To me, my children’s tennis has always been more than the winning of matches or competitions, instead it is an opportunity for personal development. Competition has always been a part of that, a mechanism to test your sporting skill and your wider skills.
When we watch red ball and see our children play in unusual places against children and with a scorer they do not know, that is a considerable challenge for them. Then when they move to orange ball and have to score their own matches and call their own lines, the challenge has increased further. It moves on again at Green and Full ball when matches can last 90minutes and even longer. All that time they are on their own, having to cope with their emotions as the game ebbs and flows. I think in many ways that is one of the most valuable skills they can learn.
This summer my children took this a step further by agreeing to take part in a competition at a local French tennis club. This wasn’t an international event for top ranked players across Europe. Instead it was probably the equivalent of a British grade 4 competition. As you may have seen from one of my earlier blogs, I agreed to enter the men’s open so we all had a go.
It was a fascinating experience. The first obvious point was communication. My eight year old daughter did not speak any French and my eleven year old a tiny amount. It was hard enough for them to go on court, communicate their way through the warm up and sort the spin (saying dead / alive or MacDonalds / Wimbledon was met with a smile). That was before they learnt to score in French, did you know for deuce you say egalite?. Discussing whether a ball was in or out was interesting and far more lets were played on their calls than normal. Then finally if you win asking your opponent what they would like to drink from the club bar and then buying it.
There was then all the cultural elements of playing in France. Players both children and adult are far more vocal in describing their play and use far more colourful language that would be permitted in an UK tournament. My children did not really understand but it was quite disconcerting for them to hear so much being said that they didn’t understand. Another difference was the whacking of tennis balls around the court after losing a point, game or set, some of which whistled past my child’s head. Then there was the encouragement from the side, often a number of people of giving their support to the local player. Though I did find it quite liberating that I could encourage far more vocally and openly said, ‘good patience’, ‘keep going’ and ‘right shot’ etc. Not coaching but certainly encouragement.
The final challenge for my son was playing his holiday friend, a French/English boy in the final. They had spent the whole fortnight playing on the court, in the swimming pool and this was our third visit too. Yet they had to play a final against each other. The final which lasted 3 hours was a titanic battle which left both players spent by the end. My son narrowly won, but with another child’s disappointment so evident, this tempered my father’s pride. What was lovely though was an hour later they were back in swimming pool together and then by the evening, our last night, they were playing doubles against two local men, in the men’s open doubles!
My children learnt so many lessons from their experience and to me the best one is that they now both want to learn to speak French so that they can communicate better. It was absolutely fascinating to watch their efforts over the week and if you ever get the chance to do the same, I would urge you to take it.