A child’s experiences in the world of sports early on plays a very important role in their lives. Positive experiences can establish a solid foundation of love and appreciation for athletic activity, while negative experiences can foster resentment for a particular sport and an avoidance of future participation. It is important to provide a positive learning and playing environment to instill confidence in the individual, not only in an athletic sense, but in everyday life as well. A child’s overall self-esteem can be greatly impacted by what they perceive on the court in training.
In order to create such an environment, it is important for coaches and parents alike to prioritize the needs of the child as they develop the skills necessary to excel at a particular sport, rather than placing an emphasis strictly on winning. In the world of QuickStart Tennis and 10 & Under Tennis programs, one of those needs is the child’s need to simply play. At this early stage of development, kids should be encouraged to have fun while learning skills at their own pace, not having any worries about being better than another child.
One way to create a positive playing experience for youngsters is to change the environment to one that is not centered on competition, but one that fosters inclusion and cooperation. Limiting competition for youngsters frees them up to relish playing the sport, rather than being solely concerned with a final outcome. It teaches kids that there is more to life than simply winning or being better than someone, and that there must be a balance between finding joy and the mastery of a task.
There are many games that can be altered to fit a cooperative approach. As a simple example, consider a game in which two teams of two players rally with each other until they amass a target number of shots (shots can be made consecutively, or just continue counting after a mistake). Working together to reach the common goal of continuing the rally is more conducive to a fun environment in which no one single player’s ability overshadows that of another’s. Instead of competing, children are socializing and problem-solving cooperatively to reach their goal together, not against one another.
There are many benefits of cooperative play for children 10 and under that extend beyond the court. Positive social interaction behaviors can be instilled right on the court. Children develop qualities such as creativity, empathy and respect for one another when they are encouraged to cooperate. These qualities will be very important in their lives outside of the sports world. Additionally, children who are shown the importance of enjoying the training process rather than the importance of being better than another, are likely to develop a more positive view of their sport, and are more likely to continue their training and achieve positive results in the future.
Danny Ostrometsky, a USPTR-certified Tennis Coach, is Assistant Director of MatchPoint's QuickStart Program. Danny is a former Top 30 Sectional Junior Player in the 16 and 18 Divisions and a former Division 1 collegiate player at George Washington University