My name is Mark Campanile. I am a USPTA Elite Pro who has been teaching Tennis since 1982. I am also a USRSA Master Racquet Technician who has been stringing racquets for over 40 years. I have been coaching my son, Nate, since he first grabbed a tennis racquet at age 3. The journey has been an amazing and most fulfilling experience for me and one that is worth sharing for all parents wanting to coach their children.
In the beginning of Nate’s tennis career, we made everything fun. Tennis was another event, an activity, a form of exercise and a diversion from his already programmed sporting life. Official tennis lessons took place twice a week, and if he wanted to play more, I would make it happen. From the beginning, I made sure that Nate became involved in other sports. As he got older, it became apparent that Nate would focus more on tennis, and we used soccer and basketball as cross training sports.
At age 9, Nate would play practice matches with kids of all ages, genders, and abilities. The point here was to let him see as many different playing styles, tennis attitudes and athletic abilities as possible. Nate enjoyed the variety, but best of all, really developed a love for the game. He told me that he wanted to start playing official tournaments.
It was at this moment that I became more involved. I went from being his dad and coach to being dad, coach, driver, nutritionist, trainer, administrative assistant, psychologist, and hitting partner. Our lives became busier and much more complicated – but in a good way. Lessons became more frequent, practice matches more often and tournaments took place every other week. The adventure was about to begin.
However, with this new plan, sacrifices had to be made. Less time was spent with friends, and more time was spent on the court and thinking about the next competition. Homework and meals now took place in the car, both to and from practices and tournaments. I was stringing late in to the night and the early morning hours just to keep up with my work load, and sleep became a valued commodity. Nate was now going to a trainer and I was getting more and more out of shape due to lack of time for workouts. But progress was being made and Nate was having more and more success in tournaments.
During the next three years, 6th grade through 8th grade, our practice and tournament schedule increased and new goals were being made. We were thinking about playing high school and college tennis. It was time to get more serious and make bigger plans. When Nate was around the age of 13, I realized he might be getting tired of hearing my voice. In other words, I was still fulfilling the role of coach and wearing all other hats, as well as trying to teach, string, and be a dad. I needed to trim down my direct responsibilities and let him develop under the guidance of other outside influences. He needed to hear my voice as a coach, but also as a parent. As a parent, if you weigh in on every subject of your child’s life, I am convinced that he/she will stop listening to all such advice no matter how close you deem your relationship to be.
Nate was now taking lessons, both privates and groups, with other tennis pros in the area. I was still his ‘Coach’, but if he was going to achieve new skill levels, he needed to be with other coaches who could offer him more than I could. I would still have my hand in most of the lessons and drills but only as a guide to what I wanted to see happen with his development. Because Nate and I have been a close knit duo, it was easy to talk about his competitive matches after the fact. But be careful here, because you must let the conversations and analyses happen on your child’s terms! We would often use the long rides home from a tournament to talk about his matches…win or lose. But I would not start the conversation. It needed to come from him. I am very competitive, and quite frankly, I dislike losing more than I like winning. This being said, I always stressed to Nate that if I wanted success for him (on any level) more than he wanted it for himself, then it is time to hang up the racquets. The one and only big mistake I made was after a level 3 tournament on the drive back home. Nate was playing a kid who had skills, but one to whom he shouldn’t lose. Nate ended up losing in three sets and I was mad because I thought he had lost focus and, quite frankly, didn’t seem to have tried hard enough to win. I initiated the conversation and he stated that he wasn’t ready to talk about the match. I pushed harder and we had an argument, and then it hit me. I wanted the win more than he did. I was wrong and I vowed never to let that happen again.
High school tennis was fun, crazy, a learning experience, a maturing process and a whole bunch of other things, both good and bad. From where I stood, I felt that I needed to get involved. With my son’s and his coach’s permission, I became the volunteer assistant coach. I studied and took the necessary exams to be a certified high school coach. The part I loved the most was being able to coach my kid and his teammates from the sideline. The fact that you can speak to the player on changeovers really appealed to me. It is a great platform for the development of court awareness and singles and double strategies and, in addition, it made me a better coach. I felt like it was win-win for everybody. More importantly, even though I describe tennis as a gladiator sport, high school and college tennis teaches the individual player the value of the word TEAM. Supporting others who support you and look up to you is a valuable life lesson. Knowing that others are depending on you is a lot of pressure, but knowing that your teammates have your back is very reassuring.
Although Nate had a very successful high school tennis experience, he was eager to get to college and play on a bigger stage. He was lucky enough to play D1 and met all the challenges of being a college athlete head-on. I like to think that this is the point where boys become men. It is a grueling process. The demands of school work, the team, which includes practices as early as 5:30 AM, and home and away matches take a toll on these young athletes. But these demands also have some very positive effects. Being a college athlete prepares your child for the real world demands that they will be facing after graduation. Reaction time is shorter. Time management is better. Dealing with pressure is easier. Having a winning mentality becomes a way of life. All of the traits can be acquired through the experience of being student athlete.
I was lucky enough to see all of Nate’s home matches and many of the away matches. I knew his coach previous to Nate being on the team, which gave me more perspective than most team parents. The experiences I shared with him from his first day on court to his last college match have been nothing short of wonderful and will be cherished forever. Yet the coolest thing for me, even better than watching one of his countless matches as a tournament player, is having the opportunity to play with him as my partner in USTA Team matches and tournaments. We’ve come full circle and we are enjoying every moment on court together…all for the love of the game. The crazy thing, however, is now I get more coaching from him and we still talk about each and match we play.