For most parents, watching children compete in tennis is an extremely emotional experience.
But while all parents can experience significant challenges, some face increased vulnerabilities.
The Biggest Obstacle...
Susceptibility to tennis parenting challenges above and beyond the normal emotional challenges is most linked to a parent’s own learning history in performance domains.
Just like parents powerfully influence their own children’s development through tennis, every parent has a lifetime of experiences that have invisibly contributed to their own development.
These past experiences shape how parents perceive their child’s tennis.
If a parent’s own parents communicated disapproval or conditional love to him in performance domains when he was a child, the sense of disapproval that he felt then will likely later be evoked when he watches his own child perform poorly in tennis.
Through this process (sometimes called transference), this parent will come to have similar difficult internal experiences to those of his childhood (i.e., shame) while watching his child compete.
Shame is one of the most painful emotions where the whole self is viewed as bad and therefore painfully scrutinized and negatively evaluated.
In response, this parents will likely enact coping mechanisms designed to reduce this emotion.
The externalization of anger and blame is one common means to cope as it often serves as an ego defence in reducing our most uncomfortable internal feelings.
So, a parent who is feeling shame in response to a child’s poor performance may attempt to reduce this internal experience by looking for someone to blame such as the child's coach or child.
This manoeuvre likely gives some temporary relief from the global, self-condemning experience of shame by sparing the self from further judgment.
In this case, since this process occurs at an unconscious level, it’s particularly difficult for parents to gain insight into the underlying factors that contribute to the angry reaction.
In this state, despite doing the best they can at the time, parents likely react on ‘automatic pilot’ to their own internal experiences and patterns, rather than with the self-awareness and awareness of their child that can help them make the flexible intentional choices that result in communications that support healthy mental toughness development.
If you, or a parent of a child you coach sometimes finds it challenges to respond mindfully during tennis parenting communications, here is a 4 step practice I recommend:
1.) Develop Awareness – Develop a dual awareness of the situation by asking yourself ‘What is going on for me right now?’ and ‘What is going on for my child right now?’
Stopping to reflect on these questions can break the automaticity of reactions that is common during the emotions of sport experiences.
2.) Develop Acceptance – Once aware, it is important to tame our natural inclination to reduce or avoid the difficult internal experiences (thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and urges) that are common to sport parenting interactions.
You can do this by after noticing your experience, labeling it in a couple of words. For example “There’s anxiety,” or “There’s anger.”
3.) Shift Attention– Once you have made room for these internal experiences, shift attention onto this question, “What do I want my child to learn from this experience?”
4.) Commit to Action- You are now ready to choose an action that supports the development of your child's mental toughness by asking, “What do I need to do to do that?”
By practicing this process parents will be better placed to cope with the challenges that naturally arise during tennis parenting and respond optimally to the situation.
If you would like a Free Download of our 4-Step Process Form you can get it here...
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