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!