Take my car keys!
If you think that U10 tennis competition is about scaling you may be missing the point!
Kids are not just smaller, they are developing, unfinished, morphing. There are no finish lines or guarantees in U10 tennis, no key milestones in development based upon competitive success. The fact remains that success in 10 and under competition has no bearing on how successful you become by the time you have reached maturity. That is unless the world lords it over all your opponents to the point when they decide the journey is no longer worth taking.
To give you a colourful metaphor let me ask you the reasons why you don’t allow your 7 year old to drive your car? Ok, first we might want to get past the fact that they may not be able to see over the steering wheel or reach the pedals. If physical was the only factor somewhere in the affluent world that we live someone would have created a roadworthy kid sized car and the big spenders of the world would be lavishing the ultimate gift on their offspring.
The real reason that you don’t let your child drive a car at 7 is that their cognitive and emotional development doesn’t equip them adequately with the skills required to navigate public roads in a safe and responsible way. Their reasoning and understanding simply isn’t there! Instead you buy them a bike, keep them off road until they are a little older and wait.
There are no finish lines under 10, only learning experiences that shape and develop the passion and excitement for our sport. If a competition is not a learning experience it is not a valid experience. We need coaches and managers who understand how kids think, feel and grow, not people who think scaling relates only to the physical elements of the game. We need to look outside tennis and understand who our athletes are, where their world is and what they really need to stay in the game.
So this cautionary tale is aimed at the competition managers, organisers and federations. The overriding message time and time again with U10 tennis has been geared around getting kids into competition, getting them to play the game, but assuming that this format should be adult oriented doesn’t make sense. Just as the young tree can’t survive the strongest wind so you don’t give the keys of your car to you youngest for fear that you might lose one or both to a nasty crash.
Let them ride the bike, have fun and remember that this is a long journey that needs little warriors who are motivated and in love with our game!