As parents and coaches, we always want what’s best for our kids. But sometimes our ideas of their success can compromise a healthy, shared approach toward a common goal. While teaching or coaching discipline, determination, and competitiveness is important, we must be thoughtful about the way we do so. Putting too much pressure on young players can have adverse effects, such as stunting their growth, triggering bad habits, or driving them away from the game.
Winning is never as valuable as playing with sportsmanship, poise, and graciousness. How can you foster a competitive spirit in young athletes in a healthy and responsible way? Here are four ways to do it.
- Lead by example.
Parents, guardians, and coaches are responsible for setting the foundation of a young athlete’s approach to competing, whether it’s on the court or in the classroom. We don’t always recognize it at the time, but our actions, interactions, and personal conduct speak louder than any tips or tricks we teach. As leaders of young athletes, me must practice what we preach, and that means demonstrating good sportsmanship, showing grace under fire, and doing what’s right—even when it isn’t easy.
Are you screaming at the officials from the sideline, or are you shaking their hands at the end of the game? Do you blame others for your own mistakes, or do you look inward for ways to improve yourself? Young athletes are looking to you as an example of how to compete, and it’s up to you to show them that a competitor does more than perform on the court—a competitor shows class and sportsmanship before, during, and after the match. Competitors don’t just make the game better for themselves, they make the game better for everyone who’s participating: players, officials, and spectators alike.
Yes, leading by example is a valuable nonverbal form of communication. But as you know, effectively explaining what to do, how to do it, and why it is important are critical components of coaching. The key to making the most meaningful impact on young athletes isn’t just communication, though, it’s consistent communication. Without providing a clear and consistent message, you put your players are at risk of becoming confused, performing poorly, or losing interest in the game.
To avoid these pitfalls of poor communication, write down the major goals you have for your players. For each goal, come up with a concrete list of techniques, strategies, and slogans you can draw from whenever you explain the goal to your players. These consistent messages won’t just help your players remember what to do, how, and why, they’ll help your players establish a level of trust with you—and with themselves—that sets the tone for healthy and happy competition.
- Set achievable goals.
In baseball, you can’t hit a homerun without learning how to make contact with the ball; you can’t make contact with the ball if you don’t know how to swing a bat; you can’t swing a bat if you don’t know how to hold it.
In school, the same principle applies: you can’t write an essay if you don’t know how to write a paragraph; you can’t write a paragraph if you don’t know how to write a sentence; you can’t write a sentence if you don’t know how to write a word.
Starting to see a pattern? To take the pressure off young athletes and prepare them for a lifetime of healthy competition, you must start with the basics, set achievable goals, and celebrate success every step of the way. At ROGace, we practice this philosophy regularly. At the outset of instruction, we set clearly defined and achievable expectations for our young players. Then, through expert nonverbal and verbal communication, we teach, coach, and inspire players to excel.
Time, patience, and practice are part of a long process that staggers success and takes the pressure off of producing immediate results. With a structured approach to learning, players can ease into the game, progress naturally, and better understand a healthy, competitive spirit along the way.
- Play for fun!
Finally, remember to create opportunities for your young players to have fun. Playing to win isn’t everything. And despite what you may have heard, it’s certainly not the only thing. When you’re taking a break from fierce competition during tournament play, reinforce healthy competition among your players with other games or contests without rewarding prizes, trophies, or medals at the end. Want to take the pressure off your competitors, remember this slogan: “If you had fun, you won!”
For more healthy and happy ways to help your young athlete grow, 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.