Friday, May 03, 2013

10 & Under Tennis and Burnout

I just got off the phone with a friend whose son played in a 10 & under tournament last weekend. The club had a ping pong table, but his son couldn't find anyone to play ping pong with him. The parents didn't want their children to waste their energy.

It dawned on me that we may be making a huge mistake in pumping up 10 & under tennis in the US. The goal of starting kids earlier is twofold, I think. First is the idea that if you get a kid to start playing tennis early that kid will stick with the game for life. The second goal is that we will have way more kids playing tennis so we will have a much greater pool from which future world champions will emerge.

The second goal seems reasonable (to the extent that anyone knows anything about producing world champions it seems logical that more players will give you a better chance), but I'm afraid that getting kids started earlier in tennis may REDUCE the number of tennis players at a later date. Why? Burnout.

Why would kids burn out on tennis? Parents, mainly. But tennis itself is a pretty rough sport mentally and emotionally. Add to that the effect of hyper parenting in the US and you have a recipe for a bad tennis experience for little Johnny and Suzie.

I didn't start playing tennis seriously until I was twelve years old. By the time I was twenty I was thoroughly sick of the game. And my parents were not problem tennis parents. They let me do my thing and I loved the time I spent hanging with my friends, traveling, messing around and playing junior tennis. Yet the game still beat the crap out of me mentally.

Combine the difficult nature of the game with the helicopter parents always at the sides of Johnny and Suzie, telling them to stretch, to stay out of the sun, to avoid playing ping pong or basketball or soccer or mini tennis with friends between matches, to eat the right foods (whatever the heck those are) and on and on. Then put yourself in that car ride on the way home from the tournament, a car ride where mom and or dad pound on the kid over and over about the kids failures. Good grief.

No, I think that starting later may be the better formula for increasing the numbers of lifelong tennis players. There's only so much abuse a young person can take. And tennis and especially tennis parents dish out a lot of abuse. Probably more than little kids can handle.

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