By Denny Schackter
I don’t claim to be an expert on fatherhood, since I have never had the good fortune of being a father. But I have observed thousands of fathers over the last 45 years as a teacher, college tennis coach, teaching pro, industry representative, and now as a USTA volunteer and part time Pro.
From this unique perspective, I have concluded that fathers are extremely important to the stability and continued growth of the game of tennis. Why?
- Fathers can mold an aspiring tennis son or daughter to great heights by nurturing, consoling, disciplining and encouraging them.
- Fathers have an innate ability to see the silver lining after a close loss and build confidence back in their child.
- Fathers can hit with their kids, offering practice time and bonding, even a bit of coaching, while keeping things in perspective.
- Fathers can be vital complement to a coach or teaching pro.
I recently attended a conference college tennis meet where I watched an interaction between father and daughter. I happened to be a friend of the father and noticed how, after the competition, a constructive conversation ensued about the match. It was only after the daughter had connected with her father that she went to hang with her teammates and coach.
I said to the dad, “every time I see you with Susan; I see a bond that is very evident.” He replied, “If it weren’t for tennis, I would not have that bond. Even more so, I don’t think I would have much of a relationship with my daughters. For everything outside of tennis, they are more closely bonded with my wife.”
What’s the point?
We woefully underestimate the bond of father and child. Fathers can really interact and impart lessons in life to their children. Since tennis is such a mental game, fathers have the ability to have many conversations to bring forth the positive dialogue players need to have when playing.
We often extol the virtues of tennis; exercise, decision making, social growth, family sport etc. But personally, because of the individual nature of tennis, we are sometimes blind to the bond of father and child. As previously mentioned I coached college tennis; many of my former players have kids playing in college now. I have been fortunate to see my former players as Dads. I am sure they took on their own persona and took on some of their own father’s traits. Now I see a wonderful bond that both dad and child developed. It’s great to see the Father/Son Father/Daughter tournaments in action. They compete, but they laugh, cajole, support, high five and it brings about a warm feeling that is great to observe.
No question, kids play many times because Dad plays and certainly, many kids rebel because Dad plays, but when they accept the virtues of tennis, they see that the road to dad, and vice versa, is on the court. That bond builds a lifetime glue which cannot be cracked.
I know those reading will say it’s a team effort on the home front. Moms drive to lessons and tournaments, handle tennis bills, and are the backbone of the family. I know that. My observation is that the dad provides the catalyst, the intangible force that makes it happen.
As we market our great game, implementing father/daughter/son activities could be a critical key to the continuance of tennis growth.
The 10 and under emphasis will be very well served by bringing fathers into a more impactful role that will sustain the attachment between tennis and families for a lifetime.
If you are in a position of influence, incorporate dads in your programming. What can we do to aid this?
1) Lesson formats that are family in nature certainly could be a starting point. Father/daughter/son group lessons with other father/daughter/son combinations could be fun.
2) “Stroke of the Week” clinics for families might work.
3) A one day Father/daughter/son club tournament with the emphasis being on round robin play and fun (rather than trophies and rankings) could be another.
4) Teaching Dads how to set up driveway tennis, drills, and conditioning the family can do together can form a bond.
5) Going to local college or professional matches to watch advanced players is another option.
All in all, we all believe the premise of tennis being a lifetime sport. What we are doing is breaking the premise down into accessible, easy to manage parts and along the way, building a lifetime bond that should and can last a long time. As I found over the years, fathers know best.