With the Fox Chapel Junior Open coming up on August 5-9 I thought it would be a good time to give some advice to parents of both first-timers and veteran junior tournament players.
I want to start off by disclosing that I am not yet a parent but I can sympathize with the feelings and emotions you go through watching your children compete. I know that if I am ever fortunate enough to be a father I would do anything for my children. I understand how seeing your child in pain from a loss is difficult. The truth is in a tennis tournament all but a few players are going to lose at some point in time. The pain of losing is difficult however I want to see if I can give you a different perspective for a moment. When a child comes off the court crying from a loss it is difficult to watch. As a parent of course your first reaction is to attempt to take away their pain but take a moment to really understand why they are in pain. They are in pain not because they lost but because they care. They invested a lot in improving their tennis game and it hurts to come up short. Think about something in your life you worked really hard for and it did not work out like you planned, plain and simple it hurts. This kind of pain is natural and it can actually be a good thing. Instead of trying to immediately take their pain away point out to your son or daughter that it hurts not because they lost but because they care and caring is an important and nobel thing. In fact, it is a red flag when a player losses and does not care about it. When that scenario happens it shows the player is really not engaging in their tennis game and that is a problem. Pain is a necessary part of the game, growth, and improvement. Remember, there will always be breakdowns before breakthroughs.
Another very important thing to remember is that there is a triangular relationship between the player, coach, and parent. The role of the coach is to mentor, teach, and develop the player. The role of the parent is always first and foremost to be a parent. Remaining a parent can become a little difficult on match day because we all want our children to have a great performance and sometimes the parent begins to coach because the coach is not there. I am not saying it is a bad thing to remind your son or daughter to warm-up or help them check in, especially if they are young or this is their first tournament. The first few tournaments are nerve racking for players and parents because it is all new and a big learning experience. The big thing to remember is to let your child know that you love them unconditionally. Win or lose you love them just the same. Being angry with your child because they lost is never something I have seen be a positive for the long-term relationship. When a child knows their parents love them unconditionally they feel much more comfortable to have the freedom to fail. That means they can go out to compete putting it all on the line knowing no matter what happens their parents will love them just the same. In my experiences this approach is much better for the parent-child relationship in the long-term. When a child knows their parents love them regardless of the outcome it improves the chances for a solid performance by relieving some stress in an already stressful environment.
Finally, watching your son or daughter play a match can be downright difficult. What does a parent do cheer, clap, be silent? FIrst, It is hard to watch your child compete knowing you have zero control over what is going on. All you can do is watch it happen. If you pay close enough attention you will notice how often your child looks up at you right after points. They miss a shot in the net and they look up at you. They hit a great shot to win the point and they look up at you. They are looking up to see your reaction. They do this because they are looking for your approval, after all you are their parent and the single most influential person in their lives. The very best thing parents can do for their child during the match is to remain neutral with your emotions. That is easier said then done but give them a look of encouragement when they make mistakes and looks of encouragement when they are successful. Just encourage them to do their best, after all that is all parents and coaches can ask.
I hope this post helps give you some ideas on how to better handle the stress of being a parent of a junior tennis player. And do not let me scare you either believe it or not tournaments are some of the most enjoyable and fun experiences of a junior player’s career. It is wonderful to spend time together as a family and make lifelong memories. It also is fun to test out some of the skills they have been learning and practicing. If you like the post please share it and leave a comment or question below. I would be happy to keep the conversation going.
If you are interested in learning more check out my friend and fellow coach Frank Giampaolo’s ebook The Tennis Parent’s Bible. It is full of wisdom to help parents successfully navigate junior tournament tennis and maintain a healthy and positive relationship with their son or daughter.