“If he actually tries pulling that shit with my kid, he’s going to have a problem on the court. And I will be that problem.”
That was the reaction I verbalized to the other parents watching from the sidelines. And it was my reaction to what a coach said and did on the tennis court.
Let me rewind to just a few minutes prior. A group of kids was taking turns playing doubles and Mayhem was one of the kids on the court. As a ball hit on her side of the court, she called the ball out. After a brief pondering by the coach, he announced that the ball was “clearly in, and you need to run a lap around two courts for calling that out.”
For the record, truth in line calls has been something we’ve harped on since the beginning. Mayhem has faced both opponents as well as had teammates who are relentless in bad line calls. She learned very early on how frustrating it is to try and play with or against someone who continuously makes poor line calls, and out of that, she’s developed a healthy habit of fair calls. Actually, more often than not, it’s to her detriment. That’s because we’ve instilled the idea that “if it’s close you play it” and with that mentality, she’s constantly playing balls that are ‘close but definitely out’.
Over the past season, she’s gotten better about watching where the ball is hitting and feeling more and more confident about her line calls that are close. She’s even been known to call a ball “out” and immediately yell, “NO, that was in, IN, I’m sorry!”
So as Mayhem was running her lap around the court, I was silently seething. Keith? No so silently. But that was because three other parents looked at us shaking their heads with the same disbelief and an “I actually thought that ball was out too.”
I feel like it’s important to note that this coach had spent the majority of the practice praising one of the kids who had recently become a private coaching client. And while kids often get an extra high five or ball tossed their way by the coaches with whom they take individual lessons, I’ve also never seen a coach so blatantly playing favorites.
I resisted the urge to yell to Mayhem as she passed by “It’s OK, we ALL thought that ball was out too.” Undermining a coach is not my objective, and he may have had a clearer view of the call. And kids absolutely miss line calls sometimes. Nonetheless, he was making the assumption that Mayhem made a bad call on purpose. To her benefit. Aka: cheating.
And that did not sit well.
Nor did his attempt at humiliating her in front of the rest of her team. FWIW, I have NEVER, in the past year seen any coach in the junior program make a kid run laps for what he/she deemed a bad call.
And then, as Mayhem finished up her lap, this coach announced to all of the kids that “If I see anyone else make a call like that, that I know you know isn’t out, you’ll be running three laps around all of the courts.”
Which is when one of the parents looked at Keith and I, and whispered “What did you guys do to piss him off?” Making it apparent that we weren’t the only ones seeing that our kid was being picked on.
It was about that time that I made that announcement you read at the very beginning of this post. Because I was fully prepared to yank my kid off that court should this coaching ego continue to go unchecked.
Practice wrapped up without another incident, and on the way home, without giving her any indication of our feelings, we asked Mayhem what happened on the court. I watched her face as pure sadness and confusion washed over her and she said, “I have no idea, Mom. I called a ball out because I thought it was out, and Coach **** said, ‘clearly IN’ and then he told me to run.” And then I asked her how it made her feel, and she shook her head and said, “At first I thought he was joking, and then I was really confused, and then I was just embarrassed.”
The rest of our conversation about the incident focused on her knowing that we believed her. And that we will step in if we see that kind of behavior out of a coach again.
A couple of parents followed up with me, to see if Keith and I were going to address the incident with the head of the tennis program, to which I don’t yet have an answer. On one hand, no kid should be treated that way, and on the other hand, the season was over. Not to mention my gut feeling that nothing would come of it. It happened with only one practice left in the ‘regular school season’, and we offered Mayhem the option to skip the last practice. And while she didn’t want to skip practice, she didn’t want to have to deal with that particular coach either. A last minute invite from a friend, resulted in her getting to practice tennis elsewhere and then go swimming. Which was even better, in her book.
Over the past year, we’ve encountered enough coaching to know that she’ll have some coaches that she clicks with, and others that she won’t. It’s a life lesson not lost on us, and a lesson we’ve shared with Mayhem. There will be people in life that you are forced to work with in one capacity or another, that maybe you just don’t like. Or get along with. Or you just don’t work the same way. And you’re going to have to suck it up and deal with it. At least for a certain amount of time.
But there’s another lesson we’re hoping she learns from it as well – life is a series of choices. We get to choose how we spend our time and how we spend our money, but maybe, most importantly, who we spend those with. And once you’ve given someone a fair shot, it’s perfectly okay to move along.
My kid loves tennis. LOVES it. And after wrapping up her first full year, we’re in a better position to assess what’s working for her and what isn’t. Lucky for us, we moved to a city that seems to love tennis too. Which means options.