A Primer for Tennis Parents
by Ed Collins/February, 1997

Line Calls
"That was out!  That ball was out!" the father mumbles to himself as he twists in his seat. His son glances over. Later he lets a ball go that lands just inside the baseline.
   Most champions never guess on line calls. 
   You're either ready to hit the ball or you're ready to call it out.

Too Much Tennis
A well-meaning parent provides his child every opportunity -- lessons, clinics, camps and weekly 
tournaments--unwittingly taking away motivation and going way beyond the saturation point.
   To play tennis well takes an abundance of emotional and physical energy. Time away from the court is an ingredient. A tournament every weekend may lead to indifference (Oh well, if I lose there's always next week...)

A compassionate kind-hearted child criticized for not beating some little kid who he'd like as his friend...
   It's all about winning. 
   He's losing and he's looking at his dad.
   But itís the tennis ball you hit, not the opponent. 
   Beware:  it can digress to the point where the only goal is winning. And playing the points is where the real fun is.
   Loop high to the forehand...step up...look for a short forehand...flatten the ball out down-the-line...get in...drop  a volley into the open court...aahh.

The sympathetic look, interpreted by the child as disappointment. 
   The loss leaves him feeling miserably. He desperately wants to please. He's not yet capable of analyzing his performance. And the parent doesn't know enough about tennis to help him, but he does know about achievement and performance, self analysis and the value of work.  So he asks:
   What did you do poorly, that had you done better, would have given you a chance to win?
   The teacher's main purpose is to help his student become self sufficient. When he can analyze he'll practice thoughtfully, and improvement will nudge him along.

Focusing on Effort
"I don't mind if he loses; I just want to see him try hard."
   Tennis can drive us crazy without even trying. It's frustrating when you can't play it well.  And it hurts to get beat. 
   An easy solution is to not try.  But it's overcoming hurdles that earns a player satisfaction, confidence, pride. When the player understands this he tries harder.
   The insightful parent evaluates effort before results. (And don't hesitate to with-draw him from competition if he doesn't try.)

What's Hard About Tennis?
"How could he miss such an easy shot?"
 Answer: In tennis there is no such thing as an easy shot. A ball hit right to you requires that you create your own footwork, which isnít easy to do. The simplest point-winning shot -- a virtual gimme -- can tie any self-respecting player into knots.
 A ten ball rally...I've invested so much in this point...and this shot is make or break...

Choking the Putaway
In tennis it's hard to start a point, harder still to end it.
   When your child flubs a putaway he exhibits uncertainty in himself  (and that particular stroke). Confidence will come with experience.
   Before you cry outloud, keep in mind that in his past he's won a lot of points on opponent's mistakes; that thought stays with him for a long time -- until he's put away a lot of balls. That he goes for the right shot is, for the time being, good enough.

Disallow Excuses
Put excuse-making up there with tanking as tennisí worst habits. 
   Learning how to lose is a prerequisite to learning how to win.
   The champion makes a habit of analyzing, then learning from losses. The parent plays an important role in helping the player hold onto these fundamental beliefs: 
   I am learning. I am getting better.

Practice Competing
Parents help when they assist in arranging practice matches.
   Nerves need to be exposed in order to be bolstered; strategy must be practiced; different styles must be experience.
   Itís possible to make a career out of avoiding confrontations.

 Parent:  "Your problem is that you..."
   Child:  "Aaugh!!!"
   We all have some kind of learning disability. To the insecure student, framing a comment negatively  sounds like fingernails-on-a -blackboard.  Put a positive slant on it:
   "Your slice serve will improve as you become more comfortable with your grip."

He'll Figure It Out
"Such a stupid shot!"
   Sure it is, but you didn't have to hit it.
   Things look so clear from behind the fence, on the court it can get a little cloudy when you can't make up your mind, and you feel pressure from your opponent, and the outcome is hanging in the balance.
   ...An adult passing judgment on a 16-year-old child whose idea of fun is overcoming the odds. 
   When will he learn that some shots are not sensible? 
   When he's missed enough of them.

Preparing to Compete
"You have a good draw -- you don't play anybody until the semis."
   Message: You have nothing to gain in winning the first three matches; you have nothing to work on in the first three matches; it's not possible for a lessor player to play well on a day when you're not playing well.
   Respect everyone. Be ready for anything.

Consistent Discipline
"If you throw your racquet one more time I'm really going to get mad at you." 
   The parent who dolls out fast and consistent punishment helps his child learn tennis' tough lessons, and earns his  respect in the process.
   "Sorry bud, I wouldnít be much of a help if I let you get away with that."

Lacking Confidence
"But he plays great in practice."
   Maybe he does.  Maybe his nerves are not made of steel. He may need lots of experience and even more encouragement to get a handle on his emotions -- then heíll learn how to win.
   "Youíre going to feel really good when you finally win a tight match."

To Suffer a Loss
Their success is your success, their failure your failure. You celebrate when he wins, and sulk when he loses. 
   Maybe you should walk away when he wins and walk to him when he loses.

What Not to Say
"How could you blow such a lead? You were up 5-2. What happened?"
   Parents talking about leads blown. In coaching you learn not to talk about leads blown. (That's like saying The next time you get up 5-2 don't forget that last time you lost five straight games.)
   But if you desperately want to say something, pay attention to what happened. Did he play cautiously?  Make first serves to a spot?  Miss a particular shot? Attack behind his strength?
   Understanding the nature of competition explains the difficulty in staying focused when ahead.  The struggle at 5-2 is with ourselves, not the opponent. How and what to concentrate on is the subject of lessons that often take years to learn. 

A Mysterious Game
"Shuddup Dad, you don't know what you're talking about."
   It's a mysterious game, as complicated as human nature itself. The skills are unnatural, the ball is alive, seemingly with a mind of its own. Tennis is the ultimate test of ones character, concentration and temperament. Most of the requisite skills are unnatural and there are too damn many decisions to make.

Excerpted from Watch the Ball, Bend Your Knees!

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