EveryDay Etiquette: Tennis Etiquette for Parents off the Court

By Diane Gottsman

Everyday Etiquette Archives
My 10-year-old son has recently become quite the tennis player - no thanks to his parents' athletic ability. I've had the opportunity to go to many tournaments over the past few years and, after sitting on my hands and biting my lip, I thought I would address courtside etiquette.

As a parent, it's your job to instill a healthy attitude toward tennis as a sport and encourage your child to enjoy the game. It's not your job to live through your child, expecting a 10-year-old to play like Serena Williams or Roger Federer. Yes, your child may become a pro one day, if he enjoys it, but if he feels forced or threatened, it's unlikely that he will even pursue it past middle school. He will, however, remember how you behaved off the court.

  • Make sure your child knows that you love her, regardless of whether she wins or loses.

  • Teach your child to be a good winner and a better loser. It's easy to show grace and respect when you win, it's harder when you are disappointed and feel the eyes of gloating or disappointed family members on you. Parents, I am talking about you! Lose like a winner and then model it to your child.
If your child screams, hollers, breaks a racquet or throws a tantrum on the court, shame on him and shame on you for allowing this behavior. Take him off the court - yes, he will forfeit the game - and it will teach him that this behavior is not acceptable. Use this situation as a learning opportunity, making your child aware of what behavior is expected and tolerated by you - on and off the tennis court. Relay the message to your child that it doesn't matter what is acceptable to other players and their parents, that you are only interested in his behavior.

  • This same rule applies to parents. Do not yell, roll your eyes or make facial gestures when your child misses a ball or makes a mistake. Do not clap when your child's opponent misses a serve either. Keep your coaching comments to yourself, and do not criticize another child to fellow parents and onlookers. If you have a concern, work with your child's coach in developing an emotional and tactical game plan, letting the coach know your child's temperament and personality.

  • If your child usually wins, keep a healthy attitude regarding her success. Make sure not to overemphasize wins; doing so puts pressure on your child to continue to keep you "proud" and sets her up for disappointment if she believes she has "failed."

  • Always emphasize that a loss is not a failure, it is a learning experience. Don't make excuses. Accept a loss with a handshake and a comment like "Good game" - both player to player and parent to parent.
Finally, make sure that your child is rested, well-fed and is enjoying the experience. A parent that motivates through courtesy and respect, is a parent that is teaching a life lesson - on and off the court.

Diane Gottsman is an etiquette and protocol expert who leads programs for children and adults. To read her previous columns, visit the Etiquette Archives.