Monday, June 18, 2012

Don't Be That Kid

Our club was the site of a big junior tournament last weekend. High level 10-year-olds came from all over the section to compete. They played with orange low compression balls on 60-foot courts. It was impressive to see such great tennis skills from such young players.

Young Federer had quite a temper.
Who knew?
What was not great was to see That Kid with a serious attitude problem. Keep in mind I saw dozens of kids competing while I was teaching that morning, so That Kid represented a tiny minority. Sadly, this was not the first time I have seen such on-court behavior. Between volunteering at tournaments and a few years spent as an official, I have seen my share. They always stand out in my mind because they are the exceptions, thank goodness. If I were a football or hockey referee, things might be different. But in tennis, we all know some level of decorum and etiquette is expected and encouraged from the first day one steps onto the court with racquet in hand. 

That Kid first got my attention with his loud agonizing over missed shots. During a break between lessons I wandered over to his court to see what the problem was. That Kid was pulling his hair out whenever he missed a shot, giving himself a real tongue-lashing. In fact, he was so disruptive, he attracted the attention of one of the officials. In a tournament like this, there is one official for every 4-6 courts so That Kid had to be pretty loud to attract the official from several courts over. The official arrived just as the players were switching ends. I heard him tell the player why his behavior was not appropriate.

So the match continues and the players end up in a set tiebreak. Much drama, much pressure, and slowly but surely That Kid renewed his outbursts. Oddly, the official was standing right there and never corrected him again, at least while I was watching. The tiebreaker went on and on, very exciting and high quality tennis. That Kid continued berating himself. That Kid's fan base at least once loudly cheered a netted ball by his opponent, which, sadly, didn't surprise me. 

I don't know what the outcome of this match was. I don't know the player. I don't know the parents. I could look it up on TennisLink but whoever won or lost is not my point here. My point is this: what must a parent be thinking as they watch their player embarrass themselves like that? My kids were no angels, but they never acted like that on the court (volleyball) or field (soccer). I like to think I would have jerked them out of play quicker than you can say John McEnroe, but thankfully I was never  faced with that decision. Maybe because soccer and volleyball are team sports? IDK. Is that outrageous self-abuse masquerading as intensity something to be proud of and tacitly encouraged by the parents' lack of discipline? Are they willing to overlook any behavior as long as the player brings home the hardware? Would they have been so understanding if the opponent was the one with the unacceptable behavior? 

Maybe it is just a matter of style. The McEnroe/Connors/Djokovic style does nothing for me. Talent? Loads. Class? None. I can't deny their level of skill, but neither can I admire them when they win. In fact, I root against them. And as a role model? Fugghedaboudit. What sane parent would want their child to emulate that hot mess?  Give me maturity and style any day. As has been said of Djokovic, act like you've been there before. 

Let me also add a few kind words about That Kid's opponent. He was cool as a cucumber. Never said a word, never banged his racquet or shook his fist or gnashed his teeth. He showed maturity beyond his tender years under tremendous pressure from the high level of competition as well as the behavior of his opponent and fans. Well done, sir. Well done.

As you may have figured out from some of my other blog posts, Federer is my guy for many reasons, not the least of which is his demeanor on and off court. He is a living breathing example that nice guys can finish first, over and over again. Yes, he lost his cool at the French Open recently, but that was a rare exception. I have heard he was That Kid when he was young, a racquet-breaking screaming banshee. His dad put a stop to it, forbidding him from playing until he straightened his act out. Apparently it worked, judging from the mountain of titles and endorsements he has amassed - not to mention frequent speculation that he may be the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).

Maybe That Kid last weekend will have an equally frank conversation with his parents this week and get his attitude in order soon. Then he will have a great backstory when he is making tennis headlines in about 10 years. I hope so.