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Fighting Crazy

untitledCrazy tennis mom has been quiet for some time.  Starting a new career can certainly silence a voice but add to that the new-found passion for tennis with one of your kids and …BINGO all creative energy and time has been sucked out of your life.  Such a shame too because the stories I could write after spending hour after hour at the tennis courts are incredible!

The story I choose to tell now is my own.  My personal journey with fighting the urge to become crazy.  My daughter has decided to push herself to become the best tennis player she can be, maybe not a USTA competitive player  but a high school varsity player playing at her best.  Now I find myself, once again, sitting at the club hour after hour watching her practice and listening to the parents discuss their children’s tennis “career”.

Every day is a challenge for me to fight the urge to become “crazy tennis mom.”  I have to bite my tongue to not become a part of the conversations about this child or that child, not engage in the conversations about how so and so thinks she is so good but really nothing more than a pusher.  Hold my breath so I don’t engage in the discussion of whether or not “Suzy” deserves the top spot on the varsity team and not become a part of the argument about why we don’t stack our teams lineup after we find out how the other team has lined up their players. In my head I am screaming just let the kids play tennis and have fun!  Having been in their shoes before I understand where they are coming from, I understand they are in the heat of the moment and in their mind this truly is the most important thing in their and their child’s life.  It will do me no good to tell them anything different because having been there I know they will not hear what I have to say.  They will just shake their head and look at me like I don’t get it and wonder why I am here if I don’t want to take this seriously.  It isn’t that I don’t take it seriously it is simply that I have a new perspective.  A perspective I fight to keep every day I walk into the club with my daughter.

Crazy tennis mom actually heard herself lecture her daughter about having too much fun on the court during clinic.  Yes I am not perfect, and like I said, I am fighting crazy every day.  I watched from the upper glass as my daughter laughed and danced on the court with her best friend and joked with the coach while she was at clinic.  I was finding myself getting more and more upset with her as I looked on.  “How can she be focused if she is carrying on like that?”  “What a waste of my time and money if all she is going to do is socialize during her practice.” Yes crazy came upon me.  What is wrong with having fun and is it really a waste of my time to provide an environment for my daughter to enjoy herself with a group of nice kids?

Crazy tennis mom questioned her daughter about why she wasn’t sweating when she came off the court.   I am not proud of it but I actually told her that if she did not come off the court at the end of a practice sweating she didn’t put enough into it.  I am not saying that this isn’t true but they way in which the message was delivered was not one of my finer moments.  Fighting crazy is an ongoing battle.  I feel like an alcoholic who can’t take one drink or she finds herself stumbling around drunk.  Thank God I have given my kids the voice they need to remind me of when I am crossing the line.

Keeping myself in check is an ongoing battle.  I need to walk that fine line between helping my daughter to become the best she can be and becoming an overpowering and overwhelming tennis parent.  One day she came off the court disappointed that she found herself not progressing as well as some of her competitors.  She was discouraged and a little whiny, blaming me for not getting her enough private lessons.  This was my perfect opportunity to address the issues I had seen with her effort in practice.  I nicely explained to her that perhaps it wasn’t the lack of private lessons but the lack of focus and effort she was putting into the time she did have on the court.  I asked her if she felt she was really working as hard as she could when she was on the court.  I didn’t tell her what I thought but asked her what she thought.  I suggested she try to bring her focus and intensity up to another level when she was on the court and see if there was a difference.  I also told her that when I saw her taking full advantage of the opportunities she was given I would provide her with the additional instruction.

No harsh words, no degrading of her character, and no breaking of her spirit just conversation to let her come to her own conclusion.  It was an opportunity for her to learn what the pay off for hard work is.  This is the tennis mom I want to be!  My daughter made her own choices.  She did agree that she wasn’t trying as hard as she could.  She did acknowledge that she wanted to enjoy herself while she was on the court or there wasn’t any purpose of being there.  She also decided that she didn’t want to be out worked by her competitors so she pulled up her socks and gave 110% effort.  It wasn’t because I wanted her to, it was because she wanted to.  What a great life lesson on what it takes to succeed in life, be it on a tennis court or in the corporate world.

This is the crazy tennis mom fighting crazy every day, but knowing that I don’t want to go backwards and the life lessons my daughter learns on the court are more important than anything else.

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Keeping Quiet: Always a mothers challenge!

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Hey mom can you take me to the court and feed balls for me?”

Are you kidding me?  Did my son actually ask me to go on the court with him to help him practice?    Not that long ago he would have thought it the most embarrassing and useless activity in the world to have his mom on the court with him…and now he is actually asking me.  What has become of my son?

It has been almost two years since I have had much to do with his tennis other than being the ever encouraging mom.  Coaching and practicing has been left up to paid coaches or the school coach.  Mom backed off to be a mom and let the coaches coach.  Now my young man has invited me onto the court with him and there is no way I am going to miss this opportunity.

Do you really want me to help you?”  I asked filled with great pride and expectation.

Well I want you to feed me balls, you don’t need to say anything.

So maybe things aren’t so different but at least I can have a little hand in his tennis.  Now it is up to me to keep my mouth shut and make the most out of this opportunity.  If I ever want to be invited back again I can’t blow this.

I must say it is much harder than I thought to watch and not speak.  Is he bending his knees enough…is he staying down…is he taking the ball early enough…no.  Can I say anything….NO!  Just keep feeding the balls and let him work it out.  After all the years of tennis lessons these are things he knows and I don’t have to tell him.  Do you tell your child to remember to pedal when he’s on his bike?

After an hour or so we collect the balls after emptying another cart of inside out forehands. I can’t tell you how enjoyable it was to be on the court with him again.  Instead of talking tennis we talked about how his first year of college went, how his summer job was going and reminisced about old times traveling to tournaments.  It might just be one of my best tennis moments yet.

After all the balls were picked up and the rackets put back in the bag we headed out off the court.

“I can live with that” he says, “after not hitting the ball for a month I didn’t do too badly.  You know, it’s not like you forget how to play tennis you just need to get your timing down again.”

Haven’t I told you that all along?”  I respond

Yeah, but apparently I couldn’t figure that out as a junior player.  Do you know how much better I would have been in the juniors if I could have just wrapped my head around the fact that you don’t forget how to play tennis overnight.  You hit one bad shot and suddenly you decide you don’t know how to hit a forehand or you can’t serve.  I was a total head case in my juniors.”

I couldn’t have agreed with him more.  The difference between the good and the great players is usually the maturity and confidence the player has in their game,  the belief they have in their ability to play,  the comfort they feel in their strokes.

So as a tennis parent how can we help our kids to become the best player they can be?  We can encourage them to believe in themselves and help them to mature.  Allow them to take the responsibility for themselves and their game.  Encourage positive behavior and discourage the immature behavior.  Most importantly watch your own behavior and your words.

If you tell them their forehand stinks or they had no backhand during the match, if you count their double faults or inform them of how many unforced errors they made during the match you are not helping them to build confidence in their game.  Am I saying that everything needs to be sugar plums and fairies?  Absolutely not.  I am saying watch your words, be honest and be encouraging.  Don’t lie, but remember sometimes saying nothing is an acceptable conversation.

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College tennis…the time of your life!

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Wrapping It Up.

Tennis season has finally wrapped up for my college tennis player.  It is hard to believe that an entire school year has already passed.  It seems like only yesterday I was nervously packing him up  to begin his long journey as a college student and tennis player. 

So many questions and fears I had as I tried to prepare both him and myself for the virtually unknown experience.  Was he good enough to make the team, would he be able to balance both school and tennis, would he like the coach, would he make the starting line up, did he make the right choice in college’s and was it the right choice to try and take pre-medicine and play D1 tennis?  I know there are a lot of parents asking the same questions today as they watch their young daughter or son walk down the aisle at their high school graduation. 

My advise to you is simple…relax and enjoy the moment.  Don’t spend so much time worrying about tomorrow that you forget to enjoy today.  It all goes so quickly and you can never have the answers to all of your questions.  All you really can have is faith in your child.  Faith that they know what they are doing, faith that they will always do their best and faith that they have listened to the advice you and their coaches have given them along the way.  Have faith in what you have taught them and that you have done the best you can to prepare them for their journey.

My son didn’t win any major titles this year but he seized the opportunity to explore his country, meet new people and find a work ethic within himself that he never knew he had.  When all was said and done he knew he made the right choices and none of us could ever have known what playing D1 tennis would really be like.

I never had the opportunity to see him play a college match but I was able to share in his victories and be there for him when he felt defeated.  As the crazy tennis mom this was a whole new experience for me to completely let go of his tennis.  Don’t get me wrong, I sat glued to my phone when I knew he was playing just waiting for the text to come to tell me how he did.  I still felt the thrill of his victories and the weight of his defeats.  I listened when he was telling me the play by play of his match or when the phone was silent in the shadow of a bad loss.  It is different but it is still good.  You learn to adapt and you learn to let go.

I watched my son grow into an amazing young man this year.  He became a man of faith, a man of integrity and a man who has an unstoppable drive to succeed.  Tennis has not been accidental to any of these things but rather an intricate part of shaping him into this fine young man.  The people he has met, the places he has been and the choices he has learned to make are from his involvement in tennis.

So my fellow tennis parents I encourage you to sit back and relax for a while.  Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about which tournament to play, which racket to buy, how many private lessons to take this week.  Slow down and have faith in both yourself and your child.  Stop worrying and start enjoying.  No decision is a bad decision.  Each one will give you a different opportunity and it is what you do with that opportunity that is important.

Enjoy the moment because before you know it…it is gone!

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Listening to the “Flip-Side”

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If you are at least as old as I am you will remember the old “forty-five” records. As you know the artists recorded their new hit single on one side and on the “flip-side” was some little known song that seldom made the charts and was hardly ever heard. Isn’t that the way with so many things in our life, the “hits” are played over and over again for everyone to hear but the flip-side of our life is seldom played.

When we talk about tennis we usually focus on the big wins, big losses, the training regime, dedication, mental game…everything is focused on the game, but what about the “flip-side?” What else is happening in the life of the tennis player…is there more than just the game?

If you have been following my blog you have learned that I am the proud mother of an average D1 tennis player. He isn’t a super star but he is a hard-working, dedicated young man who has set goals, had dreams and worked hard to achieve both. You have read about our trials and tribulations of surviving the world of junior tennis and the eventual achievement of making a D1 tennis team. You have heard about the training the college athletes have to go through and the rigorous schedule they have to maintain, but you haven’t heard about the “flip-side” of my college tennis player.

Yes there is a life besides tennis that my son is living. It is a life that involves the friends he has made in and through the team. What I have learned is that there is so much more to these young men and women than just tennis and it is something to be far more proud of then the wins on the court. Last weekend my son was baptized and sitting in the congregation wasn’t his parents but rather his team-mate. On Facebook you could read the congratulations and well wishes of his other team mates as they supported him in the choice he had made. Although we provided our son with a Christian upbringing it was the influence of some of his fellow team-mates and a very special mentor at the college that lead him to his decision to follow Christ.

So what does this have to do with tennis and being a tennis parent? It is simple…on those days when you ask yourself “what am I doing? Is this really worth it?” When you find yourself frustrated with your child and wonder why you have spent the last three weekends on the road and your last paycheck on hotels, lessons and rackets, remember, there is a “flip-side.” There are opportunities and experiences beyond the court that your child will be exposed to, opportunities that we can not even imagine. The game is only one side of the life of a tennis player. Perhaps the best song is yet to played and is just waiting to be heard. It is about more than the game…it is about the life experiences they get through playing the game and the people they meet along the way.

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Striking the Perfect Balance

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The college tennis season is in full swing, and with that a whole new reality. Ready or not here it comes!

Off season practice and work-out schedule seemed rather daunting to me but it is nothing compared to the tennis season schedule. These young men and women who take on the challenge of playing college tennis while trying to maintain their grades are truly amazing young individuals (and I don’t mean because of their tennis skills!)

My son’s new schedule includes four hours of tennis a day (to the maximum of six times per week), hitting the gym with the trainer for a couple of hours a few days a week, and travelling every weekend for matches unless they have a home match (Friday classes are a thing of the past.) Now let’s look at the class schedule…Physics, Physics lab, Chemistry, Chemistry lab, Biology, Biology lab and Communications. Now that is some kind of balancing act to manage to stay on top of that kind of schedule!

I am thankful for the intense practice regime and travelling schedule he had during his years in the junior USTA as they have helped him to transition to the strenuous college schedule. However, during those years mom and dad did a lot of managing of the little things like laundry, shopping, meals, etc that he has had to learn to take care of himself now. I am certainly glad that during those years we never let him slack on his school work and held the high expectations for him to balance his tennis, school and social life himself. We never allowed him to fall behind in school and never helped him in finishing his assignments, and I am grateful for those choices since there is no-one there to do it for him in college.

If there is one piece of advise I would give a parent raising a tennis player who wants to play college tennis it would be this: Don’t hold their hand! Allow them to stand on their own in the early years because this is the skill they will need the most when they finally reach their goal. I saw so many tennis parents who hold there chid’s hand through every step their tennis, seldom allowing the child to worry about anything other than walking onto the court and playing their match. They never had to take care of finding their tournaments, packing their clothes, getting their racquets strung, packing their tennis bag. I’ve watched parents check their kids into the tournament desk, hold their tournament cards, choose their meals, find out the match times for their kids, while the child does nothing more than show up on the court when directed by their parent (who is often carrying their bag and water jug.) I’ve seen parents doing the homework that they know the child will never get done if they make it to the finals on a late Sunday afternoon. I ask myself… who will take care of those young men and women when they are at college? Unless you plan on going to college with your kids, I suggest you teach them how to take care of themselves before they go!

Playing tennis is the easy part… balancing the schedule and dealing with the stress is the hard part. Teach them when they are young how to take care of themselves, physically and mentally before they go. These are the skills that will not only make them successful but will allow them to survive the schedule and maybe even enjoy it!

Good luck to all of the young men and women signing with the colleges and seeing the results of your hard work and effort throughout your junior years. You have put in the work that has gotten you to this point and it is these skills that you will need to draw upon to cope with the hectic schedule that lies ahead. Take the work ethic you have developed in your tennis train schedule and apply that to your college schedule and you will be successful. Just know that it is not the end but merely the beginning. As hard as you thought you worked as a junior tennis player is nothing compared to how hard you will work in college. So why do it? Because you love tennis and you will make some of the best friends and create some of the best memories of your life.

Parents… if you haven’t already, start now! Prepare your child to stand on their own and balance their schedule, because the coach is not going to hold their hand when you are not there to do it!

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Dream On!

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All eyes are glued to the television.  The days, and unfortunately the nights, are spent watching the first big tournament of the year.  The Australian Open is always the favorite in our household, it marks the beginning of the season and warms the cold January evenings with the hopes for the upcoming tennis season.  My son has always found that his motivation to practice and improve his game is at its greatest during the Australian Open.

How many young eyes are gazing upon the greatness of Federer, Murray, Djokovic, the Williams sisters and Sharapova (to name just a few) and dreaming of following in their footsteps?  They hit the practice court with a new vigor, stars in their eyes and hope in their heart for that day when they will walk onto center stage of one of the Grand Slam tournaments.  Unfortunately the truth of the matter is that only one or two of these young, enthusiastic tennis players will ever set foot on the court of a professional tennis tournament.

As a parent is it our job to tell our children that they will never be a pro tennis player?  Time and time again I have been asked by parents when they should give up on their children as a tennis player, when should they tell them that they will never make it to the pros.  I remember asking my son’s coach the same thing when he was around 13. “Why break his bubble and kill his dreams”the coach replied.  “If he doesn’t feel like he has anywhere to go with the sport why would he put in the time and effort.  He is just a boy and boys dream he will figure it out on his own.”  So that is what we did, we said nothing and let him dream.

What we didn’t do is allow his schooling to fall behind or throw away good money after bad for a pipe dream.  We kept him focused on what was important to take away from tennis…the life lessons.

  1. If you have a dream you have to work hard to accomplish it, nothing in life is just handed to you.
  2. If you want something you have to go after it with everything you have.
  3. You don’t always get want you want
  4. When you do something you do it the best you can
  5. If you don’t try you never know
  6. Education is the most important asset you can have
  7. If you love it, do it!  Regardless of how good you are at it.

I never had to kill my son’s dreams, he figured it out on his own.  They grow-up and mature and their dreams change.  As a parent make sure your own “dreams” are realistic, not everyone is good enough to go pro or make D1 tennis and your child may be one of those that no matter how hard they practice they just don’t have that natural talent.  It doesn’t make them less of a person or you less of a parent and it doesn’t mean tennis can’t be a focus in their lives.  My son will never be a “great” tennis player, he is a “good” tennis player.  He knows he has to work a little harder than the others to keep his position on the team and when college is over tennis will remain a passion but just not a living.

So enjoy the beginning of another great Grand Slam season.  Watch with your kids and listen as they share their dreams of someday walking into Rod Laver Arena and smile.  You don’t need to burst their bubble, they will figure it out on their own.  Just enjoy the moment!

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