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Productive Ways to Help Your
Child Prepare for a Match

John Mills Photo
John Mills, USPTA

Before the Match:

  1. Check the tournament schedule for start times and locations, share the information with your child, and help them to learn to take responsibility for being prepared and on time. Research, ahead of time, the best way to get to the tournament site, so that there is no confusion on the day of the tournament, which can cause anxiety and the possibility of default. Make sure their USTA membership (Tennis I.D.) is up to date. Take a cell telephone for directions, emergencies, etc.
  2. Make sure all the basics are taken care of. Example: rackets, extra strings, proper shoes, extra dry clothing, small first aid kit, towel, water jug, sun screen, hat, healthy snack, etc.
  3. Have a good high-carbohydrate dinner the night before, cut back on sugar and carbonated drinks. Make sure he or she hydrates well the day before and all during the match, as this will help recovery. Dehydration zaps energy.
  4. Make sure your child is rested and prepared.
  5. Bring written confirmation of the match time (this is provided by all large tournaments). Bring the USTA membership card that must be presented at each tournament site at check in time.
  6. Keep conversation topics away from tennis unless "your advice" is solicited. You are already spending money for lessons, let your child’s coach be the coach. You be the parent. Mental preparation before a match is very important and your child will be trying to get prepared with the knowledge gained during lessons, and the information he or she has about his or her opponents. Some times too much additional advice coming in at this point is confusing and can add too much pressure to the mental warm-up. Along with everything the player is trying to assimilate, they also are thinking about doing well for those around them, their peers, their coaches and probably most of all their parents. So, let your child deal with all of these factors without adding those little bits of information that you think will help him. If they are not ready for the tournament by now whatever advice you give will not help. Observe, listen, and take your queue from your child.
  7. Try to be at the site an hour before the actual scheduled time. This will allow for any car trouble, traffic, etc. In addition, it allows time to find a friend to practice with for 30 minutes at least and still have 30 minutes to relax for the match. Make sure your child checks in with the tournament desk on time and listens for his or her name to be called for his match.
  8. Make your tournament experience with your child a vacation. Take things you would like to do as if you were on vacation (books, bike, jogging gear, etc.) Whether or not your child wins or not, they will always remember the good times spent with you.

During the Match:

  1. Sit in a position where your child will not have direct eye contact with you. They will have enough distractions once the match starts. Try to sit where the sun does not blind you.
  2. Keep your body language positive and consistent, regardless of the score. Do not make any noises (gasps, etc). Refrain from getting overly excited and clapping loudly when your child makes an outstanding shot.
  3. Do not talk with your child during the match. It can be considered coaching and can lead to point penalties or default. It will also help your child to become more independent.
  4. Keep extra ice, water, fruit, sport drinks, snacks, etc. handy in a cooler so it is available if your child runs out or needs something. You will be allowed to give these to your child at the child’s request, preferably during the switch of sides.
  5. Take a comfortable chair, wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Bring appropriate accessories for the conditions. This might include a large sun umbrellas, sunscreen, and a hat with brim to shield your face and ears. Have snacks, fruit and plenty of water (not sugared drinks). A blanket in the winter can be a big help.
  6. Turn off your cell telephone as a courtesy to your child and all the other players.


After the Match:

  1. Greet your child the same positive way after every match regardless of the outcome.
  2. Do not talk directly about the match for at least one-hour. This allows a cool down time for both of you. Parents can say hurtful things because they are so wound up in the match. Your child has just come off a very competitive event, so let your child chill-out. It’s too late to explain how they should have played the match and where they made their mistakes. If you are a tennis player, you should note that you were not the one on the court and that your child had to play it the way they saw it at the time, based on any number of factors. It is a lesson learned if, after the match, you are able to analyze the match and determine what you might have done differently, if you had been the one playing. Or what your child might need to work on to be a better player and win the next time they come up against that type of player. If you are not a tennis player, it will be hard for your child to respect anything you have to offer, as they can only wonder how would you ever be able to understand what they have just experienced.
  3. Focus your energy on comforting your child. Example: Would you like to go back to the hotel and take a shower and relax? Would you like to get something to eat. Would you like to go watch one of your friends play their match? etc.
  4. Be positive when talking about the match. Example: You were a great sport. You had very positive body language. I can see that you were trying the new strategy that you and your coach were working on. Your concentration and great effort were excellent. Your serve (or volley, approach, or any improved shot) has really improved. I am really proud of the way you handled yourself today, that was a really tough match.
  5. Learn what your child likes to do to relax between the matches.
  6. Never bring up how much money you are spending on your child as a threat or bribe. Whether they played their personal best that day or not, adding more pressure will not help either of you, and it might even affect their next match. If you feel like you are wasting money on lessons, gear etc., there may be a reason that needs further investigation. Later, sit down and discuss what your child's goals are regarding tennis. They may be very different from what you think or what your goals are for your child. Your child may have a problem at school regarding tennis. It may be their position on the team, dealings with their coach or teammates. They might be tired of the tournaments or just burned out on the game. It may be time to re-evaluate your child's commitment to tennis
  7. If your child has won the match or if the tournament has consolation rounds, make sure your child requests a written confirmation.

Good luck on the court!

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This column is copyrighted by John Mills, all rights reserved.

John Mills' experience includes four years as head pro at the Windemere Racquet & Swim Club, where he was responsible for organization of all tennis activities at the club. John also played college tennis at the University of Houston and has spent 20 years teaching tennis at the Memorial Park Tennis Center, the Pasadena Racquet Club, and as the head pro at the Bay Area Racquet Club.


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