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How Involved Should Parents Be in Developing Tennis Talent?

July 5, 2005 12:00 PM

By Jim Brown, Ph.D., Executive Editor, Sports Performance Journal, Author, Tennis: Steps to Success

The role that parents play in the development of their children’s interest in tennis and other sports ranges from too little to too much. Parent involvement and expectations are associated with success and enjoyment as well as with pressure and stress.

A sports psychologist and author named J.C. Hellstedt described parents’ behavior on a continuum from underinvolved to moderate to overinvolved. The moderate level of parental involvement, Hellstedt concluded, is usually the course that is in the best interest of their children. In a later study, he suggested that to avoid delays and obstacles in the development of athletes, families with young children should emphasize fun and skill rather than competitive stress.

B. S. Bloom edited a book titled Developing Talent in Young People, which became a landmark publication on the subject. Bloom reported that parents tend to be supportive during the early years of their children’s participation in sports (and other performance endeavors), allowing them to decide whether or not to practice. During the middle years, both the parents and their athletes demonstrated a period of increased dedication. In the later years, the athletes became fully committed in time and effort to improving performance, while their parents’ roles were more restricted, consisting primarily of financial support.

Dr. Robert Malina, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, offers several recommendations for parents of aspiring and elite athletes:

  • Let your child participate in the decision-making process, including the freedom to withdraw from select, high-intensity programs (at the end of a teaching or training cycle).
  • Select a coach/teacher/pro who will challenge and improve the abilities of your child while keeping the sport fun.
  • Be aware that there are social and emotional problems associated with progressing too rapidly in a sport.
  • Monitor elite training programs to guard against potentially harmful training methods, conditioning demands, and nutritional practices.
  • Do not become overinvolved in your child’s athletic activities.
  • Consider the consequences of the developmental process for the athlete and the rest of the family.

[Adapted from Sports Talent: How to Identify and Develop Outstanding Athletes, Human Kinetics Publishers]

© 2005 HMS Publishing, Inc.
Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at




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