At Tennis & Life Camps, we tell our parents their only job in sports is to be a cheerleader. Period. Never coach your child. Why in the world would we say that?
(Before going further, I have actually amended this from “Never coach your child” to “Never coach your child, except when they beg you. If they beg you, go for it”. But most of us are not in that category).
It is so HARD not to coach our children. Because we mean well. We only do it out of love, out of concern, out of a desire for them to be the best they can be. And out of our desire to show them off to the world. And out of our desire to have them fulfill our own unmet athletic dreams. (Wait a minute! How did those last two creep in there)?
And when we coach them in the context of sports, it usually does not end well.
When my daughter Madeline was five, I was introducing her to tennis. We would go out and see how many times we could get the ball over the net together. We laughed, giggled and sprayed them all over creation. We had fun! Until I tried to sneak in a teaching tip. “Punkin, I want you to hold your racket like this and swing like this…” It went from Dad/Daughter fun to Coach trying to train a tennis pro. In that instance, every single time, no matter how sneaky or subtle I tried to be, the light would go out of her eyes and the fun would stop. I quit pushing, and the relationship of Dad/Daughter returned. It was HARD sometimes! I had to bite my tongue a lot. But our relationship thrived.
After a few years of fun like this, one day Madeline just didn’t really want to go play tennis. And that was that.
What she wanted to do was swim. We went to the beach 41 times together one summer. We dove for fish and touched their fins. Really. We searched for treasure at the bottom and came up with little kids pacifiers, Cracker Jacks rings, sunken balls, forks (sounds more like a landfill than a beach, now that I write about it). One day there was a torrential downpour that cleared the beach of everyone but us (don’t worry, there was no thunder or lightning). It was like the world was deserted and we were the only two left. So we ducked under water, held our breath and looked up at the millions of raindrop shards piercing the water above us. Breathtaking wonder.
Madeline became a swimmer. Not because I coached her, but because I exposed her to it and had fun with her at it. She found her passion. Since 5th grade she has swum now, not because I wanted her to, but because she did. She has made life long friends, learned lessons about endurance and sportsmanship and positive attitude. And because I was able to back off and just cheer her on, I not only have a happy swimmer, I have a happy relationship with my now 16 year old child. It’s been worth every time I’ve had to bite my tongue instead of giving a tip. Now please pass the Bandaids.
By Neal Hagberg, Director of Tennis & Life Camps at Gustavus, named one of the top tennis camps in the country and best in Minnesota. Tennis & Life Camps provides summer camps – for juniors, adults, and families – whose mission is developing superior tennis skills and an enriched approach to life.