Joan Tomic. An infamous name in the world of tennis. The man became known as the father and coach of Bernard Tomic, a former 17th world player and Wimbledon quarterfinal. For dark reasons. In 2013, he was sentenced to eight months in prison by Spanish courts for punching his son’s coaching partner, Thomas Drouet, who left history with a fractured nose and a damaged eyebrow bone. John Tomic also subjected his own son to violence, as Bernard told the show A Newshis father hit him “with balls, rackets and other things.”
In the same category of parents who lost their reason are those of Jelena Dokic, Mary Pierce, Mirjana Lucic – who was beaten “when she lost a set” – and Aravane Rezaï, against whom her daughter filed a complaint for moral harassment, intentional violence and death threats. Extreme cases, which reveal the ubiquity of parents in the field of tennis, the problems they may pose and, therefore, the need to integrate this data to avoid seeing the vase overflow.
The figure of the father-entrepreneur
If parents are also present (even pressing) with the yellow ball, this is largely explained by the characteristics of tennis. An individual sport, which involves a lot of travel, commitment and, therefore, a whole family organization. Sandrine Bouchareb works precisely on the subject in the framework of a thesis at the University of Paris Nanterre. “I have listed 17 different tasks that must be managed by the parent and some require the acquisition of professional skills,” says the sociologist.
“For example, the coach may ask parents to train their child for additional training on weekends. Parents should also plan the competition schedule and accompany their child to tournaments, he explains. He often improvises as a physical or mental coach, but he also has to invest in tasks such as changing belts, looking for sponsors to fund the project, and so on. These are new tasks that fall to the parents when they enter high level tennis. »
In her work, Sandrine Bouchareb wants to show that parents who have invested in their children’s sporting success are pursuing a career as “entrepreneurial parents.” “They have a driving role in taking this journey to the next level,” he says. Especially because beyond the professional skills to be acquired or developed, it is necessary to get your hands on the portfolio.
“Through the federal sector, the best children are selected from the age of 5 in a departmental committee. The cost of this training is between 5,000 and 10,000 euros per year, excluding tournament fees. In the private sector, with academies, which have their own structures, or autonomous coaches, at least 40,000 euros a year are needed ”, estimates the sociologist. An investment that can generate expectations, and therefore pressure. And this is where we run the risk of tipping over to the dark side of the force.
When mom and dad ask for a return on investment …
Bernard Tomic himself said: “When I was 10 I was on the track 8 to 10 hours a day. My dad always put a lot of pressure on me and it’s not easy. Being number 1, winning 10 to 20 Grand Slam tournaments … His expectations of me were always too high. Competition and betting cause some parents to become overweight, as in the cases mentioned above.
“I have received testimonies from parents who have observed physical violence against children after a defeat,” says Sandrine Bouchareb. Some parents are blinded by how they are caught up in these careers, what they have invested in, and what they are planning. Then, the project for your child to become a high-level athlete has priority over his or her educational role. When parents focus solely on a sports career, they sometimes set aside their second mission as parents, which is to help their child thrive. »
An observation shared by Yannick Hesse, Amandine’s father and coach, who has several selections for the French Fed Cup team. “Parents have only one interest: the happiness and balance of their children. Amandine was fine because there was real confidence and a real expectation, above all, of her happiness and balance. I see things like that, but maybe not everyone … For some parents, it is a real economic project, there is a big investment and success is the first. I’ve seen some of them teach their children, very early on, how to cheat, how to behave badly … ”You see everything on the circuit.
“We also need to guide parents to support their children”
Since parents are inevitably a fact in the tennis equation, support is gradually being put in place. In addition to the Lagardère Trophy, Paris Racing hosted a conference on the place of parents in tennis. Discussions were moderated by sports psychologist Elise Anckaert, who is involved with the Paris departmental committee in monitoring young players and their parents.
“Some departmental commissions organize training for parents on the management of emotions, nutrition or hygiene of young athletes,” adds Sandrine Bouchareb. Parental training seems essential to me, in order to provide them with the necessary knowledge to provide effective support to their child and to avoid situations of abuse of authority or abuse. »
And Pauline Parmentier, head of girls in the 15-18 category at the FFT, to get involved: “Parents are more and more involved in the players’ project. The traveling father, who is there all the time, is almost the norm today. We guide players to the highest level, but today we also need to guide parents to support their children. A way to ensure that we train athletes, but above all human beings. And if possible, balanced human beings who, once back, will not suffer the reaction of those years under pressure.