October-November 2001 -- Question: I have read some of your ideas on how healthy the sport of tennis is. This is totally understandable from a physiological perspective, but could you list and discuss some of the psychological benefits of the game?
The historical moniker of tennis has been “the sport for a lifetime” and about 10 years ago I began collecting actual data to support this fact. I believe we (USPTA), as a professional trade association, should always be looking for ways to increase our numbers in the game, thus increasing our potential to teach more people.
The physiological research has been discussed for years, but the psychological realm has not been scrutinized as heavily. There may be several reasons for this but some include how difficult it is to collect good, empirical data about the mental aspects of someone participating or competing, the controls necessary to develop good research protocols, and (I hate to say this, but I hear it often) the public view of tennis is that it’s easy to get upset (e.g., how some players misbehave on court, tennis parent issues in the news, etc.). The latter is a topic in and of itself, so let’s not go there because there actually has been substantial research data generated favoring our great game. Here is a sampling:
Dr. Joan Finn and colleagues at Southern Connecticut State University found that tennis players scored higher in vigor, optimism and self-esteem while scoring lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension than other athletes and nonathletes. Scientists at the University of Illinois reported that, since tennis requires alertness and tactical thinking, it may generate new connections between nerves in the brain, and thus promote a lifetime of continuing development of the brain. And Dr. Jim Gavin, author of The Exercise Habit,
reported that tennis outperforms golf, inline skating and most other sports in developing positive personality characteristics.
With this data in mind, what is it that tennis likely develops in a young player and maintains (or continues developing) in an adult or senior player? If coached properly, there is no question a tennis player can learn to manage mistakes and accept responsibility more effectively. Players learn to play within their abilities and realize that managing and minimizing mistakes is critical in tennis and in life. The one-on-one competition trains an individual in the ups and downs of the competitive world and, by learning to adjust to the elements (wind, sun, a rude opponent, etc.), and still compete effectively, players learn to manage adversity.
The other psychological factors associated with healthy tennis development include the following: the development of a work ethic and discipline, the improved accommodation of stress, improved problem solving, the ability to plan and implement strategies/tactics, and the development of positive rituals in your life. Obviously, the quality of coaching has a lot to do with the development of some of these areas but, if a person has a tennis pro dedicated to his development, I am convinced he will also develop great sportsmanship habits, teamwork skills and social skills in general.
Since all this is achievable, is it any wonder that scientists and physicians all over the world view tennis as one of the most healthful activities in which someone could participate? There may be other sports that can provide excellent health benefits and some that can offer tremendous mental and emotional growth, but no sport other than tennis has been acclaimed from all disciplines as one that develops great benefits physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s great for children, adults and seniors. That is why tennis truly is “the sport for a lifetime.”
Send questions to jgroppel@LGEPerformance.com.