Help your child succeed at tennis

ByEdmir C Cavalcante

Help your child succeed at tennis

LYNETTE FEDERER, mother of multiple Grand Slam champion Roger

It’s important that your child enjoys the game and isn’t forced into it: “I believe a child chooses tennis because he or she is attracted to and fascinated by the sport, and that could be through the parents, friends or family.”

Discipline is part of the game: “If a child wants to play tennis, then it means he or she has to behave properly at practice and during matches. This is not always an easy task as emotions play a big role, influencing behaviour and results. If your child is misbehaving, I would not intervene during practice, but would discuss it with the coach and try to identify why your child is behaving like that. Bad behaviour during practice can also be a result of a lack of interest, poor tennis coaching, or a child having a bad day at school or at home. I would also speak to the child about his or her behaviour. In Roger’s case, when his behaviour was poor during a match, I told him he was inviting or asking his opponent to beat him.”

Parents should go with the flow. Don’t be too ambitious for your child. And don’t intervene too much: “The progress of a child can differ in the same age group – due to size, maturity and other factors – so some children are going to progress faster than others at the beginning of their junior career and will later be surpassed by those who were weaker at an earlier age. Our role as the parent of a junior is to ensure they attend their practice (though not to stand behind the fence all the time), accompany them to their matches, motivate them and comfort them when necessary and, most importantly of all, to ensure that they enjoy the game, and not to put pressure on your child in any way.”

A child can start playing tennis from the age of three or four in a playful manner: “Roger started at the age of three because my husband and I spent weekends at the tennis club and he just picked up the racquet and loved playing against the wall, and at home against the cupboard. Whenever we could we played on court with him. He could play for hours by himself. Later he played with friends on the road with a mini-tennis net and a soft ball.”

It’s not easy to say how you can help your child find the right coach: “We were very fortunate that we had a good system in Switzerland. If a child was talented, they were selected with the best of their age group and had good regional coaches. We were also lucky to have very good coaches at our local club.”

A parent’s role can be very important in the success of a junior: ‘Without the support and guidance of a parent, it will be difficult for a junior to succeed.”

RICHARD WILLIAMS, father of Venus and Serena

Young tennis players need to know that there is a world outside tennis: “Tennis is just a game. I’m not proud of what my daughters have done in tennis. I’m proud of my daughters for who they are, and for what they’ve achieved outside tennis. Too many players in tennis, these champions, don’t know anything outside tennis. They haven’t been to college, tennis is all they know, and what else can they do? They stop playing and then they become coaches or television announcers, they stay in tennis. They can’t do anything else. Most players can’t see that there’s a life beyond the baseline, that the baseline is the baseline. My daughters have been to college, they have an education, and they’re not going to be broke.”

JUDY MURRAY, mother of Wimbledon champion Andy and doubles specialist Jamie

You need to let go a little at some stage: “You never know if you’ve made the right decision, but you have to apply common sense and go with your gut feeling a lot of the time. It’s not that you hand over everything, but you have to try to find the right places or the right people and you have to trust them. You have to keep an eye on it, you can’t just hand your child over to a tennis academy in Barcelona [Andy Murray trained at an academy in the city] and say, ‘I’ll be back for you in four months.’ You have to make sure they are doing the right things.”

You don’t know it all – get some help by talking to other parents: “I’ve heard enough horror stories about people who have got it wrong. You have to understand that you don’t know enough about it to think you can do it all yourself and so you have to find the right people to help you.”

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PLAYERS’ VIEW

GREG RUSEDSKI, former US Open finalist and father of two

Make sure your child has good values: “Sometimes you get cheating in junior tournaments – that happens in every single country in the world. Your child has to understand that in the long run cheating isn’t going to work.”

Appreciate that your child won’t win every tournament they play: “There’s only one winner at the end of each week. There are going to be times when the child loses a lot of close matches, and the parent and coach have to make sure that the development is monitored.”

Understand that if your child is phenomenal at 12 or 14, it doesn’t guarantee future success: “And one child’s goal will differ from another’s. Some kids might use tennis to help them get a degree. Others might want to get a pro career. But kids can’t really make those decisions until they’re 16, 17, 18 years old. If I hadn’t been up to a certain level at the age of 17, I wouldn’t have got a university scholarship in America.”

Talk to the coach and make sure everyone is giving the same message to the child: “You can’t have one message from the coach and another one from the parent – they have to be passing on the same message.”

Don’t let your child take the easy route, especially if they want to play at the highest level: “The child has to understand what’s expected of them.”

Understand that as your child gets older, he or she may lose his or her passion for tennis, or they could get injured: “It’s a long voyage and lots of things can happen.”

ANA IVANOVIC, former world No 1 and French Open champion

It’s a very bad idea for anyone to coach their child, as it then becomes difficult for the parent to separate parenting and coaching: “It’s very hard for the kids, too. All of a sudden, kids don’t want to see their parents as they’ve had enough of tennis and practising. For parents, it’s going to be hard to educate their kid and talk about anything other than tennis. If a kid has to listen to a parent talking all the time about tennis, and then talking about life in general, the kid is going to be thinking, ‘OK, just leave me to live my life a little bit as I don’t want you to influence every part of it.’ Coaching your child can only hinder them.”

Parents should never try to live their dreams through their kids, and make them play a sport they don’t want to play: “I’ve seen that over the years, and it’s just wrong.”

The most important thing is to make sure that your child wants to be on court and takes pleasure from playing tennis: “There are so many talented kids out there who, at an early age, have been forced to train too much by their parents and they start to hate tennis. That’s because, all of a sudden, it’s something they have to do. Most kids just want freedom. They just want to play. Especially when they’re young, they just want to think that they’re playing a game, and that it’s nothing serious. So don’t force them to practise a certain number of hours.”

Kids should be encouraged just to play points, rather than doing drills: “They should be having a fun and interesting time on court – they shouldn’t be drilling or grinding as then they could lose the desire to play.”

Don’t put pressure on your child to succeed. Just support them: “My parents never put pressure on me. They just talked about how important it is to be happy, and to behave well on the court. Those were the most important things. Looking back, that was great as so many parents these days put so much pressure on their kids. What they should be doing is offering unconditional support. Yes, you should show your kid the way. You need to give them discipline, so that they respect the time and money that has gone into tennis, so they recognise that they have been given an opportunity to be on court. But that’s not the same as putting pressure on them.”

Allow your child to make their own decisions: “There are so many cases when parents are very, very controlling. That’s so bad. The parents should be there to make sure that there are the right people around their child. But then they should leave it up to their kid and the coach to play and learn and to go into the details.”

Extracted from Game, Set and Match by Mark Hodgkinson (Bloomsbury, RRP £12.99). Available from Telegraph Books.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/active/11684408/Help-your-child-succeed-at-tennis.html

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