Saturday, March 04, 2017

Tennis Lessons

Evan plays tennis.

He has for a few years but he's only taken it up more seriously in the last 6 or 7 months.

By no stretch of the imagination is he a good tennis player. But he enjoys the game. And he's learning oodles and oodles from it.

By that, I don't mean skill though his skill has markedly improved in the last few months as well.

What I do mean, is the real reasons kids ought to play sport. And none of them have got to do with achieving excellence and being 'scouted'.

In the recent months, he's encountered some situations that have made him angry enough to cry. In each of the situations, as a mother, the easiest thing to do was to remove him from the situation. To protect him from feeling so horrid.

Situation One.

He faced a coach who called it as he saw it. He told Evan that he wasn't a great player; he didn't have drive and it would be hard for him to ever become a good junior player. He also told Evan that everything he was doing was wrong. In one fell swoop, he decimated the forehand that Evan thought was much improved and tore him down for footwork that he had worked hard to learn. In a nutshell, he reduced everything Evan believed he had achieved in the last half a year to near nothing.

Not nice. But not untrue. No doubt, the delivery could have been better but the coach called a spade a spade.

Evan was beyond upset. He was hurt and humiliated.

I assumed that he wouldn't want to see that coach ever again. But recently, he asked if he could have another session with him. I warned him that he would call out his faults as he saw it and if I was going to pay for the session, I wanted to make sure Evan wasn't going to chuck another fit on court and waste the session.

He said he'd try. Try to do as the coach expected. In other words, he would try to adapt.

Situation Two.
Evan plays a practice match with another kid. This kid is much better but both kids make mistakes. Some of the mistakes were called, some weren't. The other kid made some mistakes that weren't called and as a result, Evan didn't get the points. He felt unfairly penalised.

Once again, the water works. He stalks on court. He is disagreeable and he storms off court.

Unacceptable, especially given that the other kid didn't have to give Evan a practice match. We were eating into some of the other kid's training time.

I force march him back on court to shake hands, despite him being close to losing it. I force him to thank his coach too. He does so, without meeting the coach's eyes.

We tell him that even with the points, he would have lost. The truth is that some times, there would be bad calls made. And even when that happens, there should not be McEnroe-brat-tantrum behaviour on court. It's something that happens; both on and off court.

We tell him that regardless of bad calls, there has to be respect for the rules and etiquette of the game. We tell him that there has to be respect for the other player and gracious losing. He sobbed all the way home.
It really did hurt to see him so upset and distressed. For a split second, I, the mother and bystander, wanted to run away from it all. Quit. I wanted him to do the same. But what would have been the point then? What would I have modelled for him? That running away was a solution? No.

I swallowed my own mommy distress and walked him through what was going on.

He was better after a good cry. He could talk about it after that.  He still felt that it was unfair but he accepted it.  He looked forward to playing again today. He acknowledged that he wouldn't like it if his opponent didn't shake hands at the end of the game.

There are so many lessons to be learnt here. Our hope is that he enjoys the sport enough to continue and occasionally pick up a few more of these lessons, even if they cause him momentary pain and dissonance. 

Game, Set, Match. 


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