Don’t be a Baby!  

The title of this article is something I said to one of my 10-year-old boys, who is striving to be a great tennis player. This isn’t something I would usually say to someone I’ve first met or would be easily offended, but I felt this was a harsh but necessary thing to say to someone who I’ve known for 5 years with a huge amount of mutual trust.

In a nutshell, I am pointing out the reality of tennis and life and that unless he grows up, he’s never going to be able to cut it with the best. Like many sports where a player aims for high performance, the mentality and maturity expected from a young child is usually beyond their years. Self-discipline and high levels of responsibility are a must for any budding tennis star as the challenge they are embarking on is a long and undulating one with hours of hard work and twists along the way.

Over my 22 years of coaching I have met and seen a lot of people and one common trait with the best players are that they are very independent from a young age. Some may say that they grow up too fast but if they have decided that they want to achieve a specific goal, they will do anything but everything to make it possible.

It’s not coincidental that the aspiring children come from families who dedicate a lot of time and effort into their kids and tend to also be very successful in their careers or chosen hobbies. I think that the parents who understand what it takes to make a success of something appreciate the journey their child has to follow to also achieve.

There is only so far a parent can take a child and there is no amount of money that can buy tennis success. Financial support is essential as it costs a lot of money with all the travel and training, but again, if a parent sees the real value in what their child is doing then they are prepared to do everything they can.

Coming back to the 10-year-old boy…he is fiercely competitive and a great athlete. He has the financial and family support. He wants to achieve and believes he is very capable, so I think we have some great ingredients. Most things in his life have come easy and he has never wanted for anything.

Will his comfortable lifestyle be a hindrance on his tennis? Will he and the parents opt for a more traditional life or will they sacrifice everything to be a tennis player? It’s getting to the point when these questions will have to be answered as he steps into 12&U tennis very soon.

Parents will send their kids to academies around the world to live and breathe tennis in full time programmes, so is this something the parents of the child your coaching is prepared to do?

There are some very testing questions that have to be asked and posed to the parents as playing tennis 6 hours a week just isn’t enough to get to a top national standard. If the player and parents are prepared to make these sacrifices then there is still a huge place in tennis for them with club championships to win, representation of their club in team events and making the county teams. All of these are very rewarding and achievable but the realism is what will determine if it is a success or not as false expectations cause disappointment and discontent.

I’m sure many people may have conflicting opinions to mine, but I think that if you are trying to do the best for your player, you must share the same values and be honest with them otherwise it won’t do anyone any favours, even if you think you could get a few more years of lessons out of them which financially lines your pockets or makes you look good being the coach of the best kid in your county.

Being able to say ‘no’ or ‘I can’t deliver that’ is not a sign of weakness but a sign of control. People who say ‘yes’ to everything may end up doing things they can’t do well for the fear of losing the player. Again, if you over promise and under deliver, then the results will be evident.

My personal approach is to help find the pathway for the player whether it is with me or not. The way I have done this is to surround myself with numerous contacts and influences so that I can call on them when needed. I have contacts abroad where I know they do a phenomenal job with players and have an environment that I would help those trying for pro tennis. I also have local and national contacts who I also link with depending on the player’s aspirations.

Although I know that I will miss spending time with certain players when they move on, but this isn’t about me and if they are going to grow they need to be in a place where they can do this. This doesn’t mean our relationship is over but hopefully it will be stronger as the player grows up over the years to be the best they can and the person they will hopefully thank is me!

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