Tennis Parenting: Rights and Wrongs

Ask most people who’ve had the pleasure of raising up a tiny human, and you’ll often hear that the hardest job they’ve ever had to do was just that: parenting. It’s full of unexpected twists and turns, snap decisions, doubts, and pressure. Extremely hard, but extremely rewarding.

Sounds like tennis, no? Put the two together, and you have an uber-challenging task that is more than worth the time, effort, and endless battles.

What are some fine points of this complex combo of tennis parenting? How do you know if you’re doing it right? Ultimately, we all have to be our own judge and jury, but here are a few angles to help you guide your little ones to both enjoy and excel in tennis, right alongside Mom or Dad.

First, be encouraging. This sounds simple, but when we’re watching someone trying something new, we often channel our good intentions into focusing on (and communicating) everything that could be done better. Because we want them to know what they can improve, right? Of course correction is key, but be sure to look for and vocalize everything your kid is doing right. We all thrive on encouragement, and kids are no different.

Along with this comes the art of stepping back. Avoid becoming overbearing. It may help to think about your own learning experiences. Did you ever grow in something, and enjoy doing it, with someone breathing down your neck? Probably not. Learning something new requires the freedom to develop our own relationship with the activity without constant intervention from someone else, no matter how well-intentioned and full of golden insights they might be.

Of course, as you balance critique with encouragement and practice giving space, honest feedback is crucial. They will not know what to improve or how to solve certain problems without your candid communications. So, be honest. Part of not distorting the truth means not saying something was done well when it was not.

Along with honesty comes responsibility. Be honest–even brutally honest–but not brutal. Absolutely avoid insults or demeaning them as a person or a player. Keep the tone factual and helpful, like in a professional environment. Frequency of correction can also tip you over the line into “brutal” territory, so as we mentioned earlier, try to meter out your honest feedback wisely so it’s not there to meet them at every turn of the play.

Sound too tricky? It can certainly feel that way. One of the best ways of giving feedback and offering a learning environment is to not let yourself be the only giver of critique (good or bad). Enlist them in the act of observing and commenting on their performance. You’ll be surprised at how engaged they are willing to answer the questions, “What do you think you did well?” and “What do you need to work on?” This can be done at a logical stopping point during the practice or after a game.

Not only does this engage their own capacities for strategic reflection, it also communicates to them that you believe they have a valuable insight to add, that you trust and respect their perspective. This also gives them more ownership, as they shift from striving to get your praise and approval to striving for their own self-dosed approval. It also grants them ownership over their own game and growth.

One final tip: if you are like most parents, you love watching your kid play, mess-ups and all. So, cash in on those “honesty” and “encouraging” chips and tell them exactly that: “I love to watch you play.” No words will likely resonate in their hearts nor bring more joy to their game than these.