Tim Heckler’s article in the March ADDvantage coincided with my attendance at the Boy’s National 12 Championships. I too, observed the exaggerated efforts of the next wave of would-be champions to exhort them on to victory. Even more sad and obnoxious were the agonizing self-critical verbalizations and contorted facial expressions and gestures following an error or lost point. Their painful screams could be heard sometimes, 3 courts away.

It’s important to recognize that what we are seeing and hearing on-court has their roots in off-court factors that have been in play probably even before the players first tennis lesson. We live in a society where “winning is everything”. Number 2 has to “try harder”. The A- was good but you need to get the A the next time. Cheating is rampant and considered by many as “acceptable” in order to get ahead. If you don’t, at least, “bend the rules” when you can, you are seen as stupid. These values and attitudes have been highlighted by the media and advertisements for years!

As a sports psychology consultant and father of a 12 year old boy who competes in travel basketball and soccer, the behaviors of some players, parents and coaches are even worse: intentional fouls, holding, insults, screaming in a player’s ear as they are shooting to distract them from making the shot. These are often seen as simply, “part of the game”.

Because tennis is an individual sport, the “thrill of victory” and the “agony of defeat” is intensified for the young athlete. The face of disappointment or worse on their parents face can be devastating and propels the desire to win and fear of lose to ever increasing heights.

I don’t’ see a simple answer to this growing and complex problem. However, as coaches, teachers, educators and parents we can strive to make a difference. We can spend more time on teaching and rewarding good sportsmanship. Let’s talk about the Stephan Edberg Sportsmanship award. In fact, let’s have sportsmanship awards at “each and every tournament”.

We should also provide immediate negative consequences for bad and inappropriate behavior. For example, I had a parent of an 11-year-old tennis player call me for anger management. He was upset that in a recent tournament his son had broken 2 rackets in 1 match by smashing them on the ground. I instantly thought to myself, “ Why didn’t he pull his child off the court and default him following breaking the first racket?”Parents need help and coaches can provide resources and guidelines to help them manage themselves and their children’s behaviors. There are excellent guidelines for parents that Dr.Loehr , Dr.Gould and others have developed and they are available through our professional organizations.

If each of us committed to do at least one thing to help players manage their emotions, we could make a difference in the lives of our kids and the type of champions we produce in the future.

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