Mike Flowers blog: Navigating youth sports

April 12, 2017 01:45 PM

Mike Flowers is currently the head tennis professional at Court One Athletic Clubs in Michigan. Flowers played collegiate tennis for four years at Michigan State University and then began his coaching career, first as the head pro at MVP Rockford and then as the High Performance coach at the Midland Dow Community Tennis Center, before moving to Court One. In addition to serving on the Western Michigan Competition Committee, he is also the co-director for the 10 & under WMTA District Training Center for elite players. Flowers is writing a blog for PlayerDevelopment.USTA.com for the next several weeks. In his second entry, he offers tips to parents on how best to navigate youth sports, from managing goals to dealing with the coach and much more.

By Mike Flowers

Navigating youth sports, tennis in particular, can be extremely difficult and exhausting at times. Are my kids playing the right tournaments? Do I have the right coach for my child? Is my child playing too much? Not enough? How hard should I push them? These are all questions that arise for most parents, and it’s easy to second guess yourself and wonder "what if." Below are a few things I hope will help on your journey:

  1. Have no expectations going in; don’t set expectations along the way. Goals are great to set and strive for. They also help to keep you on track for long-term development. Expectations, though, create stress and pressure – pressure on the child to live up to your expectations, and stress on you to meet what you have set at all costs. Here’s an expectation: expect your child to work hard and have fun.
  2. Let the coach do the coaching. Too many voices with differing opinions often slow down development and can put the child in a difficult position. What is right? Who do I listen to? How do I please everyone? Do your research and find a coach you trust; then let them do what they do best.
  3. Give your kid space. Be engaged in your child’s tennis, but they don’t need you around every second of every day for it. Understand that, while they may love the sport, talking about it right after a match, on the ride home, over dinner, then again before bed probably isn’t what they want or need. Doing so may ultimately drive them away from a sport they love.
  4. Grades are more important than tennis. This seems like a no-brainer but far too often gets overlooked. A fair majority of these kids won’t make a living playing tennis. Let’s make sure our youth have a happy and healthy perspective on life and are prepared to succeed when they graduate.
  5. Allow your child to fail. You may feel like you're helping by protecting them from failure, but in reality, more harm is done than good. You are starving them from opportunities to learn from their mistakes and grow as individuals through these experiences.
  6. Let your child fight their own battles. Throughout competitive sports, your child will run into confrontation on numerous occasions. Don’t get overly involved!!! Be there for advice and guidance should they seek it, then allow your child to work through these situations on their own.
  7. Don’t define success by the win-loss column. This is difficult, as we all want our children to do well. And as parents, you sacrifice a lot to help your child achieve THEIR goals. Define success on effort and attitude, both of which are completely in their control.
  8. It’s your child’s goal, not yours! Don’t forget that they are the ones playing. Be sure they are chasing a dream/goal that is something they set for themselves. Too often it’s easy to imagine what your child’s future would look like and plan and pray for a great tomorrow. Just make sure you are helping to achieve a future they envision for themselves.
  9. Enjoy the journey. Beginning with a child aged 8, 9 or 10, there is a long road ahead. Don’t worry so much about the results. Think about the lessons your child is learning along the way. You have a unique opportunity to watch your child grow and mature through this incredible sport. Don’t miss out on it by focusing on other things. Remember... “The journey is better than the inn.” – Cervantes
  10. Let the kids be kids. These are children playing a sport. The reason they started playing was because it was fun. To keep them engaged, make sure it continues to be fun and doesn’t feel like a job.

This last point is so important. Find creative and new ways to keep the kids loving the sport. As a child, I remember seeing the Alamo while in San Antonio, the Grand Canyon before Winter Nationals and Mammoth Caves while traveling through Kentucky. As I got older, our visits shifted to college campuses so I could get a better understanding of what to look for in a university. Don’t make it about winning a tournament. Make it about creating a memory!