Coping Skills for Tennis Parents (published in Tennis Life Magazine, March 2009)

Tennis parents, especially those of young children who actively compete in tournaments have great opportunities, challenges and responsibilities in managing their reactions to a number of issues and situations both on and off the court. The tennis parent often has multiple roles, which may include: driver, coach, teacher, friend, counselor, disciplinarian, hitting partner and sometimes, coach.

Sometimes, the lines get blurry and tensions may rise to unhealthy levels.

To foster a close, healthy , and balanced relationship, here are a few ideas to consider:

Attitude: Remind yourself that it is your child who is competing, not you. If you are responding to questions with answers like, “ We won.” Or “We didn’t do so well”, you are probably too close and need some psychological distance.

Behavior: “Catch your child being good”. Recognize your child’s efforts and accomplishments both on and off the court. Praise emotional control, dealing with adversity and good sportsmanship as much as playing well and/ or winning. Make criticism constructive and specific.

Emotions: You are a role model. As such, you need to respect the game, the players and the officials. You do not make calls, criticize either player, get involved in altercations with other parents or cheer excessively. You celebrate good play by both players. You act as if everything you say and do is being taped and will appear on the evening news!

Self-Regulation: Whenever you start to feel overly anxious or angry, take several long, slow deep breaths of air to help relax your body and quiet your mind. Stay out of the visual line of sight of your child. If you can hear what they are saying to themselves under their breath, you are too close!

Injuries: Young, competitive tennis players tend to ignore or minimize injuries. They do so at their peril since continuing to play may lead to a far worse or chronic condition later on. To help reduce your own stress, educate yourself about common injuries and their causes, be sure your youngster is training properly and has built in periods for recovery and insist on evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation before allowing the young athlete to return to competition.

Most of all, enjoy the journey!

Dr.Robert Heller is a psychologist, sports psychology consultant and tennis teaching professional based in Boca Raton, Florida where he works with athletes, parents and coaches providing both mental skills training and personal counseling. Dr. Heller is author of the mental conditioning CD-ROM program, TENNISMIND and a number of books including, Manage Your Stress. He can be reached at www.robertheller.net or e-mail rheller2007@comcast.net.

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