I recently heard a coach say ‘we are putting a strong team around him’
As with most things in tennis, trends are often set by the very best players in the world. The emergence of large tennis teams accompanying the very best players around the globe has raised awareness of the hugely important aspect of creating inter-dependance.
However, as with most trends at the top of the game, this not necessarily what a young child needs. I am seeing a trend in junior tennis of people putting a team around a young child thinking this is supporting the child’s development. I do not believe this to be true. The child in the case above was 10 years old!
Let’s take tennis out of the equation and think of a child’s needs and wants. Of course, a child is 100% completely dependent on its parents from birth until around 18 months old. We have to do everything for them. If you have don’t have children, believe me, this is the hardest part mentally and physically. It consumes you and can be extremely draining mainly due to this being the first time you have ever had complete responsibility for another person. Add the emotional attachment and the hormonal change for the mother then you can see this is a cocktail for stress and depression.
As soon as a child can start to walk, talk and feed itself then the slow journey to independence begins. It is amazing how a child changes when they begin to walk. You can see the glint in their eye as if to say ‘I don’t need you to carry me anymore, boom’.
In the grand scheme of things a child is still completely dependant on you. They need you to provide for them, shelter, food, drink, clothes and then luxuries. The challenge being that they rely on you for these things but in a lot of cases they are desperate to be their own person. This appears to be happening younger with every passing generation. Children are growing up younger but in they still need us, even if they won’t admit it. It is a real struggle that all parents go through every day.
So, back to tennis, most children are dependant on us parents for all of the above with tennis being a luxury. They need us to taxi them, pay for equipment, memberships, coaching, travel and a whole heap more. This is demanding for us but the game demands a lot of different things for the children.
On court – to fully enjoy and excel at tennis children need to be self-reliant, independent thinking, problem solving athletes. They have to move-hit-think all at the same time. They need to be able to evaluate how things are going and make adjustments if necessary.
Off court – they have to be self-reliant, independent thinking, problem solving people. They have to accept failure can and will happen and learn how to deal with it. They need accept there will be highs and low and the lows may, in the long run, be where they learn the most. They need to be able to plan to perform.
I believe the independence children need to be drip fed is in between the ears and not just in the practical areas. I’ve read so many lists of things to help young children develop independence and autonomy:
Make them fill their own water bottle
Make them pack them pack their own bag
Make them carry their own bag
Make them book their own practice courts
The key words above are ‘make them‘. If you are doing this you are not creating independence as you are still doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe children should do all of these things for themselves but it may be best if they are left to it and learn from their mistakes. Let them forget their water bottles, their towels, change of clothes, strings etc. Let them mess up and realise they haven’t booked a practice court. Let them go on the court without warming up.
Instead of ‘make them’ try ‘let them’.
I saw the start of an orange competition the other day. There were 9 players in the event and there must have been close to 20 adults there watching….. ON THE COURT! Parents and grandparents on the court watching their most treasured loved ones playing our fantastically complex sport.
My advice to them would have been LET THEM play.I can guarantee you one thing, nobody in the world can become the best tennis player in the world without the help of others. However young children do not need a team of people around them. All they need is opportunities to play and other children to play with.
Back to the 10 year old who is having a team built around him. In my opinion, this is only beneficial when a person has gone through the journey of becoming fully independent and then chooses to be inter-dependant. One could argue the holy grail of autonomy is reaching a stage where they recognise they need help and they ask for it. The very best players have everyone there to support them so they can focus fully on the tennis. Children don’t need this. They have to learn everything that being a tennis player involves and with our support, we can support them through making all the mistakes they will make on they way.
In summary, we all want our children to one day become independent thinking, problem solving, able people. To help them get there I believe we have to ‘let them be’ instead of ‘make them be’. One day, you may even witness a moment in time where your child chooses to surround themselves with a team to help them be the very best they can be. Oh, and that may not be in tennis. It may their life partner, friends and/or work colleagues.
Over time, I am going to have to let my children go. I know this is going to be amongst the hardest thing I will ever do in my life. However, I also know, with the right level of support they will grow to become inter-dependant. You never know, they may even ask me for my help.
Cut the cords….