Playing is the most important thing
The process of developing a competitive tennis player is very complex and necessarily involves the whole family. If well managed, the long path to a professional career can be satisfying for everyone involved. However, the wrong attitude on the part of the parents can be very destructive, harming both the child’s performance and family relationships. Overbearing parents often simply cause their children to stop playing altogether.
For this reason, I believe it is important to have a look at how we can be better tennis parents.
Tennis is a sport
• Focus mainly on improvements in your child’s game rather than on the outcome of matches.
• Commitment and hard work are more important than success. Avoid rewarding results only.
• Remember that tennis is just a sport and is good preparation for life, even if your child cannot be a professional for whatever reason. Avoid thinking that tennis is the most important thing in life, as it simply isn’t. Education, for example, should always be the priority.
• As a parent of a tennis player, try to understand and share the emotional pressures and complexity of the sport. Avoid underestimating the pressures of an individual sport like tennis.
• Give your child responsibilities. This will over time increase their self-esteem and independence. Don’t allow them to be over-dependent on you.
• Make sure that competitive tennis is a positive experience, espcially from the point of view of personality development. Emphasize important aspects such as sportsmanship, ethics, personal growth, responsibility, discipline and a positive attitude towards others. In doing so, you can teach your child a healthy way to be passionate about sport.
• Understand that children not only have the right to play tennis, but also have the right to choose not to play.
• Let your child know that you care about them and are close to them if they need help, but avoid getting too involved in their tennis activity.
• Prepare to listen and learn from your children. Don’t try and learn everything about tennis for them.
• Be ready to provide emotional support for your child, especially during the tough times. Do not withhold affection as a punishment or means to get your child to play better.
• Make your child feel valued and reinforce their self-esteem, especially when they lose a match. Avoid criticizing poor results. Remember that it is your child who is deciding to compete and you may only watch if they want you to be there. Avoid saying “let's play well today” as if you are also competing.
• Recognize your child's skills in tennis, but keep your feet on the ground and remain objective. Avoid putting your child on a pedestal.
• Emphasize that winning does not equal love. Avoid getting angry or treating your child differently when they lose.
• Attend the whole match while keeping calm in both positive and negative situations. Show your child that, regardless of the outcome, you are interested in and value their efforts. Avoid leaving if your child is playing badly. Questions: “How did the game go?”, “How did you feel?”, “How did you play?”, “Did you have fun?”. All of these show that you were worried about how your child played or whether they had fun, and that you don’t just care about the result. When they return after a match, don’t simply ask “did you win?”
• Help your child (economically and in any other way) by showing that you are happy to help them play tennis. Avoid creating feelings of guilt by telling them that you are spending a lot of money.
• Try to motivate your child to be independent and think for themselves. Avoid being a coach from the grandstand.
• When your child loses a match, point out that it's just a game. The result is bad, the world does not end and the sun will rise again tomorrow. Never physically or verbally abuse your child.
• Help your child to avoid excuses. If they complain about the court, point out that it was the same for both players. Objective, fair analysis will only help in the long run. But don’t be too harsh, simply try and get them to be objective.
• Show interest in your child's tennis by attending matches if they want you there. But avoid being present during each and every workout.
• Let the coach decide when and how to train your child. Avoid criticizing your child if you feel they should play more. Remember that when it comes to training, quality is better than quantity.
• Try to understand the risks and watch out for stress symptoms (drowsiness, hypercritical attitude, cheating, etc.) Do not ignore your child's insecurities and anxieties.
The only expectation you need from your child's tennis activity is that it can help him become a better person and a great sportsman. Everything else is gravy.
Compare your child's progress with his abilities and goals. Avoid comparing your progress with those of other kids.
Try to motivate your child in a positive and amiable way (for example by using positive reinforcement). A good rule of thumb is to have three compliments for every criticism. Avoid using sarcasm to motivate your child.
• Make sure your child respects the principles of sportsmanship, correct and polite behavior. If your child behaves badly on court or off court you must intervene immediately.
• Reward your child for what they are as a human being, not as a tennis player. Avoid promising special privileges, prizes, etc. for winning.
• Keep in mind that you and your child must have other areas of interest aside from tennis. Avoid spending too much time talking tennis with your child.
• Your child's well-being and happiness are the most important thing.
• Try to remember that tennis players need some peace of mind after losing a match. A pat on the shoulder or encouragement is more than enough when a player loses. After, when things have calmed down, it will be possible to comment on the match. But it’s better if they initiate that conversation. Avoid forcing your child to talk to you immediately after a match.
• Take your child's injuries seriously and, if in doubt, consult your doctor. Do not ignore pain or feelings of discomfort and never force them to play when they are injured.
• Let your child know that you are willing to take them to tournaments and training, but avoid insisting on accompanying them to every match and training session.
• During matches, try to have a positive image of serenity, calm and relaxation. Avoid showing negative emotions by appearing nervous or angry when, for example, your child makes a mistake.
• Keep in a good mood and try to have fun watching your child play. Avoid behaving negatively or being excessively critical. Remember that you need to have a lot of emotional control to be a good parent of a tennis player.
• Maintain your role as a parent. Avoid being your child's coach (for example, discussing technique, strategy, etc.). Live your life outside of tennis. Remember that you too have your personal needs, do not forget them completely. Avoid experiencing some of your unrealized dreams through your child.
• Be generous in recognizing and applauding the commitment and skill of your child's opponents. Avoid ignoring or criticizing them.
The coach’s role
• Respect the experience of your child's coach. Avoid criticizing their training methods.
• Make sure the coach has a positive, motivating attitude and that they promote good values. Prevent the coach from being too negative, results-oriented or demanding.
• Establish clear lines of communication and try to talk often with the coach, in order to ask about your child's progress, goals and mental attitude. Do not avoid contact with the coach.
• Before changing coaches, make sure that the relationship ends on a good note.
• Remember that your child's coach is a qualified professional who can help you in many aspects, both in tennis and off the court, and who can also help you learn more about tennis. Work with the coach to help them better understand your child's personality and feelings. Avoid thinking that the coach is a simple employee or ball machine.
• Be objective and recognize when your child's opponent has played well.
• Try to maintain good relationships with other parents, because you can help each other.
• Try to maintain a balance between your interest in tennis and the interests of other family members. Avoid losing interest in your other children.
• It is very important for the parents and the coach to make the child aware of “invisible training,” which comes in the form of friendships, evening outings, parties, sleep etc. All of these factors that can influence a player’s performance.