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Shhh! Here's A Secret Way to Guarantee Stupid Playing

The origin of clapping as part of public performances is hard to trace. Some believe that clapping originated in the Middle Ages with the increase of public performances by traveling bands of actors and musicians. Others trace clapping far further - to Roman gladiatorial contests and, perhaps, even ancient Biblical times. Since even babies clap, it is possible that this instinct of expressing joy goes even further than that. It is, almost universally, associated with praise, pleasure and approval

As parents, you are expected to support your child's endeavors. However, often times, even innocent, positive actions can have far-reaching negative consequences. Take, for example, clapping during your child's match. "Now, come on, CAtennis.com, you can't expect me to show up at my kid's match and not be supportive! What's wrong with clapping?!" The answer is nothing - as long as you do it an appropriate time. Let's think about this for a second. When, exactly, is an appropriate time to clap: when the player hits an Ace? When the player hits a winner? When the player hits a shot that forces an error from the opponent? After all, you wouldn't clap if your kid played a point that drew an unforced error from his opponent, would you?! That would be unsportsmanlike. Right?!

Well, here's the thing: if clapping is a form of praise or of signaling approval, in many ways it has the same effect of giving the child an increase in allowance for doing her homework extra early, getting him a new car for finishing his senior year with all A+ grades, or taking him to Disneyland for winning a tournament. It's a form of rewarding certain behavior and motivating similar future actions. I can only speak from annecdotal evidence but I have witnessed HUNDREDS of matches lost and, consequently, many careers ruined by parents who simply "clapped at the wrong time". For example, do you find yourself clapping at a drop-shot winner at 15-40? Do you find yourself clapping at your kids' second serve aces? Do you find yourself clapping at your players' return winners? Do you find yourself clapping and cheering when your kid hits a between-the-legs winner? Well STOP IT! There's one certain way to ensure that the player will continue hitting stupid, low-percentage shots and that's to acknowledge such shots in the first place. Forget about what goes on at ATP/WTA tour events - people clap and cheer for any reason or no reason at all. However, those players have the ability to block things out. Even at those levels, however, the player's box cheers/claps loudest for well-played points; for points were the player gritted out a tough play; where he showed guts and smarts. They are more prone to acknowledge heart and smart-playing as opposed to flashy, low-percentage shots. So learn from these levels and encourage the player - and here's the key - WIN OR LOSE to the extent they accomplished their desired objective. By clapping winners you're encouraging him to go for winners. Same with second serve aces and low-percentage drop shots at key points. Instead, strive to emphasize the process.

The best advice that we could outline for you is to communicate with your player's coach in advance and ask him/her what the player has been working on. If the player has been working on being steady - clap/cheer for long points that show heart (again, WIN OR LOSE): "way to fight"; "way to stay tough"; "good hustle". If the player has been working on certain groundstrokes, acknowledge those strokes after the point (WIN OR LOSE): "nice forehand"; "beautiful serve"; "nice stick on that volley". By clapping/acknowledging the things that player has been working on, you will send the player the message that (a) you are 100% behind his development; and (b) your primary concern is not winning/losing. If the player has been working on certain patterns - acknowledge those patterns. It's useless to clap for winners during the match and then, after a loss, tell the kid that "it's not the result that matters." You are sending her two contradicting messages. In addition, you risk undermining the player's relationship with the coach because, where one is focusing on developing the game (i.e., the coach), the other (player) is concentrating on results. How is the coach supposed to focus on getting the player to the mid- and long-term level if the only thing that's on the player's mind is the immediate past and immediate future result?! This type of behavior leads to Band-Aid practices where the parties are focused on covering up past mistakes instead of emphasizing long-term growth and development. So, in a way, telling the kid one thing and exhibiting a different kind of behavior is not just useless is downright harmful.

The same lesson goes for being overly excited after the match for wins but being depressed after losses. What message are you sending your player? It doesn't matter what you say - it's how you act that sends the clearest message (remember: only about TEN PERCENT OF COMMUNICATION IS VERBAL). During the development stages it is EXTREMELY important to stay even-tempered regardless of result. The message that needs to get across is that learning and improving is of foremost importance. Results are simply the outcome of hard, passionate, driven and focused work.

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Reader Comments (1)

i needed this article a few years ago! you have outlined some very detailed advice that can help all of us crazy tennis parents stay a little saner out there - thank you!

November 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

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