Rebellious Teenage Players

Q. “Any advice from parents who have seen their players through the rebellious teenage years? Our 16-year-old just tanked a match that he had asked to play. His reasons – it was too early in the morning, too far away (50 minutes by car), too long of a wait for the other matches to finish, too sunny, blah, blah, blah. I was furious by his lack of effort and poor attitude, considering the effort I put into organizing, paying for and transporting him to the event.

Common sense says that we should deny him entry into future tournaments until he has the maturity to persevere, but I feel like there is such a small window of opportunity left to build his experiences to help him get into a college, and time is running out. He really enjoys playing with his friends and has enjoyed competing up until now."

From Andrew M. San Jose, CA.:

He needed a break. Even though his way of expressing it was not ideal and was late, that was what he was saying. And you gave him one. I would leave it at that and move on. Whether he is going to make it as a pro or just continue to enjoy playing throughout his life, taking a little time off is not going to change his future. Punishing him by not allowing him to play when he wants to will change him, and maybe not in the way you had hoped. It may just engender resentment.

From Anonymous:

Your teen, as well as most, including our own, suffer from 1) being given things or opportunities without a strong burning desire for them, possibly out of wanting to live vicariously through them; 2) not allowing them to suffer natural consequences for their actions or inactions because we love them and don't want them to hurt, when in fact, we do hurt them by our responses; 3) not enough time in intercessory prayer for them - God working through our weak parenting = strong children.

Last, take them to see a good movie that shows how thankful they can be in their situation. "Pride" is one that I can recommend. Hope I was of some help.

From Anonymous:

The 16 year old is screaming he doesn't want to be there. Just buck it up and skip some tournaments. Making him feel bad for not wanting to be there isn't going to help. Maybe he hates tennis and wants to quit. If that's the case, it’s time for Mom and Dad to get over it. He can go to college like everyone else who isn't quite good enough.... loans.

From Anonymous Coach:

Sorry, I'm not a parent but am a (college) coach of 20 years and a sports psychologist.

First, you say he tanked. What did he think about his performance? What does an outside observer think? What are his excuses really covering?

Teenagers go through plenty of emotional peaks and valleys... and plenty of selfish moments. He clearly wasn't thinking about your time and effort. Early-morning matches for teenagers are tough to play. It sounds like you might have to spend a while thinking, since you were furious. Maybe a week or two later, you and he can sit down and reflect.

You also mentioned that you want him to build on his experiences to help him get into college. Is this his goal? Perhaps college tennis is not for him, and he is beginning to realize this. You mentioned that there is such a small window and time is running out. Did you mention this to him? Maybe he feels pressure and doesn't want to play now.

I wouldn't seek to punish him immediately. He enjoys playing with his friends since there is no pressure. He might like playing for himself but not for getting into college. You just need to let him make up his mind and reassure him that college tennis is optional.

I would sit down with him a week later and just chat. Let him decide whether college tennis or competition is for him. Your only role right now is to support him in his decision. If he does say he wants to play but tanks again, you may wish to withdraw your financial support of his tennis with the understanding that he doesn't want to compete any more.

From Birdie P.:

The first thing to teach players is patience; only those who can control the match by being patient will come out ahead of the game.

It might seem like he is too immature to play this game, but really he is not. He is a normal kid who wants everything right now, and he has no patience.

So maybe the way to approach this is to have him watch a lot more professional tennis matches, as they're always late, and they always have to wait their turn to play. Watch Wimbledon! Rain delays every day!

Make sure he has a lot of court time with someone who is really a challenge for him. Then he will want to play his game, no matter what or how long he has to wait.

I've waited to play a match for two hours, and then it started to rain, so we had to reschedule the match two weeks later. These things happen, and no one has control of how the time will turn out. So have him breathe deep and wait out the delays. He'll be fine, and on the other hand, remember, he's playing a game, and he may not make the big game, but at least he did try.

You may have to look into paying a little more for him to move on to go to college, as he may not be what colleges are looking for.

Personally, I've seen parents believe what wasn't really there, and then the child just takes off and does a great job, so just keep being positive, and he'll get it going.

I've worked with tough love being the only way there. I think patience is a better way to go.

Good luck with your son.

Coach Birdie

From Glenn A.:

You son has “got to want it” to be able to compete at the highest levels. Sounds like he’s just a typical teenager and maybe is experiencing a little “burn out” in his tennis at this time. This is very common -- a slight break might be in order.

Now for the future: Recently, college campuses have exploded with a plethora of college club tennis teams comprised of coed teams that travel together, play together and attend highly competitive events, like USTA Section and National Campus Championships. This program is growing by leaps and bounds. Currently, there are over 400 colleges and 25,000 players who participate on these socially competitive “club” teams. Most of the college kids who participate say it’s the most fun they’ve ever had in tennis, and they’re meeting other kids who share their passion – tennis.

Let your son know about this. If his attitude and desire doesn’t improve, he might not have a chance to play varsity collegiate tennis. The club level program still has a high degree of competition, some very solid players and, most importantly, the “fun” factor that kids long for. You can find out more about the program at www.usta.com/campus.

From Ed S.:

I would give him more responsibility for matches, schedules, fees and planning.

If he wants it, he'll do the extra work. If he doesn't, then it won't happen, but no stick or carrot from you would make it work, either.

Tell him what you’re doing with something like:

1) You are right; you are old enough to make your own decisions

2) So we are going to let you decide what you want to do

3) You will be responsible for matches, practice, scheduling, planning and part of the fees (you'll pay__% or 100% up to a certain amount)

4) As your parents, we want to see you succeed, so we will help you, answer questions with our opinion, etc., whenever you ask for help

5) It is up to you, as it will be in the future, no matter what you are trying to do. We are happy when you are happy, and we get excited about the possibilities that we see for you. But it is really not our choice, is it?

Then ask him a series of questions like:

1) How much time do you need to commit to tennis to be successful?

2) What must happen for you to be successful?

3) Do you want to be successful in your tennis?

4) How strong are the different areas of your game (serve, return of serve, volley, forehand, backhand, approach shots, drop shots, overheads)?

5) Are you mentally prepared for each match? (Get Brad Gilbert’s book “Winning Ugly” – it is a must-read.)

Your destiny is determined by your focus

Your focus is determined by the questions you ask

If you want to change your destiny, then ask better questions

Like instead of, “Why does this always happen?” Ask, “How can I make this better and have fun doing it?”

From John P., Wilmington, DE:

You mention a small window of opportunity for him to "build his experiences." There is just as small an opportunity for you as a parent to teach him sportsmanship, fair play and values.

If this behavior goes unnoticed and unmentioned, it will be seen as acceptable and not taken seriously as an offense – if not against you, himself, but his opponent. It will continue.

It sounds as if you went to some length to get him to wherever this tournament was. I would suggest, at the very least, that he find his own way to the next tournament that he feels he "must play," even if that means hoofing it, cycling to it, whatever; and also shelling out his own entry fee.

Until he showed me that he was genuinely interested in playing to his potential, I would leave him on his own for a bit.

Perhaps once he found it coming out of his own wallet and that there was no one there to watch his antics, he would re-gain perspective.

I don't normally answer these kinds of e-mails; I am no psychologist, have no degree in behavior. I have two teenage daughters who do not play, However, I have been playing tennis since fifth grade; played through high school and college. I see tennis today as far removed from what it was when I was in school, and, quite frankly, some of it makes me nuts.

If the young players of today ever hope to live up to or perform to the best of their ability, I think we need to start teaching them again that it's not all about the "in-your-face" attitude, the grunting/yelling that is so prevalent today that we considered "bush league," but rather it's sportsmanship and letting your racquet do the talking. It worked for Borg. It worked for Ivan Lendl. It works today for Roger Federer.

From Jeff T., Tampa, FL:

I think you should send your son away to a place where they eat and breathe tennis 24/7. A place away from home where the kids get home schooled and the rules are strict. The environment I'm thinking of breeds tennis stars. The other kids will look for your son to provide leadership. He'll mature and be totally tennis oriented; plus being away from home is going to be too cool. I recommend the Steve Smith Tennis Academy at the Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla.

From Earl, Kirkwood, MO:

You wrote, "I feel like there is such a small window of opportunity left to build his experiences to help him get into a college, and time is running out." There is also another small window that you should consider, and that is the opportunity to build his character, which is one of the major requirements and benefits of tennis and will last a lifetime.

Talk with him, hold up examples of the great names of the game and how they persevered in tennis and life despite hardships, and send him out to compete and live up to their high standards. He has to motivate himself. Ground him for awhile, and then let him play to give him the opportunity to experience adversity and let him grow and mature in his response to it.

From Catherine, Johns Creek, GA:

You can’t give your son the passion and perseverance to win. As badly as YOU want it, you cannot play the match for him or inspire him to win. Tennis is a sport that requires motivation from one single person….the player. It is not a sport for whiners and excuse-makers. Your son is old enough to pay for his own tournaments and probably drive himself, as well. If he is not willing to do that, don’t waste any more of your heart and time on his tennis career. He is going nowhere.

From Lindylou, Bensalem:

Been there a few times. Where to start...

First of all, there is a lot of pressure in junior tennis. I've seen the good, the bad and the real ugly. It's all part of the game. My daughter tanked a match once because she wanted to go to a party. She was 13 or 14 at the time. I was really upset, but you must put this all in perspective.

Don't expect your son to have a good attitude all the time; no kid does. He may be having burnout or need a break. This is not a bad thing. He could come back renewed and better than ever. Then again, maybe he doesn't want to play any more. Or somewhere in between. Time will tell.

Sit back and take the lead from your son. You are right, no tournaments for awhile, until he decides he really wants to put out the effort. I know this will kill you (it did me), but that is what you have to do.

Just for the record, EVERYONE has tanked a match, from the pros on down. And furthermore, for the record, my daughter went on to win the state championship for two years in a row and got a full tennis scholarship to a Division I school.

I could talk about this for hours, if you want to e-mail me, maybe the USTA could give you my e-mail address. I don't mind.

Good luck.

From Don N., Bowie, MD:

It’s his choice to play or not to play. But when Mom and Dad are footing the bill, all they want is a real effort. If the kid chooses to not play, tank if you will, make him pay for that tournament. He will think twice before tanking in the next one, or maybe he is losing interest, and it’s time to take up another sport or hobby.

From Georgia M., Keene, NH:

From past experience as a tennis mom, I have seen many 16-year-olds be ambivalent about competing in tennis matches, especially ones that are quite a drive from home.

Sixteen-year-itis hit my daughter two years after listening to other parents with the same lament as yours. My daughter said she wanted to be able to got to parties and out with friends and not be hindered by competing away from home. These are just the priorities of 16-year-olds, mostly.

We made a deal. If she would play only the number of tournaments to get a ranking for that year, then I would not bug her to go into any tournaments. She played two, and her ranking went down. However, she at 17, on her own, entered several tournaments and drove herself to them. They became her top priority, along with getting a higher ranking to help her get into good schools and onto good tennis teams. I have seen the same thing happen with other girls, as well.

I hope this story helps you to understand what's going on with your son. Maybe it applies; maybe it doesn't. Sometimes parents just have to let their kids make decisions for themselves and suffer the consequences.

From Anonymous, St. Charles, IL:

My 14-year-old daughter did the same thing two months ago in a USTA match. She wanted to play the tournament, so we signed her up. In a match where she easily won the first set, 6-2, and was up, 5-2, with match point three times, she lost the second set, 7-5.

She then came off and said she wanted to default the match because she was hot...tired... etc. She said she was going to lose on purpose, and she did… 6-0. I decided to make her pay me the tournament fee. The $35 loss to her hit home, and we have not had a problem since.

From Bill L., Evanston, IL:

Tennis is fun. If you are not having fun, you probably will make excuses for not practicing, playing, etc. The smallest amount of money will not be well spent if you are trying to make a person play a game he does not like. Also, I wonder if you are more interested in you son playing college tennis than he is. You may want him to play and are willing to spend money and time to help him have an opportunity to play, but if he is not as interested as you are, you will continue to have this problem.

But giving your son the opportunity to play tennis and become the best tennis player he can be has been your goal up to this point. If he was on board with you, that was good. But now it sounds like he is having second thoughts about the commitment to play tennis as seriously as he has to if he wants to play a high level of college tennis. Remember, the reason for going to college is to get a good education and possibly a good start to a life-long career. Tennis is secondary. The good thing about learning to play tennis is that is a lifetime sport. You have given your son an invaluable skill that he can use his whole life. Tennis will put him into contact with some pretty good people. If along the way he competes and enjoys it, this is just a very good plus.

Give your son a break. Let him decide if he wants to continue to compete and get better so he can play college tennis. This is his decision. Don't put pressure on him because you think you are not getting your money's worth or are giving up your valuable time. Getting a scholarship to play tennis is a very difficult thing to do. Trying to get one to help pay for all the money you spent for lessons, etc., is not a very good reason to continue to play the game. Whatever money and time you spent, know it was for a good purpose: to give your son a lifetime skill. Let him decide what to do with it. Don't you put any conditions on it.

Good luck to you and your son. It will work out.

From Gerry K., Newington, CT:

I, too, dealt with this problem, and, you know, they just really have to want it for themselves. It turned out that when our daughter was faced with being off the team, she decided to give it her all, and she did very well.

I always remember a young Andre Agassi and how he turned out -- rebelling against all that tennis took from him and then, in the end, he was the person that got more out of it than he could have every imagined. Not that we are as good as Andre, but he, too, faced the same problems. Until he really wanted it, he felt that it was taking more than giving.

They need to get to the place that seems to be in their future, but they cannot comprehend that it is closer than they think. Just stay with him -- stay the course, so to speak, and perhaps some good things will come out of it. They enjoy the sport until it seems to be taking something else from them, and then they are not sure if they like the tradeoff.

Good luck and stay with him. He is worth it and more.

From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

I would say, first, if he can't qualify for Midwest-level tournaments, then he probably will not get a college free ride, unless he grows and gets much better. In tennis, like in life, we must face reality. Maybe a local tournament might be right, but hitting with his friends, as long as they are good, that’s where it’s at.

If you have the fundamentals of tennis, just hitting for a few hours a day, or even a couple days a week, should be good. Maybe he needs another sport, or a club at school, to broaden his horizons.

If he likes to play, play local, with friends, maybe a lesson or a few from local pros, but he doesn't want it right now, and you do. When the parents want to live there dreams through their kids, it makes it very hard on the kid. So let him grow mentally, physically, but be realistic about your hopes for him. U.S. tennis is tough, and Division I tennis is real tough, so let him love the game, not you.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Colleen, perhaps it will help to know where this advice comes from – the raising of three boys who are now 30, 31 and 35, plus seven grandkids, aged 8 to 17, and the last five tennis seasons coaching boys’ and girls’ varsity high school tennis. Excuses can be many things. In competition, in general, they are “EGO Protectors.”

Here are a few questions:

* What was his attitude:

-- At wakening?

-- During transit?

-- Upon arrival?

-- Just before the match?

* At what point do you think he tanked?

* Was he “in the tank” before the first point?

* Who actually felt worse after the loss – Colleen or son?

* When he plays with his friends, does he win the majority of the time?

* What are his expectations of attaining a college tennis scholarship?

* Is his level of play worthy for scholarship attention?

I know how much it takes to be a sports parent. However, it does not matter how much you have done, whether financially or physically, to get your son to this point. Good or bad, it is still a game. YOU are his Agape support system. Whether he gets a college scholarship or not, in a couple of years, he will be gone and on his own way.

“I was furious by his lack of effort and poor attitude, considering the effort I put into organizing, paying for and transporting him to the even.t”

A lot of “I”s here. Your son is facing a multitude of things at 16 – the life movie “Hormones Gone While” is playing constantly, girls, school and those in his circle of influence. (I made up the movie title)

If your son enjoys playing with his friends because he wins and truly loves the game and the excitement of match play, that’s great. However, if in competition at the USTA age-group level his best performance falls short, then the lad needs professional tennis help. But if he was winning and has started falling short, that’s a different matter.

Here’s the bottom line. Step away for the moment and keep your arms ready to catch him. He needs to meet with somebody he truly trusts and get to the bottom of what his true thoughts and feelings are regarding this matter. Deal with them first, and if tennis is really in his blood, he will come out of it.

I really do know how hard this sounds. You are his mom. The first lady in his life. My 30-year-old once played high school baseball. He was a late bloomer and really never played little league. He was the team’s starting catcher and batted .725. He played for a small school – only seven in his graduating class – so scouts didn’t pay attention to him.

I knew he was a gifted athlete, so we sent him to the pitcher and catcher’s camp in Orlando, Fla. Bottom line, he hit cleanly off every pitcher there; however, if you can’t throw home to second in under two seconds, you are out of a college scholarship if you are a catcher. Tough pill to swallow.

If I remember right, Tim Mayotte was 19 when he started to play tennis, and we all know how great a player he was in the ’80s. Dennis van der Meer was a tanker and has built a great tennis career.

So keep a strong heart, love him as your son, no matter what his play is like, and that will last far longer than his tennis ranking.

From Harrison T.:

That parent already knows the answer. He just doesn't want to follow through with "common sense" and is making excuses for himself.

So many children are growing up irresponsible and entitled -- I've seen the results professionally -- because they are NOT being taught that there are consequences to their actions. What does this teenager learn when his parents make excuses for his behavior?

As for him having aspirations to be a college team player, how does he think his future coach and teammates are going to feel about someone who is too lazy to go to a match? Or a future employer? This parent is becoming an enabler for another me-centered teenager who will have difficulties as he enters adulthood.

If the parent was so worried about the playing "window of opportunity" for his son, then why did he let the son blow off the match in the first place? I'm sorry to be harsh, but this is VERY lame parenting.

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