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Mom Patch: Behind the Baseline

Our Mom Patch columnist wonders, "Do we live vicariously through our kids when it comes to sports?"

In a town such as Franklin Lakes, it is not unusual to see kids focusing on a particular sport fairly early on in their lives. I’ve seen kids as young as 4 years of age working on their speed and agility, parents on the sidelines snapping pictures and videotaping the beginnings of a most promising career.

Wanting to give our kids the chances we never had when we were growing up, we eagerly sign them up for a sport that we feel suits their talents, purchase all necessary equipment as well as accessories for their given sport, research area coaches to help give our kids the leg up and then happily dawn on our chauffeur cap in order to shuttle them to their practices, games and tournaments.

Then after all the sacrifices…the umbrella fights in the cold rain, the constant driving back and forth through unyielding traffic, the missed family dinners and quality time we desperately need as a family unit, and the late night homework shuffle …we find ourselves pacing the sidelines like a caged animal as we watch the game unfold and witness the not so bright moments of our young athletes. What are you doing?....Run!!....No, HIT the ball…oh for goodness sakes….

Does any of this sound familiar?

Now, as a parent of a young athlete, I must say that I have been there, done that.

My oldest is a tennis player, but let me start by saying that I most certainly did NOT push her into tennis. This was truly a decision she made on her own and I constantly remind her that if it ever gets to be too much, all she needs to say is “enough.”

So, with that said, when we began playing tennis (I say “we” because this was truly a learning process for the whole family) I soon became a crazy tennis mom. Yes, I admit it. I would sit at her practice for 2 hours straight each day (she practices 5 days a week) speaking to veteran parents behind the baseline, gleaning any pertinent information…watching ….analyzing ….hoping that this could turn into something truly promising (like it did for my cousin who got a full ride to Princeton University….way to go Sarah!)

After months of hard work, we were ready for our very first tournament. I stood under the awning, trying to hide from the intensity of the summer sun….my heart racing, stomach churning, palms sweating, watching with baited breath as the little yellow ball bounced back and forth sometimes seemingly hovering over the net. Every point played felt as if it lasted an eternity.

From nearby courts, I could hear the shuffling of feet, clapping, grunts and occasional raised voices as parents fight with one another while their children battled on the courts (FYI: Tennis parents are vicious!) Finally, it was over….my daughter came in second, losing to a fellow teammate. With heads held high, we congratulated the winner and headed to the car. Needless to say, the hour long car ride was not fun. Frustrated with the performance I just witnessed, I laid into her, lecturing her the entire way home. What happened?....You have to want to win!....You have NO DRIVE!...turn with the hips…. concentrate….follow through….blah blah blah.

I told you I was a crazy tennis mom….

By the time we arrived home, I was hoarse and my daughter was crying…..and for what?! Tennis?

Luckily, my husband who is always the voice of reason (please don’t tell him I said that) told me about his experience as a young aspiring tennis player. He explained how we can’t take the fun out of a sport because when he was a young teen, his father pushed him so hard that eventually he hated the sport and refused to play. Does this sound familiar?

So I thought long and hard about why we want our children to play a sport.  Is it so that they can receive college scholarships, join the Olympic team, play in the US Open? No, although that would be great.

We want them to play a sport so that they can build up their self confidence. I want my children to be confident (not cocky…there is a fine line) and to know who they are and what defines them. I want them to be happy.

So, does my daughter still love tennis? Absolutely. Do I still drive her all over Bergen County for practices and drills? Sure. Does she still compete in tournaments? Of course...but now my husband takes her.

Matthew A. Carpenter May 25, 2011 at 08:41 PM
Nice to read a well thought out perspective on kids, athletics and parenting. I was pushed into playing trumpet and being in a marching band as a child. Guess what instrument I can't stand and refuse to play now. Now with a two year old I'm starting to analyze the things that I'm conveying to her about what's important and what has value. Confidence, love and self worth... I think you put it nicely.
Julia Chiang June 08, 2011 at 03:18 AM
Thank you Matthew.....we definitely need to try and keep things in perspective.

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