All parents want what is best for their child, and some believe that being an active part of their child's development during tennis lessons is the best path to ensure success. In contrast, other parents choose to sit at arm’s length and trust the process by being passive during lessons. Undeniably, there are both positives and negatives of each and, of course, we are all unique in many ways so no one set of behaviors will definitively be best. But be careful because providing supervision to your child while on court requires a delicate balance of support and watchfulness that can easily cross over into undermining, helicopter parenting.
You will decide the right course of actions that best satisfy individual, cultural and circumstantial differences but, as a caveat to this discussion, it's important to honestly evaluate this one main criteria: Are you doing what is best for your child, or are you focusing on your own needs first?
Here are some guidelines if you choose to sit on the court during a lesson:
1. Be Patient
Avoid interrupting the instructor from teaching because it will distract your child from learning. Of course your child may be subject to learning from many different voices, but there is a right time and place to instruct your child and more than one voice at a time is not effective communication, rather its disruptive noise.
2. Be Noncompetitive
If you do choose to communicate with your child about the information being given, be reinforcing instead of adding to the message. We all have a limited capacity for assimilating new information. A narrow message that is reinforced is more powerful and more valuable than a broad, diffused message which "buries the lead".
3. Be a Team Player
Parents often explain to me, "I know my child better than anyone." It's a reasonable statement, but equally reasonable is the concept that if I didn't know tennis technique, tactics and strategy better then the parents, then I'm not a very good fit as your child's instructor. All voices are not equal on the court during a lesson. A hierarchy of information is important. I don't provide technical advice to the surgeon in the operating room and if I do think that I know better, I would get out of there in a hurry.
4. Be a Parent, Not a Fan or Coach
Studies suggest that providing attention to your child will have an enormously positive impact if that attention is given in a supportive matter that provides judgment only on expectations of behavior and not achievements of performance. Sure, you can motivate a child by encouraging and judging their performance, but the risk is that you weaken their tolerance for failure which is guaranteed to limit their growth.
If you don't sit on the court, communicate with your child and with your child's instructor by asking some or all of the following questions:
►Did you work hard?
►Were you positive?
►Did you enjoy yourself?
►What did you think the instructor was trying to teach you?
►What would you like to learn?
►What did you struggle with?
►Were you prepared for the lesson?
►What did you do well?
►What would you like to do better?
►What are your goals for the next lesson? Next month? 6 months? One year, etc.?
A modified frame of these questions is also appropriate to ask your child's instructor. Your child might not immediately have a great answer to all the above questions but that's fine because the goal of asking these questions is to stimulate thoughtful introspection and promote open and honest communication between you and your child. Of course your child's instructor should have a formed ability to answer questions about your child's potential, performance, progress and plan.
So back to my original question: should you sit on the court during your child's tennis lesson? Yes. If you want to, if they want you to and if by doing so you stimulate and promote their growth, enjoyment and independence.
If your presence doesn't meet all of the above criteria, then consider backing off and providing more by doing less on court and more off court.
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.