“This is my house!” the coach would announce after he dominated a rally. He was not being rude, cocky or arrogant, he was teaching the kids that he “owned” the court. If they wanted to take a point from him, they were going to have to work hard and take it from him because he was not going to give it away. He was teaching them that if they wanted to win they needed to own the court.
The question is how do you go about “owning” the court? If you own something you take responsibility for it. It is yours to work with and maintain. Think of the house analogy. If you own a house you have certain responsibilities to maintain it. You have to pay the bills, clean it, maintain the roof, furnace, exterior. You can also do home improvement projects to make your house better and increase its resale value. Your tennis is the same. You have to put a certain amount of time in on the court and on your fitness to maintain your game and if you want to improve on it you have to invest a little more time and effort into it.
The first step in owning the court is to own your game and take responsibility for it. This is something many junior players have difficulty with and usually it is the parents fault. As a parent it is our natural tendency to take care of our children and make sure they have everything they need. So if they have a tennis match we are packing their tennis bag, making sure they have enough water and Gatorade, a snack in case they go to a third set, extra grip, a spare shirt, etc. We schedule their tournaments, make sure their racquets are newly strung, sometimes we even schedule their practice matches. What does the junior player have to do other than show up on the court to play?
I realize they are putting the time and effort into the practice court to improve their game, but if you look at the house analogy again you will see that if you work on home improvements but don’t take care of the regular maintenance your house really won’t be worth much. It is the small details and the responsibility for their game they need to learn to take care of. Let your junior player get themselves ready for the match, let them pack their own bag, get their own food and drinks. It is hard the first couple of times to give up that control especially if you see that they have forgotten something, but I can guarantee you they won’t forget more than once.
My son walked off the court after a bad loss one week-end several years ago and stated “I didn’t even want to play this tournament, you signed me up.” I can tell you that was the last time I signed him up for a tournament. He was given full responsibility to find and sign up for his own tournaments. He had to provide us with a list of tournaments he wanted to play each month and we would approve which ones he could go to and then he had to sign himself up. I did on occasion print a list of several tournaments I thought would be beneficial but the final decision was his. The only draw back to this is that he now has my credit card number, expiration date and security code, memorized.
Increase their investment in the game and they will own their game and in turn the court. When the court is their house and they own it, they will protect it and respect it. They won’t need to be told to call a line judge, they won’t allow their opponent to play mind games with them, they will control the pace and the tone of the match. They will play a more mature game. Think about how much more comfortable you are at your own house than when you are a visitor at someone elses house. You don’t want to be the visitor on the court you want to be the owner.
So many of us wait for that day when our kids “mature” on the tennis court. Make sure you are helping them reach that level of maturity by allowing them to take responsibility for their game. I realize we may be talking about juniors as young as 10, 11 and 12 and they may not be ready to take on all this responsibility, but they can take on some of it. You can begin the process.
When the kids at tennis practice actually won a point off the coach they got great satisfaction in yelling back “This is my house now!”