Yesterday, I sent you an email letting you know how nervous I was for my two daughters’ (Bianca, 8 years, and Cezara, 9-years-old) upcoming tournament.
Many of you have been very gracious and sent me emails wishing the best to them. By the way, this email goes out to just over 10,000 people and while many of you wrote to me, I tried my best to reply to every single one (it took me about 2 hours today – but it was my way of saying “thank you” for taking the time to send your positive thoughts).
Now, I want you to know that, as a coach, I’ve been to many tournaments that my students played, but nothing compares to the emotions when it is your own child playing.
That’s why, sharing my thoughts on this experience might give all tennis parents and coaches (even players) a better understanding of how to deal with the emotions and nerves that, inevitably, a tennis tournament brings…
The matches began in the afternoon (Saturday) at 4:30 pm local time, in a 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) heat…
At their level (orange) there were 15 kids that signed up: 12 boys and 3 girls (my two daughters and one more girl) – they got separated into 3 groups (5 in each).
That meant they each had to play 4 tie-break matches (first to win 7 points) within their group. The first 4 players would go further into the final 12 players, competing in first to 10 points matches (elimination rounds).
My daughters each won 2 matches and lost 2 (tight ones) within their groups. That gave them the right to go on and take part in the elimination rounds (a match would be first to win 10 points in a tie-break format).
They had to each play a sort of qualification match in order to be in the final 8 players (quarter-finals).
During these next matches (which were their 5th), my daughters, especially the older one (Cezara) began complaining about heat exhaustion. Words like: “feel like fainting” or “I’m feeling sick” were mentioned during their warm-ups.
Obviously, I went to talk with the umpire and ask him about the options that my daughter would have if she felt sick. He just told me that she had two options: quit or keep playing…
I presented the options to my daughter Cezara (who was more fatigued) and she said she’d continue. I assured her that it would be ok to stop playing and I’d be close to her to help right away if she decided to go on. Remember that is was close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) outside temperature. I’m not sure how the other kids handled the heat but I can assume they had their parents worried also.
Luckily, Cezara managed to play and win her first elimination match, which put her and Bianca (who also won her first elimination match) into the quarters.
The quarter-final round put Cezara against a boy who had a lot of competitive matches played and was obviously more experienced than her.
Cezara lost the match and, as a result, was out of the competition.
Bianca, on the other side, won her quarter-final match against the only other girl in the competition. That sent Bianca to the semi-final against… the boy who just beat Cezara!
That pumped her up so much: she really wanted to teach the boy a lesson and avenge her sister. (:
What a match that was… Bianca played one of her best tennis ever and I saw a determination and movement that I’ve never seen in all these 3 years that I’ve taught her.
Needless to say, it was a close match, but even though she fought hard, the older and bigger boy eventually beat her 10 points to 8; which was a very close match. Most of the people present watched it with interest and fascination.
After that, Bianca came to my wife, her uncle (who was accompanying us), and then to me… crying.
I could tell that she really wanted to win that match; not only to get revenge for her sister but to achieve her goal of bringing home a trophy (I forgot to mention that their uncle promised to take them to buy pizza if they were going to win the tournament :)). Both girls love pizza, so that was a good incentive for them to try even harder. Eventually, their uncle did not have to pay for pizza, but I did take the girls after all and we enjoyed a big pizza that evening.
It was a good experience overall: the organizers were very friendly, the kids were all amazingly talented and hard-working, and the parents were also very respectful – we all got along and encouraged each other.
My Final Thoughts:
– Even though we, as parents (and coaches), can get very nervous (because we care) for our students’ upcoming matches, we should understand that once the match begins there is nothing we can do – our students/children are there by themselves. Well, we can encourage them and show our support but other than that, they are the ones who must show determination, courage to go for their shots, take the right decisions, and work hard.
– It is easy to play and lose, but… trying to WIN when you feel hot, tired, and knowing that you can anytime go to your comfort zone by giving up, is what distinguishes the real players. I’ve seen in these little kids (all of them) those qualities: ambition and hard work. The future is looking good!
– As a coach or parent, you must choose your words carefully – a single phrase can motivate the kid to win a match or lose it.
For example, before every match, I would simply tell my kids to go there and try their best – no mention of winning or losing, no too much talking; simple things.
Also, as my younger daughter (Bianca) was playing her first match (which she lost), as she was closer to the fence (to pick up a ball) I asked her what the score was… she did not know.
After the match, I told her that the reason she lost was that she did not keep track of the score. I reminded her that when a player does not know the score, that is a sign they are not focused on what happens on the court.
Her attitude changed a lot after that – she would say the score out loud even before the umpire would do it. (:
– Win or lose, the child must have a great experience. This is the only thing that will last in their memory – the feeling they had during that event. It should be a positive one.
– As a parent or coach, it is important to not forget your child/student’s opponents. Lose or win, you must congratulate them and their parents (or coaches) – it pays off to be gracious. Not only does it leave a good impression and example of proper manners, but also you’ll spread good, positive energy which people will appreciate and, in turn, will follow your example.
Those are my thoughts. I hope they will be of help to tennis parents and coaches who also have to put up with the choice of seeing their kids compete and experience these wonderful lessons that tennis teaches.
I said “choice” because putting our kids through any sport is a choice that we as parents make. It is easier to stay in our comfort zone and not get involved, but those parents who are there for their children are offering them the chance to learn how to work hard, fight for a goal, and develop the discipline to become the best they can be. All qualities that will help them tremendously later on in life.
I personally believe that whoever is serious about their tennis development cannot fail in life. Tennis teaches us about life itself.
Get your kids involved in tennis (or any kind of sport). It is one of the best gifts you can offer a child.