If I Could Turn Back Time . . .

The further we get in my son’s junior tennis journey, the more I realize how many mistakes I’ve made along the way.  Given that my stated purpose for writing this blog is helping others avoid the pitfalls I’ve experienced, the following is a list of some things I would do differently IF I could start this whole process over again.  I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting about (selective memory?!?), but this is a good jumping-off point.

  • I would interview several coaches before choosing one for my son.  I would also interview several of the parents of children training with those coaches to get their input on things such as time commitment, financial commitment, expectations, discipline, fitness training, nutrition training, communication (how good and how often), and accountability.  I would make sure that my son’s coach worked with him and me to devise a training and competition plan based on my son’s goals – which, by the way, the coach would insist that my son write down at the beginning of each year then revisit at least every 6 months.  I would insist on regular meetings with my son’s coach to gauge his progress.  If things weren’t moving in the right direction after a reasonable period of time, I would start my search again.
  • Before my son ever played his first tournament, I would read – and make him read – the USTA’s Friend At Court.  I would then make a phone call to the head of junior competition at my local USTA office to seek his/her advice in terms of how many tournaments – and which ones – my son should play.  I would not rely on other parents.  I would not rely solely on his coach.  I would go directly to the source, the folks who create the rules and the rankings, and get them to help me devise a tournament schedule that was in keeping with my son’s tennis ability and my family’s time and monetary limitations.  I would continue to check in with my USTA office as my son progressed to determine if we needed to make any changes to that schedule.  Then, I would share what I learned with my son’s coach to be sure we were all on the same page.
  • After watching the first couple of lessons and/or drill sessions, I would simply drop off my son at the courts and leave him to work with his coaches and the other players.  I would not sit there and watch for hours on end.  I would spend that time with my other children and/or my husband and/or by myself.  I would trust my son’s coaches to do the things I was paying them to do, and I would make better use of my own time.
  • I would nip bad behavior in the bud from the first occurrence.  I would yank my son off the court the very first time he banged a racquet or screamed in anger or smashed a ball into the fence.  I would teach my son early on that he needed to figure out a way to beat a player who made bad calls rather than blaming a loss on those bad calls.  I would not tolerate calling someone a “cheater” or a “tree” or any other derogatory term.  I would insist that my son always have and show respect for the player on the other side of the net.  I would impose my own suspension system on my son rather than relying on USTA to impose theirs.  I would teach my son from the outset that his behavior on the court is a direct reflection on his family and his coach, and I would make sure he understood that we simply would not tolerate anything less than stellar sportsmanship.
  • I would figure out how to stay calmer before and during my son’s tournament matches.  I would learn how to keep a neutral expression on my face and to maintain neutral body language, not an easy task for someone who wears her heart on her sleeve!  I would treat each match, regardless of the level of the tournament, as a learning experience for my son and let him find the lessons hidden there.

Do you have any tennis parenting do-over wishes you’d be willing to share?  Remember:  We’re all in this together!

ParentingAces Hits the Airwaves

If you’ve been following ParentingAces on Facebook and/or Twitter, you already know that I’ve got a new internet radio show airing on Sunday evenings 6:30-7:30pm ET.  Well, here are the particulars . . .

To listen to the show live, click here to go to the UR10S station on BlogTalkRadio.  You will see a countdown clock to the start of the show.  At 6:30pm sharp, the show will begin playing in your browser.

If you can’t make it to the live broadcast, every show will be recorded and archived as a podcast on iTunes for free downloading.  That way, you can listen at your convenience on your iPod or other mp3 player.

My favorite feature of the show is that y’all will be able to call in with questions for our weekly guests.  The call-in number is 714-583-6853.

This week, for the inaugural broadcast, my guest will be none other than Dr. Allen Fox– I’m so excited!

Dr. Allen Fox earned a Ph.D. in psychology at UCLA (go Bruins!) and is a former NCAA champion, Wimbledon quarterfinalist and a three-time member of the U.S. Davis Cup team. Dr. Fox also coached Pepperdine tennis teams (including Brad Gilbert) to two NCAA finals.

He currently appears on the Tennis Channel with his 1-minute mental clinics, consults with pro and amateur players on mental issues, coaches Igor Kunitsyn (highest ATP ranking #35) on the tour, lectures on sports psychology, and is the author of several books including Think to Win, The Winner’s Mind, and his latest Tennis: Winning the Mental Match.  For more information you can  visit his website, www.allenfoxtennis.net.

On the ParentingAces radio show, Dr. Fox will be discussing his new book, Tennis: Winning the Mental Match, as well as his thoughts on how we can all be better tennis parents.  You can buy a hard copy of Dr. Fox’s book on his website, AllenFoxTennis.net, or on Amazon.com and electronically through Kindle or iTunes.   So, get your questions ready and call in Sunday – I’m looking forward to talking with you!

The End of an Era

Today marks the end of an era.  I will no longer be the daily chauffeur for my son.  He will no longer need me to drive him to drills, pick him up afterward, take him to fitness, or schlep him to school.  He is now a licensed driver.

And, given that he is my last child at home and the last to drive, that means my time is now my own.  That means I can book appointments, make lunch dates, and whatever else I want to do on my time-frame without worrying that I’ll be finished in time to pick up my son and take him where he needs to be.

That also means every time he gets behind the wheel, I will get that little clutch in my stomach – you know the one – and worry like crazy until he calls to let me know he’s arrived wherever safe and in one piece.  Honestly, I haven’t missed that these past 3 years since we’ve had a teen driver living at home!

But, it’s all part of growing up and letting go, something I try really hard to be good at but still could use lots of improvement.  For now, I will be grateful that my son seems to have a very good head on his shoulders.  I will trust him to be careful on the road and to remember everything my husband and I (and the driving instructors!) have taught him.  And, I will enjoy regaining ownership of my daily schedule even though I will definitely miss the daily car chatter with my son.

The end of an era, yes, but, hopefully, the beginning of something new and exciting for both of us.

Advocating for Your Child

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

We parents are our children’s best and most important advocates.  That applies to school.  That applies to doctors.  And that applies to tennis.

Every now and then, you and your junior tennis player will come up against a rule – or an official’s interpretation of a rule – that doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of the child.  The rule may pertain to rest time between matches or to alternative scoring or to suspension points.

Two years ago, my son was playing in a Bullfrog (designated) tournament out of state.  It was the first really hot weekend of the year, and my son was scheduled to play 3 backdraw matches that day with an hour rest between matches.  After the first match, which lasted 2 1/2 hours and went 3 sets, I asked the tournament official if my son could have some extra time so he could refuel and rehydrate before his next match.  The official gave him 15 minutes on top of the one-hour mandated rest period.  I made my son a peanut butter sandwich to eat right away and gave him a cold PowerAde as well.  He went out and played – and won – the second match, also in 3 sets, but then had only 1 hour before his 3rd match of the day.  Once again, I asked the official for extra time so my son could have a proper meal and time to digest it before hitting the court again.  Again, the official gave him only 15 extra minutes.  We rushed to a nearby sub shop and picked up a turkey sandwich, no mayo (!), which my son gobbled down quickly.  He went back on the court to play and began to look a little “off” pretty early into the match.  In fact, one of the roving officials came over to find me and suggested my son go ahead and retire the match due to heat illness.  I tried to get my son to quit, but he wouldn’t – he said he felt okay to continue.  Finally, in the 2nd set, the official insisted that he come off the court and retire, which he did, thankfully.

It turned out that every single boy who had to play 3 matches that day either lost or retired during their 3rd match.  It was just too much tennis in that heat!

Once we got back home, I wrote to the head of Junior Competition for my section and shared our experience with him.  He advised me that, next time, I could use his name and insist on at least as much rest time as the length of the previous match.  He told me that I needed to be my son’s advocate and make sure he wasn’t put into a situation that would jeopardize his health or well-being.

Why are we parents so afraid to question the rules or the officials, especially when our children are involved?  When you think about, it’s really pretty ridiculous.  We need to insist that our children’s health is taken into account, first and foremost.  We need to speak with our section’s leadership to suggest rule changes to ensure our children’s safety, and then we need to hold the leadership accountable for making those changes.  We need to be the voice of reason when, oftentimes, there is no good reason behind the rules or policies.  A tennis match is just a tennis match.  Our children are depending on us.

Our Impact On Our Children’s Development

The passages below are excerpts from a rather lengthy email I received this morning from sports psychologist, Dr. Jorge Valverde.  I am reprinting them with his permission.

Our responsibility as parents is like a mountain:  the bigger the mountain to climb, the stronger we must become, and our strength must come from wisdom and inspiration.

Dealing with discipline issues

–       Establish boundaries and natural consequences and follow them closely
–       Present one front as parents, avoiding the bad/good cop paradigm
–       Change behaviors and attitudes with extended metaphors/stories
–       Spend quality time with each child separate and together
–       Avoid comparison between your children
–       Acknowledge their good behaviors by describing what they are doing well right at the moment when it takes place
–       Use the Eight-to-One rule (see * below)

Motivational strategies that produce the best results

–       Interpret the innocent eyes of your children as saying: “Caution! Handle me with Care! Love me. Protect me! Give me a place in your heart.”
–       Expose your child to a collage of experiences
–       Observe carefully their gifts without judgment
–       Facilitate the development of their gifts
–       Focus on fun versus work at the beginning and slowly find the best coaches and mentors
–       Plan activities with your children that emphasize each one’s interest and individuality apart from their identity within the group. The one most in need of that distinction is often the kid in the middle. Remember, love is giving somebody your undivided attention.
–       Be reasonable, smart and fully awake: help children with homework, ask them about the day, let them cry if need be, support them when they’re down, help them to see options, teach them to handle guns safely if you have them, reward good behavior, provide meaningful consequences for unacceptable behavior, make reasonable demands, express moral expectations, talk to their teachers, hug them every chance you get. Don’t ask them to be like adults when they are just little kids, but model the importance of self-control.

Perfectionist approach:

Perfectionists act based on an illusion that you can do things perfectly. This tendency brings their attention to what is missing, so regardless of how well their children perform or act, they will always find something that was not done perfectly and point it out, usually without mentioning what was done well. This constant dissatisfaction with their children’s performance sends a clear message: “You are not good enough”. And since the majority of children want to make their parents proud, they will work very hard to please them but with a great deal of tension and anxiety. Eventually, children internalize their parents’ approach and become obsessive about insignificant details when performing a task, overlooking the forest by focusing too much on the trees, easily losing perspective of what really matters about the task at hand and life. Their tendency is to think too much when performing which impairs their ability to get into the “zone”.  Tension easily turns into negative anger which is the biggest obstacle preventing happiness and high performance. As a consequence, children of perfectionist parents find it difficult to find peace of mind, relaxation and enjoyment in life regardless of their success. I usually ask these kids a simple question: “How do you feel when your parent focuses on the mistakes you made?” Their answer is always the same: “Not good!” An irony, isn’t it, their parents making them feel bad so they would become good!

Pursuit of Excellence Approach:

The pursuit of excellence approach focuses on conquering the inner battle between fear and total belief in oneself. Parents systematically pay close attention to building their children’s self-confidence. They prepare their children to handle any situation in life. They focus on their children’s gifts and develop them without judgment and without preconceived ideas of what their children “should” do in life. They teach the core values by example, such as integrity, positive expectancy, respect, belief and spirituality, enjoyment, appreciation, gratitude, priorities, perspective, perseverance, passion etc. They teach their children the importance of preparation and giving 100% effort when facing a challenge, and to let go and let God handle the rest, the unpredictable circumstances. *When observing and giving feedback to their kids, they focus on finding the good first, in a ratio of eight to one. They first acknowledge eight things that their children did well and with great effort, and only then they mention one aspect that needs attention or more effort. This is a powerful formula for children to create drive and total focus on their inner positive forces in life and it is one of the keys to building self-confidence.

When focusing on your children’s gifts without judgment, reinforce their excitement and interests with the attitude of a silent witness. Logistically help them channel their enthusiasm. The first spark or excitement doesn’t necessarily translate directly into one’s call or vocation, but serves as a vehicle to develop trust in the inner voice that gives direction and purpose to one’s life. When I was a child I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was fascinated by animals of all kinds. My parents gave me a puppy that became my companion for 13 years. I called him “Happy.” For several years, I was around animals, taking care of them and playing with them. Eventually, my father gave me a book about animal behavior and how to train dogs. I spent countless hours training dogs on how to do tricks of all kinds. Without realizing, my parents were developing in me key traits that are very useful today in my profession as a psychologist, but, most importantly, they were teaching me to follow my inner spark. Later, when I decided to change from studying economics to psychology only six months before graduation, I did it with great confidence even though only a bachelor’s degree was offered at that time in my country.

For more information on Dr. Valverde and his programs, be sure to visit his website, The Valverde System.

Random Thoughts on Hannity vs. USTA

I’m guessing you’ve all read Sean Hannity’s blog post regarding the changes to the national junior comp schedule that will become effective in 2014.  I’m guessing you’ve all read Patrick McEnroe’s and Tim Russell’s replies, too, as well as Mr. Hannity’s rebuttal.  I’ve read endless commentary on this heated debate on the various blogs and Facebook groups and message boards I frequent and tried to process everything written – it’s a lot to take in!

Given that my son isn’t yet playing at the national level and, therefore, isn’t immediately affected by these changes, I’m not sure anyone really cares what I have to say on the subject.  However, in the name of research, I did have two rather lengthy phone conversations with Tim Russell and also reached out to Sean Hannity via a comment on his blog that included my contact information – I haven’t gotten a response from him yet.

Here are some of my thoughts – take them for what they’re worth!

  • I do feel that USTA is trying to grow the game of tennis via its 10-and-Under initiative.  While I don’t agree with the mandated tournament rules for this age group, I do think it’s a great learning tool for beginning players of any age.
  • I think there’s a big difference between “growing the game” and “developing world champions” and one may have very little to do with the other.  Finding another Agassi or Capriati or Sampras or Williams is one of those things that will (or will not) just happen – I don’t believe it’s system-related.  Yes, I agree that introducing more kids to tennis is a key to identifying champion-caliber players, but if you look at the paths that the players mentioned above took to reach #1, you’ll see that they’re all very different.  That’s the thing about tennis – there are so many options available and so many ways to find success in the game that it’s difficult to say that one system is better than another.
  • Not every child needs to play top-level national tournaments.  I whole-heartedly agree with Tim Russell when he says that players need to work and earn their way into the Easter Bowl or Kalamazoo or the National Clay Court Championships.  Just because your child wants to play at that level – and just because you can afford to travel all over the place – doesn’t mean he or she necessarily deserves to.  The top tournaments should be reserved for the top players.  If a kid wants to play in them, then he needs to work hard to develop his game to a point where he can play with the Big Boys.  Talk to your child’s coach.  Take Tim Russell up on his offer to speak with him (I have, twice!).  Call your section’s head of junior competition.  If your child truly wants to get to the top level, then work with his coach and your section to help him devise a plan to get there.  There are incredible resources available to all of us tennis parents – my advice is to use as many of them as it takes to help your child reach his goals.
  • When I spoke with Tim Russell, I told him that I’ve heard lots of grumbling among tournament parents about the fact that USTA doesn’t seem to reach out to those of us in the trenches before it makes sweeping changes that affect our kids.  I also told him that USTA does a very poor job of communicating those changes to its constituency and that there’s no excuse for poor communication in this age of email, texting, Twitter, and Facebook.  He agreed.  He said they need to do better and will do better.  Let’s hold them accountable for that statement.  If you feel that you’re not being informed in a timely manner about changes that affect your child, contact your section head and/or Tim – his email address is Timothy.Russell@asu.edu.
  • I also suggested that USTA include a sampling of parents on the panel of its national meeting next month during the US Open.  I think it’s important that the higher-ups at USTA hear directly from us regarding our concerns and past experiences.  We need to have a voice at the national level.  We need to be included in the discussions of policies that will impact our children.  USTA needs to know, first-hand, what’s happening at the grassroots level from those of us who live and breathe there.  Tim agreed and said he’d pass along my suggestion.  I’ll keep you posted!

Your thoughts???

Happy Birthday!

I guess one of the perks of writing a blog is having a public forum in which to wish the impetus BEHIND the blog happy birthday.  So, happy 16th birthday to my one and only son!  I wish for you a day and a year filled with dreams, happiness, love, success, and striving.

We are planning to celebrate tonight by attending the BB&T Atlanta Open to see Andy Roddick play Nicolas Mahut, weather permitting.  My son is a long-time Roddick fan, not so much because of Andy’s antics but rather because of his strong work ethic and dedication to the sport that has given him so much.  We have had the opportunity to see Andy play a few times now – in Atlanta, at the US Open, and in Davis Cup in Austin last summer – and he never disappoints.  I expect tonight to be more of the same!

So, Andy, if you’re reading this and you hear a crazy woman in the stands yelling to ask you to pose for a photo opp, that would be me.  Please make the Birthday Boy’s day and say yes!

And to my readers, I promise to get back to our regularly scheduled program later this week!  I have lots to report and share with y’all but little time to write – I’m volunteering at the BB&T Atlanta Open all week (with some very late nights, I might add).  In the meantime, please note that the Tennis Recruiting Network 8-week fall rating period begins next week, so please take another peek at my article on how that works so your junior doesn’t miss any opportunities.

One last happy birthday wish for my son before I close:  May all your dreams come true!