Training & Education
Parent Education & Involvement
by Nick Bollettieri
A scratch of the head, an eye-roll after a double fault, a painful wince — children are amazingly perceptive and acutely aware of their parents' reactions to their performance on the court. When that message is one of parental disappointment, the resulting stress can be overwhelming to even the hardiest of characters.
In my half century of working with young people, I've pretty much seen it all. I've witnessed parents develop nervous twitches, eating disorders, hives, ulcers, heart arrhythmias, addictions (the list goes on and on), all directly related to their expectations and the performance level of their children.
The most amazing thing is that in most cases the parents actually believe that their children are completely unaware of the stress the parents are experiencing. Unfortunately, not only are the kids aware of their parents' stress, the stress quickly infiltrates the youngster's own immature and developing nervous system and wreaks havoc on their daily lives, both on the court and off.
As important as a coach's role is in the development of a young athlete, a parent's role is tenfold more important. Due to the complexities of each role, it is almost impossible for one person to assume two different roles. The advantages of having the checks and balances of a three-pronged government are pretty much the same as a three-pronged performance team in which a coach coaches, a parent parents, and a player plays. When one individual attempts to do fulfill the responsibilities of two different roles, the entire team suffers, and disaster can ensue.
In my 50 years experience of working with youngsters and their parents, the one thing that has never changed is that kids need their parents to be parents first. There is nothing more important to the well-being and development of a child than the unconditional love of a parent. There’s nothing that I can do on the court to ever replace that. I’ve seen too many parent-child relationships permanently damaged by a parent making their role as coach more important than their role as parent.
The challenge for both coaches and parents is to find the most effective balance and level of involvement for each individual youngster. This balance is not static, but rather fluid and ever-changing as the child develops physically, technically, psychologically and emotionally.
The following is an excerpt from a book I wrote with Dr. Julie Anthony titled, A Winning Combination:
“The greatest error parents can make is to voice expectations for their children beyond that of having a good time. As soon as a child begins to play for a parent’s approval or to maintain harmony in the family, his motivation and fun will diminish instantly, no matter how talented he is. Many young players with potential have been turned off tennis by their parents, and some great talents have been destroyed in this fashion. Unfortunately, among tournament circles one often hears that, “Susie has super talent, but her parents put too much pressure on her, and she just gets too uptight and nervous to win.
Parental pressure can take many forms. It can be a question of forcing a child to practice, take lessons, or compete in matches against his will. An insidious byproduct of parental expectations can also be over criticism of a child’s efforts. A child shouldn’t be made to feel that every mistake will be thrown back at him. It’s hard enough to go through the agony of playing badly.
Psychologically, human beings learn just as well, if not more effectively, from positive than negative reinforcement. It is more helpful to tell a child what he did well and suggest what to try in the future than to belabor what went wrong and what not to do. Even on the most disaterous days, something positive can be said, such as, “I guess you didn’t play well today, but I liked the way you kept trying,” rather than “you really played badly today.” A child’s coach is responsible for tennis technique, but parents can help his mental well-being.
Making unflattering comparisons between a child and his peers can also be damaging to the child’s motivation. Remember that every child is unique and learns at his own pace; each individual’s progress is totally unrelated to that of anybody else’s and should be gauged only against itself.”