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But leaning on a kid too heavily for sloppy footwork isn't the only problem with many of today's tennis parents. At just about any major junior tournament one can see moms and dads allowing their children to cheat, argue with opponents, insult officials and throw tantrums. Some won't hesitate to instruct their kids to default a match if playing and losing could jeopardize their ranking. Anything goes to protect a ranking.
Compounding parents' anxiety over whether their children will "make it" is the fact that in tennis, unlike most other sports, which have established methods for producing champions, no one knows for sure what to do. Parents face a myriad of decisions: Big racket or small? Wood or composite? Two hands or one? Top spin or flat? Train at home or at a camp? Compete in the proper age group or play up? College or the circuit? Tracy Austin did it one way, Jaeger another, John McEnroe another.
Bill Amend has a 16-year-old son, Eric, who has won seven national titles. His 12-year-old daughter, Krista, is one of the best in the country in her age division. When Eric was 10, Bill built an indoor tennis club in Chicago so Eric could practice year round. Later, Bill, a research engineer, quit his job and moved his family to California, where the competition is better and Eric could be coached by Robert Lansdorp, until 1980 Tracy Austin's mentor. One day Krista was playing one of the nation's best 12-year-olds. After a disputed call went her opponent's way, Bill yelled, "She cheats! She always has cheated! Maybe I should teach my kids to cheat!" The people at the tournament were shocked, but as tennis parents, they understood.
"These parents look at these kids as the financial salvation of the family," says Toronto film and sports mogul John Bassett. His daughter, Carling, 15, is one of the top-ranked girls in the world and a student at Bollettieri's. When Bassett, a former Davis Cup player for Canada, attended his first junior tournament in the U.S., he was startled. "Here were kids coming off the court in tears," he says, "and their parents were yelling at them."
The father of one top junior player is renowned for heckling his son from the sidelines. If the boy double-faults, the man yells, "That's one." If he does it again, the father yells, "That's two."
The prevailing opinion among tennis parents is that the pressure is good, that it steels young players for the pro tour. "You've got to learn to handle the pressure," says Dr. Herb Krickstein of Grosse Pointe, Mich. His son, Aaron, won the national 16s this summer. "The better kids handle it. You think not many crack, but talking about it, I guess there are quite a few.
"Yet, these tennis prodigies don't come out of nowhere. The parents have to give them guidance. I don't want to say push. But Roland Jaeger would admit he pushed Andrea. I'll admit I push, too. If I don't think my kid is doing the right thing, I'll tell him about it." Or see to it that someone else does. Twice a month Aaron flies to Florida to work out at Bollettieri's academy for four or five days at a time.
Chris Green, a sophomore at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., was ranked in the Top 25 nationally for much of his junior career. Once he watched a friend jump in a river and swim across it after he had lost a match in St. Louis. "Back then I never realized how many guys were going bonkers," he says. "We just laughed about it. The parents push the kids, force them to play, criticize them. You come home and it's the worst when you have to say, 'I didn't do well.' It's almost like the kid has no say. Those are the ones that crack."
The Kostens became involved in tennis accidentally, innocently, as is so frequently the case. Herb, Lori's father, was an athlete. He and Marilyn met at the University of Alabama, where Herb was All-Southeastern Conference in baseball for three years. In 1970, after 12 years of marriage and a struggle through hard times, things were looking up for Herb and Marilyn. He was successful in the construction business in Memphis. They belonged to a country club. They had a maid. Their older daughter, Julie, was 9, and Lori was 5.
As Marilyn was sitting by the country club pool one day that summer, the club pro came up to her and said, "Did you know that your daughter can really hit a tennis ball?" Marilyn asked if he would move a bit; he was blocking her sun. But being a dutiful mother, she took Julie to Tommy Buford, the Memphis State coach. After hitting a few balls, Buford jumped the net and told Julie, "You're going to win the state tournament!" Two years later, she did.