Tennis: Taming Tantrums

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Tennis: Taming Tantrums

Go to any junior tournament and you will probably see at least a few tantrums. Kids might scream, smash racquets, cry and even swear. If they behave badly enough, they might suff er consequences, like a warning from an offi cial, or even a loss of a point or a game.

Unfortunately, though, the sport and the parents of young players too often tolerate these outbursts.

Once children realize that outbursts come with consequences, their behavior can change.

We all should know by now that a bad temper is counterproductive. A handful of the game’s most talented players—John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase— were able to use their fiery tempers to help them win. For most people, though, acting this way will sink their tennis.

Some kids are prone to fits of anger while others pout quietly when they are mad; still others are naturally stoic or optimistic. But new habits can be learned, and good parenting can help improve your child’s temper while also making him or her a better player. Roger Federer is the best example. He was a racquetthrower as a child, until his parents disciplined him for his poor attitude. Today, he’s among the calmest—and greatest— players in the history of the sport.

The most important thing for children to know is that yelling and screaming will make them worse players. When you lose your cool, you can’t concentrate on strategy or think about your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. You can’t

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summon the energy to play a 15-shot rally. You can’t be as focused as you need to be on break points and game points. Getting overly mad is not advantageous.

When you lose control on court, your opponents see weakness. You’re sending a message that you are lacking confidence.

Of course, a coach also needs to be involved in teaching these lessons. But at the end of the day, we should all want to teach our kids good sportsmanship. It’s up to parents to enforce this, especially when they take their kids to tournaments.

It’s bad for everyone in the sport—andextremely selfish—when a child rants and raves during a tennis match. If a child is still doing this at age 14 or 15, then the parents are at least tacitly condoning it.

Parents can consider a number of options to reduce these episodes. Skipping a tournament. Skipping lessons or practice.

In particularly egregious cases, or after repeated admonitions, defaulting a child from a tournament is an option. Once children realize that outbursts come with consequences, their behavior can change.

There’s no magical way to cure this behavior, and the process of trying to improve it can go on for years, with many ups and downs. Robert Lansdorp, who coached me when I was a child, was tough on his students so they would learn how to control emotions in tense moments and adverse situations. He would even call out the wrong score at times, but he’d do it with a grin. I knew he was doing it to see how I would react, but it was frustrating just the same.

If you feel as if your child’s tennis temper is hopeless, maybe the best thing to do is to point out the game’s top players.

Federer. Rafael Nadal. Maria Sharapova. Novak Djokovic. All of them have supreme control over their emotions. Nadal has never thrown a racquet, because he knew from childhood that his uncle would not condone it. Yes, Nadal is a remarkably gifted player, both physically and mentally. But he has learned how to stay calm and focused, too. It’s something we all have to do—and that we all can do, especially with the proper guidance.