Every tennis federation in the world recognises the need for more and better junior players, and most federations are investing heavily to achieve that objective. Some are also investing heavily in their coaches’ education system, to assist and accelerate the process of player development. Quite rightly, the focus is on more and better players, and more and better coaches.
But there’s a fundamental question……..who’s training Mum and Dad? Who’s helping Mum and Dad to understand what’s going on, and why?
It is commonly known amongst tennis pros that there exist windows of opportunity in kids aged 10 and under, when the time is right to develop specific physical skills, known as the ABCS (agility, balance, coordination, speed) and simple technical shapes. These fundamentals form a firm foundation on which so much of the future game is built through adolescence and beyond, and cannot be overlooked. I believe that a similar window exists for parents, and here’s why:
- Parents have more influence over the way children develop most of their behaviours and values than anyone else. The home environment in which a child grows up is usually far more powerful than the influence of a tennis pro and the tennis program.
- Sadly too, many programs fail to recognise and welcome the important role which parents play in the development of young tennis players. Fewer still do anything to help and educate parents of young children in what it is to be a tennis parent.
- Simply by watching your young child playing tennis with slower red, orange and green balls, you’ll pick things up. I hope you will have noticed the smaller courts and slower balls being used by the pro, and a different teaching approach including the use of ABCS. Perhaps too you’ve noticed a different approach and atmosphere at junior tournaments. All good observations, and with some of you, no doubt closely followed by the question “why”?
- Sadly too, many parents fall foul of tennis pros because parents are seen to be interfering. The pros get defensive when questions are asked, but you have the right to ask them (after all, you are paying for the service!), and the pros need to recognise the importance and value of parents to the progress of the kids.
Some years ago, a lightbulb moment taught me a lot about this whole issue. I was in my office at the tennis centre in the UK where I worked, when a parent knocked on the door, asking to have a word. He wanted to know why his son was doing, in his words “silly games”, rather than learning to play tennis. In fact he wasn’t playing silly games, but working on the ABCS I outlined earlier. I explained the whole reasoning behind it and he seemed to accept my explanations and assurances. Only on my way home did I give it more thought, when I realised that he was asking fair questions, and there was no reason why he should understand; after all, no one had explained it to him , and it was a very different approach to the way he learnt to play when he was young. I could see where he was coming from.
To me that’s the crux of the issue; tennis pros expect parents to comply, pay up, drive their kids around and to back off when there’s a lesson going on. But actually, parents should and must be involved in the program, and as pros we should explain our reasons and methodology. Believe me, once you understand fully the reasons why the pros do what they do, you may just see things a little differently.
In conclusion, one little word of caution. If you think I’m taking the side of the parent in all of this, I’m not. I’m a tennis pro too, but I want to see the role of the coach and the role of the parent defined, respected and communicated, so that the child ends up the winner!