Dear Jonathan: Thanks for all the private lesson time over the last couple months for my 10 year old Danny. He is really enjoying it. We will be traveling to my homeland South Africa over the holidays and I am considering a hiatus until next year. What do you think?
First, I think Danny made significant progress in terms of his coordination, limb strength, and skill acquisition. He now knows the 5 fundamental shots of the sport and can continue to practice them on his own though we will need to check for flaws early next year. He also knows how intense and difficult the sport is to learn mentally and physically. Letting that challenge ferment a while, away from lessons, is likely an advantage.
I had my first lessons when I was 10, but my motivation to practice was locked in by my parents who both played. They valued the sports safety, physicality, and intrinsic coping skills, as they were both educators and musicians. Jack needs those aspects as much as any child his age. Your countryman and commentator Cliff Drysdale has promoted these intangibles on air his whole broadcasting career.
Danny’s ability to shake off small, but inevitable, and frequent failures and bring his focus back to task is likely THE most important life skill that tennis offers in spades. Current research tells us the brain is physically being wired for these functions right now and many more. During these years the brain gets wired for empathy for the feelings of others, or it doesn’t, like Donald Trump’s brain.
Research shows now that failure is far more valuable than success to human development. Trump is another great example here as he was always allowed to escape failure.
That is why tennis is the best sport in my opinion for all kids. Better than team sports, it is a constant test of dedication and mental resiliency but it is also a showcase for handling disappointment in ourselves and empathy for those across the net. From a motor skills perspective, this age sees normal sputtering communication between brain and limbs.
When I was 11 and 12, my mother drove me all over Southern California and watched quietly and dispassionately while I lost my first 8 tournaments in the first round. Her enlightened attitude was that if you have a passion for the sport, failures and practice come with the territory, as did her passion for the cello. Musicians accept failures as routine. Finding passion for something challenging is the key and why physical education and music in schools must be expanded.
At 11, my parents took me on my first international trip. They knew that seeing other cultures is an important adjunct to this maturation process that we now know is going on quite physically through brain function studies. I hope Danny gets a chance to drink it all in during the trip. Yes, check back in January.