Parents – don’t make robots out of your children
The other day a coach and I found ourselves speaking about the myth of ‘you can only get better training with better players’.
I used an analogy I’d never thought of before.
I said, imagine there were 1000 robots all programmed to play tennis and part of their coding said you cannot play with another robot unless they are better than you. As robots have no ability to stray from their programming simply no robots would play with each other.
This seems to be a trend creeping its way back into tennis parents. As with anything educational, you don’t know what you don’t know. Therefore I sympathise with any parent who has this opinion.
Let’s look at some benefits to being the best in a group of players:
If you know you are the best in a group of players you will have the confidence to experiment when you practice. You could try out areas of your game you’re trying to develop.
The feeling of being top dog is actually quite a nice feeling. It certainly beats the feeling of knowing I am amongst the worst in the group.
As much as winning isn’t important in training, it still feels better winning than losing. Imagine the opposite, losing most of the time in training, man that must suck.
I wrote an article a while back on 4 pillars of confidence. These can be used to monitor or even develop confidence in a player.
History of success
Healthy comparison with peers
Healthy feedback – from others but most importantly to yourself.
Now lets use these pillars when imagining being amongst the worst in a group of tennis players.
Competence – regardless of how a parent may think, we have to remember it is the child that is ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ on the court. The reality is I will not be focused on developing my competence if I know I am the weakest in the group. I could be self conscious and emotional and guess what? If you are emotional you aint learning.
History of success – Of course you want this to be in the match court but the way I see it nowadays players seem to be training more than they are competing. If you are losing most of the time in training then that is not building your self-esteem and confidence. Now I know some of you will say that training shouldn’t be about who wins the drills and games but we are dealing with developing young people here, not robots. It hurts to lose and it could even become a habit.
Healthy comparison with peers – It takes a special type of person to be the weakest in a group and fight through that knowing you are going to climb the ladder. Occasionally you will come across one of these unique people but don’t use exceptional people as the example for the norm in this situation. Most normal people will not fight through it and most will compare themselves negatively to their peers if they spend most of their practice time being used as a punchbag.
Healthy feedback – as mentioned above the most important feedback is in how people talk to themselves. We only have to listen out for some of the irrational nonsense some children tell themselves when on a tennis court. If someone else was stood at the side of the court saying the same thing then fights would be breaking out every two minutes on tennis courts around the world. It is hard to talk positively to yourself when you are experiencing failure more often than not when training.
Children are not robots, they are young people trying to find their way in the world. Put them in a variety of environments so they experience a range of thoughts and feelings. One of the most important skills to have as a tennis player is the ability to differentiate. This is normally referred to when it comes to sending and receiving a tennis ball but why can it not relate to dealing with different environments?
Playing up can have its advantages at certain times but, as a parent, don’t push for this to be the norm. Let your child experience being the top dog in the class. Let them play tournaments where they could play with one hand behind their back and still kick everyone’s butt. Let them be free to experiment and please please please let them spend time with their friends when they are not as good as they are at hitting a little yellow fuzzy sphere over a net and in a court.
Accept any tennis time you can. There are literally some parents turning down squads for their children because they deem them not worthy of their child’s presence. The scary thing is they don’t replace it with anything meaning the kid does nothing instead of something.
There are some people paying decent sums of money to older teenagers to play with their child. To me this is crazy. Play tennis for free and play as much as you want. If you are a member of a tennis club there is literally no excuse for not playing as much tennis as you want. This is what the majority of us old timers did for decades and as much as we are not setting the tennis world on fire, you know what, we all still love the game and have friends for life through it.
Parents – if you find yourself even thinking, let alone saying, the words ‘they won’t get anything out of that’ please take yourself to the nearest toilet, close the door, look yourself in the mirror……… and slap yourself. It is not a healthy thing to think and saying it out loud is even worse. If you care about what your peers ‘think’ then know that when you say things like that they think you are bonkers. If you don’t care what other people think, care about what you think as what you think shapes your perception on things and how you perceive or feel about something directly leads to how you behave in that situation.
Even quickly reading this back now it could come across as a bit harsh but sometimes hearing brutal truth is just the spark some need to change their thought process. I write it from a genuine place of wanting to help children fall in love with the game of tennis. It literally is a game for life.
Let them be free and enjoy tennis for what it is, the best game in the world.