The longer your child plays tennis, the more likely he or she is to face a friend across the net in a tournament match. For my son, at this stage of the game, it happens more often than not, especially in local or sectional events. It’s really important that we help our kids learn how to separate competition from friendship – easier said than done!
When my son was younger, I used to have a little chat with him before he went on the court to play a friend. We would talk about how preserving his friendships is very important, how he needs to always treat his opponents with respect but how that becomes even more crucial when the opponent is a friend, how what happens on the court stays on the court once the match has ended. That said, sometimes things don’t go so well. One player inevitably has to lose, and if that player is a sore loser – or if the other one isn’t a gracious winner – feelings can be hurt and friendships can suffer. The hope is that after an hour or two (or maybe even a day or two), those hurt feelings will heal and the friendship will survive intact.
Now that my son is 16, I still remind him of my expectations though I usually get the “I know, Mom” response these days. And, if things do happen to go south during a match, I expect my son to reach out to his friend afterward and fix it even if he doesn’t feel he’s solely to blame. It’s one of those Life Lessons that tennis can teach our kids – knowing how to mend fences is such an important skill as they go out into the world. It’s what will help them become good Human Beings, not just good Tennis Players.
But, it’s not just the kids who have a tough time separating competition from friendship. Sometimes, it’s even tougher for the parents, especially if they’re friends as well. I remember when my son was in his first year of the 14s. He had to play a buddy in a local tournament, and the four parents were walking out to the court to watch. The other mom turned to me and said, “Whatever happens out there, we’re okay, right?” I was kind of surprised by her comment but assured her that the match was between our boys, that neither the match nor its outcome would have any impact OUR friendship.
After all, we can’t always know what’s going on during a match, what’s being said between opponents, how they’re communicating (if at all) during changeovers. Sometimes, things get tense or even nasty between the players during their match. I mean, they both want to win, right? They may trash-talk each other or question line calls or worse. So, it’s crucial that we parents lead by example and avoid letting any on-court antics or the match outcome dictate our own tennis friendships. That doesn’t mean we might not have to apologize to our friend on behalf of our kid from time to time (been there, done that!), but it does mean that we all should try to be understanding and forgiving, especially when we trust that the players are “good kids” who come from “good parents.”
I’d love to hear your experiences with these types of situations – please share in the Comment box below!