Anyone for tennis? It’s where the fault lies

As the less-than-energetic parent of a lively eight-year-old, I sometimes find myself struggling to keep up with all the activities that modern youngsters like Gregory demand.

As the less-than-energetic parent of a lively eight-year-old, I sometimes find myself struggling to keep up with all the activities that modern youngsters like Gregory demand. Is it the E-numbers in their food, do you think, or are today's children simply pre-programmed to take life at a faster pace than previous generations?

I've made the point in this column before that weekends are a non-stop treat for youngsters nowadays as they lurch from one thrilling activity to another. On Saturday it's the cinema, soccer or swimming; on Sunday it's skating, tenpin bowling or scoffing chicken nuggets at a chaotic family pub.

Throw in all the sports clubs, dance lessons, martial arts, music, holidays and parties, and it becomes a challenge to accommodate life's 'ordinary' activities amid their hectic social diaries.

If weekends are demanding, weekdays are only marginally less busy. Once the small matter of an exhausting day at school is out of the way, and possibly homework, there are yet more clubs and sports matches to be attended, certificates to be earned, trophies and medals to be won.

Surely somewhere amid this timetable of tiring (and sometimes even tiresome) hobbies there should be room for quiet play, intelligent conversation, valuable rest and reflection, and - heaven forbid - quality time with parents?

Modern mums and dads frequently harp on about being nothing more than a 'private taxi service' for their children, and in the past I've tended to disregard such talk as good-humoured exaggeration. Now, however, I know several parents whose daily routines seem to revolve around the logistics of ferrying their hyperactive offspring from one place to another.

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How long will it be before I am doing exactly the same for Master Gregory and, of course, making it sound like a perfectly normal and acceptable way of life?

“We don't have lives or interests of our own any more: everything is governed by the children,” one weary mother-of-two told me recently. “When we're not feeding them and tidying up after them, we have to be constantly available to get them to their various clubs and matches.”

For reasons that I have yet to understand, tennis seems to be one of the principal offenders in this respect.

Once your child takes up tennis, and shows any degree of either talent or enthusiasm, you must consider your own personality, lifestyle, interests and hobbies effectively forgotten. Faster than you can say “forehand volley”, there will be nothing in your wretched existence other than tennis rankings, buying tennis gear, washing tennis gear, watching interminable tennis and driving to tennis tournaments in far-flung places.

Family holidays will be planned around tennis, interrupted and sometimes even cancelled by unexpected commitments on court.

Here I must declare an interest, dear readers. Gregory has, er, tennis lessons every Saturday morning though, much to the relief of my bank balance and long-term sanity, has yet to show himself as one of Norfolk's potential young stars. Hoorah!

Way back in January, some friends with a sporty teenage son suggested meeting us for a Saturday night meal. February 24 was initially pencilled in as a suitable date until - guess what? - their tennis-mad lad was suddenly asked to be on standby all weekend for a tournament.

In no huge hurry for the curry, we instead bounced it on to March 31 and were amazed when our pals turned up that night without an apparent hitch.

“Actually we thought we might have to cancel earlier today because a tennis tournament came up at the last moment - but we managed to get there and back in time,” they confessed. Tennis? Really? Now there's a surprise.

For many parents, the enjoyment their children derive from these healthy sports and pastimes is what spurs them on. But there is also, I'd imagine, that lingering “What if?” factor.

“What if young Barnaby is a potential Wimbledon star, like Tim Henman? We owe it to him to encourage his tennis as much as possible,” they might argue. Or: “What if dear little Edwina goes on to play the violin with the Royal Philharmonic? Isn't it worth putting up with that horrendous cat-screech scratching?”

All well and good. The irony, however, is that when the budding Tim Henmans have grown up and discarded their racquets without so much as a sniff of Grand Slam action they will doubtless tell all their mates: “Do you know, I hated tennis but every weekend my annoying mum and dad insisted on dragging me to loads of boring tournaments…”