As a coach it is always easy to observe and comment on how it should be done, such is the nature of our job but when it comes to the intimate and delicate role of parenting, specifically motivating, or consoling a kid who just lost, I thought an experienced voice is a better fit for the job. Today I have a guest blogger and I hope this post will be helpful to some of the parents out there travelling a similar path. For context, I posed the following scenario “How you deal with disappointments of losses at matches or tournaments; and the challenges surrounding motivating the boys, not necessarily the psychic behind motivating them but the methods you have used with or without success”. Many thanks to “Crazy Tennis Mom”.
We have all been there, watching our kids walk off the court with their heads hanging and their spirit crushed. The weekend began with high spirits and dreams of bringing home the trophy. They had worked so hard on the practice court and they were sure this was going to be their break through tournament. Yet here we are again getting in the car to drive home on a Saturday night with nothing to show for their hard work. How will I ever convince them to continue to put in the effort when they don’t see the reward?
Motivating my kids to continue to practice and play the tournaments, when they aren’t seeing the benefits of their efforts, has been the greatest challenge I have faced as a tennis parent. Many of my heartfelt efforts to cheer them up and motivate them only brought more tears and anger instead of results.
I remember one instance in particular, early on in my son’s tennis, when he thought he had done everything he needed to do in practice to start winning the tournaments. He had spent months on the practice court working on his strokes and improving his game and it was time to try out everything he had worked on in a tournament. He was sure he was ready to beat the kids who were always a few steps ahead of him in the rankings. However, things didn’t work out the way he planned and once again his tournament ended in a loss to the higher seeded player. He was so frustrated and angry that his efforts hadn’t paid off in the win. I asked him why he felt he should have won. He answered in a rather matter of fact manner that he had been practicing hard so he should beat them. “Yes you have, but what do you think they have been doing while you practiced?” I asked. He looked at me with a puzzled look and didn’t answer. “They have been practicing hard too to make sure kids like you don’t beat them.” My response didn’t make him happy. With great frustration he asked me how he was ever supposed to get good enough to beat them. “You can’t just practice hard, you have to practice harder, you have to do more than they are doing if you want to get better than them. “
This is the approach we took with the kids in trying to motivate them to push on. Yes you worked hard, but no-one is going to roll over and hand you the trophy just because you worked hard. You have to fight for it if you want it. What are you willing to do, how hard are you willing to work? We have never babied the kids or let them feel like they were entitled to anything. If you want it you need to go after it. I must admit there is a fine line between motivating and pushing and finding the balance can be like walking a tight rope.
If you find yourself pushing your child to get on the court, perhaps that is not where they want to be. Motivation has to come from within. They are the ones who have to put in the effort and we as parents can only support them. Support isn’t a matter of always letting them believe they are doing great. Honesty is a far better approach. I remember one time my son coming off the court after an absolutely horrible match and saying to me “I sucked!” “You sure did,” I responded. He looked at me with complete shock and then started laughing. If I tried to tell him all the good things he did in the match rather than acknowledge the fact that he just didn’t play well he would have no accountability for his effort. The accountability is what motivates them to continue to practice and get better. They aren’t doing it for me they are doing it to prove to themselves that they can.
Talking to your kids and, more importantly, listening to your kids about what they want from you as a tennis parent is the most important thing you can do for their tennis. In our household our kids want us to stay quiet and not speak to them after their match, win or lose. They have too much emotion after the match to listen to what we have to say and they need the time to physically, mentally and emotionally recover. Each one of our kids likes something different from us during a match. Our daughter wants us to sit there and be absolutely quiet. She hates it if we try to cheer or encourage her because she likes to play “mad.” Our one son likes us to cheer if his opponent has someone cheering for them. Our other son prefers if we just nod our head or pump our fist when he’s doing well and if he is “sucking” he prefers we walk away. Talking and listening to our kids is the only way we know what they each want from us.
If you want to keep you junior tennis player on the tennis court especially after the difficult loses you have to make sure they are happy. Talk to them and listen to them, let them vent their frustrations without over reacting and be the calm reality check they need. Remember, as bad as the big loss may feel at the time it just might be the motivation they need to make the necessary changes in their practice and game to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Our coach gave me the best advice early in our tennis journey. I asked him when my son would start winning and he said “when he’s tired of losing!” You see we can’t motivate them to win; they have to do that themselves.