MAYBE IT IS TIME TO LET GO...

Wow…. Congratulations….your child just received a tennis scholarship and will be off to college in a few months. How quickly the time has passed. I am sure you are reminiscing about all the ups and downs of this crazy whirlwind the junior tennis scene can be. The days were long, but the years were short! Undoubtedly, you are very proud of what your child has accomplished. I know how much you have sacrificed to provide the opportunities necessary to develop and showcase their talents in order for them to realize this goal. They are now part of a tiny percentage of the population competing at this elite level. So, what happens now that they are off to college and you don’t have to get them to tennis practice or give up your holidays to fly them across the country for yet another tennis tournament?

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Well, I guess that is up to you. How involved do you want to be from this point on? Your child is now 18 and technically an adult. They can, in theory, do whatever they want. You have done all you can to prepare them for life as a functioning adult. In essence, you don’t have to do anything, and you can just listen and provide support to them as needed in the years ahead. I am sure you will worry and hope the best for them. But is staying involved in their day to day lives really what is best for their longer-term development? Haven’t you had your shot at influencing what direction they take in life? You would not parent a toddler in the same way you parent a teenager, so why do parents have a tendency to parent their young adult child the same way they parent a teenager? Sometimes we hang on to that stage for our own benefit, but it is clearly not what is best for the child.

Looking back on my years as a college coach, I can now find it perversely amusing how parents would like to blame coaches for their child’s shortcomings. Here is a parent that has been a role model and key influencer in their child’s life for 18 years but wants to turn around after 6 months and blame the coach for the child’s inadequacies. Really? You are trying to tell me that your child was this great competitor, leader and perfect in every way, but now that this pristine illusion is being shattered, it must be the coach’s fault and you are not to blame in anyway? Maybe you are so defensive because you believe it is a reflection on you as a parent in some way?

I am not saying that there are not some bad coaches out there or that coaches don’t make mistakes, but the coach, the team and the new experiences are going to expose the character of your child in new, meaningful ways. Players want to transfer colleges for a number of reasons, some of these reasons are substantiated, but how are they handling themselves as they go through this process? What flaws in their character are being exposed as they have to deal with the harsher realities of life for the first time in their young lives? Think about it, they have to live by themselves for the first time with people they don’t know. They have to work within a team framework rather than competing just for themselves. They have to produce results on the court to justify their scholarship checks. They have to work with a coach that is not being paid for by Mommy and Daddy! Some handle all this with a lot of grace, others don’t handle it particularly well, but muddle through, don’t complain and figure it out after a year or two. There is also a percentage of this population that handle it terribly and look to blame everyone but themselves.

As they go through this process, they look for comfort in the misery of others. They constantly complain about their coach and do what they can to get others on board to justify their ill-feelings and resentment. Their parents, then desperate to help, can’t resist getting involved, and set an awful example for their child by also blaming the coach, teammate, athletic trainer, professor; anyone but their child, which just serves to perpetuate this cycle.

Parents often start out by saying, “I am not usually the kind of parent that gets involved but….” – Either you are lying, or you actually never felt the need to get enmeshed with the coach because your kid’s flaws were never magnified to this extent. If you are not the type of parent that gets entangled in these situations, then keep it that way! Before you pick up that phone or write that email, can you explore your own feelings as to why you need to stick your nose in a place where it is not wanted or likely to serve your child’s development in any way? If you don’t trust your child to be able to handle this situation themselves or make whatever decisions they need to make to resolve what issues they may be facing, then let them get their first ever repetition of figuring things out for themselves. It is okay if they make some mistakes, let them fail.

If a coach wants your input or needs to make you aware of an issue, they will contact you. There is no need to bother them about your adult child’s issues. At what age do you stop getting involved? 21, 26, 42?

Understand that your child’s constant stream of negativity about the coach or the program they are in is very one-sided and usually missing a number of key details and context. I heard some whoppers through the years, and it is sad that these parents actually continue to swallow the story they are being told by their kid.

When your child calls you to complain, start by asking them if they have brought up these issues with the coach. Maybe something had been misinterpreted or a discussion had been mistimed or more heated than necessary. Rather than waiting for the coach to criticize them, why don’t you encourage them to get out in front of it and figure out what they need to do to make this a better experience for themselves. In 12 years of coaching, I would say that I had about 5 players come to me and ask me some version of the following questions. I actually found these questions in a book called, “The Compound Effect” by Darren Hardy. This is a simple, fun read packed with great information for your soon to be college freshman!

How do I show up to you?

What do you think my strengths are?

In what areas do you think I can improve?

Where do you think I sabotage myself?

What is one thing I can stop doing that would benefit me the most?

What is the one thing I should start doing?

Why athletes, and people in general don’t want clear direct feedback is beyond me, especially if they are truly invested in getting better. Encourage your child to get as much brutal honesty in their life and learn to extract what they can from it. Maybe they will begin to see a few concerning patterns that they should probably think about resolving.

By the way, those five student-athletes that actively sought this type of feedback were some of the winningest, most accomplished athletes and people I had the great privilege to coach. Coincidence?

LET'S START OVER

Okay Millennials, Snow flakers, and up and coming Gen Z’ers, Linksters or whatever else they are calling you these days. I am referring to those of you who are entering into adulthood, and more specifically, those entering college campuses these next few years. We coaches are starting to accept the fact that you are not going to change or meet our long-established expectations and norms. Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s us?

A SIMPLE CURE

I had to retire from the finals of the Irish Junior National Championship Finals when I was 18. This was a huge deal to me at the time, and it should have been the impetus for some changes in my approach to the care of my body. The reason I had to retire was that for the first time in my young tennis career I experienced a significant injury. The culprit was the lower right side of my back, and it felt like a debilitating injury. I could not even put my socks on the morning of the final, never mind try to run around a tennis court!

GIVE ME A BREAK

Now that I am no longer coaching on a regular basis I am not around competitive tennis tournaments as much as I once was. However, in recent weeks I spent a significant portion of my days viewing a men’s and ladies futures event, a Junior National Championship and competed in a Men’s Open money tournament myself. I observed a lot of really good tennis but also some ludicrous behavior that does little to help these players or the sport of tennis. There appear to be certain behaviors that are embedded in our consciousness and culture at  high level junior, college and professional tennis in every part of the world, that we don’t seem to question, and accept as the norm despite there absurdity. I would love to say I wasn’t guilty of conforming to many of these cultural norms, but I will hold my hand up and say I was every bit as ridiculous at times. Here are a few examples:

TENNIS PARENT QUESTION

QUESTION: “Hi!! I m a mother of a 13 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. Both my kids play tennis. My son is really struggling to win matches and losing to players he used to beat a few months back. In the fear of losing a match he doesn’t even give his best on the court. He is lacking courage to play big. He really loves the game and is willing to do anything to get better. But how do I make him more stronger mentally. Is it important to make him play
more matches to get over his fear??”

DOES ANYONE REALLY KNOW HOW TO PRODUCE A CHAMPION

Did Erik Spoelstra suddenly become a worse basketball coach when Lebron James left the Miami Heat? Was Bill Belichick a bad coach when he got fired from the Cleveland Browns, and will he have the same success after Tom Brady retires? Would Phil Jackson have won 11 NBA titles if he was the coach at the Minnesota Timberwolves or was his timing just impeccable?  Is Boris Becker responsible for Novak Djokovic’s recent domination, or would John Smith be having the same impact on Novak’s game? These are just a few examples of why I am a little dubious about how much impact a coach really has over elite athletes and who is truly responsible for athletic success at the highest levels. It obviously depends on the sport but in most sports I just don’t believe it matters as much as we seem to think.

HOW TO RAISE A HAPPY ATHLETE

You know the scene: you are standing a few feet away from that “crazy” parent yelling at the referee, cheering wildly any time their child touches the ball, wins a point or hits a good shot depending on the sport. You think to yourself how “nutty” that parent is acting and you even feel bad for their kid. You thank the heavens that you don’t act or behave in a manner that could embarrass yourself or your child. However, you may unintentionally be acting in a similar fashion to that crazy parent, just in a more subtle and less obvious way. If this is the case then you are most likely impacting your child’s love for sport participation and, more importantly, you may be indirectly hurting your relationship with him or her for years to come.

Why My Roommate DID NOT Fail as a Tennis Player

A few months ago, I explained some of the reasons as to why I failed as a professional tennis player. This time, I want to discuss how one of my college teammates and roommates made it as a professional tennis player. His name is Peter Luczak and he reached number 64 on the ATP world rankings, beating several highly ranked players and reaching the 3rd round of the Australian Open twice. Many of you may not have heard of Peter, but to give you some context, if he was one of the world’s top 100 soccer players, he would be playing for Barcelona or Juventus. If he was the 64th richest person in the world, he would have a net worth of over $15 billion. He was at the pinnacle of one of the top 5 sports in the world!  

STOP THE MADNESS

There is this kid I know who is a talented soccer player. He trains twice per week with his club, two hours at a time. On the weekend, he and his teammates get to the grounds an hour early to prepare for their league or cup match, and sometimes they may have up to four games over a two-day period.  All the players are very technically sound and understand how the game should be played. The team has three coaches and they trawl the sidelines during the games criticizing, correcting, reinforcing good plays, congratulating successful and unsuccessful attempts, but they all appear to be a little on edge throughout the duration of the match.

Everything is Amazing and No-one is Happy

What I find troubling is that a high percentage of collegiate tennis players are quite unhappy with their student-athlete experience. They get to their college campus full of excitement, a little scared and a lot clueless. They have been told that their college days will be the best days of their lives, but fail to understand that they can only be the best days of their lives if they are willing to go through some adversity. It seems to me that nobody wants to explain why college can be some of the best years of your life.

WHY I FAILED AS A TENNIS PLAYER

anuary, 2003: I’m sitting on a Cliffside, overlooking the east coast of Australia, contemplating my future as a tennis player. I just battled through four rounds of qualifying to make it to the first round of a futures event. Today, I was up a set, 5-4 40-0 and lost in three sets against the 4th seed. My elbow is throbbing, my back is bothering me and my first round losers paycheck will only cover two nights of hotel bills. Is this really worth it??

TALK, Talk, talk....

I recently heard a statistic claiming that roughly 70% of what Donald Trump presented to the American population during his presidential campaign, was, in fact, false. There is a lot of debate about what President Trump truly believes and what he just put out there to grab headlines in his bid to win the election.

This serves as a reminder that we are all guilty at times of some delusional dialogue about ourselves and our goals. Throughout my years of collegiate coaching, I listened to many bold statements from players, and I learned to become increasingly skeptical when I would hear these lines from recruits or players on my team.

The Three Neutral Phases

Unless you have a huge first serve or a blistering return of serve, your success as a tennis player is often going to be determined by the quality (pace & depth) of your neutral ball.

To me, a neutral ball is one that is not an obvious offensive position where you are equipped to end the point with a winner or even force your opponent into an error. It is also not a ball that puts you on flat-out defence where you are scrambling just to get the ball back in the court. A neutral ball is typically one that is just continuing the point without much drama. However, I think the ability to understand what phase of neutrality you are in will often determine your success as a tennis player.

"Hollywood Coaches"

We generally have a terrible tendency as coaches to coach in the same manner in which we were coached. We are often a generation or two ahead of our students, yet we expect them to respond to the same coaching style that we grew accustomed to many moons ago. When our students don’t respond in the way we expect, or handle the criticism the way we once did then we get frustrated and complain how this current generation just aren’t tough enough or are too lazy and apathetic.

Can We Have a Real Conversation About Tennis Nutrition

Last week I read an article about the 7 foods every tennis player should eat. It was the same age old sports nutrition 101 about eating pasta, chugging Gatorades, having energy chews on hand at all times, and, my all-time favorite, ensuring you have a chocolate milk to get that all important protein after practice. I can’t believe that this kind of garbage is still being pushed out to the general public, and I don’t understand why more people are not questioning these nutritional practices.