I am not a sports mom; my sister has that area covered. I’m a fanatic sports aunt, who proudly watches her 14-year-old niece play tennis at her weekly clinics at a tennis center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My niece Sarah is an excellent tennis player, but she doesn’t play great all time. Like many other youth her age, she dreams of being a top tennis player and climbing through the ranks of the United States Tennis Association. Her parents sacrifice time and money to mentor her, but Sarah has more supporters, like me, in her corner. I’ve found there are different ways you can mentor a child, you just have to catch the vision.

My niece was playing horribly one day – well, not totally horrible. Her serve stunk, she double-faulted about six times and she seemed lethargic – like she just rolled off the sofa and decided to grab something to swing around. To rouse her, I just did what any fanatic sports aunt would do; I started yelling.

“Focus!”

“Keep your eyes on the ball!”

“Move your feet!”

My sister politely pointed out that spectators are not allowed to call out, or make any obscene remarks to the players from the grandstand. “I’ll go down to the court and yell,” I reasoned.

Auntanne

Watching my niece play reminds me of my heyday when I played on the National Junior Tennis League and when I coached in the same league nearly 25 years later. I  remember some of my matches like they were yesterday. In my final match of the NJTL summer session, it was extremely hot and I felt so exhausted from the heat. When it was my time to return the ball, I stopped running and consequently lost my match. Who knows how far could have gone if I kept up the pace. In an optimistic spirit, I didn’t want Sarah to lose heart and the opportunity to get elevated to the next level of the USTA. As soon as Sarah stepped off the court, from playing what I thought was one of her worst tennis matches, I stuck my finger in her face and told her I was going to take her through every drill I knew until she mastered the moves.

Watching Sarah play that day was painful, but I was realistic enough to think she could improve. I’m not obsessive, I’m fanatic. I’m not living out my life through someone else, I believe every child can reach their goals if they work hard and listen to others who have been in their shoes. Parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches – you can be honest with children and encourage them to develop at their own pace. You can help teach them that playing sports is a fun avenue of success. You can do that by continuing to guide them and by teaching them that success is a path filled with bumps and smooth steps. However the best advice you can give them is that no matter what happens, never give up.

“Saving Sarah”
Photo: The author’s niece, Sarah
Photo: Anne Hunter

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