What a subject… It’s with trepidation that I touch on the tennis fraternities taboo topic – the tennis parent. In fact when you reel off the names you start to see the reason for the “ugly parent” syndrome. Pierce, Capriati, Seles, Graf, Tomic, Dokic, Williams, Philopoussis, Agassi – and these are the ones we hear about. Driven, hungry, perhaps “outsiders” all trying to break into the glamorous world of tennis. The vast majority of pushy parents aren’t at the top end of the pyramid – they are out there in the 12 and Unders, the Saturday morning inter-club and even in the semi-pro money tournaments.
At what point do we take a step back? – release the vice like toxic hold over your kid. Trust the coach, trust the player to self-manage. Why is it so hard to let go? I still see parents getting fired up watching their children and getting involved in arguments, coaching from the sidelines, mouthing off to anyone who could be in earshot about the draw, the line calls, the schedule. Actually cheering double faults, backing up dodgy line calls, abusing officials – and what for..the kid’s 17, almost a man – stop holding his hand and let him grow up.
Interesting, but after witnessing several childish outbursts from one of our local tennis fraternities notorious parents, I thought back (a long way back) to when I was a leading junior. I recall wanting to play in the equivalent of a state level junior tournament – and being the self motivated soul that I am, bought my own stamp and posted my own entry form. The event was the other side of town, at least 1 and a 1/2 hours away from our suburban neighbourhood. Mum, whilst a great supporter of my tennis, did what I think all practical Mum’s should do. “That’s fine – you entered, go for it. Here’s a street map and a train timetable. Good luck”. I was 11. That’s what I call learning to stand on your own two feet.
There are too many negatives around sports parents in general. Hopefully soon we will be able to share in great stories of fraternity, brotherhood and support. From grass roots, to community and club level we need some good news. Tennis in Australia, in fact, across the globe, has lots to ponder, lots to be wary of, and still more to look forward to. We are on the cusp of reversing the trend, with the likes of the Kyrigos’s and Kokinakkis families breaking into the limelight – all wonderful people. Proud and supportive parents, strong sibling connections – now there’s some tennis families we should be hearing more from.