Roger Federer is considered one of the best tennis players ever, even at 34 years old. Steffi Graf holds the record most major titles and even has a Grand Slam under her belt. Kim Clijsters had a baby to then have one of the dominating comebacks of all time. People still talk about Andre Agassi’s block return.
These tennis champions defied all odds and became successful in one of the hardest sports to do such a thing. Their road to success was not always smooth though. Many had overbearing and even abusive parents. Steffi Graf’s father earned the nickname Papa Merciless for his complete control over every part of his daughter’s life and career, and Andre Agassi’s hostile relationship with his overbearing father was a major factor in his deep hatred for the sport.
The overbearing tennis parents story is a common theme, even today. Timea Bacsinszky took a hiatus after escaping her hostile home environment and is only just getting back to the sport and playing for herself. Bernard Tomic has been and still is a victim and a witness to his father’s brutality.
Many great tennis champions are parents now, and there seems to be one underlying theme amongst all of their parenting techniques: tennis is a great sport to learn, but only if their children want to learn it. It teaches great life skills, such as dedication, perseverance, physical and mental toughness, etc., but at the end of the day it is all about their own joy of the sport. If professional tennis is part of the conversation, the child is the one who needs to decide to tackle the “one in a million” odds and willingly sacrifice all that he or she must while pursuing that goal. The joy and the desire must come from within the child, not from a third-party participant.
What are some of these tennis greats saying?
“We let them lead us a little more than we lead them.”
“It’s just fun to see her have a social life and be among friends while playing sports. Whether it’s swimming, track and field or tennis, I’ll support her whatever she wants to do.” When it comes to parent coaches, she says, “I’ll let another coach deal with that. I think it’s important to keep that normal parent-child relationship.”
“But I think for any kid it’s important for them to enjoy what they’re doing, whatever sport that is.”
Lindsay Davenport sums it up perfectly:
“Tennis started out as my thing and they didn’t want it to become their thing. I have three kids of my own now, and I can’t imagine making them do something that makes them unhappy. Give your children the tools to succeed in life, and if they succeed in tennis, that’s a bonus.”