Why early specialization in tennis is bad?
The age that kids should start the activity to become really good varies from sport to sport. Basketball and soccer can be played at the young age without any special supervision by the coach and players still have big chances to achieve good results as professionals. On the other hand, technical sport like tennis has to include coaching from the beginning of the journey to guarantee proper technical habits. There is nothing worse for the coach and the player to work on technical changes at the age of 12 because wrong motor patterns were learned in the previous years. That’s why many parents send their kids to professional coaches at the young age and they push them to do a lot of work to become a great tennis player. Unfortunately, it is not also a good solution.
We know many stories of parents who pushed their kids at the age of 5 and achieved spectacular results. Williams’ sisters or Andre Agassi are great examples of players who were working really hard from the first time on the tennis court. Hearing these stories, many parents want to follow the same way and they force their kids to run extra mile, spend 4 hours on the court and work on mental aspects at the age of 7. It is great to hear that it worked for Andre and Serena but we don’t know how many kids were wasted because of this approach. We have to remember that this harsh approach has a big impact on player’s life so it is a moral aspect that we should always take into consideration.
I agree that it is important to start tennis at the young age but it doesn’t mean that we have to train like pros from the beginning. Love for tennis and having fun are 2 aspects that we should work on to develop a solid base for this long-term development. If we don’t do this, there is a big chance that our kid won’t only achieve great results but he/she can quit tennis earlier than we can imagine. Can you find your own person doing something what you hate for 10-15 consecutive years? I don’t think so! If you go to the YouTube website and type phrases like “Tennis prodigy” or “Kid tennis star” you can find hundreds of videos with 5-years old kids playing extremely well. From the baseline. With regular balls. It is crazy! Please don’t do this for your kid and approach smartly the process of learning tennis. Below you can find why early specialization in tennis is detrimental and why you should rethink your idea to take your 7 years old kid to the gym.
Kids are kids. You can’t do the things that professional do with 5-years old because the body and mind are not ready for this. There is nothing wrong to let your kid try tennis at the age of 3 or 5 but it has to be suited to his/her biological development. Activity and fun are skills that young kids need so that should be a priority in each session. Using balloons, colorful targets and inflatable objects are great products to let kids love the sport and want to participate in it without parents’ force. Early specialization focused on more hours on the court based on technical development is a good way to get early results but it has a detrimental effect on long-term development of an athlete. We know many kids who were extremely well at the age of 6 but they were losing everything 7 years later. Why is that? It is simple. They got early advantage because they were spending more hours than their peers but too much at the young age results in less motivation and willingness to work hard in the future. Lack of social activities and whole life designed around tennis can force an adult to leave the sport. And we are talking about the kids!
Injuries are constantly visible among players who started too hard at the younger age. Why don’t you go to the gym and try to bench 150kg? I know the answer. Because your body is not capable to do that. That’s right. Right now your body is not ready but with properly scheduled nutritional and practice plans you can achieve this goal in few years. The same approach has to be taken while working with really young kids. They are not ready to serve hundreds balls with regular balls or do 50 push ups for making a double fault. In few years they will be ready but not right now. Being smart means taking your kid step by step to the goal you both want to achieve. It doesn’t matter how well you play at the age of 7 because real tennis starts around 10 years later. A lot of things can happen (not dependent on you) so taking care of all aspects that you can control should be a priority for parents and coaches. Every time you push your kid too hard at the young age, you hurt him/her. How can you do this to your child?
Lack of experiences
Young kids love to have fun so work has to be gradually implemented into their life. There is value of each experience that they are able to get from different situations. Spending time with other kids, drawing a picture or throwing a ball are all actions that benefit human being’s development. Depraving kids the right to spend childhood like their peers can have a bad impact not only related to tennis but also to the whole life. Only 100 tennis players make good living because of tennis so we can say that the rest never achieve their dreams. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and do our best to take our kids to the highest possible level but we have to do it smartly to not lose more than we can get.
About the Author
Marcin Bieniek is a tennis coach from Poland and a former professional player (Polish National Juniors Team). He is a certificated tennis coach by the Polish Tennis Coaching Association and the Professional Tennis Registry. Marcin has worked with many of the top 20 Polish Juniors and the top 150 players in the world.