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!

15 Comments on “If I Could Turn Back Time . . .”

  1. You read my mind. I have been losing sleep about my daughter’s tennis coach, schedule, etc. This is great advice–I just wish I had it sooner. Better late than never! Thank you.

  2. Everything you did – you did with good intentions! If I could turn back time I would not be so involved – less is better! Youngsters don’t progress to pro because their parents had meetings with coaches, or they sat and watched every game and practice, or devised training schedules … no, they make it because they WANT it more than anything. They have passion for the game. They must want it so badly that they would walk to coaching if Mom couldn’t lift them in the car! The other thing I would do is spend less time and money on coaching and encourage much more match practice!

  3. Hmmm I have to tell you that as a coach who has trained multiple local, sectional, national, and collegiate champions and who has had, imo, three of the greatest coaches in America as mentors, that if I actually had a parent who, ” 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.” I would walk away and never give your child a second thought. If you, or any parent is imminently qualified to make all of these decisions, other than how much you are willing to invest, you should just coach the kid yourself.

    I am saying this as a coach who gives an enormous amount of “off court” time and consideration to my kids, and as a coach that rarely ever loses a student. Your child is, for most coaches, one of many that will be there for a time period and then be gone. To you HE is your top priority however coaches have many priorities including their own sanity, personal time and needed rest. Unless you are willing to invest heavily in a private coach, I think that your expectation levels for the $50-$70 or whatever it is that you spend per hour is not realistic. A coach who puts in 30 hrs a week at $60hr grosses $1800 a week x 40 weeks a yr = $72,000, whack off 27% off the top in taxes and before you buy the first ball or tank of gas you are at $52,565 a yr. Hardly a Fortune500 company job and I’d feel safe saying that unless you are a salaried Pro at a club with benefits you make far less than this.

    I actually require parents to do just the opposite when they start and that is leave. I think it’s important that the child and coach be able to form an initial bond from the beginning without the parent there. After that bond is established I don’t mind parents watching as long as they know their role is in support and not advice. If I needed their advice, I’d be paying them, not vice/versa.

    Jerking a kid off a court, and I have done it in a tournament, and I also make students reverse bad calls that I see in tournaments( I know I’m not really supposed to) is a little harsh for a racket tap, occasional drop etc. Kids mature at different rates and emotion is a key component in that maturity. Stopping a kid from a here and there racket abuse will have about the same result as your parents, back in the day, telling you not to do this or that. You will learn over time.

    Look some kids are “cheaters” and calling them anything other than that is simple being untrue to yourself. Should you be more tactful, probably, but if the bank cheats you out of money what do you call them?

    In the end I’d say that less than 10% of all parents I have dealt with since 1985 are capable of seeing things objectively where their little prodigy is concerned, not to say that their intentions are poor. I like almost all my parents, if I didn’t I’d likely find a way to either get them out of the picture or in the worse case, drop the kid. Luckily that is the exception not the rule.

    I did not write this to just Go Opposite of your blog, only to show a little bit of how some coaches may be looking at you as you are looking at them!

  4. Tim’s comments are valid. I think we as parents are always too quick to lay the blame on coaches, teachers, tutors etc ….. never where the blame should be – on our kids!

    Your comment “If things weren’t moving in the right direction after a reasonable period of time, I would start my search again” is (to me) unreasonable. First of all what are you measuring ‘things’ against? Secondly why blame the coach – possibly your child is not working hard enough or heaven forbid that we as parents have to say to ourselves that our kids simply don’t have enough talent. Gasp …… yes, it happens!! If your child is doing his/her best – that should be sufficient, even if that best isn’t up to the parent’s high standards.

    If your son does not get 100% for Math – do you blame the teacher? Do you whip out of school? No …… trying hard is all we ask for and the sensibility to understand that our kids just might not reach those dizzy heights that we had planned for them.

  5. let me clarify . . . i wasn’t blaming the coach but rather recognizing that not all coaches are right for all kids. even for kids who just want to play recreational tennis, the right coaching situation is important. a big part of a coach’s job, especially with younger players, is to motivate. if a child isn’t motivated, either because he (1) really isn’t interested in playing tennis at all or (2) he doesn’t want to work hard or (3) the coach’s approach or personality don’t jibe with the child’s way of learning, then it’s time to re-evaluate the situation. and, yes, i have seen situations in school where my children have not responded well to a particular teacher’s teaching style and have requested either a change or outside help from another teacher – it’s not always due to a lack of trying hard!

  6. For the record I understood what you were trying to say and I’ll be the first one to say that in the Atlanta area there are so many unqualified people passing themselves off as coaches that if a parent did not have much experience you could waste a lot of time and money. Knowing who to trust is the hardest part of the battle.

  7. The first question you have to answer honestly before bringing your kid on the tennis court: does your kid have natural skills to be a good tennis player? You never can develop an average kid to a champion. I wrote an article about that on my tennis blog. Tennis is a one man sport. It’s just like boxing, except for the straight up beating. Do not think that tennis is an aristocratic sport. It was like that many years ago. Now, tennis industry is a billion dollar show with its own rules. There are no draws. One player is the winner, while the other is the loser. Think hard about your abilities and the child’s natural gifts. Ask yourselves the following questions: Why tennis? Why not football, baseball, basketball, track and field, gymnastics, or dozens of other more accessible and equally popular sports? Do you have enough patience, nerves, and money needed for your child to be able to go through this long process? What exact goals are you setting when you are sending your kid to play this difficult and expensive sport? Are you even setting any goals at all? Don’t hide behind the back of a little child, telling yourself that your kid likes the sport and made the commitment when he saw the neighbor’s kid practicing, or when he saw Maria Sharapova or Roger Federer on TV. Remember that tennis is like a swamp. Once you get in, it’s going to be very hard to get out.

    1. but, it’s also okay for a child to play just because they want to develop a proficiency at the game and NOT because they want to be the next Sharapova or Federer. and, it’s important for the parents, the coach, and the child to all be on the same page with that and not push a child beyond his/her desired level even if he/she DOES have the natural ability for the game. as you point out, valery, developing a player to championship levels is an enormous commitment – all parties concerned have to agree to make that type of commitment in order for it to have even a small chance of succeeding.

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