Having taught tennis for more than 30 years I have witnessed parents who have been very supportive of their children, whether or not they have won a match. I have also seen parents who have interfered during a match, yelling at their own child and even at their child's opponent.
Fortunately, the misbehaving junior is usually quickly warned by the tournament director that such behavior will not be tolerated. However, can you imagine the chagrin and embarrassment that a youngster must be feeling when he sees his own parents acting in such a manner?
Unfortunately, many parents aren't even aware that they are exhibiting such negative behavior. When their son or daughter suddenly quits playing tennis these parents are mystified as to why they don't want to play any more.
I will never forget a close match in a local junior tournament a few years ago. The score was 5-5 in a third set tiebreaker. Player B hit a shot that was close to the baseline, but obviously in. Player A hesitated quite awhile before he eventually called the shot in. Unfortunately, he lost the next point and the match.
When the losing player's mother walked up to him after the match I thought that she was going to congratulate her son on making such a great call in such a close match.
The mother screamed at her son, "Didn't [your coach] tell you to call the ball out if you're not sure, especially in a close match?" This is a case of a parent wanting her son to win at all costs, even if it meant cheating. As for the coach, he never should have been coaching anyone, let alone juniors.
I have two of my own youngsters who played tennis and I tried to be positive all of the time. Having had that experience I feel that some of the following tips could be helpful to parents who have youngsters involved in tennis.
*Be supportive: It shouldn't matter whether or not your child wins or loses. You should always encourage her. If your child wins, say, "Nice match. You played well and I'm very proud of you." If your child loses the match, you should say, "I'm proud of you. I know that you tried as hard as you could." Children who have parents that encourage and motivate them will find that their youngsters will benefit in many other aspects of their lives.
*Demand good sportsmanship: If you have a youngster who is a poor sport it is your responsibility to do something about it. This could mean taking away privileges or not allowing him or her to practice, play in league matches or tournaments for two or three weeks.
*Exhibit positive body language: I have seen parents who are watching their children play continually mutter to themselves or throw their hands up in dismay when their child misses a shot. What do you think this does to a child's confidence to see his own parent muttering derogatory remarks or making negative movements when he misses a shot?
In a recent local junior tournament I overheard one child say to her friend after a losing match, "I couldn't help but watch my mom every time that I lost a point. I got so nervous that it was hard to concentrate any more."
Remember, positive gestures and looks are necessary to show your child that you totally support him or her.
*Be realistic about your child's level of play: Some parents like to challenge their youngsters. They will sometimes have them play up in a tournament. For instance, if the child is an outstanding 12-year-old his parents may have him play in the 14-under division. This may be all right if you are local wunderkind Timmy Kane.
Unfortunately, youngsters will play "up" and will often be beaten badly. They are physically and mentally crushed.
In my opinion youngsters should play in their own division, even if they are odds-on favorites to win their division. It isn't their fault that they have more ability than anyone else in their respective age group. They have put in the time and effort to reach a level that other youngsters who compete in their age group haven't.
So, be sure to enter your youngster to play in his appropriate age group. And, if she does play up, be sure that she has a reasonable chance of doing well. Otherwise, you could be looking at disaster.
Some juniors may be discouraged because they don't seem to improve, even after taking many lessons. They may become so frustrated that they may eventually quit playing. If they do, you have to be supportive and realistic, and realize that perhaps tennis isn't the proper sport for your son or daughter.
*Be sure that your child eats properly: Parents sometimes don't realize how much energy and calories their youngsters expend when playing tennis. Eating junk food can greatly detract from their playing. It is the parent's responsibility to provide and prepare healthful meals. Equally important is to set a good example by eating the foods and drinking healthy fluids yourself.