Just about everyone is familiar with the so-called "Little League parent," that pushy, demanding father or mother who yells at the umpire, second-guesses the coach and berates his own kid. Nor is this creature a stranger to the tennis court, where he lives out his fantasies through the child he is pressuring to become the next Connors or Evert.
But the parent who believes tennis would be good exercise for his child doesn't have to be a "tennis parent." If your son or daughter is interested in the game and you want to encourage that interest you would do well to spend an hour or two with a little book called Tennis Love: A PARENTS' GUIDE TO THE SPORT (Macmillan, $8.95). It's written by Billie Jean King, with Greg Hoffman, and illustrations featuring Snoopy have been contributed by the ubiquitous Charles Schulz.
The basic message of the book is that parents should cool it. "...there's absolutely nothing wrong with a parent encouraging a child to play tennis and to play it well." King contends, "and there's absolutely nothing wrong with a parent who feels a certain amount of pride in a child's tennis accomplishments [but] when the encouragement or pride becomes extreme enough to bind the child to tennis when he or she would rather not be playing, the parent is at fault."
King's unarguable view is that tennis should be fun, and she offers sound advice for making it so. For the parent who wants to help a child improve his game, she provides a list of eight ways to insure that practice is productive and enjoyable. If the child wants formal lessons, she suggests group instruction and urges the parent to stay away. She has some counsel on how families can play the game together without ending up in domestic court, and she characteristically minces no words: "A parent who verbally abuses a child on the tennis court for making a mistake is completely beneath contempt."
King has equally useful practical advice—how to select shoes and a racket, what clothes to wear, how to choose an instructor, what kinds of tennis camps are worthwhile. Being a singular egalitarian, she speaks up for public courts and low-cost equipment, but she also has suggestions for the parent willing and able to go the higher-priced route.
From time to time King ignores her own advice and preaches what seems to be an excessively elaborate conditioning regimen, but that's to be expected from a player as gritty as she. Pass over those passages if you choose, but pay close heed to the rest.