If you have been following the crazytennis mom you know that my son has just started his journey into D1 tennis. As a tennis parent it is time for me to sit back and reflect on what kind of tennis parent I was. It is time to see if I did my job of raising an independent, mature, responsible tennis player. In this next series I will share some of my insights in the form of a checklist to help you identify any areas where you may improve in preparing your tennis player for the time when he/she reaches their goal of becoming a college tennis player (whatever level they choose).
Have you spent enough time teaching your child to behave on the tennis court?
College tennis coaches will not tolerate the immature behavior so often witnessed in the USTA tennis tournaments. It doesn’t matter if your child is the top recruit or the final walk on position for the team their coach will not tolerate, cussing, throwing racquets, pouting, or other negative behaviors on the court. If your child is receiving warnings or suspension points for code violations they may have a rough time adjusting to college tennis. ” Dropped” racquet, bad language or bad attitude during a match or practice may find you running a few extra miles or looking at the walls of your dorm room while the rest of the team is traveling to a tournament. Watching the team play was never the goal of playing college tennis so make sure your tennis player can manage their behavior on the court.
I know this is easier said than done and believe me my child was no angel (although I must say he never lost a point in all his tennis for behavior). Over the years I have seen and participated in some rather creative ways to curb the “bad behavior.” The most important factor in being successful is to hold the sportsman like behavior above the win. You can not be afraid of the outcome of the match or the impact on the rankings or you will find yourself being inconsistent and forgiving bad behavior simply for the win. The lesson learned here will not help them in the future. Secondly you have to be strong! Your sons/daughters are not going to be happy with you at times and as a matter of fact they may be done right furious but your goal is not to be their friend but rather their parent. Finally, make sure your coach is on board with you and allow them to help in the process.
- Dropping or throwing the racquet: Have a cheap “Walmart” racquet on hand. When your child abuses their racquet give them the cheap racquet to play with. You are not supporting the behavior and you will not pay for them to destroy their equipment. If you are a parent that is replenishing racquets that your child is breaking from hitting, throwing etc. you are enabling this negative behavior. If he/she runs out of racquets because they have broken their racquets let them beg, borrow or steal (well not steal) a racquet. If they don’t have a racquet to play the tournament with they may have to withdraw from the tournament. I can guarantee you this will not happen very often. They will think twice before they bounce the next racquet of the court.
- Immature behavior on the court: This is one of my favorites taken from a former coach. A student he had been acting like a baby on the court during a tournament. We have all witnessed this at one point or another. This particular student had made a habit of pouting and throwing little tantrums on the court. During the tournament the coach called him to the fence and asked him to for his racquet. The coach then handed the young man a junior size tennis racquet. He was told that if he was going to act like a baby he could use the equipment that went along with it. The young man had to play the rest of the match as well as the following match with the junior size racquet. Needless to say, that was the last time he acted up on the court.
- Getting angry on the court: This one is courtesy of my son. He had a terrible time with getting mad at himself during practices and matches for making mistakes. His coach made him spend his Friday night watching “Anger Management.” At the next practice every time he started to get angry the coach made him sing “I Feel Pretty” out loud. We still tease him when he gets upset by singing the song.
Another time he came off the court very upset because he had lost to a fellow player that he should never have lost to. The coach asked him if he was angry that he lost. “Of coarse I’m mad” my son replied as he threw his bag in the corner. He was then sent to the nearest hill where he had to run up and down the hill until he was no longer angry. He came back to the coach and was asked “are you still mad?” My son replied “now I’m mad that I had to run!” Needless to say he ran a few more times up and down the hill.
The most impressive management of anger I witnessed was at a tournament in Kentucky. A young man was yelling on the court and the tournament director gave him a point penalty. It just so happened that the point was match point in a super tie breaker. It also so happened that the tournament director was the young man’s father. He was well aware of the fact that the point penalty was going to cost his son the match. The young man was livid with his father and asked him how he could do that to him. The father responded with a very simple “I didn’t do it, you did.” He was then sent off to run until he had cooled off.
If you have noticed running seems to be a rather effective way to deal with anger. Not only does it help them calm down but they get in great physical condition. It has become a coping mechanism my son uses to this day to deal with anger or emotions in all aspects of his life.
- Cussing: Naturally I would like to suggest eating a little soap to clean their mouth but this just doesn’t work especially if you have a teenager. My son’s college coach deals with cussing on the court by having the player run a mile every time they swear. Some of the kids will be spending more time running than practicing I am afraid. A former coach of ours decided to help us all out with the language on the court by having a week of “silent” tennis practice. For one week the kids were not allowed to say anything on the court, neither positive or negative. If you spoke you had to jump rope, run suicides etc. I loved this because it really helps them learn to play with a poker face.
If you are unhappy with the attitude or behavior of your child on the court do something about it. It won’t fix itself. We had times when the tennis gear was locked up at my husbands work while our son reflected upon his attitude. We had tournaments that were not played because the previous tournament was played with less than acceptable behavior or attitude. This is the key…ACCEPTANCE! If you accept the behavior it will continue. The problem is when they go off on their own their coach will NOT accept it.
So reflecting back on my experience as a tennis parent I can say that yes I did what it took to make sure my child would be able to manage his behavior on the court when he went to college. Was it easy…heck no, but was it worth it…you bet! Don’t get me wrong he will probably run a few miles every now and then because after all he is eighteen.