John Evert, Director of Coaching at the Evert Tennis Academy (and yes, brother of Chris Evert) was our guest on my Heartbeat Radio show today at 1:30 PM. In the middle of our interview, he asked a question relating to my experience with my own children. He asked, "Do you think your kids performed/competed for you?" It made me think.Of course, I'd like to believe they played the game and did all the work for their own reasons and their own enjoyment, but I had to admit that at times they probably exerted themselves to please me. Ugh! John went on to say that every parent to whom he asks that question claims that their kids play for themselves -- not for Mom or Dad. He added, "To some extent, every child plays to please Mom and Dad. I'm 48 years old and I'm still trying to please my dad!" How true that is if we're really honest with ourselves.
It's a normal thing, but the question is to what degree is it true of your child? The degree to which a child plays only to please a parent is the degree to which their athletic career is in jeopardy. The more they play for themselves, their own reasons, for their own pleasure, and to meet their own unmet needs -- the greater the likelihood of a long and pleasureful athletic experience.
For this reason, I often suggest that parents ask their child a very important question: "Why do you play the game?" This can be followed by, "What do you enjoy most about your sport? What aspect of the game/sport gives you your greatest feelings of accomplishment." These questions are designed to flush out the truth and bring the real reasons for all the work right up to the surface.
Those answers bring two options. First, if you learn that your athlete plays primarily for you, it's time to get it out in the open and provide him/her with the opportunity to quit without any repercussions. Second, if the reasons are personally satisfying for your child, you now know how to reinforce the right experiences and capitalize on them. Ensure that your child gets plenty of opportunities to engage in the aspect that brings the most satisfaction. That doesn't mean neglecting the less enjoyable parts (i.e. conditioning or weight training), but it's most important that children experience the very "satisfyers" that they seek by practicing each day.
John Evert's insights into the tennis world, as well as being an effective sport-parent, came from the guidance of his own dedicated parents. Dad was the teacher and the technician, but he didn't go to the tournaments. That wasn't the place for his strengths. John and Chris's mother didn't provide the coaching, but she attended all the tournaments. It was where her strength as a supporter really paid big dividends. I guess you could say it was a team approach that really worked.