What Parents Can Learn From Federer's Mental Attributes...

 

 

With the announcement that Roger Federer will make his return to play in Doha next month, it got me reflecting on his greatest career mental traits, and what parents can learn from this…

I believe he has 3 that stand out:

1.) Resilience

If 1 statistic characterizes Federer's resilience, it is this…

He has come back from 2 sets down 10 times, this is equal all-time record shared with Aron Krickstein and Boris Becker.

An amazing achievement…

2.) Performing his Best Under Pressure

Federer has always been clutch...but just how clutch even surprised me.

To consider this I reviewed the open era records of some of the world’s best male players in Grand Slam sets that went past 5-5…

And the results?

Federer, along with Raphael Nadal, hold clearly the best career winning % in close Grand Slam sets at 70%...

Djokovic wins 66%...

And the next best I found was Sampras at 63%...

3.) Consistency/Longevity

This one is pretty obvious....

Federer has the record for the most Grand Slam victories in front of Martina Navratilova.

And the stat that has always been the most astonishing to me is that he went 9 straight years without missing a Grand Slam quarter-final…

Ridiculous!

What Can Tennis Parents Learn From This?

Federer is obviously one of the most physically gifted players to ever play the sport…

But how has he developed these incredible personal qualities that have allowed such resiliency, clutch play, and consistency over time?

Your first response might be that this is innate, or it has come from his many interactions with great coaches…

And if so, you would be correct in part…

But in my opinion, we can also be sure that the MOST important contributant to his incredible competitive attributes has been the millions of helpful communications that his parents, Robert and Lynette, had with him throughout his developing years, on and off the court…

And therefore, I simply can’t stress enough how important the parental role is in how players will come to compete as they develop…

Yes…just like Federer’s coaches throughout his career would have made an indelible mark on his development, coaches play a vital role in players' mental development…

But in most cases, coaches won't be as important in shaping player developing competitive habits as their parents…

So my strongest advice for parents is that if you hope for your child to develop resilience, composure under pressure, and a long-term love affair with the great game of tennis, model your communications on Robert and Lynette Federer…

So what are some of the key foundations that, from the outside, it appears sure that the Federers would have repeatedly communicated to a young Roger Federer?

As far as I can tell from reading interviews with both Roger and his parents, I would summarize their tennis parenting style as one indicative of what in psychology is called Self-Determination Theory…

Regarding this style, here’s what the mother of the family who Roger Federer lived with when he moved away from home to attend the national tennis centre said about the way Roger’s parents communicated with him: 

“With the first few boys we hosted, their parents were always following them around, didn’t let him catch their breath for a minute and were constantly badgering them. They called every day because of this or that, that they shouldn’t forget their socks, etc. These boys didn’t make it very far in tennis. But it was completely different with the Federers. They were tolerant and understanding. I learned a lot from them. From an educational point of view, they handled the situation perfectly. With Roger, he was the one that wanted to become a top player. His parents were there to provide the framework and to help him if necessary, but they never forced him to do anything. They let him go about his business and weren’t overly protective. They had faith in him. They didn’t scold him when something didn’t work out with the coaches or at school. They listened to him, talked to him, and helped him understand that coaches and teachers had their jobs to do as well.”

In Self-Determination Theory based parenting, there are 3 basic guiding principles…

I like to think of these as what parents can communicate before participation, surrounding participation, and after participation.

Before Participation- Promote Choice

First, what is called autonomy is the parenting tendency to allow children to make their own choices and decisions at appropriate developmental stages within appropriate behavioural limits.

In Federer’s case, it is absolutely clear that he decided to play the game and try to excel in it because he loved it (which also would have been encouraged by his parents love of the game).

He was in complete control of his destiny…with his parents providing incredible support along the way.

Surrounding Participation- Promote Competence

Once children have made their participation choices with your support, competence describes the parenting tendency to encourage participation experiences that promote growth and also the tendency to focus on the positives/strengths to do with those experiences.

This tendency encourages children to challenge themselves, to go after the joy that comes with achieving things, and to develop vital self-belief.

Once again, it is clear that Robert and Lynette Federer promoted Roger’s competence superbly…

After Participation- Care

Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose…

It is your reaction to your child’s wins and losses that describes the concept of relatedness.

If over time, your reactions to your child’s losses communicates to him/her that he/she is just as worthy as when he/she loses, you are promoting relatedness.

It is the most powerful parental long-term mental toughness promoter of all because it is the very key that allows children to feel safe enough to put it all on the line and compete their hardest in the already pressure filled world of sports, and know that they can handle the difficult feelings that come with losing.

It is obvious in watching Federer compete that his parents communicated this care successfully based on his quote when questioned about losing more often than he once did…

Federer responded by saying:

“I’ve heard retirement talk since 2009 when I won the French Open and people were like, well, what else are you playing for? I’m like, what’s wrong with you people? Don’t you understand that playing tennis is great fun? I don’t need to win three slams a year to be content. If the body doesn’t want to do it, if the mind doesn’t want to do it, if my wife doesn’t want me to do it, if my kids don’t like it, I’ll stop tomorrow. Zero problem. But I love tennis in such a big way that I don’t care if I don’t win so much any more. For me that is irrelevant.'

And it is, of course, the very fact that to him winning is not the most important thing, that has allowed him to win so much…

And for that mindset he can thank, in large part, his parents…

Let's hope he can have one last amazing run this year!

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