teensWhat is it with teenagers and tennis!? Some insights from TCI Coach Olwyn O’Toole:

When I am contacted by a parent who hopes to get their child into a coaching programme I always aim to be able to accommodate them. But one of the hardest groups to accommodate is the beginner aged between 12 and 16 years. I find that both community and club level coaching the numbers just aren’t there to create new ‘teen tennis’ coaching classes for beginner/improvers, and those classes that do exist for teenagers are generally populated with the players who are of a high standard and have been playing for years. If you divide your club into Tennis 10s, and Hard ball players is there a dramatic difference in numbers? I certainly have found that in almost all cases that 70-80% of the coaching programme consists of 5-11 year olds, with the vast majority of those dropping out in secondary school. Should we be building coaching classes for teenagers? What do teens want? Do they actually want to learn?! Do they see tennis as a sport, or should we be aiming to develop classes based on tennis as an exercise? Should we be introducing more ‘team based opportunities’?

The first thing I looked into was the ‘drop off zone’. What are the barriers that stop teenagers being active in sport?

It is widely acknowledged that teenagers tend to drop out of sports from the age of 12. Livestrong1 lists a few reasons for lack of exercise in teenagers:

  • Less physical education (In terms of Ireland a recent study showed that Ireland is in last place in Europe when it comes to hours of PE delivered in secondary schools).
  • More technology
  • Lack of motivation
  • No access

The US Anti Doping Agency2 summarised the situation as follows:

Sport participation tends to drop off around age 12, a critical time for developing social skills and self-esteem. Some studies estimate that roughly 35 percent of children drop out of sport each year, although some might join another sport or return years later. The Sport in America data found that not having fun is a primary reason for quitting. Ranked next were finding something else to do, not being as good as others, and wanting to focus more on schoolwork.

The EFIC3 (European Food Information Council) have identified the following opportunities and barriers to exercise:

At school 
Physical education classes and organised sport aim to provide an opportunity to meet daily recommendations for physical activity in a fun, supportive environment. However, body image and concerns over appearance may be barriers to physical activity; many girls note that getting ‘sweaty’ and messed-up hair and makeup limit their willingness to participate. Adolescents are also concerned with stereotypes (sporty females perceived as more masculine), bullying or teasing from their peers, and may lack sporting role models. A lack of confidence in their own ability and skill level can also inhibit participation and enjoyment.

Outside of school 
Activities outside of school include organised sport, active hobbies and family interaction. As the popularity of sedentary behaviours, such as watching television, using the internet and video games increases, adolescents may spend more time on them, as opposed to physical activity. Other time constraints include homework or part-time work. Adolescents’ access to physical activities may be limited by family structure and routine, parents’ safety concerns, lack of support or inability to provide for travel, equipment purchases and club membership fees.

The EFIC go on to say that schools appear best placed to effect change. It has been recommended that physical education and sports in schools should focus more on promoting the confidence and wellbeing of each individual, in addition to fitness and competitive sport.  Girls are more likely to be motivated by social and health benefits, whereas boys are more likely to be motivated by being part of a team. Girls’ enjoyment of physical activity may be enhanced by participation with friends and in a girls-only environment partly due to body image concerns.

Full articles referenced can be found at: