What Serena Williams and Tennis Teaches Kids
(By guest contributor Marianne Werdel)
Serena Williams is one of most powerful, determined, creative athletes I’ve seen. In a sport sometimes criticized for its old-fashioned tradition, she has shown kids there is more than one way of doing things. … That you can do it your way and still be successful.
As a former tennis player, now coach and parent, I don’t always think her abrasive, sometimes screaming “f-you” style sets the best example for young athletes. Yet as she readies to play her sister, Venus, in the finals of the Australian Open, I’m reminded by the incredible contribution both Williams sisters have made to the sport’s youth. They’ve taught young people to:
- Follow their passion
- Make their own path in life
- AND play more tennis!
It is after all, one of the best sports I know for teaching kids lessons that apply to real life.
7 life lessons tennis teaches kids
1. Hard Work: Nothing can replace hard work on the court. To master a shot, you must spend hours practicing it. You can be athletic and gifted, but if you don’t put in the time, you won’t succeed.
2. Discipline: Because it is an individual sport, there aren’t any set team practices with the coach running the program. Tennis players set up their own workouts, practice matches and off-court training. They have to have the discipline to train without a team to support them or a coach to demand it of them.
3. How to Handle Pressure: Players have to control emotions whether they are serving at 5-5 in the third set or down 6-0. 3-0. In order to think clearly and execute well, the mind must be calm. The best players are the best actors … you don’t know what the score is by looking at them.
4. To Focus on the Positive: Rarely does everything go according to plan in a tennis match. There will be times when shots just aren’t there that day. If a tennis player can’t correct the error, then they have to figure out a way to win without it. You look at what is going well and try to build the point around using that shot.
5. Processing Criticism: As a tennis player you are constantly made aware of your mistakes, either by your coach or by the natural consequence of missing a shot. Players learn they can’t get offended or take it personally when someone corrects them. Tennis players are continually critiqued on the technical, strategic and emotional aspect of their game. In fact, coaches actually look for the correction to speed up the learning process.
6. Problem Solving: Every point in tennis requires problem solving. … where will I serve? What spins, placement and speed? What is my opponent’s weakness? How can I expose it? Every point plays out an “if this, then that.” Tennis players make constant adjustments in every point … and they do it very often without thinking.
7. Guts and Grit: Most of all, tennis takes guts! A tennis player is out on a court by themselves, without teammates, without coaches and has everyone watching their every move. This takes a tremendous amount of courage. The best players are not afraid of the scenario, they actually feed off it … it is their high. One great quote that sums up tennis is “If you are afraid to take the shot, you didn’t deserve to make it.”
Marianne Werdel is a former professional tennis player. She first picked up a racquet at the age of 4. She played at Stanford and then for 11-years on the WTA tour where she ranked in the top 50 players for 9-years. She is a mother of three boys and is sharing her wealth of knowledge and passion for tennis through her training, coaching and consulting business Marianne Werdel Tennis Performance