Raising Aces: Coach Pete’s Guide to Empowering Tennis Parents (Part 3)
This is the third in a series of articles written by Coach Peter Scales exclusively for ParentingAces. We hope you will engage with the articles by leaving your thoughts and/or questions in the Comments below. Be sure to check out our recent podcast with Coach Pete at https://parentingaces.com/articles/raising-aces-ft-peter-scales/. You can find the first article here and the second one here.
Placing Tennis in Perspective: The Game is What You Do, Not Who You Are
If you’re the parent of a young person who is hooked on tennis, and even more if they are a pretty accomplished tennis player, then you know it takes up a really large part of their life, and yours, and the life of their siblings and everyone else in your immediate family. One of your jobs as that tennis parent, then, is to help your tennis-playing child and everyone else place tennis in perspective: The game is what they do, not who they are.
That doesn’t mean tennis isn’t a big part of their identity. Of course it is! And that’s great. But it’s not—and can’t be—ALL that they are.
Their identity as a human being, their worth as a human being, is not limited to or defined by their results on the tennis court.
Even as you encourage them, connect them with perhaps multiple coaches, spend lots of money on coaching, training, tournaments, and travel, you have to be the leader in maintaining that perspective for your tennis-playing child and everyone else in your family.
There are 2 messages you can give that flesh out that your tennis-playing child, and your family, are more than tennis:
First, the message to all players, coaches, parents, and sponsors and supporters: You are not a better person if you win. And you are not a worse person if you lose.
Second message to all: The game is what you do, not who you are.
Credit for the second message to Sandra Zaniewska, former coach of the French player Alize Cornet and current coach to world #33 Marta Kostyuk. Coach Z gave Alize this advice in those words.
Alize has played for many years at the top of the game. Highly accomplished, world-class tennis player. And nearing the end of her playing career in her mid-30s. So reminding Alize at that moment in her life that tennis and playing tennis at this level is not all she is was both appropriate and smart.
But here’s the key thing: Coach Z’s advice is solid—appropriate and smart—for every player at every level.
Make sure your child has the foundation of loving the game, giving it everything they’ve got, competing like crazy with honorable respect for their opponents and the game. But then help them learn that for all the game is, and all that it means to them, the game is not all of who they are.
The game has given them part of who they are, yes. And that’s great. And, they’re more than just tennis.
An effective tennis parent has to be explicit about this with their tennis-playing child. The conversation needs to include something like this: “You are more than tennis, and we also, as a family, are more than tennis, and specifically, more than your tennis, much as it’s risky for me as a parent to say that out loud, because what if you now hate me for saying it? (Pause). And you know, right, how much I/we love you?”
If you haven’t yet had this kind of a conversation with your child about all this, then try harder! What do you need to do to make sure that “let’s talk about this” talk happens? And then within those conversations you also teach whatever boundaries about tennis and the rest of our lives are needed to reinforce that message. At whatever level your child is as a tennis player, you have to encourage the tennis growth while protecting the rest of that kid from getting themselves defined pretty much totally by what happens on the court in matches that “count.”
Here are a few guidelines…
- Don’t talk about the match on the ride home, unless your child wants to.
- Stress “what did you learn?” regardless of the W or L outcome
- If you have other kids, make sure they have equal “air time” to be asked about their interests, and give them equal commitment and love as you listen
- Praise their effort, not their talent (all your kids, to reinforce a growth mindset)
- Talk more with that tennis-playing child about all the rest of their lives outside of tennis, and encourage other passions and interests they might have (research shows kids with multiple interests or “sparks” in their lives do better psychologically, socially, and academically).
Encouraging tennis growth while discouraging an only-tennis identity is a tough balancing act.
But if you keep showing them by words and actions as a parent/coach/manager/you name it, that the game is what they do, not who they are==if you do that, well then, they’ll feel better, and you and the rest of your family will feel better.
And, if that weren’t enough, the more they have that healthy sports identity based on their love of the game, and knowing that they are more than just this game and what the score was, then the more likely they will actually play to their higher levels more often.
Which is an irony, you know, the whole phenomenon of how you get greater odds of winning by knowing that the game is what you do, not (all) of who you are. But, yes, that’s how it works!
Coach Pete Scales, Ph.D., USPTA, is a developmental psychologist, internationally known scholar of positive youth development, Senior Fellow for the research nonprofit, Search Institute, and creator of the acclaimed Compete-Learn-Honor® approach to coaching and player development. He is a U.S. Professional Tennis Association-certified tennis teaching pro, long-time JV tennis coach for boys and girls at Parkway South High School in Manchester, Missouri, mental game advisor to college tennis teams, regular mental game columnist for Racquet Sports Industry Magazine and the National Alliance for Youth Sports, and conference and podcast speaker for the USTA Foundation, USTA’s Compete Like A Champion, and many others. Coach Pete’s latest book—The Compete-Learn-Honor™ Playbook: Simple Steps to Take Your Mental & Emotional Tennis & Pickleball Game to a New Level (Coaches Choice) has been called a “masterclass in the mental side” of the game and is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Compete-Learn-HonorTM-Playbook-Peter-C-Scales/dp/1606795724. See www.competelearnhonor.com for more.