Take The Tennis Space test to discover, once and for all, whether you are a lunatic tennis parent. Judy Murray, mother of Andy and Jamie, has recalled some examples of the excesses on the junior tennis scene – parents grabbing their own children by their throat, kicking dogs to distract opponents, sending on messages taped to water bottles, and putting an opponent’s rackets in a running shower.
Does your child look terrified about your reaction after you have lost a match?
“I have seen parents verbally and physically abuse their own children,” Murray recalled. “Probably the worst I ever saw was a father with his daughter outside the hall of an indoor tournament, and he had his hand around her throat. She had just lost a match, and the father was clearly not happy about it. He was intimidating and scaring his daughter, and I’m not sure she knew how to deal with it. I’ve seen lots of parents screaming and shouting at their kids after they’ve lost a match. There are some tennis parents who lose a sense of perspective about the whole thing. One father was so angry with his son for losing a match that he threw his son’s racket-bag in the shower and switched the water on, soaking the bag and everything in it. That was both funny and sad at the same time. I’ve seen other parents ignore their child after they have lost a match.”
Have you ever tried to distract or intimidate your child’s opponent (including kicking your dog)?
“I even knew one player whose parents kicked the dog when the opponent missed the first serve. The dog duly began to bark – it was the parents’ intention that would cause the opponent to double-fault. Parents intimidating their children’s opponents happens quite a lot in the younger age groups, and it’s sad to see. You see kids playing in under-10 tournaments, and there will be parents deliberately applauding when their kid’s opponent makes a mistake. They call balls out from the sidelines and clap loudly if any shots land close to the lines so the opponent is afraid to call them out. There are courtside parents who try to upset their child’s opponent by showing clear disapproval over line calls – violent head-shaking, extra loud tutting, name-calling and muttering, ‘well, well, well’. Most junior matches are not umpired so when there is a disputed call, some parents try to influence the outcome, instead of letting the kids sort it out.”
Have you ever given your child illegal coaching during a match, including using code to communicate, or sending on notes taped to water bottles?
“Some parents send on bottles of water with notes saying things like, ‘Hit it to the backhand’. I’ve also seen parents reading newspapers from behind the court during matches, with instructions written in big bold letters on the back pages. There are parents who have devised coded signals, so if they scratch their right ear that means serve to the forehand, and if they scratch their left ear that means serving to the backhand.”
Have you ever taken ‘revenge’ on your child’s opponent?
“I’ve seen one father, incensed at his son’s defeat, go into the changing rooms and put the opponent’s racket bag and hold-all in a shower cubicle and switch it on. He was convinced that his little treasure had been cheated out of the match.”
Do you feel as though you have more riding on your child’s results than they do?
“It’s important to know why the child is playing, as it has to be because they love tennis. Sadly, you do get instances of parents who are living their dreams through their children. The parents didn’t get as far as they wanted when they were playing, so they will try to get their kids to win the tournaments for them. It should all be about the kids.”
How many of these questions did you answer ‘yes’ to? One or more, and you should consider whether you should really be involved with your child’s tennis. All six, and you need professional help.