I am very fortunate to be the father of 3 amazing sons; Noah, Zak and Sam. I often refer to them as Moe, Larry and Curly but I do that with love! They are all excellent athletes and have participated in many different sports. At one point or another they have all expressed an interest in following dad’s footsteps and playing professional tennis. It should also be noted that their mom teaches tennis and played #1 at Fordham in her college years. When they were around 12, 11 and 9, they began to participate in Junior Team Tennis as well as tournament tennis for the 12 year old. When this began I had to think, “what do I do, how do I act and do I coach them or not?” This is daunting for a simple man like me!
Having coached tennis and advanced players for many years, my first instinct was to press hard, grind them with practices and be really tough, like my coach was to me; because it had worked to some degree when I played! As I sat back and thought about things, I realized that I am their father, and as their father, my job was to provide love, affection, a safe haven in the storm of life - a soft shoulder to cry on. I was the guy that drove them to and from and provided the ice cream after the matches, not their coach.
Having come to this realization, I realized that I wanted to remain in the dad role and, if they came to the place where big time tennis or serious junior tennis is in the cards, I would help. If however, tennis became just a source of recreation and exercise, then I would stay out of the way until they invite me to be more than the cab driver and ice cream man, at which point I would gladly advise them on the “finer points” of the game.
I learned a few things about my kids and sports:
- They always try hard - even if they don’t show it; they want to do their best. Because of this, I always tell them “it was good to see you try and, win or lose, that is all I can ask of you - to give me your best on the day.”
- They really do care what I think because I am their dad - my sons love me and I them and we have a mutual respect; this leads to them caring about my thoughts about their performance, but I have to respect their opinion of their play and effort. I understand - actually, I know tennis, really know it, and could easily start to give the match rundown of the good the bad and the ugly! But that is not what they want to hear or need to hear. They need to know that I appreciate their efforts and that, as a dad, I am there for them to listen, console and, if they ask, correct and advise.
- No matter the outcome today, tomorrow will present another match, tournament or competition. I know that if I want the boys to compete on any level, I have to give them the confidence to go forward. Berating them about a performance that was not stellar won’t help that but rather potentially hurt and keep them from wanting to be involved; so I support and encourage and again just ask that they give 100%. If they look me in the eye and say they did that, then that is all can ask for.
- Set the bar high in the category of good behavior. I was lucky enough to have coached high school tennis from 1998 to 2005. It was great fun and a great challenge. During that time, my sons were quite young and would often come to tennis practices to hang with dad (one of my greatest pleasures in life). I was a tough coach but very caring and considerate of my players, and to this day I stay in contact with the majority of them. In 2004, I had a team that went undefeated and won the CT State Championships, and this team just put together a reunion for the 10 year anniversary. Every player returned as did every parent, they arranged it, planned it and it was an amazing night. The point I am trying to make is that I showed my sons what the top of the mountain looked like and how hard it is to get there; that you don't get there every time but that you should strive to reach the top. They saw me praise my players, hug them when they needed it and give them a hard time when they needed it and that at the end of the day the effort was what counted, the results were fun, but the effort was the thing that was most important.
To that end, when my eldest son went to high school and his team was not doing well, he told me that his coach had given the team a “talking to”. I asked about it and he told me that the coach had blamed them for a lousy record, poor performance etc. Then he said to me “nothing like a talk you would have ever given to one of your teams”. He also told me that the coach then asked him “your father would never put up with a team like this would he?” My son without breaking stride said “no way coach and he wouldn’t treat players like this either.”
I would urge parents to be parents and let the coaches do the coaching. Make sure you understand your child is trying his or her best and that, believe it or not, they do care about what you think as long as you don't punish them with your thoughts. They won't open up to you if they are in fear of what you have to say when you are in the car after the match. Finally, set the bar high and provide good examples for them. If you do that, your kids will have a real role model to look up to and you will be the best coach they have ever had!