressing disappointment for bad behavior may be enough to reduce it. When this is not sufficient, you need to punish unacceptable behavior. “John, you threw your racket after you missed that overhead. As a result, you cannot play tennis for the next 2 days. If this happens again, you will immediately come off the court and not touch a racket for a week”.

  1. Make a movie.

A videotape can help zero in on the objectionable behavior. Seeing themselves behaving badly can increase awareness of the problem, identify possible causes and aid in motivation for change.

  1. Watch sporting events together with a purpose.

Plan to go to sporting events together and watch sports on television .As you watch make an extra effort to highlight examples of athletes who demonstrate good emotional control and responses to adversity.

  1. Provide professional help.

Sometimes the root causes of these behaviors are more complex such as low self-esteem, perfectionism and fear of disapproval. If emotional stress and/ or problem behaviors persist, consult a mental health specialist such as a psychologist, who can properly evaluate and work with the young athlete and sometimes, the family in order to get back on the right track.

Dr.Robert Heller is a psychologist, sports psychology consultant, and tennis teaching professional based in Boca Raton, Fl. He works with athletes, parents and coaches teaching mental skills for sports and providing personal counseling to individuals and families. He is the author the mental conditioning CD-ROM program, TENNISMIND.

For more information, visit his websites, and

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