It’s hard to argue that there is no professional sport more synonymous with bad parents than tennis. Google the names of Jim Pierce, Damir Dokic, Marinko Lucic and most recently John Tomic and you’ll see what I mean. The pro tours are high visibility and everything is under the microscope which makes you wonder, how many abusive tennis parents are there in the lower ranks that we are oblivious to?
Some parents do a wonderful job and it is glorious, touching and inspiring to watch. Others make me wish there were remedial parent-training courses. But all struggle with the pressures of tennis, especially junior tennis, places on tennis parents:
Has our son or daughter outgrown their coach? Can we afford airfare to national or international tournaments? Is our child burning out?
There’s no course to teach you how to handle this enormous financial and emotional investment, nor is there any tried-and true answer for even the most common questions. But I can share with you some guidelines that may help, based on the research of sports psychologists, USTA studies and personal experience having dealt with countless parents in the middle of their exploration into this wild and crazy ride known as tennis.
Which brings me to the Tennis Parent Quiz. This is also a quiz that I hand to the parents of every child in my junior program. Now, I should give credit where credit is due. I stumbled upon this Quiz in my personal tennis archive. The tennis quiz was created by tennis champion and Hall of Famer Stan Smith and renowned sports psycjhologist Dr. Jim Loehr. It’s from 20+ years ago yet sadly the questions are still pertinent and thought provoking. Not sure what that says about our sports inability to curb this troubling issue of bad tennis parents.
First, to get a sense of how you rate as a tennis parent, take the quiz below, Use the scale below for your answers. Please answer honestly.
5 = Always / 4 = Almost always / 3 = Sometimes / 2 = Almost never / 1 = Never
1) Do you coach your child?_______
2) Do you watch all your child’s matches?_______
3) Do you look nervous on the sidelines?_______
4) Do you treat your child differently when he/she wins?_______
5) Do you ignore your child’s bad behavior on the court?_______
6) Do you tell your child he’s being unrealistic when he talks about a pro career?_______
7) Do you believe your family’s standard of living has suffered because of the expense of your child’s tennis?_______
8) Do you think your child should give up other sports to concentrate on tennis?_______
Total up your score and refer to the chart below:
8-16 = Good Job, as a tennis parent, you are a pro
17-32 = Slight problem, work on your strategy and consistency
33-40 = Problem parent, re-learn the basics fast.
Read on for guidance on improving your performance in each situation.
1) Be a Parent, Not a coach.
In the beginning, it’ great to be your child’s “coach” to introduce them to tennis. They will be more interested in tennis if the initial exposure comes from you, because kids naturally want to do what their parents do. However, eventually the parent needs to hand the coaching duties to someone else. Such as a certified coach. Most parents don’t have the technical knowledge to instruct their children. But more importantly, the roles of coach and parent are so conflictive that it is nearly impossible for one person to play both.
A coach’s job is to build strong tennis players, the coach must criticize and compliment based on performance. The parent’s job is to build a strong person; they must provide unconditional love that instills self-esteem in a child. For one person to tackle both of these jobs is a formidable task, and the result are often disastrous.
2) Watch no more than 75 % of your child’s matches.
Your child needs to learn that he or she is the only person who can control the events on the court. It will also give them confidence to know if they can compete without parents watching.
I also feel parents should watch 25-50 % of their child’s practices. Practice is the coach’s domain, and he needs your absence to develop a relationship with your child. Your absence will also promote you child’s on-court independence. Parents that watch too many practices are sending a subliminal message to their children that tennis is so important, that I have to be there for and everything else takes a back seat. It can also show a lack of trust that the parents may have about the coach’s ability to get the job done.
3) Always look positive during a match
Your child inevitably will look over at you, and your body language can make or break their confidence. Always maintain a calm, confident air, even in the third set tiebreak. If your child sees you with your head in your hands, or pacing nervously, their feeling of pressure will only become more intense.
I know it’s difficult, because all parents are nervous for their children. Charting your child’s match can help. This will give the parent something to do with their hands and something constructive to take their mind off the on-court drama. The charted results may also be useful to the coach.
4) Keep an even keel.
You may feel elated by your child’s win or deflated by their loss, but don’t show either emotion too much. This will help them realize that losing isn’t the end of the world and that winning isn’t everything. Always say something positive (that’s easy if they win), but even if they lose, avoid the temptation of becoming the coach. Let the coach do that job at the next practice session. Something like “Bad Luck, you competed well, you can get them next time” would be a good thing to say after a loss.
5) Reprimand your child for on-court misbehavior.
If cheating, racquet throwing or abusive language become a habit, take some dramatic action. Pull the child off the court and reprimand him. Make it understood that under no circumstances is that acceptable behavior. If you ignore this misbehavior you are condoning it – and that is failing your responsibility as a parent.
6) Let your child dream.
Never take away your child’s dream, as unrealistic as they might be. Dreams are the fuel that keeps young people striving, learning, and exploring.
If your child says that he or she wants to be a pro some day, and it’s obvious that he doesn’t have what it takes, don’t say “You’re just not athletic enough”, instead say something like “That would be great, But first you need to work hard at getting a national ranking. Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, and other pro players all competed on the national level before making it to the pros”
By helping your child realize what they need to achieve to reach the goal, gradually they will see pro tennis is not the right track. They will begin to revisit the dream finding alternatives that can be just as fulfilling and more realistic.
7) Explore financial options.
I know tennis coaches (yes, plural) that have talked to parents who took out a second mortgage on her house to pay for their child’s tennis. That is clearly too much of a financial sacrifice. When a family’s standard of living is eroded because of tennis it places enormous pressure on the child, even if the subject is never spoken about. The child is likely to feel responsible to win because of the major sacrifices the family has made for the kids tennis.
8) Encourage your child to play other sports.
Usually, when junior players get older (around 14 years old) they will have to forgo other sports if they want to reach their full potential in tennis. Until then, they should play all sports they enjoy.
Numerous amounts of research have been done by governing bodies of our sport such as the ITF, USPTA and USTA to analyze various successful tennis programs across the globe. it found that nearly all their best players played other sports until the age 12 or 13, and many until 14 or 15. A child will only develop half to three-quarters of their athletic potential by playing only tennis. Also, distractions from tennis helps keep burnout at bay.
I hope this quiz helped or at least began a dialogue amongst coaches, tennis parents and players. It’s important that everyone involved is educated and aware of the impact the sport of tennis and specific actions and attitudes have on all of us. Good luck and happy hitting. See you at the courts.
Thanks for reading.