NickW Tennis

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Frank Giampaolo Tennis Parents Education seminar - Saturday 8th July 2017 - The full 'behind the scenes' review!

Promoting and running this seminar was an extremely important project to me, as I really believed in its value. Numbers were extremely low (5 families, broken down into 6 parents, 5 players, and 1 coach), myself and Hawker made no money from it, and Frank was happy to take a pay cut to avoid cancelling (class guy!). I have no regrets, and I've learned a huge amount from the experience, some of which I want to now share on this page.

Why was the seminar such a fail in terms of turnout?

LTA Performance was my first port of call for help with promotion, but their response was extremely negative: 'unfortunately this is not something we would advertise to our audiences as we only promote externally provided courses if we have input into it'.

You can read into that what you wish, but for me: Frank is a proven world class coach, and the value of his input to those who want to receive it, cannot be in question. What justification can there possibly be to wilfully deny this opportunity to those who could benefit from it?

Frank told me the key was to get the LTA on board, but the LTA effectively said 'You're your own mate!'. I still had plenty of avenues to pursue, in the form of academies, big clubs, coaches, county associations, and personal contacts, but it was going to take a big effort without LTA support. I must admit I am baffled by the LTA's unwillingness to grasp this fantastic opportunity and get behind it, completely baffled. Despite this, it would be unfair not to also mention that I believe the LTA are doing a lot of fantastic work to help and support tennis at club and county level, which Hawker Tennis has often benefitted from.

The county associations in the South East were largely very positive, and all of them as a minimum were happy to post the info on their social media (but how many parents would see it?). A few went a step further and directly emailed the parents of their high performance players, which was great. There was also a fairly good response from head coaches of leading clubs/academies. Some did ignore me, but others were very positive, and willing to help with promotion. Read on for when I name names! As good as this sounded, I was still in the hands of these coaches. It's the parents themselves that I needed to get this info to, and that was difficult. I've also built up a good database of personal contacts, and I certainly exhausted that option through direct email. I got the odd immediate response, and sure enough those people almost all ended up attending the seminar.

Bottom line, I needed the coaches to get this info out to their parents. They were all on a commission for sign-ups as an extra incentive. Ultimately, this failed as I didn't pay commission on one sign-up, as not one sign-up came from the promotion efforts of another coach, despite I'm sure some good efforts from some of the coaches I dealt with. Justin Sherring (Weybridge) was fantastic. Mark Wisdom (Woking) was a great help. Shaun Malcolm (Sutton), Clint Harris (Bromley) and a few others were also supportive. Despite great effort, I never had responses from Raynes Park, Reeds School, TF Academy, Virgin Active Croydon, or AD Tennis. Finally, Tennis Avenue were hopeless with communication after an initial response, and showed considerable lack of respect to myself.

The coaches were the barrier between me and the parents, and it proved an impossible barrier to cross in the end. To think, I was also advised from other quarters within the LTA that this seminar shouldn't be promoted directly to the parents, that it was improper for this offer to come from anyone other than the coach of the player. Does that make sense to you? Ultimately, all those who attended came from my direct approach to parents, except one family who came from Sussex county's direct email to parents. Other attendees were from Oxford, Kent, and two local families, one from Hawker! The parents who came, were all highly impressed, and left feeling empowered by the information they had learned.

Comments included:
'Superb, and so informative', 'really good, us parents are just lost without this information', 'really useful day', and 'We took a wealth of information & I am very glad both my daughters attended as they both commented that they found it useful'.

I sat in on the seminar, and my over-riding thought throughout the day was 'There must be so many parents out there who would kill to be here right now, if only they knew the benefit they would get'.

However, this lead me onto deeper thought. I did actually get this info to a lot of parents, not nearly as many as if I'd had better support, but still it went to a lot of parents of high level players (which were always the primary target audience even though I believed the seminar would be useful to all parents), and still the take-up was very low. Feedback did come back in the form of 'It's too expensive', and 'I'm not sure we need this'. These parents (of high level players) are simply not buying into the idea that they have a really important role to play, and that's probably because they can't be bothered to invest a relatively large amount of time and effort into understanding it better, or trying to make it work for them, and ultimately their child. Before any of those parents start taking offence, the conclusion I have come to about such parents is very clear.... they are normal! This is the norm for human beings, that I see in every realm of society - business, social, parents, families, work, school, ect ect. Human beings are wired this way, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with being 'normal'. However, what these parents must understand is that being 'normal' is simply not going to cut it if they want to effectively support their child to the level needed for a successful pro career.

Here's the thing with tennis, we know it's one of the toughest sports to crack professionally. We know it takes an extraordinary human being, who's got an incredible inner drive that fuels their ability to put in the relentless hard work, and to make the sacrifices of not having a normal life, so they can have a shot at pro tennis. We know that most kids don't fall into that category, and consequently drop out in their teens, or just fail to achieve a high enough level to have a shot. The biggest thing I learned from this whole experience is that it also takes an extraordinary set of parents, who understand what an incredible influence they have on their child, who understand the importance of their role, who willingly sacrifice their time and their life in order to fully support their child's tennis journey, and who in effect become the perfect role model for a child who needs to work so incredibly hard to achieve their goals. It's those parents who often make the difference, and sometimes those parents can even raise a pro player from a child who doesn't quite have those extraordinary features coming naturally to them at a young age. The countless references to parents that I read from established or former pros now have a whole new meaning to me, and it's very rare to find a pro player who's parents didn't invest a similar amount of time and effort as their child, into the whole developmental process. Now, if you're imagining obsessed parents, desperate for their child to be a pro tennis player, pushing them really hard, pressuring the coaches, and living for the next tournament their child plays. Forget it, those parents are getting it all totally wrong, and will seldom get very far along the journey to having a pro player son or daughter. Those parents are far from 'extraordinary' people. To get on the right track, lets look at rising star Denis Shapovalov (18 yrs old), coached by his Mum, who actually opened a tennis school in Canada primarily to have somewhere to train her son, and she is still a big part of his coaching team today. Shapovalov had a break-through Summer, making semi-finals of the Canada Masters (beating Nadal en route), and then beating 8th seed Tsonga at the US Open on an impressive run to the 4th round. Playing for a spot in the 1/4 finals of a Grand Slam was the biggest match of his life to date, but his parents weren't in attendance. Why? His Dad and brother were on a pre-booked holiday abroad, and his Mum didn't want to let down the students at her tennis school, whom she had coaching commitments with. The message they were sending to their son, and the watching world was the right one... This is your journey, your career, and you are ultimately responsible for taking ownership of it.

Tennis parents certainly don't need to take on the coaching role themselves, far from it, and that just happened to be the case with Shapovalov. Of course, this is where Frank's teachings and expertise can guide parents who don't know the in's and out's of tennis, on how they can assume their role effectively, and to the level required. Given their role is perhaps the biggest factor for their child's chances of success, tennis parent education is gold dust, not just to those parents who don't know enough, but even those who take on the parent and coach role together.

Perhaps the seminar was a flop because the real target audience was 'extraordinary people', of which there aren't many. Perhaps those who attended weren't even the extraordinary people I'm talking about, the proof of that may only come from what happens next, how they use what they learned, and then there is the question of whether their child even wants the benefit of it? If the answer to the last question is 'no', then it might be a case of an extraordinary parent having to accept that they have a normal child, and there's nothing at all wrong with that.

An extraordinary child with normal parents will surely have less chance of achieving their ambitious goals, than an extraordinary child with extraordinary parents, or AT LEAST parents who understand the need to be better than 'normal', and have the desire to be better than 'normal', for the sake of their child. I can't help thinking that life is probably a lot easier, and perhaps happier, for all those normal parents out there, with normal children!

As always, I would love to hear feedback, and opinions, if you are interested in this and inspired or provoked enough to share them with me! As with all content that I make public, I do so primarily to provoke thoughts and inspire healthy discussion and debate. We can only grow from this. Thanks for reading!

Edit: Monday 11th September - Who saw Anderson's emotional speech after the US Open Final last night, where he saved his biggest acknowledgement and thanks to the end, which was for his parents. He mentioned that his Dad built him a wall in the backyard to hit against, and always taught him to keep fighting. And Rafa of course has always had Uncle Toni, a close family member who has invested as much as Rafa has into his incredible tennis journey.