Mental health benefits of tennis for children and teens
DR. LARRY LAUER, CMPC, MENTAL SKILLS SPECIALIST, USTA PLAYER AND COACH DEVELOPMENT
The COVID-19 pandemic has created many health issues across the world. Certainly, COVID is having widespread mental health consequences, as well.
The impact of the pandemic is not reserved for those that have suffered from COVID-19 or are isolating due to health concerns.
Children and teens have met and encountered many new and difficult experiences over the last 15 months. Many are no longer going to school with other children and have stopped playing sport and engaging in other activities.
Because of the potential for isolation, loneliness and the experience of losing significant parts of their lives, anxiety and depression rates are very high.
What can be born out of times of great stress and adversity is strength. Our inner resilience “muscle” is being challenged and developed because we are under stress.
To manage this stress and channel it into a growth experience, children and teens must engage in experiences that give them the opportunity to socialize, to move, and to be present.
Counter Isolation by Providing Socializing Opportunities
When we play tennis, we have the opportunity to engage in a fun, competitive experience with someone else. Through tennis, children can develop friendships on the court and move away from the isolation that sparks loneliness, a fear of missing out on experiences, anxiety and feeling down (1).
Counter Anxiety and Depression via Movement, Exercise and Play
Tennis has the opportunity to provide moments of joy as young people are able to get out and move, become fit and take time to play with others. Research has also revealed that exercise reduces stress and anxiety, and often, getting young people who are feeling down moving can improve their mood (1).
Create Cognitive Challenges that Promote Healthy Development
Playing the game of tennis creates the challenge of figuring out how to get the ball over to the other side of the net and how to counteract what your opponent is doing. It also creates an increased level of focus and engagement, as players not only need to focus on the ball as they move, but also problem-solve. Learning to deal with losing and with winning are healthy challenges for young people as they learn to interact with others in respectful ways while they strive for personal success.
Learning Tennis Skills and Competing Can Enhance Self-Confidence
The development of their tennis, and physical, mental, emotional and social skills in it, can help enhance the confidence and self-esteem of the young person (2). Being confident in one’s ability to deal with the demands of a situation creates a healthy response to stress. In addition, children learn what coping skills work and don’t work for them, and begin to strengthen their understanding and skill at dealing with stress in healthy ways.
Tennis demands singular focus from a player and a skill of dealing with errors and losing effectively. Because of the “messy nature” of tennis, meaning many points are won off of errors, players learn how to manage their emotions and deal with mistakes when coached effectively. When the focus is on the process of getting better instead of winning and losing, players can manage the stress, “bounce back” and adapt to adversities such as playing poorly, thus creating a resilient response. Resilience is key in overcoming stress and anxiety, and serves as a buffer to other mental health issues. Truly, those that are thriving are resilient and adapting well to their environment. Tennis gives young players the opportunity to practice being resilient in a game environment.
For the reasons listed above and probably more, playing tennis is an amazing life-long sport that can serve as a vehicle to promote personal development, health and well-being when done in an appropriate manner.