The first thing I want to clarify is the title of this blog is tongue in cheek…… slightly.
The second thing I want to mention is I hate the word cheat and something in me recoils when I hear people refer to people as cheats especially when they are referring to young children. So this article is written specifically for parents of tennis players. It will give you a different mindset and some very simple tools to use when you think or feel yourself wanting to refer to another child as a cheat.
Here are four principles I have when it comes to this emotive area:
- Children do not have emotional control
- Children do not cheat but they may momentarily get desperate
- Maybe your eyes, or your heart, deceive you
- The question is not ‘will you experience challenges in tennis?’ The question is ‘how will you respond when challenges come your way?’
Children do not have emotional control
I have said this 1,000’s of times as a coach developer and now I am finding myself saying it more to parents. Even in the last few days I have heard dozens of parents rhetorically ask ‘what am I meant to do when my child is devastated after being cheated?’ Or state they were so devastated, not with the loss, but by the blatant cheating that was going on.
I want to be candid here. Children cry, children get upset, children feel all of the emotions that we do x 100! They are experiencing things for the first time so it is natural they cannot deal with it. I don’t believe in emotional control, I believe in focus. I believe in process. I believe in keeping things in perspective. I have 2 young children and their emotions can change in a heartbeat. One second they are happy and the next they are reacting as if the world is coming to an end. I do not look for excuses or reasons why they have these massive emotional swings. I simply accept they are in the process of learning how to handle different situations. For my 3 year old it is learning how to accept the word ‘no’. For my daughter it may be learning to accept that 7 year olds don’t get to stay up late. Throughout their lives they will encounter so many different situations that will feel unfair and with each one they will learn how to focus their attention in a healthy way. This will lead to them controlling their emotions.
So the next time you see your child in tears please do not look for a reason, or worse, an excuse. Accept they have chosen to focus on something they have zero control over and help them have a better perspective on the situation. This leads us nicely into….
Children do not cheat but they may momentarily get desperate
I want to believe in the good in people. I do not see the logic in believing the worst in a person. Not just for their sake but also for my own mindset. I believe it to be a poisonous mindset to label another child (or person) a cheat. I’ve witnessed very young children being labelled cheats and 30 years later people still thinking they are a cheat. All because of a few moments of desperation when they were a child. Shit sticks so please be very careful with what you throw around and remember that is someones child you are talking about. Imagine how you will feel when it happens about your children. Oh yes, it will happen to your child. They will be called a cheat at some point in their lives.
The reality is some competitors get into such a determined mindset that in the blink of an eye they can flip into desperation. When desperation arrives children will do the craziest of things. They may behave in a way that isn’t their norm. They may see a small tennis ball flying by them at 70mph and land on a 4″ line and have the cheek to call that ball out. Imagine that!!! As with above, the healthier mindset for our children is to view the opponent as desperate not for the opponents benefit but for their own sanity. You lose everything if you genuinely believe you are being cheated. We have a built in sense of justice. Its what keeps the vast majority of us from breaking the law or rules. As soon as we feel things are unjust or rules have been broken something in us snaps. We lose all rationale and then we start to think, feel and behave in a crazy way. There is one thing for sure and that is your child will not perform anywhere near their best when they are thinking they have been cheated. They will be waiting for the moment and believe it or not they will convince themselves they’ve been cheated when they absolutely have not been. Which leads us nicely to….
Maybe your eyes, or your heart, deceives you
I have done this countless times. A parent or a child suggests they received many bad calls in a tennis match. Whenever the opportunity arises I take them on the court and I stand over one baseline and have them stand on the other. I take a tennis ball and I hold it at head height over the line. I then drop the ball either just behind, in front or on the line. I play a game 1st to 5 points. If they get the call right they win a point. If they get it wrong I win the point. In most occasions I win the game and when they win I can guarantee you it is a close win and that is with the ball travelling vertically at virtually no speed, with no emotions attached and nothing at stake. Add pressure and emotion to the situation along with the ball travelling at huge variations of speed and spin then this skill becomes even harder.
The reality is there are times when your child and/or you will believe cheating has taken place when it 100% categorically has not. If our children are to maintain their focus on a process or performance then it is better for them to accept their eyes, or heart, may have deceived them. They may still leave the court upset. You may still have a sobbing child in the car all the way home but we have a window of opportunity to offer a healthier sense of perspective. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon and labelling a young child a cheat do the much harder thing of squashing your child’s talk of losing a match because of blatant cheating. All you are doing is taking the focus off any responsibility they had and providing an excuse for the loss. Please don’t get me wrong, this is so hard to do but it is the better thing to do for your child. Be the bigger person. This then leads us nicely to….
The question is not ‘will you experience challenges in tennis?’ The question is ‘how will you respond when challenges come your way?’
This is where we can tangibly make a difference for our children. Lot’s of people talk about the lessons tennis can teach children. Responding to adversity is one of many skills our children could learn from the match court. We have an opportunity to turn a terribly negative experience into a positive one but how….
We’ve already covered the mindset of understanding children get desperate when under pressure and the fact that a large percentage of questioned calls are in fact correct. Even the professionals only get on average 35-40% of their hawk-eye challenges correct. The best eyes in tennis are wrong more times than they are right. Adopting this mindset will not stop it happening but it will, for sure, increase the chances of your children bouncing back into process and performance quickly. Here is a list of things I would suggest to players to do in these challenging moments:
- Smile – yes actually smile
- Breath – centred breath slowly in through nose and fast out of mouth – breath in positivity and blow out negativity
- Get light – relax, feet, shoulder, arms and equally as important…. the jaw… the jaw holds huge amounts of tension
- Take control – Practice how you will challenge calls, be cool, be in charge and let the opponent know YOU are not the desperate one
- Re-focus – Regardless of the situation you only have one rational choice and that is to get on with things. Tennis is not a game of focus, it is a game of re-focus. This is a choice!
I do not believe cheating is becoming an epidemic in tennis. I believe people talking about it and using it as an excuse for losing is what is becoming the epidemic.
To summarise, young children do not cheat, they have moments of desperation. Despite our best efforts to self sabotage there are many times where the young child has in fact been correct with their call. Regardless, our children do not gain anything by believing they have been cheated. It is therefore our responsibility to help our children have a healthier mindset and take control of the situation. If they can learn to accept challenges will always come and respond in a proactive way then they will carry this skill into every other aspect of their life.
To be clear, I know this is a massive challenge but from struggle comes champions. You can do it, you can be the better person and your children will benefit massively. At the start of this article I said this article will give you a different mindset and some tools to use. Be brave, be courageous and be the better person. Choose what you want to be.
Remember, the only training we ever had to be a parent was being a child with parents. Whether we like it or not most of our children will adopt our mindset in key areas. We have to be so careful what mindset we role model in front of them.
Please feel free to comment on this topic as I know how emotive it is and if you want to email me privately you’ll get me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for taking the time to read this and all the very best with the challenge.