So I guess your kids play tennis?
Since first becoming a father in 2009, I have had this type of question many, many times. Certainly not as many as Agassi and Graf have probably dealt with but plenty of times over the years in conversation.
It started with “Have you got her training up yet?” or “Is she playing tennis already?” or even friends, family and people I have met along the way excitedly proclaiming “I bet they are going to be the next tennis champions!”
All of these questions are completely well intentioned of course and its an easy link between my two young daughters interests and the sport of tennis given my involvement as a tennis player/coach/academy owner. My responses have always been the same because my philosophy has always been the same.
“If they show an interest in it, I would love to see them play tennis” or “They have tried it out but prefer other activities over tennis”.
I prefer to leave it up to them. As a Dad I know that its not my job to tell my daughters which sport they play. My job is to expose them to lots of different activities, including tennis, and then let them decide how much they want to play it. As a coach, my role is different and I need to teach, motivate and push the player I am teaching.
So both girls did a term or two of hotshots lessons before they were 8 years old. My youngest daughter, Imogen (Immy), never really warmed to it. Partly because I don’t think she found it easy, partly because it was too hot and partly cause she didn’t really want to play Dads sport. Immy is great at doing bendbacks and cartwheels and is an active 10 year old but just not into tennis. My eldest daughter Lila starting becoming interested in tennis after 8 years old where she did regular hotshots before doing a once a week green squad and then playing her first summer pennant season at 11 years old. Now 12 years old, she has kept up a once a week training and played green ball and now yellow ball pennants since then.
So yes one of my daughters plays tennis (but at the moment prefers swimming and dancing) and the other one prefers dancing and acro and does not play tennis at all. Tennis is not a must-play in my house. Tennis is just another choice for an activity and whatever they commit to, they need to see out her commitment. So for Lila there is a obligation to play pennants until the end of the season and attend her squad training until the end of the term. There are reasonable expectations of doing her best for herself and the team.
I never have my coaching hat on as a parent. My job is to support her, not coach her. I can actually count on one hand the ‘advice’ I have given her:
- Remember to keep track of the score.
- Remember to run back to the middle of the court.
- Remember to run for every single shot.
- This is your continental grip.
I do admit though that I have strategically done some forehand and backhand airswings near her or hit on a courtyard wall demonstrating good technique. But I have done it subtly because I know that if she thinks I am telling her what the do, that will only decrease the chances of it happening!
I watched her play her first few pennant matches where she lost the score almost the whole time, volleyed balls from on the baseline and lost almost all interest in chasing for the ball.
It was hard to watch her go through that steep learning curve. But because I didn’t talk about how she played or what she should have done better, it didn’t bring her down. She talked about the lamingtons or icy poles they had after the game and wondered which team team they were playing next and was it close to our house?
But towards the second half of the first season she kept score much better, positioned herself a little bit better and made the link between running for the balls and winning points. Her steady improvement made me a proud Dad and I brought up these good shots or points she played without overdoing it.
I have offered her private lessons with any coach we have working at Scarborough Tennis but she doesn’t want to do private lessons. She only likes the group lessons when there is lots of other kids, and even better when there is other girls in the group. She says she only likes to play no more than twice a week. One practice and one pennants.
Into her second season she has kept improving, adjusting to the yellow ball with slightly better technique and a much improved competitiveness and effort. Its nice she gets to enjoy pennants and play tennis with different friends and new experiences. Its her journey and she can decide how much she wants to invest into it. I do always make it clear that what you put into it, you will get out of it and that things don’t just magically improve.
Interestingly hitting tennis balls is something she does almost daily on our very small courtyard wall area at home. She doesn’t do it to practice tennis, she does it for something to do while she does what she says is ‘making up a story’. When she is ‘making up a story’ she uses only forehands, never goes back to her ready position and does lots of forehand volleys against the wall with an incorrect semi western grip. But the fact she can use a tennis racquet, a ball and a wall to entertain herself, is worth more than me fixing her volley grip and risking sucking the joy out of it for her.
She wont become a professional tennis player but then she has no aspirations to be. Neither will 99.99% of young tennis players, even those with aspirations and an entire childhood commitment to the sport. But she may decide to play a little bit more in the next few years and enjoy higher division club tennis or she may just play it socially as something fun to do with friends.
I encourage her to have fun, try hard, run for every ball and support her team mates and anything else beyond this is up to her. She does tell me she wants to run my tennis academy when I am too old so tennis must mean something to her!
I will of course continue to try and subtly influence her without looking like I am telling her what to do. If she asks any questions, I am more than willing to answer and if she wants anymore opportunities to play more tennis, then I will do everything I can to support that. Its natural that every parent wants to see their kids become the best they can be.