Sports Parenting

An Open Letter to Junior Tennis Parents

The following is reprinted with permission (and without editing) from Coach Joey Blake’s Facebook and was written by his father, Harry, pictured above:

CONGRATULATONS! As a parent you have made a decision to give the gift of tennis to your child. You now have the opportunity to watch your child grow and gain the ability to play this wonderful lifetime sport of tennis. You have so much to look forward to as they physically and mentally grow and benefit from playing this great sport. Having your child play tennis must be approached by the parent’s with a clear understanding why they are playing tennis and how important your role will be in the correct development of your child’s tennis game.

First of all, very few are ever going to play professionally or even attend a Division I College on a tennis scholarship. Many young junior tennis players will only play locally or perhaps at USTA Regions. Some may have the opportunity to play at the USTA National level or even at the International Level (ITF). The level that the student plays at depends on their development as he or she develops their tennis game.

I was a junior tennis parent in the 70’s and 80’s and had the great opportunity to watch my son develop a love of the sport of tennis, watched as he improved in each age group and had the opportunity to see him very successful at the college level and play professionally briefly. His success also opened doors for him to play on he United States Junior Davis Cup Team and travel the world. The friendships that he and our family created during this time with other players, coaches, parents and friends of tennis have been invaluable to us over the years.

Yes, I was involved as a coach for my son. Not as the main coach, but served as a mentor and assistant to a professional that we put our trust in and never questioned over the years his long range goals for our son. You must understand, I was a college basketball player with good athletic skills and zero knowledge of what was correct or good in the world of tennis. I learned as my son learned and made myself a student of the game. I know I made mistakes, but I always had the back up of this great teaching professional to ask questions and always followed his advice. This great teaching professional insisted that all times everyone must “Respect” at all costs the great traditions of this great game of tennis. I had to learn the history and how tennis was developed through out the world. The real importance of “Sportsmanship” that tennis teaches.

My wife and I are both professional musicians (Conductor & Flutist) and educators. The development of one’s tennis skills and music skills have a great deal in common in the learning process as how to use correct sequencing in the development of the physical and mental skills in learning to play tennis at a high level. Learning the correct stroke production, excellent footwork, physical training and the mental aspect of the game are all part of the this process. There are NO Shortcuts! One must be patient. Tennis must be fun. Correct instruction and motivation must the top goal and always “Respect the Game.”

Perhaps our family background was different with us both having professional music backgrounds and myself having a college athletic career. We traveled thousands of miles and sit through hundreds of hours of matches and watched with enjoyment and amazement as our son developed as a tennis player. He even found time in high school to play amazing flute in his high school band and was 1st chair in his All-State Band for two years. We were challenged early in his tennis career as to what we can and could do. Our answer was simple, “If we don’t support his tennis development, we will always wonder what if?” It was never simple financially but we will never have to say we did not give him the opportunity.

In the last several years I have watched and listened with great concerns about the development of junior tennis. I know we have not created the number of successful professional players like we were developing in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. I know times are changing, but I am convinced we have some serious issues that need to be addressed in making junior tennis a positive and healthy environment for every young tennis player that hits a tennis ball. To the present day parents of junior tennis, the ball is in your court. What are you going to do to make this experience first-rate?

5 Simple Questions about you and your tennis player

1. Have You picked a solid professional coach to work with your child and are
willing to follow his or her direction in your child’s development? Can You can totally support your coach and help with your child’s development? You don’t skip from coach to coach looking for the magic answer?

2. You do not try to “COACH”? You cannot learn tennis from a book or video. You must have lived it. There are too many details that a book or video cannot cover. Those who have been there have the best answers. Ask questions? Keep notes
on tennis concerns that you think need to be addressed. Ask for answers and help from your coach. Don’t try to give him or her the answer before they can help you.

3. At a tournament, Do You watch with enjoyment your child playing tennis – No matter how good or bad the day is going? Do You keep simple notes for discussion after the match – Not for when they come off of the court? Do You know and expect the highest level of “sportsmanship” from your child? Is Good sportsmanship more important to You, whether they win or lose the match? Do You support your child in a positive manner before, during and after the match win or lose? Remember they are the one on the court, NOT YOU!

4. At tournaments, Do You knowledge the efforts of other outstanding players playing against your child or on other courts during other matches? Do You enjoy meeting and talking to other parents and coaches in a friendly atmosphere at tournaments? In the end, “IT IS ONLY A TENNIS MATCH”! Remember, together we are developing young people and citizen’s of the world for the future.

5. The Junior Tennis Development for your child is a long process. Do You have a realistic and clear cut vision for the future of their development as seen in weeks, months and years? Success will not be instant. At times, losing many times can be more important than winning in the development of the junior tennis player and learning how to play the game. How realistic and patient are You in this process?

The five questions pose interesting concerns as to the state of today’s junior tennis. A great number of parents and junior tennis players are out of control. We have poor sportsmanship and behavior by players on the courts and parents who are watching the matches. During the late 70’s and 80’s the level of junior tennis was very high. The competition was stiff and players worked extremely hard to be the best that could be as they developed through the junior tennis program. Believe it or not, as competitive as the competition, there was very positive relationships between parents, coaches and players. It was fun to go tournaments to see parents, coaches and players that you had not seen for a long period of time. Coaches talked shop, parents discussed their children’s development as they were progressing through school and players developed friendships that are still in place after 30 years.

Today we are watching too many players and parents out of control in junior tennis. Cheating, temper tantrums, players yelling at parents or parents yelling at their child, throwing rackets, bulling and using bad language is not the correct imagine of quality junior tennis. There is no future for this kind of behavior if a parent wants their child to grow and become a better player and person. Greatness in an individual player will never be achieved by this means.

Today’s junior players and parents please take a long hard look in the mirror. As a parent, you set the example for the lifetime development of your child. What does your image look like? If you or your child are one of the problems you need to fix it now or it would be better for junior tennis if you and your child no longer participate.

After 35 years I still enjoy watching young tennis players play the game, improve and show the respect and sportsmanship that the great game of tennis deserves. Pick the right coach, be loyal to that coach, be professional as a parent and enjoy your child as they have fun playing the great game of tennis. This will give you years of satisfaction.

My son is now a seasoned, mature professional tennis coach offering all of his students the opportunity to learn tennis the correct way as he insists on the “Respect” and “Sportsmanship” from all of his students to the game of tennis. Now days this may not be fashionable and is not the comfortable thing to do. As a coach, he is a teacher of young people, and is very demanding for excellence by each student and gives each and every student the opportunity and help to achieve their potential. The rest is up to the student and the correct positive support of the parent.

I have been an educator for over 52 years, having worked with thousands of students at the middle school, high school and college level. In the end it is always about the student and how we can challenge them to reach the highest level of their abilities in all of their studies and activities. After 45 years, the tennis professional that we choose for our son in the 70’s is still very active in tennis and is a very close friend. We were very lucky and fortunate to have picked a great one. He is a true educator!

LEARNING IS A LIFE LONG SKILL! ENJOY IT!!! GOOD LUCK!

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