Parent Involvement: How Much Is Too Much?

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Lately, I’ve really been struggling even more than usual with how much interaction and involvement I should have in my son’s tennis life.  He’s 16 1/2 now, driving a car that we provide him, with 24/7 access to a computer and iPhone.  That means he can get himself to the courts and take care of any scheduling or planning that needs to happen related to his tennis.  That also means, theoretically, that I can take a step back and let go, let him handle any tennis things with his coach, simply serve as a funding source and chauffeur for the out-of-town tournaments (and, of course, as a sounding board, too, when he needs it).  The problem is that he’s a boy, and, like many teenage boys, falls a bit short in the communication department, especially when it comes to sharing school-, personal-, or tennis-related information with his mom and dad.  Hence, my struggle . . .

Last week, I posted a simple poll and survey on this site in hopes of shedding some light on how much other parents are involved.  While my sample size is relatively small, I feel like it’s probably pretty accurate, so let me share what I learned.

The first question I asked y’all has to do with taking responsibility for your child’s tournament schedule.  An overwhelming number of respondents – 78% – said either the parent alone or the parent and child together plan the schedule.  Only 20% indicated that the coach has any involvement at all in the scheduling (1% said the coach handles it completely; 7% said the coach and parent handle it; 4% said the coach and player take care of it; and 8% said the parent, coach, and player plan together) and only 2% said the child takes responsibility him or herself.  So, I guess it’s not out of line for me to be the one checking MyTennisNetwork each week to look at upcoming tournaments then emailing a list to my son (and cc’ing his coach) to find out which one(s) he wants to play, right?  It sounds like most of you are doing the same.

Based on the poll results, the coaches simply aren’t taking on this task for whatever reason – junior coaches, if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear your take here.  Is it because you have too many players to manage or because the schedule is constantly changing or some other reason?  I think it’s important for us parents to understand our role in tournament planning, what the coach’s expectations are in this regard, and how to fulfill this aspect of our “job” without becoming too involved in the other parts of our child’s tennis training.  After all, if I’m doing the planning but don’t have a clear picture of when my child needs a break from competition in order to work on new skills or tactics or whether my child is struggling with burnout or confidence issues or when my child is ready for a higher level of play (or maybe needs to drop down a level), how can this be helping my child???  And, coaches, do not assume that my child is sharing that information with me – in my case, I can promise you he is NOT – so please keep me in the loop!

Next, I asked you how often you interact with your child’s coach.  Almost half of you either talk face-to-face or exchange text messages at least once a week.  What I found interesting was that the age of your child didn’t make a difference in terms of how often you’re in touch with the coach – parents of older kids (17-18 years old) are communicating just as regularly as parents of the u10s.  Also, the level at which your child competes made no difference in the frequency of your interaction with the coach – if your child competes locally or if your child competes internationally, most of you are still in touch at least once a week.

What I neglected to ask is exactly what you talk about with your child’s coach – and this is an important omission on my part, so please use the Comments box below to share that information.  Are you discussing tournament results or your child’s training or something else?  Please be specific.

So, this begs the question . . . should I really take a step back at this point in my son’s junior tennis “career” and let him and his coach handle all-things-tennis?  Or, is that an unrealistic expectation to place on both my son and his coach?

My son says this is HIS tennis, and I respect that 100%, but is he mature enough and responsible enough at 16 to manage everything himself?  And is his coach able to juggle the needs of every single kid he works with to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks?  Or are we parents a crucial piece of the puzzle here, a necessary evil so to speak?

At some point, I’ll share the impetus for this article.  Suffice it to say that things have been a bit rough in the Stone house in recent weeks as we are all struggling to define – and refine – our role in this junior tennis thing.  I know what my ideal situation looks like, but I also know that “ideal” isn’t always realistic, and so I continue to write in hopes of shedding some light for myself and for my readers, too.  Marching on.

 

5 Comments on “Parent Involvement: How Much Is Too Much?”

  1. PA: I have several thoughts, and answered your surveys as myself, a coach, would want the parents to interact. I teach primarily in So Cal, but [as you know] have students in the South. I believe the weening of the parent from their child’s tennis activities should start early. In the West, in a USTA event, you would never see a parent walk on a court [before the match] to set up camp, w/ towels, shade apparatus, coolers, RACKET BAGS etc. [If your child is not strong enough to carry a 12-pack racket bag onto the court, don’t buy one for them!]…the USTA official won’t allow it out here…sure, take it from your car to tournament area, but let your child ‘set up their own camp’ .
    As your child gets older, make them set up their own matches, coaches can help by supplying contact information; parents please try to refrain from arranging matches for your car-driving athletes. The ‘other’ athlete does not really want to talk to ‘Johnny’s mommy’ about setting up hitting times. General advice, such as “That’s good, see if you can hit somewhere/time that you don’t have to be on the [insert your busiest interstate/fwy here] 5 or 65 @ rush hour, can be helpful.
    As far as an offspring matriculating to college and it being ‘his/her’ tennis….if they’re not emancipated [you are still financially involved], the parent should still be allowed input; maybe not on day-to-day routines. Remember, they now have their pvt coach plus school coach, the latter, effectively being their ‘boss’. But, again in general terms e.g. “the coach gave us saturday off so I am going snowboarding on my day off”…. a gentle reminder about the injury clause in the athlete’s scholarship is definitely in order!
    I have coached 2 ATP Wimbledon players from very early ages. They both made their own matches when they were allowed to drive. Fortunately, they were good enough that the other players would gladly drive to our club, where I could waive any guest fees.
    Another thing I did that helped IMMENSELY, was move their lessons to before school, leaving their afternoon times open for working out/play with other kids…this was a BIG key to both their successful collegiate/ATP careers.
    Hope this helps…

    1. Coach Kirk, thank you for taking the time to comment and share your valuable thoughts! If you don’t mind, can you please address my question about why jr coaches don’t seem to take on more of the responsibility in terms of tournament scheduling? Also, what types of things are you talking about with the parents of your players?

  2. It’s important for parents to stay involved and know when to let the teenager step up and take the reins and step in when they need guidance. They will experience many different situations when learning how to take control of their schedules and parents and coaches need to be there to be guides, advisors, sounding boards, and just plain mom, dad and coach when they need it. It is a journey and having a great support team is vital in every aspect of your teenagers life:)

  3. Hi Lisa – I will comment first as a coach and then as a parent.

    As a coach: I believe that coaches need to be much more involved in planning tournament play for students at every level. I see far too many kids who are beat up both physically and emotionally because their parents “think” they must be at every tournament. Coaches need to honestly discuss the “end game” with parents and help define goals and expectations. Additionally, with constant changes in how the USTA qualifies the highest level players for national competition coaches need to keep parents and players informed on key competitions and then plan training accordingly for peak performance. For instance, in the PNW, where sectionals are held in August, we evaluate strengths and weaknesses seen during summer play and address weaknesses aggressively and limit tournament play September/October. For those not participating at the national level we push technique, tactics strength and agility September – January. (of course when the final 2014 schedule appears we will have to make changes accordingly) A recommended tournament list for Jan. – Aug. is developed for kids at every level so parents can plug it into their schedule. Kids love to be “on the team” so once a significant number of kids are committed to a tournament it seems we hit critical mass and others jump in. Above all we do our best to educate parents and players that this journey should be fun, that goals should be set, and that both winning & losing are acceptable outcomes.

    As a parent: I have two daughters who have hung out at the courts with me throughout the years. Their goals in tennis closely reflect their personalities. One is highly academic, driven, and goal-oriented. The other is highly social and interested in participating in all sports with an emphasis towards team sports. Our rule was very simple… “Kids, look at the list and let us know if you want to play in any tournaments. Make sure you get a commitment from one of us that we can get you to the tournament then we will hand over the credit card and you will handle online entry and communication with the director.” We started this when they hit age 12. Prior to that they only played in local tournaments. As you might expect, our driven child has played a lot and our social child has played very little. Our biggest at-home argument is keeping our driven child as balanced as possible and having her play less than she would like. The benefit is that they both LOVE tennis and have the opportunity to shine as part of their high school team and the local tennis community. So far, limiting tournament play has not had a negative impact on rankings/opportunities for our more competitive daughter who is 15. We have the benefit of several former D-I male and female adults who are willing to play sets. We find this level of competition to be very valuable and certainly more cost-effective than traveling great distances to play the same kids every week. As parents it has been our goal to have our kids remain healthy and to enjoy tennis. We made a rule early on that parent talk of tennis scholarships etc. etc. was not permissible. The greatest challenge has been physical training and injury prevention / management. Still working on a way to make the fitness component a fun part of the journey. Ideas there are welcome!!!

  4. Maybe parents even need to be more involved with high schoolers, esp if they are juggling high school team tennis and sectional/national tournaments. Some talented players from Georgia wont be playing the sectional 1 natl 4 Southern closed (unless they got waivers); they did not get in the state qualifier because they did not play in state enough. Some of them waited until the HS regular season was over to play in state, and then it rained 3 weekends in a row. It is hard for a parent to choose between state/sectional/national and now ITF tournaments; I cant imagine an adolescent navigating that on his/her own. I asked my 14yo who plays some 16s southerns what he wanted to play this summer and then based on those goals, I suggested spring tournaments but he chose which ones and which age to play. For parents of team players, I think they may have to plan 6-9 months ahead to play in the fall to be ready for the summer since spring play may be limited. With the 2014 national changes, parents and players need to figure out what to play and whether to try to play up this summer before draws are reduced next year.

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