Players need a support system in order to achieve success in the highly competitive world of junior tennis. This includes the resources which facilitate playing opportunities, such as court time, equipment, tournament entry fees and transportation. Ideally, this facilitation is altruistic, given without parental guilt or a coaches’ marketing exploitation.
Most significantly, however, players thrive in an environment of excellence. Children rarely exceed their expectations, therefore, it is essential that they are encouraged to set the bar by which they measure success very high.
The greatest motivators are the extremes of fear and security. Fear is highly motivating, especially at young ages when players are eager to please and are easily intimidated. While fear can get you to run fast and far, it does so at a great interpersonal cost. Vulnerable children become rebellious young adults very quickly. Parents who instill the fear of failure in their 12-year-old children often find this tactic backfires by the age of 16. This is especially true in girls' tennis where tournament attrition in the 18s is very commonplace. The literature suggests that girls do not define themselves by their activities as readily as boys. This means that tennis for girls is more likely "something they do" rather than "who they are." As one 16-year-old highly-ranked female student explained to me:
"I'm a really good kid. I get great grades, no drinking no drugs, I mean I do everything right, except I make bad shot choices and I hear about it all the time from my parents. My sister does nothing and they leave her alone. Why should I keep doing this, I don't need it?"
There are numerous examples of professional female players who have gone very far with motivation from demanding fathers. In almost every case, while the relationship has resulted in playing success, it has also resulted in a highly dysfunctional parent/child relationship. Coaches who motivate primarily by fear have an equally difficult time sustaining a long-term positive relationship with players.
Confidence derived by positive feedback and reinforcement motivates without the long-term drawbacks of fearfulness. This can be the road less traveled for parents and requires an enormous amount of time, patience and kindness. Coaches who provide structure and guidance through the development of respect rather than fear, instill in students inspiration and the confidence to temporarily fail as they improve. This also requires patience, and even more so, professional competence. Indeed, confidence is not simply self-belief, rather, it is a lack of fear of the consequences of failure. Players who derive confidence from a positive environment in which ultimate success is expected, and temporary failure is permitted and managed, are on track for achievement.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.