The Apprentice vs. The MVP
In most cases, kids and their parents want to keep pushing to higher levels in tennis. This includes higher standards of groups, teams, doubles partners and more – the number of requests that I have received from parents and kids to play up is ridiculously high. They want their kids to be “The Apprentice”.
The Apprentice vs The MVP
In the tennis circles, there seems to be some type of achievement in just playing in a higher division or in a higher squad. This achievement often doesn’t translate to your success rate in the team or in the squad but the fact that you are in the team.
As a tennis coach, there are definitely times when a junior player is winning every week and is clearly the best player in their squad. In this case they may need to be moved up to keep them humble and continue to challenge them with better opponents – dreaming bigger.
However every ambitious junior player should experience being an Most Valuable Player (MVP) before moving on to any further growth and challenges in the levels above.
The Art of Coaching
Every kid is different. Some kids thrive on extra recognition before being thrown among the wolves. Some kids benefit from taking on the challenges early. For nearly every junior player that I am overseeing, I try to ensure that they are having enough MVP moments before they move up for the ‘good experience’.
The balance of this is something that I tailor to every player depending on their personality type, their parents, their history, what other training and tennis they are involved with – along with their own motivation and confidence.
At Scarborough Tennis Academy we have something called a Captain’s Program which we implement in our Performance Squads. The captain is often the best player who also displays the right leadership qualities and training intensity during the sessions. The captain is the ‘MVP’ and grows from the confidence as they are recognised as one of the best players within this squad. During most drills, games and matches within the session, the captain will be either the winner or runners up. This can fill their confidence and self belief a lot more than if they are thrown up to a higher squad or team too early.
How quickly it changes…
In a tennis group or training squad each junior player will normally experience being the lowest end of the group. When they first start playing, this is looked at with nervousness and trepidation by parents as they sit and hope that their child is going to cope ok with this high level class.
As that same tennis player becomes 10 years old plus and plays pennants and tournaments, that same parent becomes the polar opposite. They encourage playing in higher groups or squads because it will be “good for them” or ” they play better against better players” or that “if they train against them then they will improve faster”. Sometimes this is appropriate if the young player is bursting out of their previous group and needs to be challenged.
Many times though this is just the parent falling for the rat race of the junior tennis journey. At tournaments, parents talk about where there kids are training or playing and how that is working out for their kids. Other parents (particularly of the kids who have lost their matches) will feel like their child needs to find a higher level squad or team to improve.
This is where they may look at changing clubs, academies and/or coaches to find that higher training level. This is similar to getting your child’s report card from school, seeing a lot of A’s with some B’s and thinking that your child really needs to move up to the next year level or look at changing schools where they will be challenged more. This is the grass in always greener moment.
Junior player mindset
A lot of juniors are talented and often well practiced young tennis players. They have all the shots and, in the right mindset, can appear to be ultra confident young men and women. The reality is very different, most junior players have a fractured tennis self-esteem where they constantly look at who is better than them and compare themselves to the ‘champions’ at that level or age group. Many juniors have, at times, had to listen to their parents, coaches and friends tell them how bad they have played. This leads to the classic ‘choke’ against lower level players where the expectation to win is high and the pressure of being the favourite is too much to bear.
Success is a habit
It is ok for a junior player to dominate for a while. If they are winning every week at junior pennants then this is not a bad thing for their game! This could quite possibly be the best thing for their game where every time they win, they cement the habit of winning. Winning builds self confidence, self respect which, in turn, creates a belief system and mindset of success. The belief to win is the biggest battle in tennis and the only way to help that is to win enough times to cement the habit of success.
Losing is a habit
We have all said it or heard it when someone plays against a player who is universally known (through rating or ranking) as a better player. “I lost 6-3 6-4 but it was a close match and could of gone either way. It was great to be able to play like I have nothing to lose”
This can be a great opportunity to feel the freedom of being the underdog and just swinging the racquet – but it also can create the idea that its ok to lose, particularly if it’s against a perceived ‘better player’. So what makes it ok to lose? You never should play to have nothing to lose!
Coaches will know the balance
Parents will often want to dictate what level their child should be playing. This needs to be respected but at the end of the day, the coach should know what is best. This is because the coach has seen dozens of others before your kid and have learnt the art of how long to make your child the ‘MVP’ before pushing them to be the ‘Rookie’.
Parents often look at things with an adult brain when their children have under developed brains and far lower self esteem than we think. As an adult this type of push to ‘play higher’ can be a very impressive way to push up the ladder of success in many disciplines. I don’t disagree with constantly pushing to go higher and higher but I do disagree with the speed that most parents want their kids to go up that ladder. A key consideration is what the kids miss out on by constantly raising but never reaching the bar.
Playing older age groups
A lot of kids play out of their age group in an effort to play better opponents. More often than not this will give them the strong tennis match that they (or their parents) desire, but it may cost them the opportunity of being the MVP of their age group and cementing the habit of winning. I like to see my kids win a tournament in their age group before they feel they have the right to play an older age group. This almost creates a graduation process where if they can win their age group then they get the opportunity to play higher.
We have had kids/families leave us at Scarborough Tennis Academy when we are holding them at the MVP level of their group or team. The few times this has happened it has been disappointing as we are making these decisions in the best interests of each young athlete. You know that after their time as MVP they can be pushed into the level above where their success habits and belief systems will be challenged, required to achieve at the new level.
Best in the squad, best in the team
So my advice to parents is that unless your kid has been the MVP for a year in their squad or 2 seasons in their pennant team then just relax and encourage your child to enjoy their success. They contribute to the lower level level players in the team, learn some leadership skills and cement the habit of winning. They will be moved up at the right time.
Our philosophy at Scarborough Tennis Academy is for each junior player to be the best player in their squad or team for the minimum of a term through to the maximum of a year before moving them up. As mentioned earlier, this depends on the situation and personality of the junior player along with the opportunities and make up of our junior roster at the time.
I will add that again there are times that kids need to move up quicker and times where kids need to stay down lower. I can clearly remember the time where I pushed one of my students to play in an older age group in a tournament. She was 12 at the time and an intermediate junior player. I was looking at pushing her a bit in the hope that she would find more motivation with her tennis by playing at the higher level. I encouraged her to play 14 and under singles and arranged for her to play doubles with another one of my students who was one of the top seeds in 14 and under girls. This resulted in her getting destroyed in singles and embarrassed in doubles and ultimately was the end of her time in competitive tennis. That was my lesson learnt. I don’t have any examples of kids that I wish that I had pushed to play higher, earlier.
Play at an appropriate level
The squad or team you are in means nothing. The results you are having at whatever squad or level indicates your success. If you are the losing every champs and challenges at training and losing matches in pennants and tournaments then no amount of ‘growth’ you may get from playing with better players can offset the habit of losing.
Success is a habit
The most important part of this article is that success is a habit. Winning every match is clearly not beneficial but winning 50% – 80% of matches is great and cements the habit of success.
Director of Tennis
Scarborough Tennis Academy