“Sometimes you have to be the assistant coach.” Nick Bollettieri
Over the years I’ve gone to a lot of trade conferences for tennis teachers and often the number one topic (or gripe) amongst the coaches is how to harness the enthusiasm of the tennis parents. Translation can you stay out of the way? Parents mean well and naturally want the best for their children. So naturally, parents want to have input since they are footing the bill. But as a coach I can tell you the tried and true formula that never fails is let the coach do their job and you as parent just be supportive.
Tracy Austin won the US Open. She has two boys who play college tennis. She has learned over the years to “stay out of the way”.
Here is a story republished with permission from another blog that hits on all of the important bullet points for being the best tennis parent you can be without losing sight of your child’s best interest.
One more mantra for parents before you dive in that I saw at a club onetime that always stuck with me.
“Your child’s good behavior is a reflection of you not their results on the tennis court”.
Find Your Aha Moment
10 TIPS FOR TENNIS PARENTS TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CHILD’S TENNIS GAME.
Teach them discipline and responsibility: From an early age kids need to understand that in order to be a tennis player they need to have discipline in everything they are trying to accomplish. Every shot they try to hit they must perfect so it takes a lot of mental effort to try to make every repetition look better each time. They must understand that they need to do proper warm ups, proper cool downs, proper footwork and not just sometimes, being disciplined means repeating it every day. This way, they learn to have their minds used to repeating good habits properly over and over again. Consequently, give them responsibility. They need to know that if they choose to play tennis then they need to get their water and towel ready before practice, they need to carry their bags, they need to wake up on their own. Letting them be independent and do these things by themselves will make them stronger and prepare them for their future as athletes. Doing everything for the kids and reminding them all the time of what they have to do will only hurt them. They end up finding it annoying and they actually will not want to do the things you keep reminding them of. They need to have the discipline and responsibility from an early age and trust me they will translate that into the court.
. Let coaches do their job and cooperate with them: The coach has a huge influence in the kids progress so parents must make sure that they fully trust the coach. The kid needs to listen to one voice continuously if you want him to improve. Too often, coaches are trying to work on a certain aspect of the kid’s game and the parents are telling them something else on the side. Even if its just, move your feet, finish your swing, breathe, turn… We all know that parents just want what is best for their kids and the just want to help. But when the kids are listening to the coach say one thing and the parent another it just makes them confused and it actually slows down the process. Parents need to understand that if they trust the coach they need to let them do their job and if they are going to say anything (off court) reinforce what they coach is saying. I have had many kids that have progressed really fast because I know the parents are encouraging them to listen to the coach and to try their hardest. Many times, parents think that they know their kid best so they know what they need to do. If you did not play tennis at a high level and don’t have the knowledge, even if you watched a lot of youtube videos, you need to take a step back, let the coach teach the kid and you can support and motivate. Otherwise, from my personal experience as a player and as a coach, it does not work. As coach, I can see how it hurts the kid and makes them frustrated and as a player, I can tell you it’s just irritating to have your parents repeating words over and over, especially when you are trying to focus on what your coach is telling you to do.
If you were not a professional athlete and you don’t comprehend the pressure the kids go through, don’t add extra pressure: I’ve had many situations where kids are struggling in competition. They just seem to keep loosing and it’s hurting their confidence and their belief that they should keep playing even. Too many times I have gone to tournaments with my students and found out how brutally rough and little understanding the parents are about the kids performance and more even the result. Before the match I have heard parents say things like, “this girl has lost to **** so you should be able to beat her easily”, during the match I’ve heard things like, “seriously? your playing like crap!!”, “start moving your feet now or im going to leave”, “I don’t know what your so nervous about, just play”. But the the worse part comes after the match is done, “I can’t believe you lost, you played horribly”, “It was embarrassing to watch you play”, “your just going to go back to school because you are not made for this”. Sound familiar? if you are not one of this parents, I am glad. But it happens way too often with parents who don’t understand the pressure the kids have to go through to just perform well and not to disappoint them. Sometimes they are more afraid to loose because their parents will think they suck than because of the actual match. I’ve had parents come to me and tell me, “I don’t understand why they are so nervous, it looks like they are not even trying”. Believe me when I say that nerves come in many forms and your kid is actually trying very hard. He or she is just so nervous that his brain is not sending blood to his body to move. In other words, and we see this many times when kids are nervous they just look frozen. So in order to help them, you have to use positive reinforcement with them, encourage them, help them to believe in themselves more, and understand that tennis is probably one of the hardest sports in the world and it is a process that your kid needs to go through until he can control his nerves. but be assured the he won’t control them ever! if you keep putting all this amount of pressure on his shoulders. If he looses, once he comes out of the court, you gotta talk to him patiently and tell him that it’s ok, that he will compete again next weekend and that if he keeps trying his hardest, he is going to keep getting chances to do it better and better, no doubt!4. No matter how good you think your kid is, he has a long way to go: Too many times parents think that the kid is really good and that he should not play with some other kids even if he might still benefit from it. It is good to give your kid confidence but even if he’s talented he is going to have to work very hard in order to achieve his (professional) goals. Being really good at 11 does not mean you will be in the top 100 professionally. Getting to the professional tour takes much more than just talent at an early age. It takes hard work, discipline, being able to endure through tough situations, having the hunger to keep playing and to keep getting better and there is even the luck factors (avoiding injuries and other issues that can arise). So if you are not teaching your kid all of this qualities and what it really takes, then he will get stuck at a certain point. Make sure you keep encouraging him to get better regardless of who he is playing against and make sure he knows that everything he does to move forward it’s just a small step in the long road to the professional tour.5. Understand that you can’t make your kid want it, he has to breathe and live tennis: If you don’t see desire in your kid’s playing you cannot force it out him. It is just that simple. Kids do go through faces and sometimes they may loose some motivation but there are some others who never really want it, they say they do but they are not willing to work hard or compete hard. If it doesn’t sting when your kid looses then he is not really into it. One of the most important thing for tennis players is to have a huge desire to win and to be the best. if you do not have this competitive hunger then you are just not going to win a lot of matches. When parents force kids to play and to try harder when they appear bored or lack motivation they just accelerate the process of them quitting.6. Never punish kids about results: Don’t let it be about results. Results come naturally when your kid is improving and focusing on the right things. Parent’s need to make sure that the kid knows that as long as he tries his hardest and gives his best, he is already acting like a champion. There are always things the kid can do better in a match, especially mentally! (closing the important points, playing at his level the whole match, figuring out the opponent’s weakness…) but these are all things that will come as long as he keeps learning and getting better in practice and if he keeps being motivated about competing. If he’s scared to compete because he knows if he doesn’t win his parents will scream, make him run, embarrass him … Then you are creating a negative reinforcement that will hurt your kids tennis and more importantly scar him as a person.7. Let the kids solve their own problems on court: Tennis is an extremely individual sport. Unfortunately there is no coaching allowed, not even at early ages when the kids barely know how to keep score. Therefore, leave them alone. Let them solve the problem on court. By reminding them in every chance they come near the fence to, play higher, hit to the backhand, move them around, you are not speeding up the process. They need to develop a sense or being tennis smart on their own, where they know exactly how to hurt their opponent, how to get in their head, and how to solve the problem.8. Understand that every kid has a different evolution process, do not compare your kid to other kids: Do not get frustrated because your kid is not progressing as fast as others, or because the other kid is winning more tournaments. You will only transfer that frustration and sense of jealousy to your kid. Encourage your kid to only focus on his evolution and to try improve in every practice. But understand that there will always be kids that have more talent, that work harder, or that compete better. Even for Roger Federer. He never stopped getting better since he reached the #1 in the world ranking because he knew that if he didn’t, well, Nadal plays much heavier than he does, Murray is faster and Djokovic has a better backhand. But he only focused on what he could do better and how he can be more effective with his own game.9. Set realistic goals with short term and long term objectives: To keep them motivated it always good to set up short term goals. To say to your kid when he is 10, 11, or 12 that he is training and preparing for the professional tour is unrealistic. That is too far down the road and a very long term goal. The kid should be thinking about short term goals constantly. Thing like, in two weeks I want to be able to serve a kick serve, or next month I want to be able to play a match and be able to accomplish what I am working on in practice, or in 2 months I want to be able to feel confident about being consistent. This is what a short term realistic goal looks like. Parents should help the kids set up short term realistic goals that the kids can achieve so that they stay motivated and so they can keep improving.10. Above tennis, your kids are kids and they have to be happy: No matter how much you want your kid to succeed he needs to be happy and enjoy what he is doing. Please never forget that it is more important to have a happy kid than a tennis champion. Hopefully you can have both, and that should be your goal. As a coach I need to make sure I try to build and develop a tennis champion but the parents need to make sure the kids are happy otherwise they won’t improve or perform on court.
BONUS TIPS FOR TENNIS PARENTS with Jorge Capestany