When the kids were born their blood had a tinge of yellow to it--tennis ball yellow. They were born into what could only be described as a "tennis family." Their grand-father was a former Davis Cup star who competed against the likes of Laver, Gonzales and Rosewall, and who now owned one of the largest indoor/outdoor facilities in America.
Their mother was one of Americas top junior players for much of the seventies, was recently inducted into her college sports Hall of Fame and was a teaching pro at the same club. Their father was also a ranked junior, college player, and was now the Head Pro at the family tennis club.
Three tennis pros, a year-round tennis facility and a favorable gene pool, (though not quite at the level of Andre and Steff's) seemingly made tennis a natural for the kids. Their parents, understanding this, were excited about introducing their children to the sport that had meant so much to them.
They were very careful to avoid the pitfalls of the "tennis parent syndrome." They were confident that they had "seen it all" and would be able to introduce their children to the game in a manner which would be healthy and allow them to enjoy and progress to whatever level they chose.
They were not interested in raising tennis champions, they simply wanted to give their children a chance to enjoy a game for the rest of their lives as their parents had given to them years before.
They started the kids early with lessons (from different instructors than those in the family) and took them out for the occasional family hitting session, always attempting to keep it light and fun.
Then a funny thing happened--the kids told them that they didn't like tennis. The parents listened and though they told the kids that they would never force them to do an activity that they didn't like, urged them to give it another try. They did, but then comments such as "tennis is stupid" and "I hate tennis" starting creeping into the conversation. Now what?
The family I'm speaking about is not fictional, it is very real. In fact, the family is MY family and this is the dilemma my wife and I faced a few years ago.
Those of you that have read my column on a regular basis over the past few years know how I feel about tennis. I love to play it, teach it, read and write about it. Aside from my wife and children, tennis is the greatest gift I have ever received and naturally, I wanted to pass it along to my own kids. Unfortunately, they didn't want it.
My wife and I ran through the gamut of reasons why: maybe, since there were so many pros already in the family, they didn't feel they could "live up" to people's expectations. Perhaps they resented the sport because it was tennis that took their parents away from them on occasion.
Maybe not playing tennis was their way of stating their independence, thinking "Mom and Day want us to, so we won't." Or maybe they really just did not like the game.
Whatever the reason and to this day, we're still not sure, my wife and I were faced with a difficult decision. Should we allow our children to pass up what would undoubtedly be a tremendous opportunity to learn, enjoy and perhaps excel at a game they could play for their entire lives, or should we FORCE them to play tennis?
There really was no decision to make. After having seen so many parents, not only in tennis but in other activities, push their kids towards places they really did not want to go, we knew that to insist that our kids play tennis would only accomplish two things. First, it would undoubtedly turn them off to the sport forever, and second, and far more important, it would damage the relationship that we were trying to build with our children.
It's important for us, as parents, to remember that we have a huge task before us. Our job is to raise healthy, happy and productive individuals, not tennis champions, professional dancers, doctors or whatever. Along the way, many "battles" will come along and we must decide which are important, otherwise our kids will tune us out completely and miss our overall message.
There are enough areas where we are forced to put our feet down and insist. How our children conduct themselves, how they treat others and the necessity of honest effort in whatever they do are much more important issues than whether or not they ever pick up a tennis racket.
For us to make an issue about something as trivial as an after school activity would only create unnecessary hostility while at the same time, lessen our message in terms of the other, much more vital, areas.
So my wife and I backed off the tennis. Do we feel funny every time one of our students says "Your kids must be great tennis players"? A bit. Do we feel a touch envious when we see some of our students out hitting with their parents? At times.
Do we feel we made the right decision? ABSOLUTELY. While we didn't force our kids to play tennis, we did have them try it, and explained to them the opportunity that they had at their disposal.
When they rejected tennis, for whatever reason, we said fine, but did insist that they get involved in another activity, their choice. Our son chose Tae Kwan Do and is currently working towards his 3rd degree Black Belt. He also picked up the guitar a year ago and we could immediately see the passion in his eyes. Today he walks around with his guitar much the same way I traveled around with my tennis racket thirty years ago. Our daughter, who we feel has true tennis potential, did choose the athletic world, only different sports. She plays basketball and softball and loves them both.
They know that we would like for them to play tennis, and in fact tease us about it, but I truly believe that our decision to not force them to play has, in fact, strengthened our relationship and made them much more receptive to the other messages we want to get across.
I think that we all have to remember that our success as parents is not measured by what our children become in terms of their achievements, but rather what they become as people.
Tennis, to our children, is merely the job that their parents have. My wife and I still hope that the kids will pick up the game at some point in their lives. In fact, our son played last summer while on a trip to Europe and our daughter will soon play in her gym class. In our dreams, the kids pick up the game at some point in their lives and regardless of how good they become, or don't become, they enjoy it for 50 or 60 years. But the choice to play will definitely be THEIRS--as it should be.
A while back I wrote an article on Tennis Server about
Brent Zeller, the founder of Effortless Tennis. Briefly, his theory is that
players get into competition way too early and, as a result, greatly hinder
their learning. He has devised a program where there is no competition and
all of his drills are "mutually beneficial."
Brent has asked me to mention his upcoming event at Club Med-Paradise Island, Bahamas.
The intermediate program is from January 12-19, 2002, and the advanced program is January 19-26, 2002. It includes a 13 hour Effortless Tennis "Keys To Peak Performance" Workshop, Har-tru courts, plus all the amenities of the
all-inclusive Club Med village. For details visit
the website www.effortlesstennis.com.