| By Steven Kaplan
Photo credit: Stockbyte

Good tennis players develop and achieve in positive environments, and truly thrive and actualize great potential in environments of excellence. While great learning environments are a shared effort, they start at home and there is nothing more powerful and impactful to children than a parent who is a leader and role model.

Coaches are vital to providing growth mindsets, but they play a subordinate role to parents because they do not most effectively instill core values to students nor should they seek to instill fundamental beliefs. Instead, coaches should reinforce the already-internalized values that students derived from home.

My friend and one of my first students, Bobby Banck, talks frequently about parental responsibility in his insightful blog, "The Mission Dad." Bobby has a unique perspective and passion concerning parental roles, both on and off the court as the father of two young boys; a former top player; as well as coach of Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Mary Jo Fernandez and David Pate. Bobby spent several years at Nick Bollettieri's Academy during the "Golden Era" of U.S. tennis and experienced one of the greatest citadels of excellence in U.S. tennis history.

Bobby explains, "It wasn't the quality of the coaching that was special, it was the attitude. My parents taught me devotion and instilled the idea that tennis was a privilege. Nobody at Nick's viewed tennis as a chore."

Bobby's consistent message is that parents must demonstrate and exemplify leadership to their children. He credits the support of his parents for his ability to greatly benefit away from home.

Leaders are team players and parents cannot realistically expect to get the results they want from their child unless they step up and become the leader of their child's education.

If you believe that, as a parent, you can best serve your child's education by teaching them to serve, perhaps you should try this exercise.

Sit down and write your coaching resume as if you are applying for the opportunity to be hired as your child's coach. Include your education, background, experience and availability, and then evaluate it as a selfless leader and team player, rather than as a co- dependent. Consider the overwhelming theoretical and empirical evidence that indicates that coaching your child is physiologically risky. Would you really hire yourself as the most qualified candidate for the job?

Bobby Banck explains, "I don't know too many top players with happy relationships with both parents."
Are you so uniquely qualified for the role of coach and is tennis achievement so high on your list of priorities for your child that the hazards of coaching your child justify the potential rewards?

An alternative to coaching your child is to lead them as a role model. It's way more work but isn't your child's growth worth the effort? My friend, Dave McElwaine, is a wonderful example of the power of leadership. Dave is perhaps the premier senior mountain bike racer and photo journalist in the world. As an avid racer myself, I know very well just how much expertise Dave brings to this very demanding and competitive sport. On one occasion, Dave and I traveled to compete in the senior division of a national championship race in Showshoe, W. Va. Dave's 14-year-old son Colt came with us to race in the junior class. I was amazed that, despite Dave's vast knowledge and experience, he didn't offer even one bit of advice to Colt. Instead, Dave extended invitations to Colt to join us as a peer. "Colt, Steve and I are pre-riding the course, you’re invited. Colt, we are prepping our bikes now if you are interested? My race is at 9am if you want to watch me. Afterwards I plan on watching you at 12."

As Colt developed, Dave hired Mark McCormick, a top racer and coach to further him. Colt went on to become national junior champion, graduate Harvard, and pursue his love of cycling as a top pro racer and leading bike journalist.

Great competitive athletes need great leadership and mentorship. Who is better qualified to provide these essential qualities then the people with unconditional and limitless love?

Coaching is a conditional role, parenting is not.


Steven Kaplan

Steven Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.