by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer
Horror stories of parents helping their children cheat;
intimidating their child's opponent and abusing their own child in losses
are legendary. What we don't hear much about are parents who are
knowledgeable about the many facets of competition and how to enhance the
performance of their child.
Because tennis is played by a cross section of the world's
population, we should expect to see great and ugly things, and we do.
In the last few weeks, I have been consulted on how to handle screaming and
abusive parents more than anytime in the past. Let's take a look at some of
First, parents are supposed to be spectators and their behavior
should be supportive, but professional. If parental behavior is abusive and
unprofessional, then tennis rules support their removal from the scene, or
from the grounds. The problem, in this litigious world, many tournament
referees are afraid to take harsh action because they fear an ugly lawsuit.
Secondly, there should be more conferences for parents that teach
characteristics of professional behavior. I've seen parents who have
attended such conferences and were stunned at the self-discovery that they
were abusive and unprofessional.
A few years back, Dr. Kara Cross and I produced a video titled,
"Helping Your Child Succeed in Sports". Dr. Cross, a clinical psychologist,
gave a wonderful description of the parent who attaches his/her child's
success to the parent's own self-esteem. In that video, Dr. Kara Cross
clearly indicates the signs that should lead to a parent seeking counseling,
or even therapy. To date, it is the best video, and now a DVD, that I have
seen on this issue. Dr. Cross presents information that even healthy parents
After parents spend a reasonable amount of time with
self-analysis, it's important for them to understand how their child's brain
works. There are children who can survive harsh criticism, and there are
some who actually use such criticism to work harder. However, there are
children who are totally destroyed by unprofessional criticism. I have been
learning a great deal about the human brain from Dr. Daniel Amen who has
performed over 28,000 brain scans. Because there is no such thing as "MUSCLE
MEMORY", one has to rely upon the brain sending the appropriate electrical
signal to the muscle, at the right time. However, when one is scared,
intimidated and worried, the brain often sends the wrong message to the
muscles. The effects of those incorrect signals normally results in
ineffective shots, and if there are too many such incorrect signals, an
eventual loss. The unprofessional parent often adds the ingredients as
spectators that guarantee a loss for their child.
I've had parents shout and scream at me for asking them to
reconsider their behavior. They often say, "Nobody knows my child the way I
do". That could be correct in everyday behavior patterns, but participation
in competitive sports adds many variables that aren't necessarily exhibited
in the home. As a licensed psychologist, I have had to turn down requests to
coach certain children because I suspected emotional and physical abuse is
somewhere in the picture. If I did take the children of abusive parents, and
if I did have evidence of emotional and physical abuse, by law, I have to
report the behavior to the police.
The bottom line to this discussion is that the role of parents, as
is the role of coaches, is to help each child maximize performance and
enjoyment of tennis in the shortest period of time. The ingredients for
professional parental help are well known. Let's make a greater effort to
get the word out to all parents of tennis players.
For information on Dr. Cross's DVD, please call 800-CALL-VIC.