A story follows based on an event I witnessed recently, and one that could be told up and down the country each and every weekend.
It is tight in the Championship tie-break when I arrive. You can cut the tension with a knife, even from behind the glass windows that separate the court from the cafe. Both girls are distressed. Tears and more. The referee has been summoned to court to oversee the final stages of the match; I assume accusations over bad line calls have been made. A father sits with face inches from the window, living every shot. Daughter misses another backhand. Anguished face of the father as daughter turns to catch his eye. He berates her through the window. She can't hear, but doesn't need to. His body language tells it all. She looks away and to the ground as if contemplating which battle is greater - the one she's in, or the one she faces when the match is finally over. Another long rally and with growing pressure it must be match point. To her credit, with the match in the balance, the daughter is taking it to her opponent, forehand blows to each corner. They say you can only be courageous when there is fear. The opponent defends for her life, somehow scraping another ball back into court. Father's body jerks to and fro with each shot, as if willing each ball in. Finally a chance for the knock-out punch, and daughter goes for the big one and misses. Dad gesticulates, yells this time through the glass, perhaps her only line of defence now. She's in tears again, walking towards the net to shake hands, but not before she fires off a retort at him. I can't hear what she says, but her face is mix of anger, fear and pleading. The hand-shake is brief, no eye contact, the racket left on the baseline where the last error was made.
Tennis parents I hear you say?
Let's not kid ourselves. There's no such thing. There are parents whose kids play tennis, and football, and a hundred other activities.
Tennis does not produce this behaviour, the system does not produce this behaviour. People produce this kind of behaviour. It is wrong, ignorant and inappropriate, but let's not blame the game for it.