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Ok so this may seem to be off centre for a kids tennis website, but I was disappointed to see the commercial TV stations roll out “The Voice Kids” this month.

The premise is that young kids sing in front of an audience and several celebrity performers who then choose the best young talent to progress through to the finals.  The winners are of course destined to stardom and riches like their heroes and the format has been a winning formula for Reality TV all over the world with adult versions of the program.

The problem I have is that it is not adults performing on the show, and while the judges are extremely positive and supportive in their comments to the kids the danger is still there.  The danger that is of imposing adult models on kids.  Of treating kids like mini adults when in every way they are not a mini adult.

This kids version of a reality TV series has been tried before in Australia.  The very popular cooking program Master Chef achieved its own Junior Master Chef program.  The first series of the program seemed very successful and I had many parents comment that it was a positive program as their kids had taken a new interest in cooking despite my grumblings.

So successful was the show that commercial TV network decided a second series was in order.  There was not to be a third…surprisingly this was not because it was a financial and ratings disaster.  It was because of the second series developed a very unhealthy environment for the young kids competing.

It was revealed that over bearing parents had hired professional cooks to give their kids intensive training in the lead up for the second series.  Scorned parents of children who did not reach the final stages of the tournament complained that it was staged.  The overwhelming pressure of being a star on national TV took its toll on the kids who needed psychiatrists to guide them through the process.

Putting kids in high stakes environments is not healthy until they are emotionally ready.  Nowhere is this more true than in tennis where the next prodigy is too often put on a pedestal to early.  The pressure to perform can be suffocating and it is the early high achievers who potential is not achieved when they are placed in an environment where results are everything and personal development is secondary.

In Australia we have been very excited by the performance of 19 year old Nick Kygrios at Wimbledon this year.  Photos emerged from his youth of a short pudgy kid unrecognisable from the giant athlete who made the quarters at SW19.  His junior coach described him as “worse than slow” around the court and his development from age 17 – 19 as “unbelievable.”

This is why we have such a responsibility to each and every child in their formative years.  No one knows where they will end up once they finish maturing physically and mentally, so give very child a great foundation.

  • Don’t make a star out of a prodigy who hasn’t started puberty.
  • Educate parents about the long term focus your tennis program values.
  • If you are going to praise, praise the player who makes a mistake and then works hard to correct.  The research by carol Dweck shows those who are gritty and resilient in the face of failure who ultimately are the best performers.

Rafa Nadal didn’t buy into the hype after he was defeated by Kygrios at Wimbledon.  His message for the young Aussie, the hard work is in front of you and not behind you.  It is the same message as Dweck’s, value hard work, know that errors are inevitable and desirable and the process of correcting those errors is where the magic is.

Let’s be careful promoting the next big thing.  Let’s not put kids in high stakes environments or push adult concepts onto young minds and bodies.  Not surprisingly “The Voice – Kids” has already hit controversy, with one young aspirant weeping emotionally on stage after being rejected by the judges.

Be a great support and role model to the young players under your care.  That you made an amazing and fantastic impact on a young persons life is the best you can hope for.


Rufus Keown

Tennis Australia Club Pro Coach

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