Dreams vs. Goals

“A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward achieving it” – Anonymous

My son started his sophomore year of high school today.  For me, it’s been a day of reflection because I’m realizing how quickly these next three years are going to go by and how soon my son’s years of dreaming about playing college tennis are going to either become his reality or not.  I’ve got to admit it’s kind-of taking my breath away.

Lately, I’ve been talking to several different people about my son and his tennis goals.  I’ve been listening to lots of different advice about the best way for him to achieve those goals.  I’ve been trying to reconcile the advice with our time and money constraints to come up with a Plan (yes, with a capital “P”).

One of my son’s goals is to play Kalamazoo before he exits the juniors.  When I shared that goal with a higher-up at USTA, I was told that playing Kalamazoo is a dream NOT a goal because my son has no control over the performance and rankings of the other boys in his age group and, therefore, can’t control whether or not he gets into the draw.  This person told me that goals are things you can control; dreams are the same as wishes and are not within your own control.  Hmmmm . . .

I beg to differ.  As the quote above states, once you begin taking steps toward achieving your dream, it becomes a goal.  And, my son is taking very specific steps toward Kalamazoo.  He has added another fitness component to his workouts.  He has tweaked his tournament schedule so that he’s playing higher-level and stronger opponents in preparation for The Zoo.  He has altered his school schedule slightly to allow him more flexibility in terms of on-court time.  He maintains an on-going dialogue with his coaches so that they’re all on the same page about where my son is in his preparation and where he needs to amp up his training.  My son has a Plan.

Of course, we won’t know until next summer whether or not the Plan has been successful.  But, there will almost certainly be checkpoints along the way that will let my son know if he’s on track.  And, if he’s not, he and his coaches will need to revamp and to refocus to get back on track.  And, if this one doesn’t work, then he’s got another year to try a different Plan.

But, if it DOES work, wow!  That feeling of achieving a long-term goal is amazing.  It’s one I hope all my children get to experience over and over again in their lives.  But, really, what I hope they experience is the jubilation over seeing hard work pay off, of seeing commitment to a goal or a purpose yield dividends beyond their wildest imagination.  Didn’t someone once say that tennis is a metaphor for life?  I would have to agree.

Beyond Winning & Losing

Our state qualifier for the Southern Closed was this past week.  For the first time ever, my son knew when he applied for entry to the tournament that he would get in – he had worked hard all year to move his state ranking into a proper position.  Now the challenge was getting far enough in the Qualifier to secure a spot in the Closed.

The Tennis Gods smiled upon him with his draw, but it was still up to him to capitalize on some great opportunities to get to the Round of 16 (or further) and get that guaranteed entry into the sectional tourney.  It was going to be a challenge, for sure.  His track record with “gifts” in the draw wasn’t all that great – in the past, he had often lost to players with much lower rankings than his own, so he was going to have to draw on all the training he had been doing with his coach to stay focused and get the job done.

After winning his first match in less-than-ideal weather conditions, he got to play his second round on center court at the main tournament site with several of his friends and other coaches standing around and periodically watching him.  He won the first set 6-0 in about 12 minutes, absolutely crushing his opponent at every opportunity.  But, old habits die hard, and he wound up falling behind 0-4 in the 2nd set before fighting back a bit then losing it 4-6.  Thank goodness for the 10-minute break after splitting sets!  I have no idea what my son’s coach told him on the phone, but he came into that 3rd set swinging away, jumping to a 5-0 lead before finally closing out the set and the match 6-0, 4-6, 6-2.  He had made it to the Round of 16 and had his spot in the Closed!

The next morning, he was slated to play the 2 seed, a boy who he had never played before, a boy who is a 5-star rated player, a boy who wins big tournaments on a regular basis.  This was my son’s chance to test his game against the Big Boys, to see how he held up and where he needed work.  What an opportunity!  He went on court ready to do battle.  He pushed the 2 seed hard in the first set, making him work for every point and every game.  My son lost that set 4-6, but he proved to himself that he could compete at this level, that he has what it takes to keep moving forward with his development.  The next set didn’t go quite as well, but, still, my son walked off the court with his head held high, knowing he had left everything he had out there.

Day 3 brought the Back Draw and another opportunity to play a 5-star player in the day’s second match.  By this point, my son was exhausted – mentally and physically – and the match ended quickly though not in my son’s favor.  The tournament was now over for him, and it was time to reflect:

  • He reached his goal of qualifying for the Southern Closed.
  • One of his favorite college coaches saw him play and crush his opponent then congratulated him afterward on the great win.
  • His former coach saw him play the 2 seed and commented on how far he’s come in the last year.
  • After playing the 2 seed, he immediately got a text from another player asking him to play doubles in the Southern Closed – his Tennis Clout jumped about 100 places as a result of his effort in that match.
  • His current coach watched his first back draw match and got the opportunity to coach him during a rain delay following a sloppy first set.  My son went back on court and did exactly what his coach told him,  winning the match at his first opportunity.  His coach was beaming!
  • His tennis peers told him repeatedly over the course of the tournament how well he was playing – that does a teenage ego good!
  • He used his mental toughness training and stayed calm throughout each match – you have no idea how huge that is!!!!
  • He saw what he needs to work on between now and the Closed and is ready to put in the hard yards.  The next level is finally within his reach.

Oh, The Sacrifices We Make!

My oldest daughter, Emma, didn’t come by the acting bug by accident.  Oh, no!  She inherited that vital gene directly from her momma.  And, believe me, it’s a STRONG one.  In my LBT (Life Before Tennis), I owned a fitness business and spent many, many hours promoting it as an “expert” on the radio, the Web, tv, and in front of live audiences.  I never passed up an opportunity to be on camera (or on mic), even when it meant schlepping my infant son across the country on an 8-city promo tour with an athletic shoe company.

So, last week, when I was given a lead for a new reality television show about Tennis Moms (a la Dance Moms), I jumped on it.  I called the producer and spoke with her at length about my experiences in the Junior Tennis World as well as with the media, thinking I would be the perfect candidate for her.  The thought of being on tv again excited me.  I was already trying to figure out how I would squeeze in more workout sessions before the show taped so I would be at my fittest and strongest on camera and how in the world I was going to afford new clothes.

And then my son came home.

And I told him about the tv show.

And he begged me not to pursue it.

And this is one more tiny little sacrifice I will make for one of my kids.  Because that’s what we parents do – we sometimes put aside our own wants (and even needs) for our kids.  In this case, it was an easy decision.  My son has worked too long and too hard for me to risk jeopardizing his efforts because of my own narcissistic tendencies.  He’s right – by being part of a show that will magnify the already-huge personalities of some extreme tennis parents, I would be putting him in an awkward (at best!) position with his tennis peers, their parents, and the governing body.

I honored my son’s wishes and stepped away from the tv project.  I figure that just frees me up when the Tennis Channel comes calling!

Dealing with Disappointment

I know.  You saw the title and expected to read about how to deal with your child’s disappointment after a loss . . . or something along those lines.  But, this piece is about dealing with your own disappointment when something doesn’t go quite right in your child’s tennis-centric world.

A fellow tennis parent wrote me last week, telling me about her child’s recent tournament schedule.  He has some important tournaments coming up and so decided to play a low-level local tourney just to build some confidence.  The child figured he could get a couple of easy wins and feel ready for next weekend, which will be a much tougher tournament.

Well, as I am sure you can guess, it didn’t go as planned and the child played the worst tennis of his life.  This was odd because the coach had just gotten done telling the parents and the player that he’s playing the best he’s (the coach) ever seen him play. Now he goes out and loses to a kid who is (according to the mom) awful, who he beat 0 & 1 a year ago, who has no serve, no strokes, and probably very few tennis lessons.  The mom wrote, “He was supposed to play a second match and I did something I’ve never done before.  We took him out of the tournament because given his mental state, all he would have done was go out and lose to another player he shouldn’t lose to.”

Mom went on to say, “I don’t usually get upset by these things but this whole thing has been really bothersome.  First of all, how could he actually lose to this boy? Second, how does a ranking recover from such an awful loss — does it? And third, why is this bothering me so much?”

The #3 part is what really got to me!  We tennis parents invest so much energy, emotion, time, and, yes, money in our kids that I think it’s perfectly normal to take their results personally.  The important thing is the face we present to THEM, the words we use when discussing their results with them.  But, again, I think it’s perfectly normal to FEEL disappointment when our child doesn’t live up to our (or their own) expectations.

My advice to the parent who wrote me was that it’s okay to feel the disappointment and even to vocalize it every now and then if you feel your kid isn’t putting in the necessary effort.  But, at some point, we have to let go and let our kids own their tennis.  In this particular case, the mom reported that her son did a very healthy, mature thing – he shrugged off the loss as “having a bad day” and then proceeded to let it go, going back to work on the courts the next morning.  The takeaway from these types of experiences should be something along the lines of:  I have taught my kid well, he has been a willing student, I have to trust him with his tennis.

I’m going through something similar with my son right now, but it has to do with his academic performance rather than his performance on a tennis court.  Having two older children for whom school came pretty willingly and naturally, I really don’t know how to parent a kid who only wants to play tennis and who hasn’t yet realized the importance of balancing that with a good education.  Every time he brings home a grade that I consider less than stellar, I feel let down, like I’ve somehow failed him as a parent.  Should I have read to him more as a baby?  Was homeschooling him for part of  middle school a huge mistake?  Should I move him to a small private school for the remainder of his high school career so he gets more personal attention?  How did he miss getting the I-Love-To-Learn gene?  What did I do wrong???

And, then, I take a deep breath (okay, maybe 100 deep breaths!) and realize that my son is now at the age where he HAS to take responsibility for his dreams and goals.  I can’t – and shouldn’t – do it for him.  If he wants to have a shot at playing tennis at his dream schools, then HE has to buckle down, study better, and get the grades necessary to be a desirable recruit.  Grades do matter.  SAT/ACT scores do matter.  He heard that from the horses’ mouths this past weekend in Athens.  Now, it’s up to him.

That doesn’t mean I won’t feel disappointed if he doesn’t figure this school thing out.  That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t feel disappointed if he doesn’t figure it out.  And, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to my disappointment or that I should down-play it as unimportant – my disappointment matters, too!

But, as disappointed as I might feel when he bombs a test or loses an easy match, I know it’s nothing compared to how he’s feeling inside.  The on-going challenge for me is putting my own disappointment aside and being his firm support when he most needs me.  So far, I haven’t been all that successful in that department – I’ve let my own feelings show way too much.  But, I’m working on it and will continue to work on it, both for my own sake and for my son’s, so I don’t disappoint either of us.