Because sometimes we can all use a reminder of what’s truly important . . . Today’s guest post is from Aaron Horwath. Aaron played varsity tennis at the University of Portland and has been coaching tennis for five years. He is currently a tennis coach, English tutor, and freelance writer living in Hong Kong. To see more of Aaron’s work, visit his travel blog, 12hourdifference.com.
Also, be sure to nominate your favorite tournament director(s) for the inaugural Best Tournament Director Award. Deadline for entries is December 1st. Click here for the nomination form.
Between long road trips, driving to and from practice, and full days spent at tournament venues, our sport offers parents endless opportunities to cultivate positive relationships with their players that extend far beyond the tennis court, time that many other parents would love to have with their child. Below are 5 tips to help insure that as a tennis parent, you make the most of these opportunities.
#1: Remember What You Are Paying For
We all know how often tennis requires a parent to open their purse or wallet, and the financial sacrifice a tennis parent makes should not be overlooked. It is, however, important for parents to remember what it is they are paying for. Tennis makes your child happy. It allows them a chance to connect with other kids their age, experience success, stay fit, and increase their overall self-esteem. It is these benefits, along with numerous others, that a parent is paying for. It’s not about your child reaching the semifinals of the tournament next weekend or eventually receiving a college scholarship. The purpose behind the financial sacrifice of tennis is the same as any other sacrifice a parent makes for their child: to provide their child happiness. Paying for “results” or “production” places unfair pressure on your child and can cause frustration for you, both of which can be detrimental for the relationship you have with your young player. Pay for their enjoyment; great results are just a bonus.
#2: Communication is Key
An important question to continue to ask your player is: What do you want to get out of tennis? Do they want to strive to be high performance or play more casually? Do they enjoy tournaments and competing, or do they prefer just playing with their friends a few times a week? Are they okay traveling for long weekends away from their friends, or would they prefer to only play locally? Communication with your player allows them to define what tennis is to them; it is important they feel they have autonomy over their “career.” Being forced to play tennis, or being forced to play more than they are interested in playing, turns the sport into a chore and turns the parent into the dreaded tennis overlord, neither of which promotes a positive relationship between parent and player and negates all of the potentially great benefits the sport has to offer. The added bonus of open communication: nothing is more positively motivating for a player than knowing that they are on court because they want to be.
#3: Parents, Do What You Do Best: Be a Parent
As a parent, you can be the greatest source of comfort for a player after a loss, or a player’s worst nightmare. No one can make a player feel better than a parent who knows how to separate their own disappointment in their player’s result from their role as the player’s most important support system. Following a loss in a tournament (or even a tough practice), do your best to hold back any impulses you may have to analyze their play or provide your critique of what went wrong; even when intended to be helpful, no player wants to relive a loss they just experienced. Instead, do what you do best as a parent: provide your player with support and comfort. And ice cream, ice cream always helps.
#4: Look Beyond Just the Tennis
Your player, throughout their career, will do plenty of worrying about forehand net errors, first serve percentages and dropped match points. As a parent, take pride in having the wisdom to see the big picture. Our sport provides endless life lessons for a young player and it is the parent who has the perspective and wisdom to highlight these moments for a player to learn from. Facing and overcoming adversity, the art of hard work, handling disappointment, coping with pressure, developing goal setting skills, the ability to be successful on their own, the list is endless. Your child will never remember that first round loss when they were 13 at that local tournament, and neither will you. What they will remember is the lessons you helped to teach them through their experiences with tennis.
#5: Be Your Child’s Best Role Model
Standing around a tennis club on a Saturday during a tournament, it becomes painfully obvious that the tennis parent scene can be eerily similar to the tennis player scene: catty, political and mean. We’ve all heard the murmurs of “this player beat this player,” or “so-and-so cheats,” and “this person used to play here, now they play there.” While unfortunate, it provides a parent with a chance to showcase to their player how to rise above negative social dynamics and carry themselves maturely and respectfully. Explain to your player that it is important that they not get involved in these sorts of conversations because they can have a negative impact on others as well as themselves, and that is why you, the parent, choose to not get involved.