Good Intentions

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Our first year in the Connecticut Open Family Classic, 2011.

One of the worst fallouts from the Curmudgeon’s foot injury was my son’s announcement that I’d be his partner in the Connecticut Open Family Classic at Yale University.

“Now that Dad is out, you’re playing with me so you better get your act together,” he said.

Um, OK. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said. “Does it matter that I haven’t played tennis in two months?”

I may hold the record for playing the least amount of tennis to prepare for this tournament, which is held as part of the Connecticut Open women’s tournament every year. I did a crash course of lessons, point play and hitting for five consecutive days. I got through the tournament, but my right hand hasn’t been the same since. Note to self: the next time you get roped into something like this, demand a little more notice or at least take some Advil.

I think the organizers behind the Family Classic have great intentions, bringing parents and kids and couples out for a friendly game of tennis at Yale’s sprawling tennis facility.  It’s a lovely concept – a wonderful way to unite families and get the community excited about the upcoming professional tournament.

But over the years, there have been problems. The biggest is adults blasting serves and groundstrokes at tiny kids. Some people will do anything to win. I was happy when officials assembled us and warned us to behave. They weren’t talking to the kids – they were talking to the adults. And though everyone nodded in agreement, some adults still broke the rules while officials weren’t looking.

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Last weekend.

I’m not sure what goes through a grown man’s mind as he cranks a serve at a 6-year-old boy on the other side of the net, but I’m pretty sure it’s not good sportsmanship. The same dad tried to steal all of his daughter’s shots, but I was happy when she ignored him and hit them herself.

His daughter is a terrific player, but the dad missed an opportunity to see her shine by screaming “I got it” on every shot. He also missed the chance to show her the importance of following the rules of the game and good sportsmanship, which at the end of the day is really all that counts.

Our history with this tournament dates back seven years when my son was 13. I thought it would be fun to play with him, particularly when he was pushing me away in every other area of his life. I taught him the game when he was about 4 at a public park in Milford, CT., where I competed for my high school team. I thought it might be a good way for us to connect.

But it was a disaster, mainly because of me. I was furious every time he missed a shot. I don’t know where my anger was coming from, but our partnership was bringing out the worst in me. I decided to step aside and let him play with his father in the father/son draw the following year. We were all a lot happier.

They’ve played in the tournament with varying degrees of success, winning the parent/child division last year. They brought home a nice trophy, but more importantly got to stand on center court with the other winners. It was really a thrill, for all of us.

They were gearing up for this year’s event when the Curmudgeon tore his Achille’s tendon two weeks ago playing in a double’s match. We’ve learned that he suffers from Haglund’s deformity, a painful condition in which bone spurs dig into the the tendon, making it prone to rupture (so this is why he was complaining about foot pain for the past 14 years!) He underwent surgery to repair the tendon last week, and will be in a cast until the end of August.

My son wasted no time telling me that I’d be filling in and I agreed, mainly because I think he enjoys playing in this tournament. I’m not sure why because though I enjoyed playing tennis and golf with my father, I never played well with him when it counted.

I was one of those kids who craved parental approval, and always wanted to impress my dad with my athletic skills, but it often backfired. One of the worst experiences was teeing off before a group of women at my father’s club, and dribbling the ball a few feet off the tee on the first hole, every golfer’s nightmare.

My dad laughed, I think to provide a little comic relief, but I was mortified and hurt that he had a laugh at my expense. I stormed down the fairway (not very far, I might add) to my ball and hit my next shot, but the damage was done. I was really humiliated.

I don’t think any kid enjoys screwing up in front of a parent. At the heart of it, kids want their parents to be proud of them and think they’re great. No one realizes how silly this is until we grow up and become parents ourselves. Our children’s accomplishments are nice, but they don’t affect our love for them.

I felt very sorry for a little guy who lost his match with his father on Sunday, and burst into tears when he got to his mother in the bleachers. I had seen him taking a private lesson on Saturday to get ready for the tournament, and playing with his father, mother and sister after the lesson. He wanted to win, but I also think he wanted to show his dad how good he was in tennis.

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Most people would have changed their broken shoelace. My son chose to wear two different sneakers.

I think this is why parent/child events are doomed to fail. Kids want to show their parents their mastery of a sport, and well, that’s not always possible. In fact, a lot of kids (and parents) play worse under pressure. It’s the same with couples, but don’t even get me started on mixed doubles. There should be a law against married couples playing together. Period.

The parent/child bond puts added strain on athletic performance that in some cases is very toxic and damaging to children. I know one woman who stopped playing tennis for several years because her father put so much pressure on her as a junior player. She gradually returned, but had to learn how to enjoy the sport without worrying about pleasing her dad.

Of course, parents face pressure in these tournaments too. As adults, we don’t want to look like chumps in front of our kids. We want to show them that we’ve got some swag, that we can still hold our own in some areas of life.

I got what I deserved in this year’s tournament: the receiving end of criticism from my son after every missed shot. At one point, I told him to stop or I was walking off and I meant it. His reply?

“At least Dad listens to me when I tell him what to do out here. You don’t listen. You can’t accept criticism.”

He’s right about that. In spite of my feelings about parent/child tournaments, I showed up and played two rounds with him. We won both of our matches, advancing to the finals on Aug. 23rd where we will play a team consisting of a three-time All-Ivy League player and his son.

The Curmudgeon has already proclaimed we haven’t got a chance of winning, so why bother showing up. I’m not really sure, but we’ll be there because my son wants to play and I happen to be is partner. At this point, I’ll take what I can get.

10 thoughts on “Good Intentions

  1. Of course you should play, you made the finals, for heaven’s sake! Mr. All Ivy League needs an opponent, and the Murphys will be worthy ones. Just tell Matt to chill out, and enjoy the experience. He’ll treasure the memory someday, if he doesn’t spoil it by being an ass. You can tell him I said that – I think he likes and respects me. And tell Achilles to be more supportive. He will treasure the memory of his wife and son competing together too.

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  2. You should definitely play, and I loved this post. It was a very terrific read and it sounds like you’re a great parent. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I understand the concept of the tournament it is a shame that a lot of the parents don’t. I have never been athletic and because of my perfectionism tendency I don’t try many things, but criticism needs to be constructive for people to take it well and I am afraid any criticism I got wasn’t constructive. Good luck in the finals and have fun.

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