NYC's Premier Junior Program
  | By Khrystsina Tryboi
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

 

Let's start from the beginning. Take yourself back to the starting point of your tennis journey. Close your eyes and imagine being a kid who can’t stay still and all you want to do is just have fun. Your parents bring you to a tennis court and you just love the amount of balls flying around and the fact that you can chase them all over the court. You spend most of your free time practicing, having fun and making new friends. You are in total bliss when you come to practice, except for the times when your coach moves you up to the next level and it feels like you are starting from the beginning again. Your equipment gets bigger, the playing field also expands with your play level, and the sport that was once so exhilarating, does not seem so fun anymore. But in your mind, all you want is to do is hit balls in a low-pressure environment and compete with friends, and just have a good time.

Now that you remember what it’s like to be a young athlete, let’s change the subject to how we are introducing our kids to the competitive aspect of the sport. The USTA program has a clear path of gentle introduction to competitive play. However, most children are still experiencing immense stress and anxiety after their first competition. They are not prepared to face the opponent on the other side on their own. I am talking about children who are under the age of 10-years-old. They’ve just managed to get their grip on the racquets and tackle their techniques. That’s exactly what I want to talk about.

So, what we’ve got here is two kids on opposite sides of the net who are excited to play, but at the same time can’t combat their emotions. Excitement and nervousness happen simultaneously and as a result we’ve got two motivated players who can’t execute their game.

As a parent of two young athletes, an eight-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl, I know all too well the hurdles most tennis parents go through on their kids’ competitive journey. We all know of the parents who push their kids to play and compete. I can't say that I am completely innocent of being that type of parent myself. There are also those parents who stay impartial, and are happy no matter what happens. It seems that their kids' performance is always enough and they participate in the sport for the sake of enjoying themselves.

When my son played his first “Little Mo” Tournament this fall, I was psyched for him to get on the court and show what he’s got. I believe in his ability to play cohesively, win matches and compete for every point. However, my expectations of winning and showing what “we’ve got” turned into a nightmare for the both of us. Long story short, a tennis parent (me) forgot that an eight-year-old child could simply get nervous on the court and lose the ability to play his game. I was so wrapped up in coaching him before the match, that it did not occur to me that he did not need any of that. What he needed was a parent who would simply tell him to have fun; as much fun as you can. As a result, the ride home was dreadful because of my reaction to the game as well as the outcome. I understood that my reaction was not right, but it was hard to stay positive, so I just stayed silent. When the day passed, and my realization came, I felt awful. It might have been too early for him to compete in this tournament and we should have practiced with the team format first.

Everyone talks about how kids love participating in sports because it’s FUN, but playing tournaments is sometimes not fun. This is where Junior TeamTennis comes in. It helps bridge the gap between competitive and low stress environments for athletes. Kids feel safer and more relaxed when playing on a team because they win and lose together. They don't have to face their opponent on their own but instead they have a team supporting them, and a caring coach who is there to lend a hand. Such collective effort helps them open up and ease into their games. Also, team support is something that invigorates the kids and gives them purpose to compete.

Kids learn to respond to challenges a lot better in a team environment not only because of collective support, but also because a light level of coaching is allowed. This social level-based play really is a great way to encourage kids to compete and decide if they are ready to play in a Junior Circuit.

 

Khrystsina Tryboi is currently the director of marketing and a 10U tennis coordinator for MatchPoint NYC. She is a former Division II tennis player from Belarus, and is currently working for MatchPoint NYC in their QuickStart tennis program and is leading their marketing team. She is highly involved with USPTA and USTA to help grow the game.