As a ten-year old learning to play tennis, I had the habit of throwing my racquet or slamming the ball when I was furious for having misplayed a shot. I am sure McEnroe had something to do with this, but that’s for another day! Of course, hurling my racquet on the ground couldn’t change the shot I played, but I believed it helped me express my anger. However, my coach disagreed. Whenever I did that, my coach would ‘ground’ me – which meant I can’t touch the racquet for that day and the next day. I would however, still have to come and train – just not play. And the length of the grounding increased with the frequency with which I did it – so the next time I did it, I would be grounded for one more day. That hurt. As a result, over time, I stopped hurling the racquet or ball and started internalizing the anger and tried to rip the next shot I got – which didn’t always end well for me in the context of the match.

Now, some might argue that it may be better to hurl something and get it out of your system instead of bottling it and losing the next few points. And they will be right. However, I learnt again. I started realizing (thanks to some assistance from my coach and friends) that I was losing points and games due to me frustration and anger. Over time, I learnt to forget the last point and instead focus on the next one. I realized that I wasn’t bottling my anger any more, I was just staying in the present during the game. I can’t say I have applied this technique all the time and indeed to all walks of my life yet but am learning and hopefully improving. And again, thanks to several people who have mentored and coached me in all walks of life, I am better off.

But staying with this example, it all started with a rather physical restriction – not to break racquets. It wasn’t the right solution; it wasn’t even a solution for my anger. But starting with that, my coach was able to slowly work backwards and make me not just a better player but more importantly a better person on court. After watching kids training at a tennis academy every week now for the past year, I get the feeling that coaches prefer to let the kids ‘express themselves’. It is also true that a lot of parents today don’t give coaches enough space to admonish or punish bad behavior. There seems to be a view that discouraging bad behavior is somehow curbing the growth of their personality.

Like my coach did three decades back, I disagree. I think it is a coach’s job to ensure that a player develops not just physical skills but also mental ability. And that necessarily involves molding a person’s personality. This is not a curbing of personality but on the contrary the development of personality. And while you want kids to express themselves, it cannot be at the cost of doing the right thing.