Your Serve: The Fathers of Tennis
When it comes to children, let’s make sure we don’t underestimate the role that fathers play in the sport of a lifetime.
By Denny Schackter
I don’t claim to be an expert on fatherhood, since I have never had the good fortune of being a father. But I have observed thousands of fathers over the last 45 years as a teacher, college tennis coach, teaching pro, industry representative, and now as a USTA volunteer and part-time pro.
From this unique perspective, I have concluded that fathers are extremely important to the stability and continued growth of the game of tennis. Why?
- Fathers can mold an aspiring tennis son or daughter to great heights by nurturing, consoling, disciplining and encouraging them.
- Fathers have an innate ability to see the silver lining after a close loss and build confidence back in their child.
- Fathers can hit with their kids, offering practice time and bonding, even a bit of coaching, while keeping things in perspective.
- Fathers can be a vital complement to a coach or teaching pro.
Now … before you jump all over me for playing up the role of dads in the growth of tennis, I know it’s a team effort on the home front — moms are incredibly important, too, and we can’t ignore that. But over my tennis career, my observation is that the father often can be the catalyst, that intangible force to help make it happen, and can help keep kids playing this sport.
I recently attended a conference college tennis meet where I watched an interaction between father and daughter. I happened to know the father and noticed how, after the competition, a constructive conversation ensued about the match. It was only after the daughter had connected with her father that she went to hang with her teammates and coach.
I said to the dad, “Every time I see you with Susan, I quickly see a very tight bond the two of you have.”
He replied, “If it weren’t for tennis, I would not have that bond. Even more so, I don’t think I would have much of a relationship with my daughters. For everything outside of tennis, they are more closely bonded with my wife.”
I think we often woefully underestimate the bond between father and child. Fathers, of course, can really interact and impart lessons in life to their children. Since tennis is such a mental game, fathers can have the ability to have many conversations to bring forth the positive dialogue players need to have when playing.
We often extol the virtues of tennis — exercise and fitness, decision-making, social growth, family sport, fun, etc. But because of the individual nature of the sport, we can sometimes be blind to the bond of father and child.
Many of my former college tennis players have kids of their own playing in college now. I have been fortunate to see my former players as fathers. I am sure they took on their own persona and took on some of their own father’s traits. Now, I see a wonderful bond that both dad and child developed.
It’s great to see the Father-Son and Father-Daughter tournaments in action. The players compete, but they laugh, cajole, support, high-five. No question, kids play many times because dad plays and certainly, many kids rebel because dad plays. But when they accept the virtues of tennis, kids often see that the road to bonding with their dad, and vice versa, is on the court. That bond is a lifetime glue that cannot be cracked.
As we market our great game, implementing father/daughter/son activities could be a key to the continuance of tennis growth. The Youth Tennis emphasis will be well served by bringing fathers into a more impactful role that will sustain the attachment between tennis and families for a lifetime.
If you are in a position of influence, incorporate dads in your programming. What can we do to aid this? Here are some ideas; I’m sure you can think of many more:
- Lesson formats that are family in nature could be a starting point. Father/daughter/son group lessons with other father/daughter/son combinations could be fun.
- “Stroke of the Week” clinics for families.
- A one-day father/daughter/son club tournament with the emphasis on round-robin play and fun (rather than trophies and rankings).
- Teaching dads how to set up driveway tennis, and conditioning that the family can do together.
- Going to local college or professional matches together to watch advanced players.
Tennis is truly a lifetime sport, and fathers can play an important role in making sure it remains so for their children.
Denny Schackter resides in Palatine, IL, where he is the owner of Tennis Priorities, a firm whose focus is recruiting young people into tennis teaching. Check out his website tennispriorities.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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