The Silvers have a 16 year old daughter, Sara, who has taken a big leap this year in the national tennis rankings. Sara has always loved tennis and she identifies strongly as a tennis player. Up until this point, Mr. and Mrs. Silver have enjoyed watching Sara play in local tournaments and both are extremely proud of her love of the game and talent. Both parents were competitive players when they were young, although neither played in college. They have been told by Sara’s coach that she is on the path to playing Division I tennis, and that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she could turn professional some day. Lately they have noticed that Sara has been acting out in practice, doing things that are getting her kicked out and Sara’s attitude, in general, has been more reserved and defiant. Neither parent feels like they are doing anything different; they are being supportive, coming to all her matches and helping her problem solve during the car ride home when things do not go well. While driving home last week, Mr. Silver was giving her some tactical advice and Sara yelled, “all you care about is my tennis!”. Mr. and Mrs. Silver have come to me to try and find out what’s wrong with Sara and what strategies they can use to help her. They miss their sweet kid who loves to play tennis.
It is important for the Silvers to understand that they are dealing with a situation that many parents encounter with a teen. Of course they want what is best for Sara, but we need to begin by shifting the basic framework of approaching this as a “fix it” situation. We begin by creating a list of values they prioritize as parents. By doing so, this gives them a chance to verbalize what is of the highest priority, in terms of Sara’s tennis and personal development. I am clear with them that Sara’s tennis development and personal development are one in the same, so it’s important to establish consistency on and off the court. I jot down their thoughts and we go over each and put them in order of importance. The qualities they most value are about Sara are:
1. Being a good person.
2. Being resilient no matter what comes her way.
3. Learning to not be afraid to give 100% and go after what she loves.
4. To accomplish her goals as a tennis player.
By doing this, we have a working model of what matters most to them. I point out that the first three have very little to do with her winning tennis matches. However, tennis can serve as a medium for her to build some of the skills they value most. We develop some strategies for them to begin to watch her matches through this lens. I explain that if they can learn to observe 1. Resilience 2. Effort 3. Courage as their primary focus, they will be training their brain to find these moments instead of getting too caught up in the challenges of junior tennis. Finally, I teach them how to use the 3:1 ratio.
Before pointing out a critique, they must begin with three positives. Again, this is a great way to tip our natural inclination from the negative to the positive. Mr. Silver expresses some doubt with this approach. He says that if they don’t point out what’s wrong, she’s bound to think it’s ok to keep repeating the bad habit. I hear him out and acknowledge his position, but I ask both of them to stay committed to this approach for the next couple of weeks. If they don’t feel comfortable with it moving forward, they can always go back to their approach. They agree to give it a shot. I explain to them that I am available via text message during the day, so they are welcome to keep me posted in real time.
When we next meet a couple weeks later, The Silvers report some positive results. At first, the words felt a bit scripted and Sara would shoot them a sideways glance like, “what have you done with my parents?”. We shared several text messages and I encouraged them to stick with the plan, even if it felt a bit contrived. The biggest challenge for them was during the car ride home. They struggled to avoid going into “coach mode”. When they didn’t know what to say, they said nothing. They said this felt odd at first, but after a couple of days, Sara began to open up and bounce ideas around. When they did speak, they did their best to stick to the 3:1 ratio and they noticed how much that shifted their own perspective of watching Sara play. They wanted to learn more about how they could keep this approach going. I advised them to start each car ride home with, “I’m proud of your effort, honey. What do you want for dinner?” Staying connected to what they value most has helped them to see each situation with more clarity and supportiveness. Of course they still want Sara to thrive on the court, but they have begun to recalibrate how to go about keeping the focus on what matters most to them.