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Player to Player: Dealing with Pressure from Parents

May 25, 2008 12:04 PM

Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For, and Offering, Advice on the Sport They Love

Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.

PLAYER TO PLAYER DOESN'T WORK WITHOUT YOUR QUESTIONS, so please send any queries you’d like answered, or responses to other players' questions, to Player@USTA.com.



This week's question from Dee:

"I am a 3.5-4.0 player and hit about four times a week, playing matches every other weekend. I have been dealing with plantar fasciitis for the past 12 months. The pain comes and goes. I have tried physical therapy and cortisone shots, but they are only temporary solutions. Short of retiring for awhile and wearing a cast... Does anyone who has dealt with this condition have any magic treatment advice?"

Please share your thoughts with Dee by e-mailing Player@USTA.com and include your name and hometown.

Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!

Last week’s question from Marissa:
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question)

"I am a young player, and my parents put too much pressure on me. For example, when I am in a slump, they get mad because I am not playing well. I have talked to them about it, but they just can't seem to help it. What can I do to deal with it?"


From Kris C., Atlanta, GA:

My parents did the same thing when I was young. They pushed really hard, too, and that was 30 years ago.

You have to understand that parents think you can do anything and have paid big bucks to make it happen. Unfortunately, so have all of your opponent's parents, too. The fact of the matter is that half of the players lose every time they play, so there will be a lot of disappointed parents out there.

Just keep working on your game every day, whether it be conditioning, tennis or mental preparation. Your best chance that it will come is if you believe in yourself and work hard every day. My parents sent me to Jim Loehr when I was in high school and got into a slump, and I worked hard at reaching goals daily and ended up No. 1 in the state every year, including when I was in the "slump." I also received a full scholarship to a Division I school, which was my parents’ dream. The problem was that at this school, the pressure started again, only it was not from my parents but from my coach.

Think about what you want in life, and go for it. My sister quit tennis in college, and I didn't, and we have totally different experiences. We both turned out fine. I currently teach tennis and would not change it for the world. The difference is that I am teaching recreational-level players to have fun and play for their lifetime and don't expect miracles or a return, like your parents and mine did. I would not be able to do this if I had not had the experiences I had, pressure or not.

Good luck!

From Bill W., Turlock, CA:

Marissa, this is a tough one. Your parents only want the best for you but may be having a difficult time communicating with you. I don't know how old you are or your tennis goals, but I will assume you are a young junior playing girls’ 14s or 16s and looking towards solid high school or even college tennis.

Since you have already spoken to them about the undue pressure, I would suggest you sit down with them and write a "pressure contract." Explain to them in writing what your tennis goals are (they may not be the same goals as they have for you), where you think you stand in relationship to your goals, and what you need to do to achieve your goals. By doing this, they may see that you are working towards your goals, and hopefully you and your parents will be able to come to an agreement towards your common tennis goals.

Make sure you identify in your contract what your parents are doing that creates the pressure situation and what you would like to see them do when these pressure situations arise. If they follow the contract, you still may not succeed right away because you may be distracted by the fact that they have changed and are putting you in charge of your own destiny. If this happens, it is now up to you to set your standards for play, get prepared both physically and mentally to play, and show your parents your work ethic towards your goals.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Marissa, you have two problems – pressure and negative parental response to your performance from those you expect to be your safe haven. A certain amount of pressure is part of all sports. An appropriate amount of parental encouragement is necessary; however, pressure to win is not the same thing. Let me say this without ever meeting your parents -- they want the best for you. Sometimes what they have to offer is less than helpful.

If you feel your parents are acting outside of their roles, then ask your coach or pro to help with your parents. Standing in the gap is part of what they do. It is your game, and it should be fun. Yes, losing a match may not be fun, but playing your best should be fun.

My simple presence in the stands while my son was at bat was too overpowering for him. I could watch him as the catcher, but I was at the concession stand as soon as he was on deck. I actually took it a step further. I would pass him while he was on deck and ask, “Cola or orange?” He knew the rest. It was my way of offering comfort to him. Slumps are in the mind. Getting this important part of your game life in order often is the cure. By the way, he went from a .250 hitter to .770 once I was willing to do what was best for his game.

Marissa, it is your response to pressure that counts. As parents, we are your support system. Some things we just can’t fix until we put pride in its place and it works for both parents and players.

In closing, keep a view on the big picture. You are the daughter before tennis, and you will still be their daughter after tennis.

Play on!

From Lindy Lou, Bensalem, PA:

This is a tough one. Wish I could talk to your parents. I would certainly tell them to back off because they are very close to having their child give up the game. You're headed for third-degree burnout, and you know it. But they don't. Your playing badly is only a symptom, and, believe me, this will get worse before it gets better.

You say you have talked to them. I would love to know what you said and what they said. The only thing I can think of is to say, "Look, I can't do this any more. I'm not having fun. I feel too pressured to win. I need a BREAK!"

When they come to you to sign the tournament application, refuse to sign. If they sign for you, don't get in the car to go to the tournament. If they drag you to the tournament (they wouldn't go that far, would they?), when your match is called, tell the tournament director that you are defaulting. You can't make it any clearer than that. I am so sorry that this is happening to you.

There are books on this subject, but I don't think your parents would read them. Oh, here is another idea. Tell them you would like to speak to a sports psychologist. After one or two sessions alone, the doc would then have your parents come in for a chat. He/she will be ON YOUR SIDE and will back you up. Sometimes hearing it from someone else, especially a professional, might help them see things differently.

When my daughter, a tournament player, had various psychological issues, we found the services of a sports psychologist to be one of the best decisions we ever made.

Good luck, and please write back.

From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

After all these answers are posted, I would have your parents read them all. Very few young tennis players make it to the pro level or the college level. It is unfortunate that so many Division I schools are giving their scholarships to foreign players, but that’s another issue.

Winning is not everything. It’s getting the release of tennis, the fun of getting better and being with people who also like tennis. When looking at youth tennis, I always say playing many sports will help their tennis game and life. I also think you have to want to play to get better.

It’s better to hit the ball out than into the net. Kill that ball swinging through it and releasing all your anger into it. Don't be an ugly person on the court, screaming and throwing your racquet… that’s just not right. Be a well-rounded youth. Play many sports and do many things – your education, art, music, friends, the mall and all that there is in a teen’s life.

When you go on the court, it is because you like it, want to win and want to get better. No one else lives your life – you do. So, again, have your parents read all these answers, and sit down and talk with them about a plan that will make you happy and you a better person, and player.

From Eric R., Santa Rosa, CA:

Marissa needs to have a sit-down talk with both parents present. She needs to make a signed agreement that involves her promise to practice and play hard, never give up in a match, and listen before commenting in answers to calm coaching suggestions.

In return, her parents agree to "count to 10" when angry. After doing this, they agree to only comment in a calm, reasonable manner. If there is a signed agreement, it will hold more substance.

In a perfect world, parents and kids do not need this type of intervention. Here in the real world (where Marissa has experienced this repeatedly), it becomes a necessary instrument.

From Coach Dave, Palm Dessert, CA:

I would suggest that you stop playing competitively for awhile until you and your coach identify the problem[s], which could be technique lapse, match stress or just physical tiredness.

Have your coach talk to your parents, as well. As you identify the issues and work on solving them, you will return to your winning ways.

And have fun... that’s very important. Winning is good, but if did your best and lose a match, that’s OK, too.

From Heather, Bradenton, FL:

First of all, know that your parents love you and they are having a tough time communicating with you. As a parent of three tennis players, my husband and I are constantly asking each other, "Are we being too easy on them? Are we pushing them enough or too much? Are they happy playing tennis? Where is this all going?"

It is really hard to be a parent, let alone a tennis parent… phew! If you are like my kids, you started playing at a young age and may be a teenager now. That means you are changing, and the way your parents communicate needs to change, as well. Sometimes we forget that letting you learn lessons on you own is the best way for you to grow and develop. It is tough to "let go." That goes for life, not just tennis!

My advice is to use the tennis triangle. That is the triangle created between coach, player and parents. We find that if we have a big issue that is only tennis related, we bring that to the coach, and then he helps us understand and then talks to our child. Sometimes we are just out of touch with the reality of the situation. It's easy to sit and watch; playing out there is totally different. He helps us remember that. You may use the triangle, too. Tell your coach your feelings and maybe he/she can relay this to your folks.

Lastly, we read a great article by Ashley Harkleroad's dad with a great rule of thumb. Never talk about a match for 24 hours. Everyone is usually seeing things much clearer after a good night's sleep. If you can't wait that long, try for at least three hours! Good luck, Marissa. Hope this helps!

*Please note that any advice given out in this forum should in no way be confused with actual medical advice. Before starting any new exercise regimen or altering your existing one, we strongly urge you to consult with your regular physician.

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