A Letter from a Kid to Tennis Parents

As a de facto coach and tennis parent I always see crazy tennis parents behave in strange matters when their kids play. Yelling, calling balls out, trying to coach, not talking to others etc.

Last Sunday, I sat next to tennis parents who made me imagine, what if the kid could speak back to them in a way that he could make his or her points? What would the kid say? So, this is what I imagined…

Mom and Dad, I want to tell you 10 things for you to consider:

  1. Do you realize that tennis is one of the most unfair sports that there is? I mean we come to a tournament and there is only one winner out of 32 people. My chance of winning is 1 in 32. Do the math, please.
  2. In tennis the higher up I go, the more the entire outcome of the match is decided in a
    few points. Do you realize how nerve racking this is? Yeah I’m nervous.
  3. The pressure to win does not come from you if you want me to win. It comes from my
    desire to be a champion from within. And none of your yelling or anyone’s can bring that
    out. What if I don’t have it?
  4. It is my desire to have fun, but you guys add pressure to win and remove the fun. What
    is up with that? It’s the weekend!
  5. I am a kid, not a little person, I will make hundreds of silly mistakes. Why do I have
    to hear about them from you after I did what I am supposed to, make mistakes. The
    score tells me I made them. I am aware, seriously.
  6. Have you even been subject to this much pressure, how would you react? because
    your questions and body language tells me you have not. Otherwise you would back off.
  7. After I win and lose, can we just not talk about it, I just wanted to play.
  8. Please understand the score in tennis. It is the only sport in which you can be winning
    the majority of the points in a game and still lose it. Get it?
  9. I will double fault, because we simply don’t practice it enough.
  10. I love you, but please this is just a game. Not a reflection of your income, your frustrated dreams, your poor knowledge of the sport or anything else. It is a way to have fun. Can you look that up please. Thank you.

From now on here are the rules: if I win I pick where we eat. If I lose you do. That is all I want, and spend the weekend with you.

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A Letter from a Kid to Tennis Parents — 34 Comments

  1. Excellent. You might even add
    11/ Think about doing something else while I play a tournament – go to the supermarket or the beach or watch a film. I’ll go there with my coach and my friends who are also playing. That way we will all have fun.


  2. Fantastic – well written. I’ve often done parent education and ask this question. “Do u think your child thinks – wow this is matchpoint and Mom/Dad is watching why don’t I double fault now on purpose?”

    I also put a paper basket in the middle of the room and give them all a fairly easy shot with rolled paper to launch into the basket. I then ask them how they fancy making the same shot, but have to pay me 50 bucks if they miss and for good measure the other parents can coach them just before they throw to add to the pressure. This begins to give some understanding what pressure starts to do to your confidence and thoughts. If they make he shot step back a half yard and hit it for 100 bucks. This is how pressure builds in a match and others distracting with negative comments is not helpful.

  3. I’m a coach, (but not a parent). I see this regularly and hear the kids discussing how problematic it is. I would like to put this along with some guidelines for parents in the team folders at the beginning of the season to give parents a guide as to their expected behavior. Many have not been involved in the sport themselves and do not realise the effect their comments have.

  4. I was a tennis player and played in my country’s national team since I was 14.
    Luckily my parents understood not to interfere in games, they always watched but never talked to me during a game etc. My little girl just started playing tennis this year and have her first tournament this coming week, of this I am extremely proud of her. Because of how my parents were with me when I was playing and their behavior I have also managed to take a step back. I never sit right next to the court when she plays, but am always somewhere where I can see her, not a word is spoken during the game or rest periods and as soon as she walks off the court, all the mistakes she made during the game stays on the court. These little people is under a huge amount of pressure and as a parent it is your job to lighten the load and not add to it. Its not always easy. Just keep in mind that they are way harder on themselves to excel in the sport than you probably ever will be. A hug and a kiss (sometimes a milkshake) is all that is needed after a lost game.

  5. It would be great if the kids would think imagine and cimunicate that way. Unfortunately they don’t so we have to talk to them and show them through experience and get their attention. Yes some of your points are are well said but let’s be honest we are talking about a 13 year,not 35 year old adult.

      • Yeah man you don’t get it. I went through tough times as a 13 year old athletes, but my parents say in the crowd and cheered.. And that’s it.. I had to figure shit out for myself. Quit fighting your kid’s battles

      • Actually, he kinda does. It’s a bit arrogant to think you can treat you kid with the same level of complexity as an adult. Especially for the younger kids where much of their thought process is still very rigid and fundamental. 6 to 10 yr olds require very fundamental discipline including what is right and wrong as well as defining the rules of life (and the game). The other point worth mentioning is that there is no evidence to suggest “problem parents” cause any long term problems for the kids at all. Over dependence or overindulgence in a single sport are only problems in that the children may grow up entitled or immature, but that is not a product of an overbearing parent but rather a misdirected parent who fails to diversify the training and exposure of their young athlete. I challenge anyone to find any credible evidence that this intense devotion by the parents is interpreted as anything other than attention and love by the child. It is far better than inattention which far more children suffer. This is not to justify the behavior. My point is that the “problem parents” are more likely a problem for other parents than for their children. Most I know (I’m a golf dad so the analogy still applies) are actually great kids and parents off the course.

  6. Competing individually, without a coach or referee present, a parent feels obligated to get in there and help their child through this tough time. Some parents are unaware as to the best way to do this; higher expectations are not it. But when a player is a part of a TEAM, the coaches ‘coach’, referees ‘referee’, and the parents ‘parent’. And when parents step over the line the coaches and referees can step in to stop it. There need to be boundaries, but without coaches and referees present, what is a parent supposed to do?!? Remember, these are children. They are not equipped to handle these things at a young age. I suggest we do away with tournaments, because there are so many things wrong with them, and institute tennis as a TEAM sport from the beginning all the way to the top. We have high school, college, and Davis Cup teams, but that doesn’t cover everything. We lose a lot of players before they ever get to high school by putting them through the meat-grinder of a tournament… as a BEGINNER! Let the kids learn by playing for a season (8 weeks), and let the top kids enter the Playoffs to see who is #1. That’s how every other sport does it and we should, too. My opinion.

    • I think there is a lot of value in your suggestion …. In Australia we have introduced a nation-wide regionally based competition called Super 10s. Where under 10s go through a trial process to be selected in one of about 6 teams of 4 players, for the next 4 or 5 weeks they play in those teams (the teams are generally named after a player “Team Williams” Team Stosur” for girls and Team Hewitt or Federer etc for boys). From there players are selected to play for their state at the Australian Open. It is a very good concept BUT its too short, it is only of 10s and under, and you cannot develop a loyalty to your team …. we have a number of team comps, but they are one tournament teams.

      I think if we can develop more club teams (the norm in Europe) that play as individuals in a team environment. This would allow a coach to be available (I would love to see them be able to go on court at designated times to teach their players in the game situation – like every other sport.

      Also more round robin draws …. The seeding system at 12s etc means that seeded players are protected and an unseeded is very likely to get a seed in round 1 of a knock out. Round Robin means you will play players of all standard …. and the best will still get through and kids will feel like they got a chance … not turn up get flogged and go home (with maybe a conso draw – which still feels like trying to find the best of the losers …. round robin mean there is no need for conso draws.

  7. Congratulations for bringing up an important fact that has an impact in the future of our sport.
    I agree with some of the 10 basic rules for parents.
    Through my experience as a player, coach and parent, the one that I think I will struggle the most is as a parent. Even having the experience, us parents, we have a gut feeling, that is almost uncontrolable, of caring and protecting that has to be tamed. Nothing will happen without paractice, and practice and orientation.
    The ones that have to guide the parents are the teachers and coaches. They should know and explain the roles and the limits of their players and the parents.
    A parent that played tennis or had some experience will have problems being a good tennis parent. The parent that never played tennis will be totally lost when the gut feelings start to take over and absurd reactions will come alive!!!! as we see too many times!!!!!
    What I would like to propose here is that: teachers and coaches invest more time making sure that parents understand the game at a begginers level, wich means to enjoy the game, have fun and see how things develop. Its not necessary to have a professional atitude at 10 years of age!!!!!
    If parents are well educated, tennis wise, the chances of making good and lucid decisions will be greater.
    When players get older and more involved in more serious competition, parents will be better prepared to be good tennis parents, or whatever sport parents!!!!!
    Good luck to all teachers, coaches, parents and players.
    I hope I made sense!!!!

  8. Hey Kendon,
    All of this is unfortunately true. It is also unfortunate that most parents simply want to spend that precious time with the child that they dearly love, most times one on one. We, as parents somehow get caught up in the game and the win thing. In reality all we really want ,is to spend the time with them and watch them do things we only wish could have done at that age. Love manifests itself in strange ways. Tennis , tennis tournaments,practice etc. gave me a closeness to,my child I personally would not trade for anything in the world, would do it all over again.
    Thank You

  9. I am delighted! I would love if all parents read this I believe in order to understand what kind of a position is their child

  10. How true all of this is. I have watched parents ranting and raving and prepared to cheat for their children by calling balls out and clapping as if shots were in when they were not. I watched my son play so many matches up to the time he played for an American University team, and always tried not to show too much emotion. I was told off for saying ‘Come on’ on occasion so then I didn’t say a word, and I knew not to discuss the match until my son wanted to. He always wanted me to watch the whole match and I was never told to disappear. There is so much pressure in playing tennis that I never wanted to add to this. I would love to go through the whole process again; the traveling, tournaments, training etc. I loved every minute of it and it has made us extremely close.

  11. Im the worst tennis parent ever!!!
    Totally put my son off the sport.
    Winning seem to matter more to me than him. Couldn’t understand it till now.
    Well written.

    • Awesome that you admit and recognize that you are that parent, John. That takes a lot of guts! We are at times, too, as well. 🙂 Great article!

  12. Very Nice things. Everybody should understand it.Then only kids can enjoy tennis and if they decide they can make the carrier. It’s there life.They are going to decide. Our duty is only give them the platform.Not to Expect anything from it.

  13. Love this!! So so true! Some parents act like their kids are playing in the US Open! Our daughter picks the restarant whether she wins or loses!

  14. Some parents feel that if the child is not able to handle the pressure in the childhood, won’t be able to handle it after growing up and won’t be able to compete. Please parents realize that if the child is handling the pressure in childhood it is only to make you feel happy and to avoid your lectures of perfection and disappointment.

  15. add. to 10th pont one very importantyant, is the love of their parents. like my love

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  17. My reply to all tennis players:
    The the ones who do play tennis or who use to play tennis – did you forget your own
    Butterflies in a stomach? Or double faulting on a match point? So, give your kinds a hug for playing!
    For those parents who never hit a ball –
    Try ones and then talk. LOL

  18. Hi, remember these are only kids playing and they are suppose to be having fun. When I was a kid I played baseball went with my brother. Played the game & came back home. No body asked if I won or lost . It was just a game. I didn’t know if my game was good or bad. We just had fun. Darn it, why can’t it be like that today? : ) Go Badgers! Let it just be a game & have fun. I think the guys are still having fun.

    • Baseball… I remember those days. In fact, baseball is the example I used when I put my tennis league together. Sometimes I feel as though youth tennis is just a bare bones version of a youth sport: no referees, no coaches, and no fans. Just two kids hitting a ball back and forth. But we can do so much more for our kids if we just put in the effort: music, uniforms, field trips, All Star Game. We can do it if we could ever get the coaches to work with each other, like they do in baseball. This game could be so much more fun and inviting if we adopted the Team format on a larger scale. Who’s with me!?!

  19. When my son was competing I’d listen to coaches and other parents explain why certain nasty conduct by other players or harsh drills or bad conditions were allowed to persist. “They have to get used to it”. So many adults viewed the childhood of the kids as only prep for later. But what was that “later” going to be? For most, there isn’t a tennis later. There is only a tennis now. So, let the kids enjoy it. Their childhood isn’t prep for a tennis career. It is a childhood.

    • That is a VERY good point. What are the chances of your child playing on the tour? Not good. Yet we spend so much time and money trying to get them there. So what are we really preparing them for? Why not prepare them for a future that involves cooperation? I mean, if they ever plan on getting a job they’re going to have co-workers to deal with, right? TEAM tennis is the answer, where everyone contributes to the outcome. Teamwork is key, and partnerships produce the best results.

  20. I don’t get it…what’s all this talk of yelling and coaching from the sideline? Isn’t that forbidden? The only time you’re supposed to be able to “coach” is just before the 3rd set tie break…isn’t it? That’s one of the things I like about tennis, parents have to shut up and watch.

    Find something else to do during the match…for me, I film the match – it takes my mind off the game just enough. They can watch it after if they want and want to learn what they look like on the court or not, it doesn’t matter.

  21. I played competitively for 14 years and it pretty much destroyed the relationship with my father. Parents should just stay away, period. Most of the time, they are amateur players, amateur coaches and/or amateur sports psychologists, but think they know it all. Let the pros do the work, that’s what you pay them for after all.

    And I would add one more to this list: Don’t talk about tennis at home. Home should be a safe haven. Especially don’t talk about tennis in front of other siblings who have no interest in it. It’s enough that the relationship btw. parent and player is strained – no need to create more tension.

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