Tennis is a game that is as much about losing as it is winning. The sooner a child recognizes this, the easier it is to adjust to the game which also provides perspective on life as well. Only one person is able to win (in singles play) and tournaments players will be better, smarter, faster and play the game harder than others. A lot can be learned from losing at youth tennis match while instilling a positive perspective by knowing the right things to say.
Empathy goes a long way to supporting a child who loses at tennis. As an adult it may be hard to step into the shoes of a young person but what a child needs in that moment is to know the feelings are valid and supported. When a child knows an adult understands that losing hurts and is difficult, it is likely to feel like less of a painful experience.
Engagement with a youth who loses in junior tennis means discussing the loss only when the child is ready. It is important for the young person to know the adult is there to offer support and love no matter the outcome of the game. A hug and words of affirmation go a long way to ensure feelings of self worth are not tied to success in a youth tennis match but also that the child is not alone when most vulnerable. Active listening is a skill which will help the child process feelings better and feel able to handle losses in the future.
An adult who offers to help a child let go of a disappointing loss can provide healthy coping mechanisms. A child may want to go out to eat after, go to a favorite place for a shake or feel supported just by connecting with an adult who understands. Junior tennis can be a competitive sport where not every child feels safe expressing feelings about negative events. It is important to remember parents are not coaches. Unnecessarily negative thoughts or behaviors are not acceptable but when it comes to specific skills in the tennis game, it is best to leave strategic discussions to the coach. Unsolicited advice can backfire and make the young person not want to discuss matters such as losses in the future.
Although a loss can feel emotionally chaotic and tough at first, the best thing is to keep it simple by offering an apology, affirming the child’s feelings and providing supportive, loving words followed up by an offer to do something fun to take the child’s mind off the loss.