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The Tennis Triangle – Equilateral or Isosceles?

For years, I’ve been reading and hearing about the Tennis Triangle.  You know – Coach/Player/Parent.  Whenever I heard the term, I always pictured in my head an equilateral triangle, where all sides are of equal length, where all factors are of equal importance.

In the equilateral version, my son, his coach(es), and I contribute equally toward his ability to reach his tennis goals.  Each of us has specific duties and responsibilities, and if one of us fails, then the whole triangle collapses in on itself.  With young or new players, the equilateral formula is absolutely necessary, sort-of a checks-and-balances system if you will.  We each have to hold the others accountable for holding up their side.

As a developing player, my son’s duties include showing up for practices with a good attitude, working hard while he’s on the court, doing his homework and maintaining good grades, and getting enough sleep.  They also include making the hard choices – Homecoming or practice?  Thanksgiving with family or an important tournament?  High school party or getting a good night’s sleep?

His coaches’ duties include teaching him the technical and tactical parts of the game, keeping him motivated to continue playing by making practices productive and fun, guiding his tournament schedule, being accessible to answer his questions and stoke the fire, and observing his tournament matches every now and then.  They also include showing him the life lessons of tennis such as focus, determination, goal-setting, and fair play.

My duties (when I say “my” I’m including my husband in this – he’s an integral part of the triangle, too!) include driving my son to practices and tournaments, paying for lessons and drills, providing healthy food choices at home, and signing my son up for tournaments.  I also have to continue to be Mom and resist being Coach – after all, I’m already paying someone I trust to fill that role.  I have to love unconditionally, after a win and after a loss, all the time.

But, lately, I’ve started to question that equilateral image and have started to view things as a bit more skewed, kind-of an isosceles triangle instead, where two sides are equal but the third is longer and carries more weight, lending stability to the other two sides.

As my son is getting older, I’m realizing that my role and – coaches, please forgive me! – his coaches’ role are really secondary.  We’re the shorter sides of the triangle.  If one of us drops the ball, fails to perform our duties or responsibilities, the sky doesn’t fall.  The world doesn’t crash and burn.  The triangle doesn’t collapse in on itself.

However, that third side of the triangle – the longest one – my son – must not waiver.  If he does, then, KABOOM!  The whole structure is done for.  And nothing I do, and nothing his coaches do, can rebuild it without complete and total commitment from him.  For he is the support now.  He is the stabilizing factor.  It’s no longer anyone’s job but his to stay motivated, to work hard, and to hold himself accountable.  Of course, his coaches and I are still there when he needs us, but I have a feeling that my son’s leg of the triangle is going to continue to grow longer while mine and the coaches’ continue to shrink.  That’s the natural order of things.


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