Coaching & training your own children is not a task to be taken lightly. Kids react differently to a parent than to a coach. Sometimes it works & sometimes it doesn’t.
The chemistry & communication between parent & child are important but not the only factors to make it work. If you have the best interest of your child at heart, you will first ask yourself if you are the best person to be the coach. Will it help the development of your child or will it hold them back? Are you experienced enough to help them as a coach? How will being my child’s coach affect our relationship? But the most important question of all is: Does my child want me as their coach or is it my wish, as a parent, to be their coach? Most often your child just wants you to be their father or mother & support them in their sport. I have seen some parent-child coaching relationships work well, but you should at least consider all the aspects:
Are you an experienced coach?
If coaching tennis is your profession, it can be an entirely different situation than coaching your child without prior experience & training. As a parent, you want the best for your children. If your son or daughter wanted to become a doctor, you would not teach your child about medicine, but would advise them to go to college to be taught by trained professionals. The same goes for any other profession. If coaching is your profession, you have the knowledge & the experience to guide your child & teach them proper things. But just like teachers in elementary school through college, there are many levels of coaching in tennis. When looking for the best coaching for your child, you need to think the same way.
Are you the best coach for your child?
Knowing your own strengths & weaknesses is important for everyone. As a parent you need to ask yourself: “Am I the best coach for my child?” You need to consider the relationship you have with your son or daughter & how they would respond to instruction from you. Do they take instruction well or do they become agitated? If you are an experienced player they might respect what you have to say, but that that does not mean you are a good coach or the right coach for them. How emotional are you as a coach? Emotions can run high when your passion & expectations during practice & competition. How experienced am I as a coach? Is it the level of expertise that they need for their level of competition? Put your child’s interest above yours to make the right decision.
Does my child want me as their coach?
Coaching your child should be a joint decision between you & your child. It is especially important for them to be involved in the decision of choosing their coach as they become older & more experienced. No matter if you are a professional coach or a good player, it is still their game, not yours, that needs to be considered. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they want & push them to take responsibility in the decision.
Coaching a player requires the coach to emotionally distance him or herself from the results of the students in practice & competition.
Coaching a player requires the coach to know their coaching experience & their own limitations.
Coaching your Child
I have observed many situations with parents coaching their child. I would like to give you some examples of the difficulties that arise:
When practicing with other players it is difficult not to favour your own child by giving them more attention & instruction. If you give too much attention the other players, your own child will feel uncomfortable. If you give too little attention your child feels you are neglecting them. It becomes a very delicate balance that can easily be taken the wrong way. When playing matches it is almost impossible as a parent not to favour your child in their accomplishments. It becomes difficult to stay unemotional during the match & to keep your demeanour in check. Your emotions will often betray you, & your child will respond by becoming more emotional as well.
Teaching on-court etiquette & sportsmanship is an important task of any coach. Someone who is not related to the player can do this in an objective & unemotional way. A good coach will make sure the player conforms to the proper attitude to avoid troublesome behaviours as they get older. Parents need to support the coach in teaching the children good behaviour on an off court. To be successful as a coach, you can never reward winning above attitude & behaviour. As a parent-coach this can become a difficult ordeal to stay objective. In some cases parents don’t deal with it strict enough, & early enough, to fully get it under control.
Note: There have been some classical examples from top players you might know with these problems as a junior. Both Bjorn Borg & Roger Federer had bad tempers & attitudes on court as juniors. The parents had them stop playing tennis for a while. For everyone that follows tennis closely, the results were evident. They became role models in decorum & sportsmanship! These are examples where parents had a positive role & effect on their child as a player.
When discussing matches afterwards, it is important to have a clear & concise exchange of information with the player. The objective is to use the information from the match to confirm the things that went well & to discuss how to improve the things that didn’t go so well. As parents, it can be a difficult procedure to have the same exchange that an experienced coach might have. Emotions, good & bad, hinder a clear vision for improvements. Too many voices fade out the information they need to hear. Even with the best intentions & having everyone on the same page, it still is a daunting task for a player to stay focused on the task at hand. So the key to good development & enjoyment of the game is to have one voice. May it be the parent or a coach, but preferably not both!
Passion for the sport develops over time. It is a feeling that grows from within. It becomes something you look forward to doing all the time, may it be practice or playing matches. There is a pride in the effort & accomplishments. I have seen passion disappear in a player when parents live through the accomplishments of their son or daughter. They start making all the decisions the player needs to make for her or himself. Getting overexcited about your child’s achievements & making suggestions how to play or what to think, confuses the player. Parents need to be the grounding force in this relationship. They need to encourage their child, without glorifying everything they do. Give your child the space & time to enjoy their own accomplishments. By making it their game, & not yours, you will enhance their passion for the game & their confidence in themselves.
Tournament play & team tennis is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. With kids competing against each other there is rarely a problem. The problem arises with what they hear around them. Statements made about whom they should be able to beat or how this player does this or that, or that he or she cheats, do not help the spirit of competition. Parents need to keep their emotions in check by taking the “high road” & not indulging in any form of gossip or speculations. Kids need to experience the tennis game with their own eyes & ears.
Tips for parents on how to coach your child:
If you are not an experienced coach, have your child coached by a professional. Your child will enjoy you as a parent all the more!
Grant children the pleasure to experience the sport for themselves & let them evolve to their potential.
Try not to interfere by giving unsolicited advice. Though it might be with the best intentions, it also might not be the best advice for them. Encouragement is most often all they desire from a parent.
Let your children make their own decisions about tournaments, coaches & training, etc. This will build their confidence in taking charge of their game.
Give them time & space to build relationships with their peers. These relationships are an important reason they play the sport.
Try not to talk too much about their match unless they ask you about it themselves.
Let it be their sport to play. Pride is natural, but let their accomplishments be theirs & not yours.
Not unlike other things in life, if at any time you have doubts about coaching your child, you probably should not do it!