When I was growing up, from a very young age I was introduced to tennis. I really enjoyed it, and what wasn’t to enjoy, getting to just belt a couple of forehands over the net as hard as possible is something that most boys find entertaining. After a while, the practices started to add up and I actually became quite good. Within 3 years, I went from training once a week on a Saturday morning, to training 6 days a week, playing in the state development squad, and playing 2 match days, with tournaments on top of all of that. My life was tennis. After about a year of a full schedule, I started getting bored. Tennis became a chore. I remember waking up and pretending I was sick so I could miss a session, I was getting more frustrated than normal if I wasn’t playing well, and it even got to the point where as I would swap sides on the 3rd game, I would tell my opponent I would let him win 6-4 and we would just rally for 20 mins so I could just get out of there. Soon after, I remember coming home from school after a rough day, and I was lying on my bed when dad walked in and told me to get ready for training, I broke down and after gathering myself I said - “I want to quit.”
At the time, I could never really put my finger on why I grew this hatred for tennis, tennis as just a part of life for me, but looking back now it all makes sense. My dad, who is an unbelievable man, is a go getter. He was a professional track athlete and absolutely loved tennis, playing it regularly as a hobby. Once he saw I had a knack for it, he started signing me up for more training sessions and competitions, without even really asking me. There was never a time where I asked to go to an extra training, or when I asked to play in a higher division, or even want to go and have a hit in my own time. And don’t get me wrong, he was only doing what he thought was best for me, but the want to play tennis and to pursue as a career never came from me, it came from him.
Now, as an adult, looking back on my experience growing up, I have come to understand the most important thing that separates the athletes who make it to the professional leagues, and the ones who don’t, isn’t the amount of trainings they do per week, or the club they played for, or even the coaches they were taught by. The thing that separates the kids who make it and the kids who don’t, is their love for the game. The more fun and enjoyment they get from playing basketball, the more they will want to play and the more they will have the ball in their hands outside of trainings and games - and that’s what matters most. I have coached two girls for almost four years now, and they are incredibly skilled. They have hardly done any extra training or camps, they started playing rep ball when they were top age 12’s, and the only reason why they are better than most kids at their age is because they love basketball so damn much that all you can hear around their house is the sound of basketballs hitting the concrete any chance they get.
It is so important as coaches and parents that we remember this and apply it to our training sessions, games, and car rides home after games. By all means, open as many doors of opportunity as possible, but trust in them to decide whether they walk through them. Your best bet at giving a child the best chance of pursuing a professional sport, is not to force them into training sessions and games they don’t want to play, but to make sure every time they pick up a ball they are having fun and increasing their love for the game and allow for their passion to dictate their growth, not ours.