Facing A Friend


The longer your child plays tennis, the more likely he or she is to face a friend across the net in a tournament match.  For my son, at this stage of the game, it happens more often than not, especially in local or sectional events.  It’s really important that we help our kids learn how to separate competition from friendship – easier said than done!

When my son was younger, I used to have a little chat with him before he went on the court to play a friend.  We would talk about how preserving his friendships is very important, how he needs to always treat his opponents with respect but how that becomes even more crucial when the opponent is a friend, how what happens on the court stays on the court once the match has ended.  That said, sometimes things don’t go so well.  One player inevitably has to lose, and if that player is a sore loser – or if the other one isn’t a gracious winner – feelings can be hurt and friendships can suffer.  The hope is that after an hour or two (or maybe even a day or two), those hurt feelings will heal and the friendship will survive intact.

Now that my son is 16, I still remind him of my expectations though I usually get the “I know, Mom” response these days.  And, if things do happen to go south during a match, I expect my son to reach out to his friend afterward and fix it even if he doesn’t feel he’s solely to blame.  It’s one of those Life Lessons that tennis can teach our kids – knowing how to mend fences is such an important skill as they go out into the world.  It’s what will help them become good Human Beings, not just good Tennis Players.

But, it’s not just the kids who have a tough time separating competition from friendship.  Sometimes, it’s even tougher for the parents, especially if they’re friends as well.  I remember when my son was in his first year of the 14s.  He had to play a buddy in a local tournament, and the four parents were walking out to the court to watch.  The other mom turned to me and said, “Whatever happens out there, we’re okay, right?”  I was kind of surprised by her comment but assured her that the match was between our boys, that neither the match nor its outcome would have any impact OUR friendship.

After all, we can’t always know what’s going on during a match, what’s being said between opponents, how they’re communicating (if at all) during changeovers.  Sometimes, things get tense or even nasty between the players during their match.  I mean, they both want to win, right?  They may trash-talk each other or question line calls or worse.  So, it’s crucial that we parents lead by example and avoid letting any on-court antics or the match outcome dictate our own tennis friendships.  That doesn’t mean we might not have to apologize to our friend on behalf of our kid from time to time (been there, done that!), but it does mean that we all should try to be understanding and forgiving, especially when we trust that the players are “good kids” who come from “good parents.”

I’d love to hear your experiences with these types of situations – please share in the Comment box below!

9 Comments on “Facing A Friend”

  1. I’ve lived everything you’ve just described! I love my tennis mom friendships. We “get” each other and each others kids. They are my coffee run, dinner out, sounding board, shoulder to lean on, hand to hold, sideline support buddies. When my son is playing one of his friends, I always ask my tennis mom friend if they want to sit together or not. I understand whichever choice they make. I have one friend who can’t watch her son, so I ask if she wants me to text her updates. I have one friend who I know we can sit together and it will be a very quiet next two hours. Each one is different. At the end of the day, the boys seem to brush off losses to each other pretty well and in the lonely sport of tennis, it’s good to keep the friendships going!

  2. What a great topic to discuss! This is so true! I have given the same speech so many times to my son as well! The most nervous I get watching is when he is playing a friend because most likely I am friends with the mom and dad too – and someone has to lose. It is really important that what happens on the court stays on the court and friendship stay intact. You are right – great life lessons for our kids!

  3. It’s what its all about. We/ daughter have friends all over the country. Oldest. Doing the natIonal stuff especially. Which is why I’m sick over these proposed USTA changes.we have gained so much. Tomtake that away to promotena very few makes me sick.

  4. In tennis you make a lot of acquaintances as well as some really good friends. It is easy to tell the difference when they play each other. Friendship incorporates respect. With respect uncomfortable situations are avoided. You don’t cheat someone you respect, you don’t begrudge their efforts to improve their game, you respect the player and their game. In my experience I have been able to distinguish between an acquaintance and a friend and so can my son. I have never had a problem with the parents and my son has never had a problem when playing a friend. It is the value of what a friendship is that avoids the issues.
    My son had to play one of his best friends in a tournament when he was in the 14’s. The boys trained together and my son had been the underdog. He had been training very hard and was catching up with his friend and ready to finally beat him. The match was very close and my son began to pull ahead in the match. His friend was not acting quite right on the court, it seemed that he wasn’t feeling well. My son noticed he hadn’t had anything to drink. My son approached him at the net and asked if he was okay, and his friend replied that he was dizzy. Alex suggested he get a drink and his friend said he had forgotten to bring one. It was obvious that the way things were going my son would beat his friend for the first time but instead my son came to the fence and asked that we get his friend some water that he thought he was overheating and dehydrating. My son was a friend first and an opponent second. The win wasn’t nearly as important as his friendship and the well being of his friend.
    To be honest I can’t even remember who won and neither can the boys, but as my son put it, when I beat him I don’t want it to be with any excuses.
    Just remember a match is two hours long and a friendship is a life-time.

  5. I’ve noticed that this is an even bigger issue for the kids that are playing at a higher level competitively, say sectional tournaments, because it’s usually the same kids they play week in week out. My son is still playing in the 12s and I’ve noticed if he messes around with his tennis buds before and after matches (in other words, let kids be kids) that they forget the sting of a loss much more quickly after the match ends and get back to being buds. I’m sure it’s different as kids get older. Either way, I guess it’s always important to help them remember that it is “just tennis.” I know. Easier said than done. 🙂

  6. Is it common for the director of a tournament to put doubles partners on the same side of the

    1. I wouldn’t say it’s common but it definitely does happen, especially if the seeding falls that way. Most of the TDs I’ve come across do make an effort to separate partners in at least the earlier rounds of singles.

  7. My son just played one of his friends in a tournament a few weeks ago. His friend is a year older and my son just moved up to the 14’s. His friend is rated significantly higher. My son won and it ended up being something the other players joke about in a mild and fun way. The interesting thing is just after that match, the two of them deciding to become running partners after clinics, they run two miles after clinics together now and call on each other when in need of a warmup. No bad feelings, only good things came of that match!

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