“This is not Wimbledon,” the organiser told the assembled 20 or so children and their parents. “It’s just a fun day out.”
We all listened, but no one took any notice. “It’s just a game,” he added hopefully. “We’re here to have fun.”
This was the third tennis tournament I have taken Leo to, and I knew better. It is not fun. And I was not falling for the “just a game” line. For some reason, tennis tournaments bring out the very worst in parents, and I include myself in that. I knew for a fact that every person there was smiling benignly but actually thinking: “I know it’s not Wimbledon, it’s more serious.”
During Leo’s first match, the opponent’s mother was pacing up and down outside the court like a caged tiger. In fact she was wearing yellow and black, so very much like a caged tiger. She was furious, livid, in utter disbelief, that her darling son was losing to mine. I sat there, my heart beating so loudly I thought everyone would hear it, trying to look calm while also attempting to analyse why the hell I cared so much.
I guess part of it is that your child is alone, vulnerable and will come off the court as a winner or a loser.
Happily he won. But it was when he met the same child in the quarter finals that the trouble really began. The mother was by now unable to watch and we had the father instead. Parents (sensibly) are not allowed on court. Leo was leading when the man hissed through the fence at his son: “Hit to his backhand, just to his backhand.” He repeated this several times until I could take it no more (by now Leo was losing). I told him I thought he was being very unsportsmanlike, advising his nine-year old son on how to thrash my nine-year old son. I had plenty of advice I would have given Leo, but I didn’t. He did not take kindly to this and by the time his son had won and Leo was in furious tears, he was in even more of a rage. He had to be calmed down by the officials, who pointed out that on-court coaching is not permitted.
The final was between two girls, both excellent players. Funnily enough they are called Hannah and Martina, good tennis names. Hannah won, and when she did, her mother let out a sound that was hard to define. It was a cross between a wail and yelp, the kind of sound Sally made in the famous When Harry met Sally orgasm scene, if slightly more desperate sounding. It resonated around the court like a tennis ball hitting the awning, and then she collapsed in floods of tears, where she stayed for about five minutes. What the hell would she have done if the girl had lost? And can you imagine the kind of pressure that reaction puts the poor child under?
I did not enjoy the tournament, it was even more stressful than watching Chelsea play. I think I will bow out of my role as a tennis-mum. Although there was one upside, Leo met a lovely girl called Erin, here they both are relaxing during the final while the parents of the players stressed out around us.
Billy-Jean King once said: “Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.” She obviously hadn’t been to many children’s tournaments….
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012