So, it has been over a year since my last blog with all the excitement and developments at the Academy taking up most of my time! In order to gain some inspiration I have been asking players at SotoTennis Academy over the last few days what they would like to read about. What is interesting? Why is the point of these blogs? I think we all agree it is a nice medium to be able to share thoughts and opinions and maybe ask some thought-provoking questions. One of the topics which came out loud and clear is a bit of a taboo subject in tennis…PARENTS.
Lots has been written on this and, in general, these articles tend to tell a parent how to be a parent. Well, I am a parent, and we don’t like that!
I believe tennis is a team sport more than we realise. It is only one person performing on the court, but I think we all know by now that the strength of the team around the player leads to a much greater chance of success, than a player who is on their own, or worse still, a player that has a ‘toxic team’ behind them.
I would like to talk about the ’team’ (players-parents-coaches) . I want to start by sharing some of the common statements I have heard over the years and if you read until the end, you will find out whose side I am on with this…
Common statements: about parents (from players/coaches)
- ‘I wish they would just trust me and let me get on with my job’
- ‘They are always asking me about tennis, tennis, tennis, do they not realise I don’t want to talk about it all the time?’
- ‘They are happy when I win, but annoyed when I lose’
- ‘It is the worst part of the job, I try and avoid them if I can’
Common statements: about players (from parents/coaches)
- ‘We have sacrificed so much to give them this opportunity and they waste it playing rubbish like that’
- ‘They don’t know how lucky they are, we never had this opportunity when we were younger’
- ‘Why can’t they just do what (insert name) does’
- ‘If they really want it then they will always make the sacrifices needed’
Common statements: about coaches (from parents/players)
- ‘They always spend more time with (insert name) than my child/me’
- ‘They are only in it for the money’
- ‘They haven’t been to watch me/my child play for a few weeks now (over the weekend)’
- ‘We are really struggling financially, if you believe in (insert name) will you not be able to help us out?’
I think you get the idea by now and I am sure you have all heard these said or maybe even been partial to one of these comments over the years. All sound a bit negative? Why?
Because we all care!
Yes, all of us. I know, I have been in each position, as a player, as a coach and now as a parent. When we care so much and have such a passion for anything, it brings emotion – real, raw emotion. This emotion when misguided turns into negativity, the negativity can be toxic and in turn this is what ruins relationships whether this is between coaches and players or coaches and parents, or the worst of all, players and parents.
So my question is: how do we take this raw emotion, this care, this love and translate this into a positive situation for everyone in the team?
When you get the whole team on the same page, with the player having a clear understanding of the direction they are going with their games and for some, their careers, life becomes a little clearer for everyone involved. In simple terms: where are we? Where are we going? How and what are we going to do to get there? For us at STA this means Road Map, Goal Setting, Annual Planning, Weekly Programme.
If we add objective measures to these plans, which all the team agree and sign off over a given time period, this removes some of the emotion attached to the development of the player. The little things become clearer and we can measure processes instead of the only measurement we used to know: winning or losing.
In my experience, if this is done well, it goes a long way to calming the emotions within the team and allows the player to work in a clear manner with the support from the key people around them (coaches and parents).
This is often the downfall of any relationship, but can also be the making of any relationship. Clear, honest, consistent communication is the key.
At the Academy, we send parents weekly reports. At first my coaches used to grumble, as it was seen as additional work, but they soon realised it was saving them work, as the communication became more efficient and consistent, which naturally reassures parents and helps build trust in the coach.
Respect and Understanding
- The player is a parent’s number one most important thing in their life. Imagine if someone trashed your prize possession (a car, house, mobile phone (for some ;-)) how upset you’d feel. Well, it’s 100x worse when it is their child, who they feel isn’t being looked after properly; it is important we remember this.
- They work hard, really hard to support their childs dream.
- They want to be helped, they want to be communicated to. Sometimes just a simple ‘Matthew looked really happy on court today’ can make their day. A “thank you for taking me to tennis” from a player can make a parents day.
- Note: This was a big thing I realised when my kids started to play tennis. I craved getting some feedback from the coach, not for long and nothing to do with the content of the session or how well he/she was playing etc., just a simple comment (positive or constructive), so I know my kid is OK, or in some cases not OK.
- It is not a normal parental instinct to trust everyone with their child, so expect to take some time building the relationship. Trust is earned not given.
- They are not robots! They will have bad days. A bad day doesn’t mean they don’t want to play tennis.
- Losing is hard, it will bring emotions attached to it when they want to win. It takes time for these coping skills to develop in order to be able to deal with adult emotions.
- Being on the court on your own can be scary. Especially when all parents and coaches are watching. Players are often ‘pleasers’, and presence of parents/coaches alone will often bring its own pressure. We need to respect this.
- Players can’t and won’t perform to their very best every match. Each player has a range of performance, which is significant. Their level over the course of the year will equate to their average at the end of the year. They will have some good days and some bad days. This is normal for all top athletes.
- This range of performance explains why on some days a lower ranked player will beat a higher ranked player (as the lower ranked player played to the top of their range and the higher ranked player to their average or low range). Parents: when these results happen, nothing is wrong!
- Tennis can be a lonely sport at times (especially as a professional) and yes players make lots of sacrifices, but sometimes they just want to be a kid/young adult. This is OK.
- They want parents to be…parents! It is the number one thing that older players comment to me when I ask.
- They have a life outside of tennis. It is important we respect that time (evenings/weekends).
- They are human beings and are likely to work harder and respond better to positive reinforcement and appreciation than the other way.
- At the end of sessions, coaches normally have somewhere else to go whether it’s another session, a short lunch break or back to their families in the evening. I would advise that players and parents who want to speak to a coach on any point of importance set up a meeting time where you will find them in a more relaxed and approachable place.
- They give more attention to players who earn it through hard work and attitude. Players, remember that as your actions will dictate the attention you receive.
So whose side am I on?
I am on the side of anyone who buys into being part of a team: playing their role in ensuring a player has clear direction, who works hard on their communication within their role, who respect and understand each team member without making quick emotional judgements.
We do this then we are onto a winner!
Director, SotoTennis Academy
Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain