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Circle Game
August 1997 Article

Contact to Greg Moran

Mortal Tennis/Circle Game Archive

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Circle Game By Greg Moran


 

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Introducing Your Children To Tennis
Part II: Keeping Things In Perspective

Greg Moran Photo
Greg Moran

The big day has finally arrived. Your son or daughter is taking their first tennis lesson and you are probably just as nervous, if not more, than the child. While it's natural for kids to be a bit apprehensive when going into a new situation, your approach and attitude can go a long way towards easing their minds.

The best advice I can give to any new "tennis parent" is "DON'T MAKE A BIG DEAL OUT OF IT!!" Tell your child that tennis is simply something new that the kids are going to "try." If they like it, great, if not, no big deal. This will ease any pressure they may be feeling as well as open their minds to the new experience.

AFTER THE LESSON

Once the lesson is over and they are (hopefully) enthusiastic about tennis, you can have a great deal of fun taking them to the courts to practice what they've been taught. Practice sessions are just as important as lessons and can be a real source of enjoyment for a parent and child.

Schedule practice at a time that suits both of you and try to make it a regular activity, something that you'll both look forward to. It is important that these sessions be enjoyable and that the kids practice what the instructor has gone over during the lessons.

Speak with the pro to find out what he has worked on and ask him to offer some suggestions as far as drills and games that will be both beneficial and enjoyable. Remember, practice sessions should be something that the child wants to do rather than is required to do, so keep them fun.

Your job during practice is two-fold. First, support and reinforce the techniques that have been introduced during the lesson. If you have a question or disagreement regarding something the pro has told your child do not contradict him in front of your child. Speak with the instructor privately. Remember, the pro is the expert and you should go along with the program he or she has devised.

Next, while the pro is the instructor as far as tennis is concerned you are the child's teacher for something far more important ---LIFE. As a parent it is your job to shape your child's character and tennis can serve as a wonderful tool toward that end.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Keep in mind that you are not trying to develop the next Sampras or Seles but rather introduce your child to a game which they can play forever and at the same time instill in them values which will stay with them throughout their lives.

In the overall scheme of their lives, it doesn't matter how good a tennis player your child becomes or doesn't become. What matters is that they enjoy the game and learn from their experiences on the court.

In my opinion, tennis, and sports in general, are important only in the lessons they can teach and, as a parent, this is where the emphasis should be placed. Sports can teach things that will help children throughout their lives: commitment, sportsmanship, performing under pressure, teamwork, etc. These things can be fun and a release from the pressures kids face every day both academically and socially.

If you can keep this perspective (and it will not be easy especially when your child hits his or her first great shot) you and your kids will be well on your way to enjoying hours upon hours of tennis together.

Unfortunately, as a teaching professional for over 20 years, I have witnessed an extraordinary number of parents ruin the game for their children because of their lofty expectations, particularly parents who play the game themselves. We all have dreams of our children doing what we couldn't---making it to the big time.

Let me assure you with almost complete certainty that your child will never play at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open and they will most probably not earn a tennis scholarship to college.

Tennis, except in very rare cases, will never be anything more than a recreational activity and if you treat it as such from the outset the chances of your children enjoying the game for many years will increase tremendously.

I have seen literally hundreds of so-called "promising" players who compete in junior tournaments, play for their high school and college teams and then never pick up a racket after their 21st birthday. Why?

Somewhere along the way the game stopped being fun. They've burned out because of the pressure, so I ask, "What has all that hard work and practice been for?" These people have 50-60 years left to live and never want to see a tennis court again. They've missed the point.

The one thing that sets tennis above virtually every other sport is it's potential for longevity. Baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer will all someday have to end. Tennis can be played as long as you live.

The late Arthur Ashe in his popular book ARTHUR ASHE ON TENNIS outlined several guidelines to help parents enable their children to get the most of what tennis can offer.

First: "Be supportive. The presence of a parent at practice sessions or tournaments is a plus, if done right", says Ashe. "Parental support is good as long as it is provided without putting undue pressure on him or her."

Second: "Come to some sort of informal contract with everyone who has a responsibility for your child's instruction. Do not interfere with what the pro is trying to impart to your child and be realistic about asking why your child is not in an advanced class."

Third: "Be consistent and prompt in responding to bad behavior. Set ground rules before your child even starts. A child should know what's going to happen if he does X. And when X happens, punishment has to be swift and consistent."

"It is very important that there be little time lost between the incident and the penalty. Establish a set of expectations, discuss why they are the way they are, and do not allow for excuses."

If your child's behavior on the court reaches a certain negative level it is, says Ashe "your moral duty" to go out there and take them right off the court.

Ashe relates a story from his childhood when he threw his racket and "My father came out the door of our house, which was adjacent to the courts, to get me the instant it happened. I did not play again for a long time, I was grounded. I never threw my racket again either."

Fourth: Never accept cheating. "Kids will cheat guiltlessly if you do not seriously condemn it," says Ashe. "When two ten year olds are playing a tennis match," continues Ashe, "a hell of a lot more is being taught, and a lot more is at stake, than winning or losing a match. They are learning values and attitudes."

"A kid who comes off the court victorious after having cheated at age ten is worse off than the opponent who stuck to his or her moral system and lost. The parent or guardian who brought the losing player to the match must reinforce that after the match by saying, "You lost the match, but I'm very proud of the way you conducted yourself."

Finally: "Never reprimand your child in public about the outcome of a match. Whether or not the child won or lost is insignificant in his or her upbringing."

Ashe hit the proverbial nail on the head here. Look at your child's tennis as a life-long work in progress. While it's natural to want your kids to succeed in everything they do, as far as tennis is concerned, stress hard work and improvement, not results.

Teach your kids to compete within themselves, to try to be the best they can be and this will carry over into the other, more significant facets of their lives.

Of course, if they show the interest and potential, you should support them and allow them to pursue the game to their highest capability. But let it come from them and still keep the game in perspective relative to the other areas of their lives!

Tennis is a wonderful game which can have a profound impact on one's life. It certainly did on mine. At age 9 I can remember saying to my parents "I hate tennis", when they asked if I wanted to take a lesson.

Obviously at that point tennis wasn't for me. A year or so later I was ready to give it a shot, and tennis has been an important part of my life ever since. It's been almost thirty years since that first lesson and I still love to go out on the court and play.

Everyday on thousands of tennis courts around the globe a countless number of senior citizens take the court, with their adult children, or even their grandchildren, hit a few balls and have the time of their lives.

These people, many who have been playing, and enjoying tennis, for sixty, seventy years, have accepted the gift of tennis and treasured it throughout their lives. This is tennis at it's best and the gift is yours to pass down to your children and grandchildren. Start the tradition now!!!!.

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Mortal Tennis/Circle Game Archive

If you have not already signed up to receive our free e-mail newsletter Tennis Server INTERACTIVE, you can sign up here. You will receive notification each month of changes at the Tennis Server and news of new columns posted on our site.

This column is copyrighted by Greg Moran, all rights reserved.

Greg Moran is the Head Professional at the Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton, Connecticut. He is a former ranked junior and college player and certified by both the USPTA and USPTR. Greg has written on a wide variety of tennis-related subjects for numerous newspapers and tennis publications including Tennis, Tennis Match and Court Time magazines. He is also a member of the FILA and WILSON Advisory Staffs.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Greg by using this form.


 

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