Tennis prodigies—gifted and precocious players—are rare, but very special. I have had the good fortune of working with many young players whom I would consider to have been tennis prodigies and they exhibit certain traits that all players, coaches and parents can learn from.
Maturity and emotional control
Prodigy players that I have worked with and have spent time with have a maturity beyond their years. When you speak to them, they sound like a player many years older than their biological age. They are focused and determined, and this inner drive and vision is reflected in the language they use and the way in which they communicate.
These players also often display a court presence, mannerisms and body language that is very mature and refined for their age. Prodigies often have a court presence uncannily like a top adult professional, even at a very young age, with rituals and self-talk just like the pros on television.
Passion and an early love of the game
Prodigy players just love tennis—more than just about anything else in the world. They love hitting the ball. They love the battle of a match. They have a tremendous passion for the sport and never tire of playing it. This passion moves them to practice and play more than other kids their age who have not yet developed a passion for the game and may love several sports or have other interests.
Discipline and work ethic
Prodigies have an unusual level of dedication and work ethic for their age. This relates to their unusual level of maturity and love of the game. They are often willing to train countless hours with a deep focus when other kids their age lose concentration and want to take more breaks.
Big aim and specific goal-setting
Prodigies usually know exactly what they want and already have a strong goal-setting program instilled in them at a young age. I have worked with many talented children, as young as five- or six-years-old, who have remarkable clarity about their vision for the future, what the future holds for them and what they want to accomplish in the sport of tennis. These goals are often very specific and ambitious. By contrast, many good players, even highly ranked players, can struggle to explain the vision they have for their future in tennis and in seeking their goals.
A growth mindset and coachability
Prodigies have a great respect for the coach and a growth mindset. By that, I mean that when they come to train, they train with a purpose. They listen attentively to the coach and process advice well. Prodigies are willing to experiment to get better, and when they make a mistake, rather than dwelling on the mistake, they want to quickly learn the solution and fix it. Because prodigies are more coachable, they progress faster than their peers. Every practice is more efficient and productive because of their mindset and positive approach to learning.
One of the great joys of my coaching career has been the privilege of working with many gifted young children. I often see that my players who are struggling to make progress have deficiencies in some of the areas above where prodigies typically show strength.
It would behoove all players who want to reach greatness, become champions and maximize their potential, to learn from the most talented kids to ever step onto the tennis court. While it's true that prodigies have exceptional physical and athletic abilities that cannot be duplicated, their mental and emotional skills can be duplicated and developed, with the right amount of dedication and practice.
Chris Lewit, a former number one for Cornell and pro circuit player, coaches in the New York City area and also runs a high-performance boarding summer camp in Southern Vermont. He specializes in training aspiring junior tournament players using progressive Spanish and European training methods. His best-selling book, Secrets of Spanish Tennis, has helped coaches and players worldwide learn how to train the Spanish way. He may be reached by phone at (914) 462-2912, e-mail ChrisLewit@gmail.com or visit ChrisLewit.com.