Coaching and teaching juniors can be a very rewarding experience. However, one thing I did not expect when I began my teaching career was how much time and energy it would take to deal with the parents of players. As an instructor and coach, you will quickly learn there are basically two kinds of parents that have an impact on your teaching effectiveness – those that make your job harder, and those that make your job easier.
We’ve all witnessed the parent who sits to close to the court and constantly voices sarcastic or negative comments and gestures at every error or missed opportunity. These parents often live through their child’s tennis, base their worth as a parent on their child’s success, try to coach and interfere with their child’s lessons by distracting the child to such a degree that the player becomes uptight and less motivated. Some parents place far too great an emphasis on “winning” and far too little on improving, competing and the simple joy of playing. Others may be unrealistic in their expectations of their child’s ability and performance. Regardless of the reasons for these negative parental behaviors, it is likely that their children will not reach their full potential as tennis players.
The parents that make your job easier can actually help elevate their child’s performance. Through my experience, I have learned that behind every great player has a devoted parent who sacrifices much to help their child achieve their tennis dreams. These parents provide considerable financial and organizational support. They also instill critical values in their child such as hard work, respect of others and the discipline needed for competitive tennis. Effective tennis parents also keep the lines of communication open with the player’s coach and, by doing so, they greatly enhance the coach’s understanding of the player.
So given the two different roles that parents can play in the junior tennis experience, what does a coach do to effectively teach juniors? You must first realize that you can help the situation by creating better tennis parents. Begin by working hard to build trust. Be honest and open with the parents and listen to what they have to say. Help them to understand what their parental role and responsibilities are and educate them on positive tennis parenting behaviors. There are a number of things you can do to improve the parent-coach relationship. Some of these are described below:
1) Educate Parents – Some parents come to the courts completely void of a tennis frame of reference. Educate the parents on ways to positively help you help their child. Caution them about the common pitfalls parents can fall into when they become actively involved in their child’s athletic activity. Take a proactive approach to working with parents. Starting parents of beginning players off on the right foot and guiding them through the junior tennis experience is more effective than leaving them on their own.
2) Communicate with the Parents – As a coach you are expected to bring extensive tennis knowledge into the picture. Parents can also bring extensive knowledge into picture where their child is concerned. They can provide a wealth of information to you to help you be more successful. They can advise you on the mental capabilities and emotional limitations of the child. These factors can have a huge impact on your teaching effectiveness. But these aren’t the only factors to consider. You must realize that the parents are your employers. And like any business, to be successful, one needs to listen to and meet the customer’s needs. It is imperative that you develop excellent lines of communication and work to keep those lines of communication open.
3) Prepare for the Parent Problem – Despite all of your efforts, from time to time you may have a problem parent to deal with. You want to be prepared to effectively deal with them before the problem occurs. So take some time to determine what parental actions you will not tolerate and how you might deal with potential problems. If you have these things figured out ahead of time you will be more effective when problems begin to reveal themselves.
Steven White is the author of…
Teaching Tennis: Protocol for Instructors