Nightmare tennis parents who don't play ball
Judy Murray tells Mark Hodgkinson about adult faults in junior sport
Never mind the kids; have you seen the parents? On Britain's junior tennis scene, it's not uncommon to see destructive and dysfunctional behaviour.
Damir Dokic, father of Jelena, is the ultimate in overbearing tennis parents
Often it's not the aspiring Wimbledon champions of the future, but their sour-faced parents looking on from the side of the court, who are more deserving of being slapped down with an Asbo.
The acting world's notorious "stage mums" often have nothing on "nightmare tennis parents". Every local club or junior tournament will have its "bad dad" or "mad mum": parents who are so hell-bent on their offspring growing up to become tennis stars that they will stop at nothing.
Good sense and manners are squelched underfoot, and the ambitious parents usually don't realise what effect they are having on their children.
Intimidating their child's opponents during matches; illegally coaching their son or daughter and screaming abuse at them if they lose: it all goes on, and ultimately it's the children who suffer.
"I have seen parents verbally and physically abuse their own children," Andy Murray's mother, Judy, says. "Probably the worst I ever saw was a father with his 12-year-old daughter outside the hall of an indoor tournament. He had his hand around her throat.
"She had just lost a match, and the father was clearly not happy about it. He was intimidating and scaring his daughter. I've seen lots of parents screaming or shouting at their kids, or ignoring them, after they've lost a match.
"That can put huge pressure on kids to win at a stage when the emphasis should be on fun. Most tennis parents are normal, but some lose a sense of perspective."
Judy, whose oldest son, Jamie, is the defending Wimbledon mixed doubles champion, said that one of the worst things that parents do at junior level is "trying to intimidate or distract their children's opponents".
"It happens quite a lot in the younger age groups, and it's quite sad to see," she says. "You see kids playing in under-10 tournaments, and there will be parents deliberately applauding when their kid's opponent makes a mistake. They call balls out from the sidelines and clap loudly if any shots land close to the lines so the opponent is afraid to call them out.
"Most junior matches are not umpired so when there is a disputed call, some parents try to influence the outcome, instead of letting the kids sort it out.
"I remember one parent trying to intimidate Andy in an under-12 boys' doubles match. The dad was applauding Andy's double-faults and shouting loudly. Andy ended up hitting a ball towards him, as if to say, 'Will you just shut up?' I've never got into arguments with other parents. It's not worth it."
Judy says that parents must avoid the temptation to illegally coach their children.
"Some parents send on bottles of water with notes saying things like, 'Hit it to the backhand'," she says. "I've seen parents reading newspapers from behind the court during matches, with instructions written in big bold letters on the back pages.
"There are parents who have devised coded signals, so if they scratch their right ear that means serve to the forehand, and if they scratch their left ear that means serving to the backhand."
For nightmare tennis parents, the absolute gold standard is still Damir Dokic, a bearded former wrestler and truck driver from Serbia. Jelena Dokic's father was thrown out of a pre-Wimbledon tournament in Birmingham in 1999 after calling members of the tennis club "Nazis who supported the bombing of Yugoslavia".
On the same day he was arrested after lying down in a busy road. Here is a man whose temper is beyond volcanic: he shows all the cool and calm of a man who has been gargling magma.
His misdemeanours include being forcibly ejected from the US Open after arguing over the price of salmon in the players' restaurant, smashing a journalist's mobile telephone at Wimbledon and claiming that the draw at the Australian Open had been rigged against his daughter.
Unsurprisingly, Jelena, who once reached the Wimbledon semi-finals, eventually decided she wanted no more to do with him. She later switched nationality, playing under the Australian flag. Damir threatened to retaliate by dropping a nuclear warhead on Australia.
Mary Pierce, a grand slam champion, ended up taking out a restraining order against her father, Jim. He famously called out from the stands during one of her matches: "Go on, Mary, kill the bitch."
One great danger that Judy speaks about is parents pushing their children into playing competitive tennis.
"It's important to know why the child is playing, as it has to be because they love tennis," she says. "Sadly, you do get instances of parents who are living their dreams through their children. The parents didn't get as far as they wanted when they were playing, so they will try to get their kids to win the tournaments for them. At the end of the day, it should all be about the kids.
"I'm always getting asked if I was a pushy parent. I'll admit I often had to push to make things happen but I never had to push my kids because they always wanted to play."
Are you pushing too hard?
- Do you press your nose up against the back-netting of a tennis court, and attempt to intimidate your child's opponent by loudly applauding their mistakes?
- Have you devised a secret code to enable you to illegally coach your child during matches?
- Do you regularly become involved in disputes over line-calls during your child's matches?
- Have you ever chosen to lie about whether a ball has landed in or out?
- Does your child look terrified about your reaction after they have lost a match?
- Do you feel that you have more riding on your child's results than they do?