Parents Just Don’t Understand
We’ve all been there numerous times: Alex joins our program as a very talented 8 year old with all the tools of a great player from solid stroke foundation to the general athleticism that will make him successful at any sport he tries. On the court Alex tries everything you ask of him and his developmental curve is astounding; within weeks there is marked improvement in every aspect of his game. There is only one problem, his parents. Every conversation with mom and dad begins the same way; “Alex is looking great, we love what you’ve done for him. By the way, when will he be moving to ‘real balls’”?? And thus begins the act of balancing what is best for the child’s tennis game in the long term and placating the parents who view progress as moving from ball to ball.
Before I go any further I think it is important to note that I had the privilege of working under one of the best 10 and Under coaches in the industry in Butch Staples. Under Butch I learned that progression from ball to ball is not a race, but instead it is a process that takes time, a philosophy that many coaches and parents alike choose to ignore. While no harm can come from leaving a player on a “lower” ball for an extended period of time, great damage can be done both to the child’s tennis game and to their bodies physically if they are progressed too soon. So how do we make parents see the big picture? especially when competing programs are offering to concede to their demands even if the child’s game is going to suffer?
Alex, now 9 years old, rejoined our program in the fall and was placed in a green dot program. Again he flourished in the environment and improved with every practice yet every month the parents were there asking when he would advance onto the real ball? The constantly assured me that he was ready and while they don’t care what ball he is on Alex feels “dejected” and moving onto the next ball would help his confidence. My response remained the same: Alex was thriving where he was and moving him at this point would be a detriment to his development and would end up hurting him in the long term. At the end of the spring I received an email from Alex’s mother informing me that Alex would no longer be a part of our program primarily due to the bias I had demonstrated against her child by refusing to advance him to the yellow ball. She went on to say that Alex had since tried out for another club and the pro there was shocked that he wasn’t already playing yellow ball and invited him to join their competitive program. In closing she reiterated that my unfair treatment of her son ultimately drove them to leave the program.
My response was simple: I apologized for making Alex feel as though he was being discriminated against as that was never my intent and my coaching staff and I did what we thought was best for Alex at all times. I then proceeded to remind her of the progress Alex and his younger brother and sister all made within our program and that progress was a product of more time on the proper balls combined with the dedication and expertise of our staff. I closed with the areas of Alex’s game that needed to be addressed prior to moving to the yellow ball, wished her and her family well and that was that. Within five minutes she responded with an apology for the personal attack and said she would consider bringing Alex back in the fall and thanked me for the thoughtful and honest note.
While I can’t be sure that Alex will return to our program in the fall, I am certain that as a coach I did the right thing for him as a developing talent, and at the end of the day that is most important. Our job is not to constantly give the parents what they want simply because they pay the bill, rather our responsibility is to the children; ensuring they get what they need to develop into well rounded players and individuals. I could be wrong but I think that would be a great standard to live by.
Jason Thomas is a member of the evolve9 professional development team.
What about attending a conference that is packed with very practical on court demonstrations that use players of the right age and standard for every presentation?! evolve9 Revolution Conference, November 7th – 9th IMG, Bradenton Florida