Monday, July 22, 2013

Hey Coach! (Or Mom and Dad!)

This past weekend, my daughter’s junior tennis team played in the Divisional Championships. And as the team Captain, I also took on the role as the team Coach.  During the matches, I had less than 30 seconds to talk to the kids between their games. In that 30 seconds, I had to tell them the most important thing that they needed to know to help them win their game. Reflecting back on the weekend - and getting ready for the next round - I found that coaching is much like parenting.

Coaching for the win is much like parenting.
Remind them to take advantage of their strengths and prepare to cover for their weaknesses.  Perhaps they should focus on their serve or ability to vary the speed and direction of their groundstrokes or force their opponent to hit from their weak backhand. Sometimes they needed to move faster or be more prepared for a volley. They knew their skills, they needed tips on strategies to use them.

They will face new, unique situations and will be looking to you for help. When they were playing outside and trying to serve looking straight into the sun, some of the kids were ready to give up those games, they didn’t know how else to overcome the situation. I considered options, what I’ve done in similar situations and the rules of tennis. Then I gave them suggestions to try.  Some worked, some didn’t. But we didn’t just give up.

Make a plan for improvement.  When the matches were all over, the kids were ready to rest and pack up their tennis racquets. But once they took a break, they needed to think about the match they just played and prepare for the next one.

Include the village. I was the official coach, the one allowed to talk to the players during the matches, but it was impossible for me to watch 3 courts all at once and take note of everything going on.  I relied on and listened to the other parents’ observations, questions, and suggestions to make comments to the players. For these two days, it wasn’t “my” kid and “your” kid – it was “our” team and we parents cheered for, congratulated and critiqued each other kids to help them all.

Acknowledge their bad performance. Kids know when they’ve done poorly. My swimmers know when they didn’t swim their best race, the tennis players knew when they didn’t play their best game.  We didn’t say “hey, that was great” when it wasn’t. Instead, I asked, “What could’ve been better? What are you going to do next time?”  Kids need to learn not to dwell on their failures, but to learn from them for the next time they are in the same situation.

Cheer them on. Give them a hug – even when they are hot and sweaty or dripping wet. Let them see you clapping wildly from the crowd. Let them hear you screaming their name from the stands. Even when they act embarrassed, they really do appreciate it. No-one wants to be the kid that no-one cheers for.

Cheer them on even when they don’t know it.  On a weekly basis, my son reminds me that he cannot see nor hear me when he’s underwater.  This doesn’t stop me from screaming from the pool deck.  During the regular tennis season, parents are often behind a glass window.  Even when my kids can’t hear me, I still cheer.  If nothing else, everybody else knows – someone care’s about that kid. That kid is loved.  That kid is special.  And everyone should know that about my kids.

I'm exhausted from 15 hours in the heat, running between courts, and handling administrative duties of the tournament.  And much like parenting, I'll gladly do it again.

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