Do you really want THE TRUTH?
By Jeff Brack
Tennis is fun. And kids like having fun. So parents, how do we keep our kids playing tennis?
Answer: Let them enjoy it.
It seems very simple, however, it often doesn't works out that way. As Tournament Director at the Reffkin Tennis Center in Tucson, I personally run, on average, 55 tournaments a year. I see juniors of every level compete, from the little tykes in Star Ball events all the way up to National Championship players. Do you know what the biggest contributing factor is to loss of enjoyment that I see? Parents.
The truth is that one hundredth of one percent of all juniors in the US will become touring professionals that can sustain themselves on that income. This is not meant to discourage the ambitions of our young competitors, but to bring some reality into focus for the parental staff. What this really means is that 99.5% of our juniors will absolutely quit playing tennis before they are adults if the activity isn't fun.
This doesn't mean that your kids shouldn't and can't work hard for a collegiate tennis scholarship. Many of our kids will accomplish this. However, once again, they are far more likely to maintain the necessary focus and work ethic through those highly distracting teenage years if they enjoy it and extract their own sense of satisfaction from it.
Tennis, singles tennis specifically, is an individual sport. All of your training, coaching, emotional support and encouragement come before you step onto the court. Once you are out there, all of that is over and you depend on the quality of your preparation. Most parents and coaches are good at this part, the preparation, however during the match and after the match are where I see things go awry.
Body language, gasps at line calls, disappointed murmurs, pacing, walking away from the court with hands clasped behind the head, and worst of all, imposing themselves on the match. Parents, I think you are aware of how perceptive your kids are, and if you're not, start paying attention. They notice everything. Imagine anyone watching you do something and behaving as listed above. It would suck the fun out of it like a black hole supernova.
And then the match is over, and there's a 50% chance that your child was on the losing end. Hanging head, mopey walk, disappointed face- yes, this is the parent, or worse they start criticizing and even shouting at the child. The truth is, that child is on the road to weekend softball beer league. Enjoy tennis for a lifetime? Yeah right.
As a parent, your whole approach to the sport will be reflected in your kids. Tension, nerves, being confrontational with the Tournament Director, assuming that the Officials have got it in for their child, telling their child that the opponent cheated them, being adversarial with other parents- these are wonderful examples of the delightful environment created for many juniors. What's not fun about that?
Most importantly, another truth to consider is, there are many, many fantastic tennis families who have made our events a joy to run and are perfect examples of how to balance competition with the big picture. Their kids are happy, healthy and they love the game. In fact, they are a great model for families with a new young competitor to follow.
The point here is, relax a little. If you keep your attitude positive, reduce the importance of the outcome and continue to point out their improvements, they might just stick with it. And if they stick with it, they might find the healthy self-motivation that you can't force on anyone. And best yet, they will be enjoying the whole thing.