I left the high school tennis match rather frustrated with my younger son yesterday. He continues to make the same mistakes again and again and appears to play with so little thought into what he is doing. I have been very quiet this tennis season, respecting the fact that he has come back from a rather serious injury to his neck and arm, but the injury is healed and the excuse is gone. I now have to decide if it is time to push him to play up to his potential. Joshua makes the decision easy for me. He comes into the car complaining about losing a challenge match to a fellow player that never should have beaten him. Joshua is not satisfied with the way he is playing and he is aware of the fact that he is not playing at his full potential. It is time to push. I know the desire for him to do better is not mine but his. I think this is the key to making the choice to push. It must be for the child to reach their goals and expectations and not the parents.
There are two key life lessons I want my children to learn through playing tennis:
- Work to reach your full potential
- Don’t give up on your dreams when the going gets tough
So here I sit with my son complaining that he is not playing as well as he knows he can and not happy that he is not reaching the position he wanted on the tennis team. He states he has a week to win two challenge matches to get the position he wants. This is the perfect opportunity for me to teach him the two life lessons.
I begin the conversation about where his game is lacking, we discuss his lack of focus, his poor practice habits, lack of footwork and attention to the details of stroke production and his general acceptance for mediocrity. It isn’t an easy conversation, either for me to say or my son to hear, but I wouldn’t be doing him any favors to lie to him and make him believe he is doing everything right. If I left the conversation at this point I would just be deflating his confidence and leaving him with a feeling of hopelessness. I continue by discussing his abilities, “you have great foot work you just aren’t using it, when you are focused you have amazing strokes, your strokes are there you are just making small errors.” Finally, I ask him if he wants to win the challenge matches and if he is willing to do the work it will take. He responds with a resounding yes. Together we work on a practice schedule and a plan on how to get there. I will be there with him every step of the way, encouraging him and reminding him of his goal. I won’t baby him and make him believe he is doing more than he is. I will hold him to the commitment he made and make him accountable for his actions. If he doesn’t put in the work he won’t reach his goal, this is a life lesson we all need to learn.
Will he win the challenge match next week? Probably not. He probably doesn’t have enough time to do what he needs to do, but that doesn’t matter. He still needs to try, we don’t give up. I have been honest with him and have let him know that his chances aren’t great but he is committed to working hard this summer so he is ready for next year. I will push him over the summer by reminding him of his goal, and how he let himself down this year by not working hard enough. As long as he wants to get better I will push him to get better. I will recognize his ability and his limitations and won’t expect him to perform beyond them, but I also won’t let him waste his potential or give up on his dreams.
Someday when he is faced with another life challenge I hope he remembers the lessons he learned in tennis and pushes himself to work a little harder to reach his full potential and live his dreams.