Tennis is, ultimately, supposed to be fun, which winning is and losing isn't.
That was my rationale for squirming in my seat that day, when I should have been enjoying the sunshine and the hard-earned skills of my son, regardless of the score.
I was not anxious for myself, certainly, but for Charlie. And regardless of why, I was still deeply emotionally involved—and frustrated—because I was powerless to influence the outcome, yet forced to suffer with each lost point.
And this is the crucial juncture—the issue that separates the good tennis parent from the bad. It was clear that the cause of my suffering was Charlie! He was making mistakes!
I realized, of course, that Charlie couldn't help it. He was doing the best he could. But that understanding did little to reduce my stress or make his errors less painful. And striking back is our natural response towards a person who causes us pain, even if that person happens to be our own kid.
The bad tennis parents, though they will not even admit it to themselves, will have some small (or maybe even large) urge to take their frustrations out on their kids. After all, the kid just put them through an afternoon of torture and then lost the match to boot.
The bad parents will often seek vengeance in the guise of educating and helping their children. "What were you thinking of when the tenth lob in a row went over your head?" Or, "Why didn't you wake up and play your opponent's backhand?" Nasty stuff.
I've seen this a thousand times—frustrated, angry parents unloading on their kids under the pretext of analyzing the match. Chastised and miserable, the kids will hang their heads and feel like they have the criticism coming. It's a pity, for, inevitably, some of their love for the game will be sucked right out of them.
It's okay to be a frustrated, anxious tennis parent, as long as you remain a good one. With self-control, the two can co-exist. On that particular day in Santa Barbara, Charlie ultimately lost his match. It happened quickly. Near the end he made a few mistakes, his opponent hit a few great shots, and it was over.