That is a question/subject that constantly comes up between parents, coaches, and students (in all sports for that matter).
While I was teaching some of my students on the tennis courts near by a football/soccer field during the practice session of a local peewee football team (for kids ages 8-10), we could hear the football coaches yelling at their students with motivational but sometimes harsh remarks to spark a fire of energy in them, in order to get that drill or sprint done with a higher intensity. My students commented on the football coaches’ behaviors, assessing them as “mean;” my response was: “maybe their behaviors are a little mean, but they are trying to prepare their students for the tough situations ahead that they will face in their football games and life-like situations in general.”
Depending on my students’ goals the level of the intensity I ask of them in practice will vary; for the most part I try to make sure all my students experience some sort of level of discomfort and most of the time it’s a mental challenge of focus to achieve a muscle movement right. The ability to be able to endure some discomfort until a goal is accomplished is one very important lesson that I try to instill in all my students. As many great athletes – from Muhammad Ali to Rafael Nadal – explain, one has to accept that practice is not always “fun” and that sometimes it is very hard work. The sooner one accepts that they have to learn to suffer at times while they are committed to their goal to become great, the more tangible of a chance they have at being successful at what ever it is that they are trying to accomplish.
Mostly the thought process of parents who put their kids into tennis is that it’s a nice, safe, and classy sport. And frankly, tennis is a safer (in terms of physical contact/impact) sport than football, but it is just as intense as football is…and sometimes even more as one gets into the competition stages of the game. So how do we prepare students that want to be competitive players and possibly gain an opportunity for a College Scholarship, without exposing them to training under some of these harsh experiences from time to time? From my humble experience, it is not possible…just like the cliché “you are what you eat,” one will compete the same way they practice. We are creatures of habit and what we do on a regular basis is what will take over under pressure or in a quick decision-making moment.
So, when parents pick a sport for their children, it is imperative to think about what they would like for the children to get out of it. Moreover, after the decision is made, honesty and straight-forwardness are instrumental components in the relationship with the coach; alignment between the parents’ objectives (for their children) and the coaches’ is necessary in order to ensure the attainment of the same common goal. The expectation of hard work and dedication is a constant; practices are not always fun. But we practice in order to appreciate and enjoy competitions where we have the opportunity to leverage and show off the learning accumulated and the progress made that ultimately are a result of all that hard work!