‘I hate tennis’ wrote Andre Agassi in his Autobiography.
I often have interesting conversations with other parents at the different tennis competitions I attend with my son or daughter. Yesterday one of my conversations with a second tennis dad centred on how we both wished our daughters to enjoy the sport.
We agreed that we were in it for the long journey in the hope that the interest of a 9 year old could become the hobby of a teenager or adult. Even though keen to our support our children’s interest with continual taxi driving and the expense of yet more lessons, squads, racquets, trainers and outfits, we both knew it was not just about winning.
We knew that the likelihood of any child in a single year group in the whole country making a living from playing competitions is slim. Therefore it is the wider learning from tennis in parallel with good fitness that is so important. Hence we shared at belief that enjoyment was key.
Often when parents talk about their children enjoying tennis, the anecdote of Andre Agassi hating his junior tennis is mentioned.
“I hate tennis, hate it with all my heart, and still I keep playing, keep hitting all morning and all afternoon, because I have no choice. No matter how much I want to stop, I don’t.” Andre Agassi said at the age of 7.
Sometimes the conversation widens and the triangular relationship between parent, child and tennis is discussed such as with Steffi Graf or the William sisters. There is no doubt that these parents did not say they wanted their children to enjoy their tennis instead they expected their children to work at it and to win.
This raises a question; do the very best players need parents with the same intensity and fire that they have? Is it possible for a professional player let alone an exceptional one to have parents holding the belief that sport should be enjoyed?
I look for a counterbalance to Andre Agassi story. There is a quote from Chrissie Evert, ‘I easily could have resented my father and hated tennis. But I quickly learned to enjoy it and responded well to my dad, who was more of a stern teacher than a tyrant. Besides, there were many other kids my age playing there, so I had fun.’
This is a very different view from that of Andre Agassi.
Chrissie Evert goes on to explain that it was her Mum who took her to tournaments, ‘My mother, Colette, made an effort to be the counterbalance. When I was home, we never talked tennis. She’d take me to the beach or the mall. Her goal was to create a normal home life for me. She’s the one who traveled to tournaments with me and was able to ease the stress and let me relax. To my dad’s credit, he stayed home with the kids.’
This seems a far more balanced approach and highlights that our aim should be to help our children relax.
I would be fascinated to know what Judy Murray thoughts were on her boy’s tennis. From a UK perspective what approach did Heather Williams, Johanna Konta or Tim Henman’s parents take? Did their approach differ from others who play on the circuit but haven’t travelled so far into Grand Slams but have got into the top 200 in the world. Young people who have reached that holy grail of playing professional competitive tennis?
Do we in fact make a player in our own image? If that is the case, I still want my children to enjoy playing!
As retweeted by Chrissie Every
What do you think? These are a selection of quotes from twitter:
@deana7ds – I hope most parents take your view & try to find an activity their kids may enjoy for life.
@Krull41 – Classic moment in time
@chipandchargeAR – I hope most parents take your view & try to find an activity their kids may enjoy for life.” Blast!
@jmrwojcik – Love these quotes from Chris Evert! And love the photo even more – support, love, encouragement all shines thru.
@TheALLMarTy – Beautifully stated
I am a tennis parent, educationalist and author. My guide for tennis parents is written and I’m now looking for a publisher. You can follow me on on twitter @tennisdaduk.
Agassi, Andre (2009), ‘Open: An autobiography’.