Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Battle Hymn of the Tennis Mother (or, why I shall never be Judy Murray)

My new philosophy?
The boys have been taking tennis lessons now for about 18 months, and about a year ago their coach got quite excited about Littleboy 1's progress. She suggested he join a new development squad she was setting up, and start to play proper matches and tournaments when the time was right.

Well, I'm not going to even pretend that he's an Andy Murray in the making, but he enjoys tennis and plays quite nicely, and did well in the squad. So, more recently we decided the time was right to enter him into an LTA mini tennis tournament. The coach felt he needed to play people better than him, rather than the same children (mainly younger) that he can comfortably beat at his weekly lesson.

So a few weeks ago we duly trekked off to the other side of London to this tournament, but the moment we arrived I realised that (as usual) I had done my classic thing of Not Taking It Quite Seriously Enough (TM). For a start, there were kids there with Proper Tennis Bags containing three different rackets, dressed in the kind of white jackets you might see Djokovic arriving on court in. Littleboy1, in his American soccer t-shirt, ratty fleece and racquet in a plastic holder, already looked out of place, and as I watched him knock up with some boys I realised immediately there was no way he would be able to beat anyone there.

To be fair, it was his first tournament and his LTA ranking was lower than that of anyone else there (your rankings improve as you play and win more matches). But I could tell that these boys were far more experienced, and had the kind of shots he just wasn't used to returning, having never played anyone that good (he's played me, but I am rubbish). Poor Littleboy 1 looked pretty frightened as he faced his first opponent -- a tiny child who served ace after unreturnable ace, and made short work of Littleboy1 's own serve-- and things didn't get much better after that.

Although by the end of the match he'd managed to notch a few games, he didn't beat anyone and it must have been pretty disappointing for him. But he was fairly stoic, and I did notice that he upped his game considerably towards the end so it must have been good experience. (Some of the other kids there took it all tremendously seriously, sobbing when they didn't win; he didn't do that).

But I am just not sure I could become a proper tennis mother, trotting off to tournaments like this every weekend.  I've got a lot of admiration for the likes of Judy Murray who must be so determined that their children succeed -- and she must feel pretty amazing when two of her sons are in a Grand Slam Final. However, I am well aware that most tennis mothers will never experience that feeling: only the gruelling competition, and the heartache of losing time and time again tempered only by a fleeting few victories.

And what if your child decides, at the age of 18, that they never want to pick up a tennis racquet again? And you've spent years of your life devoting Saturdays to standing around on the sidelines of tennis clubs in the drizzle (yes, tennis is a year-round sport, even in England).

We're not going to give up on it quite yet; he's going to try a slightly easier tournament next time, with people more his own level. We've also found a friend to play with who is slightly better but doesn't demolish him, and I think that will be good practice too.

But somehow I can't imagine that I'll be sitting up in the players' box at Wimbledon in ten years time, having my outfits scrutinized and appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. And that's absolutely fine with me.


Expat mum said...

I'm quietly glad my youngest has little interest in sport. I spent years at the side of a baseball diamond and my older son was really, really good. The sort of good that made people come over from other games to watch him pitch. Then, when he got into music, he dropped baseball for ever, much to his father's dismay. Then we went to every concert he ever played at the School of Rock and started schlepping his amps and guitars around in the back of our cars. (He's at college now so someone else is presumably doing that.)
But yes, the parents of anyone who "makes it" have basically given their lives over to their children. Not sure I'm that selfless to be honest.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine was a junior LTA champion...she knew she could not be a senior pro and so left at 18, but now coaches in her spare time and plays at her local club and is happy...enjoy the era and don't worry about the future.

Muddling Along said...

I feel much the same, I happy to spend a bit of time supporting them but not sure I am willing to sacrifice my weekends and family time that then impacts the others to support one of them (that said I have a secret dream that Littlest might do something magnificent in the paraolympics but that's more due to limited number of people doing it rather than an innate talent)

Iota said...

I think it's got to come from the child, not the parent (though that's a blurred line, I know).

I think Anonymous has a good line - enjoy it for itself for the moment.

Iota said...

Sad you won't be on Strictly, though. I'd vote for you.

Anonymous said...

Tennis or any other competitive sport can be intense. It's all in how parents' frame it. There will always be the parents/kids that go to win and only win. Fact be known, there is always someone that plays better.

One chess teacher told kids that lost a match that they learn a great deal when they lose to a better player. He also said, you can not always win. He was a chess master and a fabulous teacher. My son played chess and he often (not always) won. When this happened, other Mums hired private chess teachers to help their kids play better. Sometimes the parent's expectations are out of control. This is hot helping a kid. Susan

ADDY said...

I would imagine playing with someone better than you (be it tennis, chess, golf, or whatever)helps to sharpen your skills and also gets you to face the possibility of losing. If your son is enjoying it, then all well and good. If he eventually loses interest, also good. I've always had the impression Judy Murray was trying to live her life through her sons and realise her own ambitions through them. Not good!

Mwa said...

I'm a terrible sports mum as well. I'm a better music mum, because that's what I'm into myself. My motivation is higher for that.
This post brought back memories of my one and only judo tournament. I think I was a yellow belt and they put me up against a huge girl with a brown belt who just slammed me to the floor. That was the end of my judo career.

DD's Diary said...

It sounds awful but I was quite pleased my two didn't turn out to be prodigies at any of the extra-curricular stuff they did - because I, selfishly, didn't want to have to do all that coaching/chauffeuring/maintaining - let alone pay for gazillions of extra lessons. I like to think I did my bit by allowing them to try stuff (and be ok but no more at it!)

Kit said...

I'm also happy that mine are OK at several things rather than brilliant at one. Now that they are all taking part in school sports (if you take part you're in the team, it's a small school) there is already enough driving around to matches, sometimes three of them needing to be in different places at the same time. If one of them were at a seriously competitive level I imagine we'd be fund-raising for air fares to finals of this and that, which we see other parents doing and I'm so glad that we don't have to do that however glamorous it might be.