Saturday, February 27, 2010

In Pursuit of Excellence

Today I made a decision. I decided that I can no longer watch Jacob, aged just 11, play tennis anymore. It breaks my heart really that I will be unable to be there with him but the stress of watching him play is becoming too much. This morning whilst we were travelling to a tournament my left arm was actually aching and... well it's not a nice feeling that you might be going to have a heart attack.

It's surprising really. I've been in far more stressful situations, so maybe it's also age, weight, several years of underlying stress all rolled up into one. But I guess there's nothing more traumatic than watching your own child under duress. I've been building up to this for sometime; it's upsetting whenever your child loses but I guess, underneath, I'm even more disappointed at the approach of Lawn Tennis Association.

Tennis in this country is the remit of the wealthy or those with tennis connections, there isn't any room for grass roots players on a limited income like there is in football, rugby or athletics. So unless your lucky enough to have a parent like Andy Murray whose mum was a tennis player and coach there comes a point where continued development becomes unsustainable. Advancement is dependent on one thing - the size of your wallet.

Of course, that's why the UK produces so few tennis players of note. The pool of children available from which to select it is limited to those with lots of cash. It's sad that some children - including my own - will never fulfil their potential as athletes.

So anyhow, today I flipped out. Jacob lost on a tiebreak on a shot he failed to call "out" and the opponent claimed the match. It was seen by 6-8 people maybe more, including the referee. No one, not even the referee, said anything. Except me, of course. Loudly.

That's the way it goes in tennis. Today was an unfortunate incident and it was disheartening that the game ended on a sour note. But what disappoints me more, and I have witnessed it many times over the years, is how a child can cheat, lie and bully another child into submission on court and no one does anything.

I guess it is difficult for the referee as he/she maybe watching over any number of courts. The net result of this (because there are no umpires and linesman) means unless they have actually witnessed the play the cheater always has the advantage because the rules state that if no agreement can be reached on the point in question the score must revert to the one which can both players agree on. So you can get to a vital point, dispute the score to your own advantage and if you argue long enough the player at the other end will always concede because that is the only way of moving the game forward.

Let's not forget the the poor line calling, the racket abuse and the yelling. Believe me, at junior tennis level these days John McEnroe looks like an absolute saint.

There's several reasons for this behaviour; immaturity on behalf of the player, a genuinely unpleasant character and parental behaviour. Personally, in the majority of cases I blame the parents for their child's behaviour. A lot of tennis parents want to win and win at all costs. They don't care how their child behaves so long as their child is the victor. I find it so very demoralizing - I have seen children ( and not just my own) totally destroyed by the behaviour of other children to the extent that there are so upset they can hardly hold their rackets. Their game is so badly affected they cannot play to their best ability and the cheater wins.

Now some would say that if you can't cope with stress on court in those situations you're not mentally strong enough to compete at high levels. I'm not so sure because to my mind that abdicates responsibility for poor behaviour. I've taught my children to pick up their litter, to wash their hands, to say "please" and "thank you" why would I allow my child to have tantrums and cheat on court? It doesn't make sense.

Last year I raised this matter off court with a parent whose child I believed had behaved unacceptably. I queried why they had allowed their child to behave in such a way..especially when it has such a detrimental effect on the other player. The answer I received was that was the standard answer that I now receive from any parent... "the rules state we should not interfere."

I'm sorry I just don't believe that is an acceptable excuse. It strikes me that the parents who use this as their byline are the ones who have the most to gain. Let's face it, any truly responsible parent would correct a child who behaves poorly and cheats. If I saw my children cheating, having tantrums and just generally being offensive on court I would act immediately. It's more important to me that my children grow up to be honourable and considerate human beings than winning any tennis match.

So I finally flipped out today. It was too much to see Jacob lose that way. I raised my voice..."Call it out. Everyone saw it was out, call it out!" By then the opponent had claimed the match. No one not even the ref would speak out.

Rules are rules you know.

Today, from Jacob's point of view, this was but a minor incident. He has been in situations far worse. For me though it was the finishing line.... just a small cherry on the top of 7 years of observing poor behaviour, fighting to have my children recognised as genuinely gifted grass roots players, making huge financial sacrifices to pay for their coaching, the late nights, exhausting weekends.

And today I let myself down. I too behaved poorly. It was wrong of me. I apologized to the referee. But in my own mind the damage is done.

I guess I'll carry on the training and paying for my kids as long as they want to play tennis and continue to enjoy it. At the moment they do. Even in defeat, Jacob wants to be a tennis coach and Ben....well his coach thinks he has enough talent to become a national player although slowly but surely I know that prospect is slipping away from him.

You see, recent LTA guidelines say that as a performance tennis player Ben should now be doing 14-16 hours of tennis and athletic development a week. (Only 2 hours of that are what as termed "other" sports.) That's an increase from the previous guidelines of approx 9 hours a week. For Jacob the recommended guidelines are now 16-18 hours a week. Up from approx 11 hours a week. Apart from the financial implications this would mean, I'm seriously concerned at how this intense training would affect their mental well being and, yes, their physical well being too. We live in age of the super sportsman, the conquering hero, but part of me now wonders at what cost this is to childhood. What cost to family relationships?

So when you do stop pursuing excellence? Particularly when that excellence has become someone else's dream? I guess I've influenced my boys over the years. In fact, I know I have. It just snowballed with their burgeoning talents. I just saw gifts to be nurtured. I didn't see the harsh realities.

Very possibly, I made a big mistake.

Monday 1st March.

This morning I popped over to my good friend's Usha site Agelessbonding and read the post Two Little Eyes Watching You which echoes everything I feel about the poor behaviour I see on tennis courts. Usha is one of the best bloggers I have ever come across and if you've never been over to her site I sincerely recommend that you do so.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nightmare on Turley Street

I'm back! Last week was half term so I was tied up as usual. (Those boys can be really brutal.) Anyway, they were due back to school on Monday, so naturally, when the big day arrived I threw back the curtains with an enthusiasm only matched by the discovery of a hidden KitKat in the pantry. However, my delight soon turned to horror at what I saw before me. What did I see? Nope, it wasn't the cat relieving itself on my neighbours plants. (Which is actually quite an appealing scenario.)

It was snow.

Yeah, snow. Again.

Can I just say something?

Please, please God no more snow! Look, I know I've been a naughty girl but please don't punish me with anymore snow! I promise to be a good girl from now on and to be really, really careful when reversing. I will also try to curb my swearing, and I will try my very, very best not to dribble when I see pictures of Andy Roddick.
Anyway folks, I saw snow all over the street so thought it was possible the children would have yet another day off school. Groan. So I went downstairs and got out the paracetamol. Then, just I was opening the second packet, I remembered something exciting... Master Jacob's school, the worst of schools for snow closures, had purchased a snow clearing machine! I duly put the paracetamol back in the medicine cabinet and got out the Celebrations.
You know, I've never actually seen a snow clearing machine - except on an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. And I don't think Jacob's school grounds are suitable for a steam engine or even a tractor so I started wondering what kind of clearing machine they had purchased. My first thought was this;

Yeah, that looks about right. A couple of spades, a few newly graduated teachers who haven't had their enthusiasm killed by paperwork and you could open the school in a jiffy.

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit cynical, perhaps a spade is a bit too basic. Perhaps the school have opted for something more revolutionary. Something more like this.....

You know that idea rather appeals to me. I always thought the head teacher blows a lot of hot air...

But hey, maybe they've gone for the full works, something a little grander...

Of course, it would have to be mounted on a wheelbarrow. But hey if it does the trick I won't complain!

Roll on Spring!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Formal Complaint about.... Socks

Folks, you know I'm a good natured woman, who hardly ever says anything out of turn or drops a verbal clanger, so I hope you won't mind if today if I use a word that you rarely hear uttered out of my sweet lips because I want to talk about socks. Yes, socks.

Look, what is it with these little f*****s ?

Where do they go? I swear to God they have a mind of their own! One minute I have a nice pair of cosy socks to keep my tootsies warm and the next minute they've disappeared into oblivion! Yep, I can search under the beds, in the linen baskets and drawers, in every nook and cranny are the little f*****s cannot be found anywhere! I am always, always, left with a huge pile of odd socks. It is soooooo unfair.

Strangely enough, it's not even just the old socks that go missing. I can buy a brand new pack, heave a huge sigh of relief that I've got socks for at least the next 3 days, but by the time of the next spin cycle I can guarantee that at least one sock has vanished.

Where do they all go?

I just can't figure it out. Is there a magical Pied Piper figure who bewitches all the socks that have been left lying around? Do they rise up at the sound of his sweet music, dance in unison along the hallway and slip out the letter box? Do they gather at secret rallies where they demand freedom from their cheesy owners?

I dunno..........

Maybe socks actually have little feet of their own like slugs? Maybe they just get sick of being worn all day and just leg it? Perhaps they're digging their way out under the floor boards? Maybe when I replace the carpets I'll find a pile of socks that have suffocated on some desperate suicidal mission......

You know Disney could make a movie out of socks. Forget Buzz Lightyear, you could have Cheesy Lightfoot coming to the rescue of a band of stricken left footed socks who have been separated from their right footed counterparts by a wicked housewife who pegs them to the washing line just for fun of it.....

Or 101 Socks - the story of 101 innocent white (with a few grey stains) socks stolen by the wicked Cruella Denier, a hosiery tycoon, who wants to rid the world of socks and at the same time as making a unique and wonderful coat......

Or The Lady and The Sock... a simple love story where a middle aged, slightly disturbed woman, loses one of her beloved bedsocks. As she goes in search of her beloved sock she gets lost in the city where she meets a devilishly attractive cheap nylon sock from Primark.....

Or The Jungle Sock - a small boy finds a good use for some old red socks. (Well how else did he make those pants??)

Yep, you may have gathered that socks and I just don't get along which is why I have a huge pile of odd socks in my house. And I mean huge. I might as well admit it (again) a housewife I am pathetic. Miserably pathetic. I just wasn't born to be a housewife. I was born to do other stuff. Ummm.... I'm not exactly sure what kind of other stuff ......but you know what I mean..... Maybe a chocolate tester who lives in an enchanted castle where everything is magically cleaned? And there's a prince with a huge load? Of gold?

Anyway I'm not looking for pity. I know my life is one big pile of holey socks but you know I try my best to be upbeat about things..... so I thought I'd give all you folks out there, who may have the same problem, a few tips on what to do with with your odd socks.

1. Okay -Hubby's odd black socks are ideal for those dreaded dressing up days. Take two of the offending articles, tie them together and stick 'em on your child's head. Paint their nose black and you instantly have a Goofy costume.

Don't be disappointed if you only have odd white sports socks....with the same technique they can look like Deputy Dawg.

Continuing on the same theme, if you've been invited to a fancy dress party and your tired of going as a Roman centurion or a nun take 2 coat hangers bend them in half and shove 'em up two odd grey socks and strap them to your head. Then take a cotton wool ball and stick it to your bottom. For the finishing touch, shove a carrot in your mouth and you'll look like this;

2. Now I know how charitable you ladies out there are but, like me, you may not be quite so good at knitting jumpers for the needy. So why not just sew all the odd socks together and make a patchwork quilt?

3. Put on a glove puppet show for charity. Keep your theme topical. With the UK general election coming up I'll be giving my puppet show a political theme... a black sock for Barack Obama, a brown sock for Mr Brown (Labour), a grey sock for David Cameron (Tory), a white sock for Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) and, of course, a pink sock for Peter Mandelson. If I find one of Master Sam's "special" socks which has been festering in his room for about 2 years and is now particularly ripe I'll be using that for Mr Blair.

4. Gather all the odd socks together, sew them end to end and you have a stylish Dr Who scarf. Fabulous. If you start calling your car "The Tardis" as well I guarantee you will not be asked for any childcare favours.

5. Put them on your hands and do the polishing with them. Pretty good for mirrors or silverware.
Look, I had to give one sensible tip! Otherwise folks would think I'm completely stupid! I know, I know, you don't come to this site for cleaning tips but today's that rare occasion when I want to share part of my world with you.

(Ho hum. Believe that tip and you'll believe anything.)

My Nominees for the US and UK Elections and Other Waffle

It's the early hours of the morning, and I have had a large gin... Late-night alcohol is always a good recipe for writing gibberish. And...