I entered the words ‘being normal’ into the google search bar and was confronted with pages upon pages of pictures stating that ‘normal’ is boring and, would appear, is frowned upon in modern society.
Last week I was speaking with a friend and colleague and we were both agreeing that, what was once considered normal behaviour, would now be considered exceptional.
Here are just a few examples,
It used to be normal to….
- be punctual
- be polite
- be conscientious
- put in a hard days work
In tennis it used to be normal to….
- play tournaments
- practice with anyone and everyone
- support your friends at tournaments
- play for the sheer love of the game
- play tennis for life
Nowadays you hear people speaking about others who are punctual, polite, conscientious and hard working as if it is a surprise. I believe, in our quest to be ‘exceptional’ we have lost our way and our perspective on what is important. That is for another blog.
In tennis, it feels, more players than ever before are receiving coaching and less are competing regularly. I even hear parents state their kids play tennis and when I dig further, they don’t, they receive group coaching. I’m sorry, if your child only receives one hour of group coaching a week then they are not a tennis player, they are a lesson taker.
With the pool of players being smaller than ever, we now have a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality between players, and in some cases, between parents. There appears to be more bitterness and jealousy between young players than ever before. Some players seem to be genuinely happy when their peers perform badly, have bad form and lose matches.
I’ve got news for these players (and their parents). You don’t climb the ladder just because your peers are taking steps down the ladder!
There is not one player in history who has become their best self without the help of other players. We must make sure it becomes the ‘norm’ to have others practice and compete with anyone who will step on the court. I am completely sick fed up of hearing about parents only wanting their kids to play matches if there is a ratings win it for them. In most cases, these children are 8-9 years old. They are babies within the tennis world and at this age they should be playing for the pure joy of playing.
Imagine this scenario. A parent receives a birthday party invitation for their child. Parent responds to the invitation by saying ‘I’m sorry but my child plays better than yours so unless there is something in it for them they will not be attending. We will drive 2 hours so they get a really good play….. with a total stranger.’
It has become ‘normal’ for young children to be shoehorned into the car and driven 2-3 hours to play 1-2 tennis matches. I don’t know about you, but when I was a child, a 2 hour drive felt like it last 2 days. It didn’t help that I had motion sickness. These kids are then shoved on to a court in a town or city at the opposite end of their country and expected to perform against a total stranger. What is worse, this stranger has had a number attached to their worth and unless you beat this stranger, the trip has been a total waste of time.
We need to create opportunities for tennis players to access the majority of their competitive opportunities in their local area and accept, no matter, what level of tennis any player reaches, they end up playing roughly the same people over and over again. Only once a child exhausts all their friends in their area, should they feel the need to branch out and make new friends in other parts of the country.
We will never create a culture of tennis unless there are competitive opportunities for everyone in their local area.
Finally, tennis is a game for life. There is way too much emphasis on attracting tiny children to the sport. I didn’t hit my first tennis ball until I was 12 years old. I have zero doubt, if I had began at the same age nowadays, I would never have kept playing. Why? I would have been cast aside as too old to serve any benefit to the game.
If a ‘modern day’ coach had taken one look at me as a 12 year old, they would have instantly arrived at the conclusion, I was absolutely rubbish. They would have been correct but what they wouldn’t have seen is all the years of playing other sports…. and larking around climbing braes, trees and swimming in the sea. They would also have missed something crucial. I 100% fell, head over heels, in love with tennis.
In 1985 I was not considered a late starter to tennis. However, I was late in starting compared to the opponents, who went on to become my friends. However, I am quick learner and I lived 100 yards from the club so I quickly caught up.
Fast forward 33 years, someone starting at 12 years old is seen as past it.
I believe we have an amazing opportunity to get back to ‘being normal’ in Scotland.
Parents, it is OK for your children to be normal.
Players, it is OK for you to be normal.
Coaches, it is OK for you to be normal.
Being normal IS the new exceptional, spread the word, be polite, punctual, conscientious, hard working, play with and support your friends and push each other on. Tennis is an amazing game with incredible opportunities for so many different types of people.
Don’t let anyone tell you being normal is boring……. BE NORMAL FIRST….. then, over time, discover ways of being exceptional. It will take your entire life!