Given that registration for our Parenting Healthy Mental Toughness Project closes in less than 3 days today I want to be very straight forward with you.
I can tell you with GREAT certainty that if you want your mentally weaker players to win more matches, the most powerful, predictable way to do that is to help parents of those kids do a better job of what I call the 3 C's: Choice, Competence, and Care.
Here's how I know this...
About 10 years ago as part of my PhD I worked with a group of tennis parents with the goal of improving their parenting communications to align with this style.
As part of this the parents' kids filled in a questionnaire called the Sport Climate Questionnaire (SCQ) which asks kids to consider the following 15 statements about their tennis participation:
1.) I feel that my mum and dad provide me with choices and options
2.) I feel understood by my mum and dad
3.) I am able to be open with my mum and dad while engaged in tennis
4.) My mum and dad convey confidence in my ability to do well in tennis
5.) I feel that my mum and dad accept me
6.) My mum and dad really understand the goals of my tennis involvement and what I want to do
7.) My mum and dad encourage me to ask questions
8.) I feel a lot of trust in my mum and dad
9.) My mum and dad answer my questions fully and carefully
10.) My mum and dad listen to how I want to do things
11.) My mum and dad handle my emotions very well
12.) I feel that my mum and dad care about me
13.) I don't feel very good about the way mum and dad talk to me
14.) My mum and dad try to understand how I see things
15.) I feel able to share my feelings with my mum and dad
My hope was that at the conclusion of 4 x 2.5 hr workshops over a couple of months players would score their parents higher on the SCQ.
And if this proved to be the case I also wanted to find out if this might affect the kids’ competitive responses and even match outcomes.
So what happened to parents scores?
At the end of the study, parent SCQ scores had increased significantly....and player's perceived pressure from parents had reduced drastically.
And how did this affect player competitive habits?
Players reported less fear of upsetting parents, less fear of failure, greater effort, less venting of unpleasant emotion...
But perhaps most exciting, when we tracked player results in the 12 months before the parent workshop series compared to the 12 months afterwards we noticed one massive change.
While players were losing a similar amount of matches after winning the first set, what had changed was they were winning a lot more matches after losing the first set.
In a couple of cases players who hadn't won a single match from a set down before the workshops began to do it quite regularly.
And importantly, since my original PhD study I have completed the same workshop series on several more occasions with similar outcomes.
Improved 3 C parent communication and player competitive responses and ability to win more matches after losing the first set are remarkably predictable when parents are supported in this way.
So why might players win more matches after losing the first set?
It makes sense that losing the first set would be more likely to trigger the consideration of potential loss (and therefore fear), compared to winning the first set.
In this situation players are more likely to enact avoidance-focused coping mechanisms like tanking, anger, and excuses unconsciously aimed at fear reduction after losing, rather than winning, the first set.
If this is true, reduced fear of failure and feelings of parent induced pressure resulting from improved parent communications of the 3 C's likely guards children from habitually doing things like acting angrily and reducing effort in fear evoking match situations such as losing the first set.
Also, when parents do a better job of communicating the 3 C's, these type of communications also increase children’s skill in responding adaptively to the fear of failure naturally associated with competitive challenges.
For example, parents in the study perceived their improved communications as being underpinned by a better awareness and acceptance of their own emotions, in addition to increased empathy for their child’s competitive emotions and challenges.
Therefore, it's likely that improved parent communications help children’s performance via both fear of failure reduction and also via an increased ability to cope with difficult competitive emotions such as fear.
The Importance of the Parenting Healthy Mental Toughness Project...
With this in mind, I simply can't think of anything more important for junior tennis organisations to urgently engage in than this project.
Have a great day,
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