There is a lot of talk about the benefits of “multisports” and children not being focused on only one sport, particularly at a young age. Tennis and football are sports that tend to be played in different seasons and Rafael Nadal has demonstrated that a player can be good in both.
We decided that it would be good to hear from i2c Director Mark Tennant, who leads our Coach Education programme, about how these two sports are complementary and why parents might think about encouraging children to do both.
For tennis coaches the reality is also that football competes with tennis for kids attention and interest, so to understand their complementarity is a useful way of appealing to footballers to play tennis too.
Interview: Mark Tennant
Tennis(24/7): Do you actively encourage your players to maintain participation in sports other than tennis? OR Do you discourage a player from only playing tennis?
Mark: It is vital for the development of physical literacy and an all-round sporting education that kids don’t focus too soon on just one sport. There are many reasons for this. The obvious one is that different sports develop different skills. I think it’s obvious to see the difference between football and tennis in terms of the different parts of the body that are used, but also in the energy systems and different types of fitness that both sports require.
However, it’s important to also mention the ‘pizza syndrome’. Kids may love pizza, but if they have it morning, noon and night, seven days a week, they will soon get sick of it! It’s the same when only practising and competing in one sport, so I think playing more than one sport is good for keeping kids playing tennis too.
I’m not aware of many tennis coaches who would discourage kids from playing other sports. The challenge for everyone is the specialisation. Tennis is often referred to as a later specialisation sport; specialisation starts to kick in from around xxx years. Early specialisation sports like gymnastics and swimming tend to demand a lot of the kids at an early age, so tennis can get side-lined. I also know anecdotally of examples where football academies are pressurising kids to attend training several times a week and as a result, kids (and parents) are having to make choices between sports.
Despite the benefits of not specialising in one sport too soon – I can’t deny that there are quite a number of examples of kids who are pretty much locked-in to tennis (or another game) as their only sport. I think it’s really tempting for parents to do that when their kid loves a game and/or are good at it. However, I think parents should avoid the temptation to do that – and coaches should definitely suggest caution if parents ask them to book so many lessons and groups that its clear the child can’t participate in any other sport.
Question 2: Is football the best sport to complement tennis? If not, what is?
Mark: I wouldn’t say it’s THE best, but it’s good. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what other sports are played alongside tennis; they will all complement each other in some way. I think different sports bring different things. For example:
- Basketball is excellent for different types of movement and changes of direction, whilst developing coordination of bouncing a ball and also different types of throwing, and spatial awareness. It’s also a team sport (as is football) which I think brings extra variety for kids who would otherwise not get that education from only playing tennis.
- Gymnastics and dance are good for core stability, posture, rhythm, balance and whole body awareness.
- Swimming, cycling and track athletics are good for developing aerobic fitness, and in the case of cycling and running, good for developing leg strength.
- Badminton is good for overhead contact and spatial awareness (although tends to encourage lunging which isn’t so good for tennis).
You can make a case for any pretty much sport being good for kids in some way.
Question 3: How would you “sell” tennis to parents whose kids play football?
Mark: The best way to sell any sport is by giving great experiences at an early age or stage. If kids like it, they are more likely to stick with it and parents are more likely to buy, regardless of the physical or other benefits. I don’t think parents will “buy” tennis or any other sport because of the physical benefits, but more on the emotional and enjoyment benefits.
I think you are more likely to have parents going for tennis if their kids like it and find it fun, rather than because it offers specific physical or mental benefits. First, tennis isn’t football, so it’s variety. Second, it’s an individual sport – some kids don’t fare so well with team sports; my son is an example of that.
Question 4: Does football help you to be a better tennis player than kids who don’t play football? And vice versa… Does tennis help kids to be better footballers than kids who don’t play tennis?
Mark: No, not necessarily! I believe that the importance of a rounded sporting education and the development of physical literacy at an early age is what is most important. Most sports will do that to some extent, so you can’t say that football helps you become a better tennis player than kids who don’t play football.
Kids who don’t play football but who do other sports alongside tennis could be equally good, and I don’t know of any evidence that says that tennis helps you become a better footballer or that football helps you become a better tennis player.
However, there is tons of evidence that says that kids who do a good amount of sport at an early age, including competitive sport, can benefit physically, socially and in many other ways. As with most things, doing nothing is bad, and doing too much isn’t usually good either.