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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Confessions of a Tennis Dad

My son is now 17 and has been playing competitive tennis for around 8 years.  He started with Green Ball competitions and is now a very good player with a 4.2 LTA rating.
It’s been an fascinating 8 years, where I’ve played hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of tennis with him, spent sums of money on coaching, fuel and tournament entry fees, so large I don’t really want to even try to count and stood watching him play countless matches, unable to stop myself playing every shot and serving every ball, in my mind.
There have been joyous runs where he just went out there and beat everyone and depressing ones where it was hard to see where the next win would come from.   There have been highs of tournament wins and lows of losing to a player in the first round, who turned out to be much better than his rating.
I’ve met hundreds of parents and coaches.  I’ve stood in the warm, I’ve stood in the unbelievably freezing cold and we’ve both lost significant proportions of our life waiting to play the next match, when he finished quickly but his next opponent’s match went on forever….but despite all of that, there’s no way I would have wanted to miss any of it (I hope he thinks the same!)

So what advice can I give you:

  1. Encourage your children to play and explain early on, that tennis is a game where the player who makes fewer mistakes wins
  2. Take them to watch lots of tennis, to inspire them  – Wimbledon, The O2, Queens, Eastbourne ..even Roland Garros is relatively easy to get to
  3. Play lots of tennis with them….but I’d recommend that you pay for some coaching for yourself – which in the long run will save you money.  If you know the correct way to play shots (even if you can’t always do it yourself), you will drum these basics into your child from an early age
  4. Find a good coach and one who your child gets on with.  It’s a hard combination to find both, but one without the other isn’t a lot of use.   We have an excellent coaching team at Bagshot, but if you’re reading this and can’t come to our fantastic club, then I’d recommend trying a few coaches out – slightly awkward, but worthwhile in the long run
  5. The single piece of technique advice I would give, is to have your son or daughter watch a video of Roger Federer in slow motion and see how his eyes watch the ball to the racket and stay there until after the ball has gone.  So, watch the ball and keep your head still (I still can’t do it!!) – I’ll leave all other advice to the pros
  6. Tournaments should be enjoyed, but can be a bit nerve wracking until your child gets used to them.  Be sympathetic to this and encourage rather than push
  7. Tell your child they’re going to have to get used to losing more matches than they win….only Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Murray, Serena Williams and one or two others win more than they lose…so they’ll be in good company
  8. Line calls in tournaments are the responsibility of the players until and unless they get to the final of a grade 2 tournament.  A minority of children take this as an invitation to cheat.  Two pieces of advice here.  If your child thinks their opponent is making bad calls, ask them to politely ask if their opponent was sure – this puts a little bit of pressure on their opponent.  If it continues, call for the referee – this feels uncomfortable and confrontational, but the chances are that this won’t be the first time that this child has seen the referee, so don’t worry too much about it.  I should emphasise that most matches are fair and it really is a joy to see two players being generous with each other on calls – it usually makes for a good  match and smiles afterwards, regardless of the result.
  9. And finally…I’ve seen some horribly competitive children who scowl and mutter (and sometimes swear!) their way through matches and glare at their parents.  I find this very sad and if your child shows signs of this, please remind them that they’re supposed to be enjoying themselves! 

Tennis is a game for life and whatever you give your children in the game, will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  What they achieve competitively, no matter how small will be memories for them and you to treasure.   The chances are that they’ll spend a lifetime working behind a desk, as I have.  Being good at and being able to enjoy something outside of work, is a great release.

Playing matches builds character.  You have to make line calls under pressure.  You have to play a match where only you can influence the result – no team mates to blame or commiserate with.  It’s good preparation for life and I’d unreservedly recommend it.

And what’s more as you can see from the attached photo, my son carried his old man to win the Parent and Child Championship at the club last year – the only tennis trophy I’ve won in my life… it might have cost me a few quid, but it was worth it!

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