How we interact with our children around tennis has incredible power in influencing his/her mental toughness development, even more so than coaches. This is due to the 'perfect storm' of factors that make tennis parenting interactions the most powerful determinant of children's mental toughness development, both on and off the court...
Our Brains Remember Important Experiences Better...
The genius of the human brain is evident in the way it has evolved ways of deciding which life experiences need to be remembered and learned from and which can be forgotten.
Recent research has shown us that the brain figures out what is likely to be important to remember based on a number of factors, making it more easily rewired as a result of these factors.
And as it happens, there are two factors crucial to sport that encourage our ability to remember sport experiences: exercise and high levels of emotion.
High Levels of Emotion
When an experience is unemotional our brain does not remember it with much strength but when an experience arouses high levels of emotion, such as many in, around, and following tennis, our brain recognizes it as important, and becomes more plastic and easily rewired, which is the foundation for how we remember things.
What About Exercise?
Regarding exercise, it appears our human history as hunters and gatherers may have primed our brains to recognize experiences following exercise as important to remember.
This makes sense when we consider that our predecessors ability to remember where sources of food were found following hunting were vital to survival.
How Does It Do It?
Our brains improve long term memory following exercise and during emotional experiences by growing new neurons (which are the brains basic building blocks) that are required for new brain connections to be made, making existing neurons more plastic and able to be changed, as well as increased barriers to bacteria that prevent new learning/memory connections forming.
So What Does This Mean for Your Child?
Let’s consider for a moment our interactions with our child following a loss or poor tennis performance...
The reality is that competition tends to evoke emotions in most of us as though we are involved in a life or death situation and losing can hurt in the same way that physical pain hurts.
This means he or she will likely be experiencing high levels of difficult emotions at this time...Added to this is the fact that he or she has just been exercising intensely.
This combination means that his or her brain is primed to remember and be changed by any experiences that he or she has at this time.
It's therefore hard to imagine a time when our interactions with our child will more powerfully shape our child's development than those you have at the end of his/her tennis matches, especially losses.
In the case that our child just lost, assuming he or she tried his or her best, it's vital that they learn from our communications that our love for them is not dependent on winning or losing, and that we believe that their efforts will pay off in the long term (both of these messages strongly support long term mental toughness development).
The ‘Perfect Storm’
And there is one more neurological phenomenon that adds to this power... Our brains have also evolved an inborn attachment system to parents that make parent-child interactions especially influential in altering brain connections to begin with.
In total, this explains how parent-child tennis interactions come to shape children's developing brain connections in such powerful ways.
These interactions combine the power of parental interactions in emotional situations after exercise creating a type of ‘perfect storm’ for affecting the internal belief systems that will come to influence your child’s self views, reactions, coping mechanisms, and choices throughout future tennis and life challenges.
How Can You Use ‘The Perfect Storm’ to Positively Influence Your Child’s Mental Toughness for Tennis and Life?
Here is a 4 step process that when practiced can help you support the development of your child’s mental toughness through appropriate reactions to the natural challenges that commonly arise along your tennis parenting journey...
1.) Develop Awareness – Develop a dual awareness of the situation by asking yourself ‘What is going on for me right now?’ and ‘What is going on for my child right now?’
Stopping to reflect on these questions can break the automaticity of reactions that is common during the emotions of sport experiences.
2.) Develop Acceptance – Once aware, it is important to tame our natural inclination to reduce or avoid the difficult internal experiences (thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and urges) that are common to sport parenting interactions.
You can do this by after noticing your experience, labeling it in a couple of words. For example “There’s anxiety,” or “There’s anger.”
3.) Shift Attention– Once you have made room for these internal experiences, shift attention onto this question, “What do I want my child to learn from this experience?”
4.) Commit to Action- You are now ready to choose an action that supports the development of your child's mental toughness by asking, “What do I need to do to do that?”
By practicing this process you will be better placed to cope with the challenges that naturally arise during tennis parenting and respond optimally to the situation.
This will allow you to take advantage of the opportunity this ‘perfect storm’ creates to positively influence your child’s development...
If you would like a Free Download of our 4-Step Process Form so you can have the process handy during tennis parenting challenges you can get it here...
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