One of the reasons that I enjoy writing this column so much is that
it gives me the opportunity to speak with some very interesting people about a wide variety of subjects. One such person is Peter Burwash.
A former touring professional, Burwash captured 19 international singles and doubles titles during his career, however, his story really begins when his competitive days ended.
After leaving the pro tour, Burwash founded Peter Burwash International, the world's largest tennis management company. Basically, PBI provides first class professionals and programs to resorts, clubs and hotels around the world.
In addition, PBI serves as a tremendous world-wide ambassador for the sport. Over the past 23 years, Burwash has taught the game in over 99 countries. He has, on a regular basis, conducted clinics for the physically and mentally disabled and has put together tennis programs in our nations prisons.
During his life in tennis, Peter Burwash has played and coached in over 134 countries, more than any other tennis player in history, and has been acknowledged by Tennis Industry magazine as "one who has changed the game."
To call Peter Burwash merely a tennis pro would be like calling Michael Jordan simply a basketball player, it doesn't begin to scratch the surface. Burwash has transcended the sport and has become one of the world's most respected voices in the areas of health and fitness, service, leadership and motivation.
He has authored eight books, including the classic, Tennis For Life, and is in such demand around the world that he has averaged 200 days per year on the road for the past twenty-five years. Simply put, when Peter Burwash talks, people listen.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Burwash at length and decided that one article would not begin to provide you with even a small degree of what he has contributed not only to the world of tennis but to society in general. So over the next few columns I'd like to give you Burwash's thoughts and concerns on a variety of subjects that are of interest and importance to us all.
A SERIOUS SITUATION
As a teaching professional for over 25 years, I have noticed a drastic and, I must say, alarming change in the demeanor and attitude of junior tennis players over the past few years.
Enthusiasm and respect for the teacher have been replaced by apathy and lack of discipline. These two traits have become more prevalent in our children not only on the athletic field, but also in the classroom and in their day to day lives.
I was curious to see if Burwash noticed the same, so as we settled in for our talk, my first question was just that, "Have you noticed a change in the attitude of junior players over the past 20 years?"
"Absolutely," said Peter from his home in Hawaii, "and I find it quite disturbing. These days, particularly in the United States, I find that I have to spend more than half of my time and energy during a lesson maintaining the students discipline and getting them motivated. This leaves very little time for actual learning."
"I spend at least 25 days each year going to schools on a volunteer basis, to talk about motivation, health and leadership and I have great empathy for the teachers," continued Peter. "They face a tremendous challenge."
Teacher burnout is rising at a frightening rate both in the world of athletics and in the classroom and it isn't difficult to understand why. When one is trying to teach unmotivated undisciplined students, the level of frustration is tremendous while the level of satisfaction is minimal.
"A survey of American teachers stated that the two biggest problems they face are the anger and apathy of their students." Where does this anger and apathy come from? Burwash feels that it is a societal issue.
"We have become a very materialistic society," says Peter. "We tend to feel that if we get this or that, it's going to make us happy, so our children are being raised in a very illusory world."
"In addition, parents are not spending as much time with their children as they used to, for various reasons. So, these parents decide that instead of time, love, caring and friendship, they are going to buy them things."
Children are being handed things by their parents without having to earn them and this sends the child a horrible message which can be quite damaging from both a psychological and emotional standpoint.
When one is given something without having to earn it, they come to expect that everything will be given to them and as we all know, life is just not that easy.
Children who become used to being given things never learn to struggle to achieve a goal and this hurts them in areas far removed from the tennis court.
For example, "learning is not a thing that can be given," says Peter Burwash. "It is a process and with any process it requires a struggle."
"The struggle can be the repetition of learning a backhand on a tennis court or the repetition required in learning multiplication in school. Kids today are not disciplined because they have been given so much they haven't had to struggle."
When they are forced to work for something, be it on the tennis court or the classroom, they don't have the capacity for the trial and error process that learning requires, so they become frustrated, angry and often give up altogether.
The solution? Children need to learn to accept and understand responsibility and Peter Burwash has come up with a unique idea towards that end. "The best success that I've had in getting kids to understand taking responsibility is to put them in a position of teacher or leader during their sessions on the court."
"For example, during a lesson, I often have the students change roles where one of them is acting as the teacher and is helping another student learn."
"With the better players, part of their responsibility of being able to stay in my program is that they have to coach some of the younger players whether it be within a team concept or just give them a 10 or 15 minute lesson. By putting them in this position, they develop a much greater respect for the teacher and the challenge of being a teacher."
This is a fabulous idea! The communication skills that are developed as well as the camaraderie, sense of responsibility and self-esteem that come from such an exercise do wonders for a child's personal development.
When a student becomes a teacher, he or she, in turn, becomes a better student, and the levels of learning and enjoyment are heightened tremendously for both the student and the teacher. It's an interesting concept and one that can be applied in every area of our, and our children's, lives.
Next month: Are We Killing Ourselves?