How Tennis Improves Executive Functions

Tennis can be played individually or as a part of a team where cheering on teammates or playing doubles practices social-emotional learning skills. It’s a great game for kids who want to be part of a team but don’t always want to practice together or be reliant on teammates for success. This makes it a perfect fit for kids with executive-functioning issues and ADHD, as the complex body movements required in tennis have been demonstrated to help with these concerns. (Tennis is also a fantastic game for aging basketball players and runners, like myself, who want to run around and socialize a bit.)

In order to become a good tennis player, kids need to make an effort to practice, learn specific skills, and overcome the inconsistencies and frustrations that are characteristic of beginning tennis players. Beyond the physical benefits, there are many ways in which executive-functioning and social-emotional learning (SEL) skills can improve tennis skills.

Parents and coaches who recognize the value of life-skill building through sports can use the following strategies for tennis as a tool to engage in discussions and build skills in executive functions and SEL skills.

Executive Functions Used in Tennis:

Focus – Players can acquire and perfect the techniques and skills of tennis with concentration and focus. Repetition of the motion of serving, for example, requires great concentration in practice to get the technique correct. Persistence is a key for being able to repeat tennis strokes without thinking. Some kids benefit from hitting with a tennis ball machine, which can help them to see that practice (almost) makes perfect. Sustained attention is also required over the course of a tennis match in order to keep up with the changing techniques needed during the game.

Flexibility – Players need to be flexible and able to adjust to what their opponents are doing during a tennis game. While players go into a match with a general game plan there are no set plays, so it is crucial for players to make adjustments in their strategies as they go.

Self-Control – Tennis can be a very frustrating game. Players invariably make poor shots and need to use self-control when this happens, not throwing their racket, swearing,  or losing their concentration. It is important for children to practice self-control when something in the game does not go their way. They should not become discouraged but think about what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to adjust for the next tennis match.

Even if it isn’t practical or possible for you to engage in a game of tennis regularly, you can find the same kind of executive function practice in video game versions of the game. See: Virtual Table Tennis, Sports Champions Table Tennis, Kinect Sports Season II Tennis, Grand Slam Tennis 2, Wii Sports Tennis.


Featured image: Flickr user Borisdenice

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