Advice for Tennis Parents


Quick Tennis Psychology Tips 
by John F Murray, PhD


One of the biggest issues in tennis and sports psychology is parents and how their behavior impacts junior player development and well-being.  Coaches and other sports psychologists I talk with tell me that it is THE number one issue!

Some parents go overboard in their attempts to squeeze another ounce of athletic success from their children.  It’s pretty easy to spot this problem as kids and teenagers describe the pressure on them to pursue rankings and titles.  Yet the opposite also occurs, with parents just dropping their children off at practice, and ignoring their progress.  Neither approach is optimal. 

Let’s not forget the “psychology” in sport psychology. Any psychology must place the welfare of the individual first, and carefully preserve intrinsic motivation. Performance can always improve, but the best sport psychology advice for parents is often to just take it easy and allow the coaches and sports psychologists to work their magic.

The ideal young performer will be internally motivated and excited about improvement. However, this attitude isn’t created out of thin air. Individuals discover their sports and mature at varying rates.  Although you’ve always preached the value of success to your kids, the state championship might not be the top priority for an adolescent currently, but with proper care it will develop.  

Motivation comes from deep within, and cannot simply be attached to a person like a motor bolted to the outside a speed boat.  Parents need to praise efforts and performance and model the joy of competition and improvement. Too many parental demands on a child can ruin their fun and sabotage your purpose. Let your child discover tennis success without providing the slippery slope of negativity, pressure, excessive expectations, or punishment.

What can you do as parents?  Encourage three aspects of sport: Fun, Mastery, and Growth.


Fun resides within your child’s own feelings. Encourage them to find out what they really love about tennis, and praise these interests and activities. Encourage them to satisfy and please themselves first, not you, for their accomplishments.


Focus on performance rather than outcome. Encourage kids to be satisfied by internal rewards such as self-regard, pride, and a sense of achievement, rather than external rewards such as money and trophies.


Rather than talking about winning and losing, discuss performance and improvement. Draw parallels between sporting behavior and growth in other domains in life such as schoolwork and job performance. Emphasize courage and a work ethic that will carry over into other areas of life. Check their belief in themselves, as this is a core element to growth.

As you respect the individuality of your child, you allow them to grow and improve naturally. By encouraging fun, mastery, and personal growth, you help them develop a greater attitude toward life, and enhance their performance at the same time.

Dr. John F. Murray is a former international tennis coach, licensed clinical and sports performance psychologist, and author of the best-selling book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game,” available in English, Japanese and Spanish. Known as the most quoted psychologist in America and the Roger Federer of sports psychology by Tennis Week Magazine, Murray works with junior, collegiate, and professional tennis players out of his Palm Beach office, by phone, and at client locations and tournaments to enhance performance and well-being. He has conducted hundreds of tennis psychology workshops worldwide including 10 years near Wimbledon, England on the weekend before The Championships.  For further information call Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898, visit or email