“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.