As a coach, I have learned to embrace all types of parenting situations. One of the first steps is to figure out which type of tennis parent comes with the player. In this series, I’ve outlined five types of tennis parents. If you have a child in a tennis program, think carefully about your relationship with your child's coach. When parent and coach are in sync, there's nothing stopping them from helping their player toward ultimate success.
There is a lot a coach has to balance when working with a high performance player in today’s game. Understanding technique, psychology, strategy and tournament scheduling are just a few areas great coaches learn to master.
As players get older, coaches also have to become experts in nutrition, strength training and the college recruiting process, to help their players as they head toward tennis beyond 18 and under USTA junior competition. One component of junior development that just may be the most important and time consuming is working with the parents of the player. Love it or hate it, most great players have had a highly involved parent who has been critical to their success.
What I’ve learned from interviewing some of the world’s top players is that there is not one type of tennis parent (or parent coach relationship) that is the right situation. From the more relaxed approach of parents like those in the Federer or Isner home, to highly involved parents like Michael Chang’s, to the eccentric Richard Williams and controversial Yuri Sharapova, there is definitely a smorgasbord of ways to raise a tennis champion.
Let's take a look at some of the not-so-helpful ways first:
1. The Father (or Mother) Knows Best Parent
In my experience, this is the most common parent in today’s junior climate for several reasons. First, most juniors who play tennis come from families where money is not a great concern. Typically, these families are successful in other areas of life. Sometimes, these parents mistake such success as evidence that they are experts in developing a junior tennis player.
Some common characteristics of this parent are directing the number of court hours needed, with whom their the child should be playing, or the curriculum for the lesson plan. This parent usually comes to a conclusion about their player’s tennis development before consulting the coach. This parent is not interested in the coach's opinion.
These parents come back from tournaments with all kinds of revelations about what they learned from the match, as well as a bunch of insights from other parents (who have usually been around the game for a couple of years).
The Father Knows Best Parent is not all bad, however. Often, these parents are extremely driven, and will do whatever is necessary to fund and support their kid’s development, including travel. They usually respect a highly driven and organized coach, as they recognize these qualities as some that have contributed to their success in life.
A good coach will display a strong work ethic and deliver high level of service and expertise to this most common parent.
2. The Parent-Coach Parent
I have grown to love the Parent-Coach. As a young pro, I didn’t like this type of parent. They would come right on the court and invade my time with the player. I used to take it personally when a parent would chime in or disagree with something I was telling his child.
As my career developed, I learned to love many of the qualities this type of parent brings. First of all, this parent has usually played tennis at a high level. They understand the sacrifices needed to be great, and have a generally how to behave at tournaments, and as an elite athlete.
It's important for coaches to lose their ego - most parents are just trying to help their kid. A coach shouldn't take parental input as a personal attack on their coaching.
That being said, it is important to get into the ‘one messenger’ rhythm between coach and Parent-Coach, especially if the parent is a great player and tennis-minded. The parent and coach should work together to devise a plan of who will be the main deliverer of information. For example, the coach will deliver technique. The parent can email ideas to the coach, but then allow the coach to handle the communication to the player. Often the coach will ask the parent to be the main driver of character messages, while the coach will defer and support those messages.
3. The Hater Parent
The Hater Parent is one of those horror story parents. Most of the time, it is in the best interest of the coach and the club to ask this family to leave. The Hater finds ways to create drama or negativity in the coach's life, the player’s life, and frequently in the lives of other families. No matter how much time a coach invests in their child, the Hater Parent will negatively compare him or her to other successful coaches, pick away at their program to find weaknesses, and ultimately create a negative whirlwind at the club.
The hardest thing about this type of parent is that the coach and player may have a great relationship, and he or she may have developed into a very nice player. A good coach who has to deal with a Hater Parent has a few choices:
- Ignore the negativity and do the best for the kid. A noble path, but unlikely a successful one. A parent who behaves this way will send terrible messages to their child and may turn the kid away from tennis if the situation is not addressed.
- Tactfully show the player that their parent’s messages are incorrect and silly. This is a tough and delicate task and requires the coach to be very careful not to turn the player against the parent.
- Be clear with the parent. The coach should conduct an interview in the beginning and let the parent know that a requirement to be in the program is to be a positive and vocal supporter.
- Cut ties. Sometimes painful at first, but with with unchanging Hater Parents, it's almost always better in the end.
4. The Help Wanted Parent
This type of parent looks at any pro as "the help". They don’t value the player-coach relationship. They look at the coach as another service provider, no different than the dry cleaner, shoe shiner or clown at their younger child’s birthday party. This parent is becoming more prevalent as society becomes more scheduled, and kids travel from piano teacher to tutor to tennis coach.
This type of parent sees the coach as replaceable. The depth of the coach's relationship with the player and the family may never reach the level needed to develop a great champion. Although I’d rather be a true coach and mentor, over the years, I have been nothing more of a service provider to a few kids. Sometimes these can still be successful relationships, although different than the "coach as a role model" situation.
Matt has been teaching, coaching and speaking about junior development for 20 years. He has coached hundreds of collegiate athletes, 67 state champions, and runs a tennis program for 400-plus junior players. Matt is the author of The Perfect Tennis Parent, a guide for parents of competitive juniors that includes interviews with some of the world’s most successful coaches and parents. These individuals have coached or parented some of the all-time tennis greats such as Federer, Sampras, Djokovic, Roddick, the Williams sisters and Capriati. His book is available on Amazon.com or at www.perfecttennisparent.com