I distinctly remember playing in a particular high school match. My mother, who was NOT an experienced tennis parent at the time, was sitting behind the court. The match was against my school’s tennis rival and I was locked in a tight, three-set battle.
I stepped up to the baseline, bounced the ball before my serve and heard Mom: "You can do it sweetie!” After an intense rally, I’d go retrieve the balls from the back fence where my Mom was sitting and she would yell: “Beat this guy honey!” Really, who sits RIGHT BEHIND the back fence? Eventually, young Tacl lost his cool on his mother. I turned around and yelled “MOM, SERIOUSLY SHUT UP!”
Of course, this was not exemplary behavior on my part and certainly not the epitome of mental toughness. It’s not a surprise that I lost the match. The outcome, however, isn’t as important as the conversation it brings to the surface.
As a parent, what are some of the more effective ways to have a positive impact on your child’s game?
The sport of tennis gives parents a unique view on the behavior of their children. Isolated and alone, a tennis court is an arena where Mom and Dad cannot intervene. Their child is left to manage how to deal with the different game styles of opponents and how to recover from unforced errors and momentum swings. Parents can’t play for them, so the young tennis player must learn to “Figure – It – Out” on the court.
Parents should be proud that tennis allows junior players to develop a maturity beyond their years. Tennis is an individual sport, which means adapting to adversity without the help of other players or a coach. In what other sports do 10-year-olds have to develop that type of resolve? Learning to have a short term memory for failure and the ability to focus on the present and not the past are skills that translate well beyond the lines painted on a tennis court.
Here are some tips to help the process:
- To help maximize a young player’s enthusiasm for tennis, a true team is required. This team is a harmony of player, coaches and parents. Here at the RAC, our expectations of our tennis students are exceedingly high. We expect effort, a desire to improve and work hard, and to treat others with respect. We teach the expectation to do your best. Parents who align themselves with these values and don’t overvalue winning (especially at a young age) give their player a head start on the journey to great performance.
- As a parent, accepting the struggles (some beyond your control) of your child when they compete is necessary. Adversity is part of tennis. No player can win every point. No player can control the variables that can impact the outcome of matches. Embrace the struggle!
- As a parent, displaying an image of calmness and confidence may help your child duplicate that attitude. Often if a junior player is on the verge of a mental collapse, you may notice Mom and Dad look like they are too. A prominent junior player at the RAC had parents who adopted the phrase “Keep calm and carry on” to help deal with this issue.
- Parents should be able to encourage their child the same way they cheer for their favorite professional player. They should applaud great points, not just ones their child wins.
- Parents should ask their child questions. Especially after losses, ask questions like “what would you do differently next time” or “what did you do well today?” instead of offering critiques of what you saw. Few children respond positively to a seething critique of their performance minutes after their match from Mom or Dad!
There may be no official protocol for how a tennis parent should act, but they undoubtedly play a critical role in supporting and developing young tennis players. Help grow your child’s love of the game by being a positive influence on their development. Just please don’t cheer like my Mom did.
Steve Tacl has been a member of the RAC Tennis Team since 2006 and serves as Junior Tennis Coordinator. He is a certified USTA high performance coach and also the head coach of the Rochester Lourdes Boys Tennis team. Steve is married and enjoys spending time with his wife and young daughter Cameron.
Contact Steve Tacl at (507) 287-9335 ext. 312.