The Tennis Parent

The tennis parent is a special breed.  What are his core attributes?  He brings a force-fed practice regiment; showcases a troubling amount of competitiveness; and delivers an irksome level of meddlesomeness during tournament play.  In a phrase, insane parentes.

Let’s begin with a look at the data.  According to a survey in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 36% of coaches believe parents are a negative influence.  While there are a handful of positives (logistics, financial support), the negatives include too much focus on winning and hypercritical assessments of their kids.  It is an amazingly big percentage, generated from a sample size of very experienced coaches with a mean of 17.3 years of coaching experience.

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At the qualitative level, there are countless examples.  In Open: An Autobiography, Andre Agassi talks extensively about a almost tyrannical father and his incredibly rigorous training program.  Further, he frames his experience at the Bollettieri Tennis Camp, imposed by his father, as a prison camp.  Agassi is just one snapshot in an album of examples of the tennis parent pushing their son to the point of burnout or, in the case of Agassi, rebellion.

Some will argue, of course, that the overbearing parent is not endemic to tennis.  Marv Marinovich (Todd Marinovich) and Earl Woods (Tiger Woods) offer two examples from football and golf.  There is merit to this case.

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In addition, it is unfair to argue that the tennis parent is exclusively responsible for the dynamics within the game.  It is a bit of post hoc fallacy (A occurred, then B occurred; therefore A caused B).  Clearly, there are other contributors such as what I call the McEnroe Effect. Players now throw their rackets, scream after a double fault, and question line calls. In contrast, players that are muted on the court likely Edberg and Borg have become a dying breed.  Everyone wants to be Johnny Mac and when players like Nick Kyrgios flash their temper, we barely lift our head.

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In the end, however, the case to be made against the tennis parent is clear.  It may not be the lone issue, but it is an important one.  Their influence on the tournament scene is significant and to the downside.  And so, for all the tennis players suffering from an overbearing parent, good luck.  For all the overbearing tennis parents, good riddance.

Powers Trigg

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6 comments on “The Tennis Parent
  1. TW says:

    I think the tennis parent is getting the short end of the proverbial racket here. They are writing the checks, driving to the tournaments and suffering through the double faults. They should be able to have an opinion.

  2. Esteban Eduardo says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful and articulate post, much of which resonates from my own days in junior tennis. In addition to shining a spotlight on the scourge of insane parentis, however, might I suggest a future post on hostile and abusive doubles partners? I’m still recovering from
    traumatic on-court experiences with one such partner 30 years ago. The hurt rums deep.

  3. Sturges says:

    Tennis parents are not a new phenomenon. They have been a part of the game for decades. The new and bigger deal is that U.S. tennis in shambles. Perhaps we would benefit from some hothead tennis parents? I am only half joking.

    It would be great to hear some predictions on the highest U.S. players and how they will place at the majors. I would be surprised if we have anyone get past the Round of 16 on the men’s side.

  4. Kristen says:

    Great article. It is hard not to love Johnny Mac. The new movie that they are making on the Borg-McEnroe rivalry should be great. I can’t wait to see it.

  5. DT says:

    Good article. I think you captured the issues well. I bet your dad wishes you were hitting on the backboard instead of writing these article.

  6. Gaines says:

    I will dominate the junior tennis scene. It has nothing to do with parents and everything to do with domination.

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