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Sporting parents

Tomic Sr and tennis dads from hell


John Tomic, father and coach of Aussie tennis player, Bernard Tomic oversees practice during the 2012 Australian Open

Aussie Bernard Tomic's father, John, punched the 'tennis dad from hell' issue right back into the news. A bloodied assault on his son's training partner Thomas Drouet at a Madrid sidewalk 10 days ago saw the free-swinging senior Tomic, at the forefront of his 20-year-old's coaching team, facing assault charges that could land him in jail. Blow upon blow it has been for the Tomics as John's credentials was suspended by the ATP, a move backed by the ITF on whose junior tour the former taxi driver's daughter 15-year-old Sara plays. Bernard Tomic, who pulled out of this week's Italian Open citing personal reasons, is unlikely for the second Grand Slam of the year - the French Open. His father suggested that
his son's mental stamina was suspect.

Drouet claimed last week he had seen the father have a go at his son. "John hit his son on the court, while we were training in Monaco, " Drouet said in an interview. "He punched him in the face. Blood was dripping from his mouth onto the court. Tuesday (May 1), he attacks his son, Saturday (May 4) me, who is next?"

Tomic's father's case isn't unique in that tennis has had its share of offenders. Indian sport is no different, even if such matters rarely make the press. Sports psychologist Dr Chaithanya Sridhar, who has worked with a number of domestic and international athletes across disciplines, underlined the lack of emotional management among sporting parents in India, adding, the need to push one's child isn't just a factor in lower economic groups. She pointed out that in maidans across the country it was more a case of 'volatile behaviour than violent behaviour'.

"We live in a culture where kids are raised to believe that parents or adults are always right, " Dr Sridhar said. Psychologists believe that abuse is often triggered by great expectation. When one places the bar too high for the child and he or she isn't able to reach it, the parent strikes out. Dr Sridhar said, "A fair percentage of parents view it as the ideal way to get the best out of their child. They believe they can actually scare their child into a performance. "

To reiterate a point, abusive fathers are not new to tennis. They are as old as the game that begins at love-all. Perhaps the two most glaring examples of recent times are Damir Dokic and Jim Pierce. Jelena's father Damir, who reportedly struck his daughter during practice at tournament venues, spent time in jail for threatening the life of the Australian ambassador to Belgrade and illegally possessing bombs and other weapons. Former French Open champion Mary Pierce's father Jim was ejected from Roland Garros in 1993 after he punched a spectator.

The Indian angle is equally disturbing. There is a story of an internationally ranked tennis pro, who as a child would get thrashed by his father every time he failed to train hard enough or lost a match. Fellow competitors watched as the man - a long-serving and accomplished sportsman of repute himself - kicked his son around. The player developed a great work ethic. He was supremely fit and fast, but he simply couldn't pull off tennis matches that mattered. Many a time, after coming up short in close matches, he would break down wondering why he hadn't closed out the clash. A promising talent in the juniors, he drifted out of the sport in his mid-20 s.

Dr Sridhar pointed out another case in a different racquet sport where nothing short of a convincing victory would satisfy the father. If his son 'failed', he would thrash the teenager with just about anything that came into his hand - helmet, kitbag, belt or the racquet itself. The boy had a younger brother, who also took up the same sport. Gradually the boy began taking out his frustration on his younger sibling. The abuse his father heaped on him was passed on to his brother.

Every action has a reaction. It's hardly surprising then that the 20-year-old Tomic's career has been filled with controversy.

Late last year he was fined $1750 and put on a 12-month good-behaviour bond after twice being stopped by Australian police for driving offences. In late October (2012), police were called to a high-rise apartment building in Surfers Paradise in Queensland after residents saw two men, one of them naked, wrestling in a hot tub. One of the men was Tomic junior, the world's 53rdranked tennis pro.

Dr Sridhar pointed out: "A lot of parents have unresolved issues. It maybe unfulfilled dreams which see them push their children to deliver. Aggressive people generally have an aggressive past, maybe an alcoholic father which results in them taking out their frustrations on their children or those near them. This is the way they have been coping emotionally and this is how they think it is done. "

Violent or volatile behaviour has a debilitating effect on young minds. Often sporting parents, both in India and abroad, take out their anger on the child in full public view, at courtside, in parking lots, at gymnasiums and family drawing rooms. Psychiatrists marked 'loss of self-esteem' as the No. 1 blow when at the receiving end. It's a particularly humiliating experience when a parent or a coach raises his or her hand on the child. Loss of confidence is not a wound that heals easily.

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