Nobody knows your junior tennis player’s temperament better than you—their parent or coach.
Are you parenting a raucous wildcard like John McEnroe?
Are you coaching a powerful warrior like Serena Williams?
Do you want to develop a sophisticated champion like Roger Federer?
An athlete’s mentality can be the difference between having a positive competitive experience or going home early. What’s more, it determines how they handle themselves off the court.
At ROGace, we believe in promoting healthy athletics that build self-confidence, persistence, and responsibility in our young players. These qualities don’t just make good tennis players—they make good people.
To keep your junior’s tennis game sharp while supporting their healthy mindset (staying positive, being a good sport, avoiding burnout), consider adding these sports to their repertoire.
Playing soccer helps young athletes develop their footwork, which tennis players need to dominate the court. In tennis, much like in soccer, high-level players must be masters of agility, coordination, and balance—all of which come from nimble footwork.
Many professional tennis players (European players especially) are highly skilled soccer players. In addition to playing tennis growing up, for example, elite tennis pros such as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray all grew up playing soccer. With the same opportunity to practice quick and smooth lower body movements on the soccer pitch, your junior tennis player will glide on the tennis court.
In other youth sports blogs, such as this one from ACTIVEKids, we’re reminded that playing with a soccer ball can help kids develop their tennis skills. “If you really want to improve your tennis game, start working on your footwork,” the blog says. “This will improve your speed and fitness at the same time, and you’ll become a better player almost immediately.”
If you’re looking for a day off the tennis court, consider kicking the soccer ball around the yard. Running with a soccer ball, kicking it on net, and keeping it in the air will help your junior tennis player develop light, quick feet that make them better tennis players.
At ROGace, we play a game with the kids where they put the ball on the ground and then handle it with their tennis rackets like hockey sticks. We usually play this game with our younger players because it helps them learn how to extend their arms and push the ball to their partners.
If you want to support arm extension in older players, such as 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds, is using a hockey stick the same a tennis racket? Yes! But it is more challenging. When a player uses a hockey stick to pull the ball in or push the ball out, they’re simulating the wrist drag and arm extension that is so important when producing groundstrokes in tennis.
Additionally, these movements help young athletes develop critical hand-eye coordination. For hockey players to properly receive the puck, pass the puck to a teammate, or shoot the puck on net, they must have the same hand-eye coordination required of tennis players. Running to and backhanding a tennis ball, for example, calls for the same action, timing, and positioning involved in skating to and passing a hockey puck. Head up, eyes and hands moving, legs churning. The mind-body connection in both sports is key to a player’s success.
Swedish ice hockey gold medalist and Vezina-winning NHL goaltender Henrik Lundqvist would agree that hockey and tennis are closely related. In a Sports Illustrated article, Lundqvist (along with several other professional athletes in different sports), explains how tennis has helped him develop his explosive footwork.
“The way you move out there [in tennis]: quick feet, up and down, a lot of movement side to side,” Lundqvist says. “The [tennis] workout is perfect for me, as it works pretty much the same muscles I use on the ice.”
Looking for a break from tennis? Try working on puck- or ball-handling skills at home, or strap on the skates and hit the ice at your local hockey rink.
Lacrosse is also a good sport that can help a young tennis player—mostly when you look at the combination of footwork and hand development.
Picture a lacrosse player taking a side-arm shot on net. Now picture a pro tennis player delivering the perfect groundstroke—particularly the backhand. If you stack one image on top of the other and then “press play” in your imagination, there isn’t much difference in their mechanics. There’s a lot of the same low-to-high action, body rotation, and wrist lag while extending the arms in both movements.
If playing lacrosse can improve tennis skills, can playing tennis improve lacrosse skills? Absolutely. Similar to a volley in tennis, it goes both ways.
Former lacrosse goalie and current lacrosse coach Damon Wilson credits his success as a lacrosse player to the footwork he learned on his high school tennis team: “In tennis footwork, there’s a move called the split-step that helps players explode to their opponent’s shot and get into good position to make a great return shot,” Wilson says. “I’ve worked the split-step into my lacrosse goalie game.”
The similarities between tennis and lacrosse are also true for three-time professional lacrosse goalie of the year and Team USA Captain John Galloway, who credits his “classic machine gun feet” to the footwork he mastered on his high school tennis team.
No, putting your kid into pads and onto a lacrosse field won’t make them the next Roger Federer. But a simple game of pitch and catch with the ol’ lacrosse sticks will help develop good form that translates well to the tennis court.
If you’re parenting or coaching a young athlete, you’ve probably already celebrated championship-winning goals in your street, driveway, or backyard. Now’s the time to use these moments (and create more!) as a way to reinvigorate your junior’s tennis skills without blowing out their mental capacity for the game.
For more good ways to help your young athlete stay engaged in the sport they love, check out our blog page!
And if you want to see what our tennis coaches have to say about your player’s performance, join our program and log into the Parent Portal.