Cultivating a Winning Character
With the enormous financial costs associated with pursuing a college tennis scholarship, let alone a possible career as a professional tennis player, most tennis families are seeking avenues to help defray the expenses. Getting a sponsorship with a major sporting goods company may be a worthwhile path to pursue for your junior players. But also, a lot of the qualities companies look for when deciding which juniors to sponsor are qualities we should be cultivating in all our young players.
At the 2011 National Spring Clay Court Boys and Girls 12 and Under Championships held in Delray Beach and Boca Raton, Fla., Ivan Baron, the director/promoter of the tournament, arranged a mandatory meeting for registrants that included a talk by the head talent scout for Prince Sports, Ken Merritt.
I was delighted that Merritt started his talk setting the tone for the tournament, “Unsportsmanship behavior won’t get you a sponsorship, even if you are the No. 2 junior in the country. The days of McEnroe and Connors are gone.”
He went on to say that rankings accounted for less than 1 percent of the decision to offer players sponsorships down the road. Prince, he said, is looking for “leaders” and feels this is true of many of the sporting goods companies. Prince has a staff of six full-time scouts along with numerous part-time staffers who travel the junior tennis circuit looking to develop long-term relationships with promising juniors. These scouts, often unnoticed and anonymous, observe not only matches but how players conduct themselves off the court as well.
Here are some of the key questions Merritt asked the young athletes and parents to reflect on:
- Do you carry yourself proudly?
- Do you hold your tennis bag properly?
- Do you control yourself physically and mentally when things aren’t going well?
- Do you fight hard when faced with adversity, or do you check out?
- Do you play independently or look at your coach or parent after each point?
- Are you fearless or do you push the ball to win?
- Are you mature or are you a whiner and complainer?
- Are you respectful toward your opponent and yourself?
- Do you demonstrate good sportsmanship on and off the court?
- Do you have good pre-match preparation habits, whether it be relaxing in solitude or jumping rope?
- Finally, do you love to compete to win a tough point at match point or are you hoping your opponent double faults?
The areas that Merritt addressed are many of the same ones I work on with my clients in my role as a sports psychology consultant. By focusing on developing these attitudes and behaviors, young athletes will not only perform better, they’ll stand a far greater chance of landing endorsements with sporting good companies that can pay handsome dividends for years to come.
If it sounds like sponsors are something of a “big brother,” that’s probably true. They have a lot of influence and have decided to use it to encourage the development of players who can best represent their product lines to the public. With the potential to offer players great rewards and financial incentives, they have raised the bar and are seeking not only great players, but great people.
See all articles by Robert F. Heller
About the Author
Dr. Robert F. Heller is a psychologist and consultant in the areas of performance enhancement and stress management. He is the author of Mental Skills for Match Play and Mental Toughness. For information on telephone consultation, products, and other services, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, thewinningedge.usptapro.com, or 561-451-2731. He is based in Boca Raton, Fla.