Our son Louie is a fantastic tennis player. He takes drills with the 11 and 12 year olds without any problems. He is only eight and can totally hold his own everywhere except in a match.
My husband and I are not the parents who push our kids into anything. Above all we want our boys to have fun in everything they do. We are of the philosophy that they have their whole life to worry about everything; we certainly don’t want them worrying now.
Where did that behavior come from?
Louie wanted to play matches and so we went by his cue and set them up for him. He’s played three matches so far all of which have been painful to watch. His language is awful on the court. His confidence is totally non-existent. His shoulders droop when he loses a point.
The first time he played, we gave him the excuse of nerves. The second time he played, I gave him the excuse of not having his dad around. The third time he played, our excuses were exhausted.
Are we raising a bad sport?
We had to face the fact that maybe we had a bad sport on our hands. We talked to him about it and we realized that he was somewhat imitating our behavior on the court when he observes us play. Of course, it was totally exaggerated because it was coming from an eight-year olds perspective, but still the basis of the behavior was what he was observing us and other adults doing. He thought swearing was a must after a bad shot, because that’s what adults do.
After every match he played, he made excuses and we helped him come up with more. I realized that I did that whenever I played a match. I would say, “Oh, I can’t play that person, all she did was dink the ball. I want to play with someone who hits hard.” Or I’d say, “I can’t play that woman. She hit the ball too hard, I bet she’s in the wrong league and is not playing her level just so that she could win.” Or I’d say, “I can’t play in the heat, I was about to faint on the court.”
Are we practicing what we preach?
We thought that by talking to our son about his behavior on the court we were going to enlighten him as to proper etiquette and behavior. The truth is that we both learned a lot from our eight year old.
We learned that if we want our kid to be a good sport, then we must model being a good sport. If we want our kids to just play without making excuses, then we need to not make excuses. The whole “practice what you preach” concept definitely was not something we could ignore after our conversation.
My hope is that we can model better behavior for our children. The funny thing is that neither one of us realized how much our son was absorbing our actions. We had a book discussion the other night with one of the most amazing teachers at our school. The whole point she was trying to make is that kids imitate and when they don’t, it raises a red flag for educators. With that in mind, we have to be careful what we want our kids to imitate.
As an update, we’ve decided to stop the match playing for a while and let Louie get back to enjoying the game. We felt like the pressure that he was feeling was so unnecessary for his age. Life is supposed to be fun for an eight year old and when it’s not, the parents are doing something wrong.
Your thoughts … I’d love to hear them
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Making a pact with myself to be a better role model!