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Ten Warning Signs of Over-involved Tennis Parents

December 12, 2006 10:37 AM

by Jim Brown, Ph.D., Executive Editor, Sports Performance Journal; Author, Tennis: Steps to Success

There are two extremes when it comes to parents being involved with their children’s activities. One on end of the continuum, there are those who do almost nothing. They don’t go to teacher-parent meetings, don’t know who their children’s friends are, don’t enforce any rules of behavior, and don’t care whether or not their children participate in sports or extra-curricular activities.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those parents who are over the top — over-involved — with their children. Teachers and coaches sometimes refer to them as “helicopter parents.” They are always hovering over their children when they should be keeping a distance and allowing their kids to develop on their own.

Tennis has more than its share of over-involved parents. We asked experts around the country who have coached or taught at least one sport and who have children, to identify some red flags signaling tennis parent over-involvement.

1) Criticizing Opponents
“One of the most common warning signs is the parent who makes comments about how his or her child is ‘obviously better’ than another young player, especially when the other child has just defeated their own,” says John Yandell, a respected teaching professional in San Francisco and editor of Tennisplayer.net. “ Look at the way my child hits the ball compared to the other kid. How could mine possibly lose to that kind of player?”

2) Cheering Inappropriately,

3) Making Demands of Tournament Officials,

4) Criticizing Performance After a Match
Jim Coyne, Director of Junior Tennis, USTA-NorCal, notices other red flags. “Cheering inappropriately when an opponent makes an error,” he says. “Sitting too close to the court allows this to happen. The parent needs to get a grip on the situation. In most cases, the child is embarrassed by the parent’s behavior, but not strong enough to tell them to back off.”
“A second problem is parents who argue with officials at tournaments and make demands that are inconsiderate of other players and the tournament operation. The tournament administrators know what they are doing and have to make decisions that are fair for every player. Some parents even carry the kid’s tennis bag and check in for their son or daughter at the tournament desk. They ought to let the player be responsible for his or her own participation.”
Coyne is not finished. “Over-involved parents are ones who scold their children after a match or practice. They get so emotionally charged up, they should give themselves time before they say anything.”

5) Regularly Attending Practices,

6) Over-scheduling,

7) Over-Reacting
“Over-involved parents are the ones who think they have to be at practice or lessons once the child is old enough to be left alone,” says Keith Zembower, M.Ed., a high school teacher in Dallas who has coached several sports at every level from juniors to college. “They plan their lives around the kids’ sports schedules — can't miss a match or practice even when there are more important family or school events going on, or when they should be giving at least equal attention to other children in the family.”
Adds Zembower, “Many parents force their children to attend tennis camps, clinics, or commit them to tournaments without even knowing or asking if their child wants to do it.”
“One other indication of over-involvement,” adds Zembower. “Who does a loss, a mistake, or bad match affect more, the parent or the child?”

8) Too Much Talk,

9) Too Much Emotion,

10) Inconsistent Messages
“From my perspective,” says Jim Afremow, Ph.D., of the Health and Sport Psychology Clinic at Arizona State, “the three biggest mistakes sport parents make are 1) too much talking about the sport, 2) too much emotion about results, and 3) too much inconsistency in communication. Over-involvement will rob the child of the chance to develop trust in themselves on the court.”

Dr. Afremow’s suggestions to remedy the problem: “Limit (or avoid) discussions about the sport during the car ride home or during dinner. Ask more questions about the process (What did you learn today, or What was you high point?) rather than the outcome. Parents may verbally express that they just want their child to have fun while playing tennis, but then get upset when their child loses a match. Be a good role model. The behavior you demonstrate will be the behavior your child acquires.”

Walk the Line
Parental involvement is a good thing. It provides supervision, discipline, and direction to young athletes who need all three. The key for tennis parents is to quietly encourage and support their children’s tennis activities without crossing the line and becoming an over-involved, hovering, meddling parent.




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