There’s no bigger possible strain on the relationship between parent and player than competition. On match day, your child will be stressed, and so will you. Here’s my advice: Have a match day plan, and make that plan together. Here’s a roadmap....
Breakfast: Yes, match day begins first thing in the morning. Maybe your child has a favorite game-day meal, as my boys do. Obviously, it’s a good idea to always eat healthy, and especially on match day, but there’s also a mental aspect to meals. Routines can make players comfortable, which counts for a lot.
The commute: Does your child like to talk tennis on the way to a match, or talk about something else? They might not want to talk at all—I always preferred quiet time, or a little music, before matches, so I could visualize the points to come. Do whatever makes your child most relaxed.
Arrival: Some players like to arrive at a match early to stretch, warm up and get comfortable with the courts and surroundings. Others would rather show up moments before a match starts to reduce nerves. Talk to your child about what he or she likes best.
The match: As I played, my mother would clap on good points, but she wasn’t overzealous. Otherwise, she just sat and watched—and didn’t talk. I preferred not to see her chatting away because that was distracting, and she knew it. Now that I watch my sons play, I know how difficult it can be to watch children play tennis—there’s that helpless feeling, and you agonize along with them during tight matches. But your watching habits are very important. Every child is different, but disappointed looks and yelling aren’t going to help.
If you don’t know what your child does and doesn’t like to see in the stands, or what he or she finds embarrassing, talk about it. I’ve seen parents talk and not pay attention, and that can be great. When Vijay Amritraj watched his son, Prakash, he read the newspaper—that worked best for them. Maybe you shouldn’t clap at all, or maybe your child would rather if you watched from far away, rather than front and center, always in view.
Post match: Your child will take cues from you—you are a model for their behavior on court, even though you’re not playing. The classiest thing to do after a match—no matter the outcome—is to clap, congratulate both players, and seek out the parents of your child’s opponent to congratulate them too.
Then it comes time to talk to your child. The only difference my mother and I ever had when I played came after a loss—this was something we had to work on. She couldn’t help giving advice and would talk about the match right away. I had no interest in talking. All I wanted to hear was, “Great effort,” or nothing at all; after a few hours, I could talk about what went wrong or how I could improve.
At my children’s tournaments, I’ve seen all sorts of reactions after matches, some calm and nurturing, others badgering and over-the-top. I don’t think the latter is constructive. Don’t be afraid to ask your child if he or she wants to talk about a loss, but don’t press ahead regardless of their feelings. And please remember, this is one tennis match, or one tournament. No matter how important it seems, it isn’t that important. It just isn’t. You and your child are running a marathon together, not a sprint. That’s the sort of perspective that only an understanding parent can offer.
More Lessons in Parenting:
Thursday, 9/12: Judy Murray, "For the Love of the Game"
Friday, 9/13: Lindsay Davenport, "Making the Right Choices"
Saturday, 9/14: Tracy Austin, "Match Day"
Sunday, 9/15: Allen Fox, "Your Child's Mind"