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?
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?