A few days back, Rafael Nadal won the French Opens for a record eighth time. An incredible achievement for a young man who has been so injury proned!
His latest feat made me recall an excerpt of his autobiography that I happened to read some years back. Nadal recounts the role played by his uncle Toni who coached him in his childhood. Rewind to Nadal recounting his experiences as a six year old: “Toni was tough on me right from the start, tougher than on the other children. He demanded a lot of me, pressured me hard. He’d use rough language, shout a lot, he’d frighten me — especially when the other boys didn’t turn up and it was just the two of us. If I saw I’d be alone with him when I arrived for training, I’d get a sinking feeling in my stomach….. ……….Toni never let up. Once I started playing competitive games, aged seven, it got tougher. One very hot day I went to a match without my bottle of water. I’d left it at home. He could have gone and bought me one, but he didn’t. So that I’d learn to take responsibility, he said. Why didn’t I rebel? Because I enjoyed tennis, and enjoyed it all the more once I started winning, and because I was an obedient and docile child.”
Toni’s handling of Nadal goes against everything we describe as good parenting. Today we talk about not pushing children, letting children find their passion and not influencing their choices, reasoning with them, making them understand why something has to be done and so on. Are we missing something?
Read on “Maybe, but if I hadn’t loved playing the game, I wouldn’t have put up with my uncle. And I loved him too, as I still do and always will. I trusted him, and so I knew deep down that he was doing what he thought was best for me. I trusted him so implicitly when I was little that I even came to believe he had supernatural powers. It wasn’t till I was nine years old that I stopped thinking he was a magician capable, among other things, of making himself invisible.”
To me that’s the bottomline- if you can convey to a child the strength of your intentions, which Toni seems to have conveyed to a young Nadal, children do get it and do not resent the method as much. Sometimes, parenting also means being tough and relentless. Nadal’s upbringing is a case in point.