How a filled dixie plastic cup can make your players perform better

In 2014, I (Kyle) coached a tennis player based in Miami. As tennis players, we like to have control over everything, but sometimes we can’t. When some players can’t control everything, they tend to become negative and focus on all the bad things. In my research, negativity was one of the seven reasons for failure. In fact, it was number two, behind fear of failure.

The player I (Kyle) was coaching was playing against a very tough opponent who was playing at her home club, with her coaches, family, and friends all there. The club was in a bad part of town, and the courts were not in great shape. Every time my player missed a ball, the opponent’s entourage cheered wildly. The South Florida afternoon was incredibly hot and humid, and it looked like it could pour rain at any minute. My (Kyle) player lost the first set 6-1 and was down 4-2 in the second set when a big rain shower came down, lasting only two minutes but completely wiping out the courts.

During the rain delay, my (Kyle) player came over to me, dragging herself, head down, and complaining about everything that was going wrong. Instead of giving her cliché advice, I (Kyle) told her to go to the igloo cooler, take a plastic Dixie cup, fill it to the top with water, and make two laps around the court without spilling a drop. She looked at me like I (Kyle) was crazy, but she did it.

When she came back out, the courts had dried in no time, and my (Kyle) player filled up the little plastic cup with water, took two laps around, didn’t spill a drop, and went on to win the match. She later told me (Kyle) that she had been so focused on the task at hand that she had forgotten about all the negativity around her.

The moral of the story is that sometimes when we’re in a negative environment and can’t control certain things, we need to focus on the task at hand and keep our nose to the grindstone. As tennis coaches, it’s important to grab our players’ attention and steer it towards something that they can control. Redirecting their attention towards the task at hand can be very effective in helping them overcome negative thoughts and feelings.

Should one aim for work-life balance as a tennis coach?

I have often wondered about this for some time now. Every day, I ask myself if there is a way to achieve success without sacrificing work-life balance. However, in any field, whether it’s being a tennis coach, an athlete, a lawyer, a doctor, or an accountant, you will have to put in long hours and make certain sacrifices to achieve your goals.

Although we live in a social environment where there is a hierarchy, we must prioritize what is valuable to us. There will always be individuals who are better or worse than us at what we do, but if we want to excel, we must make sacrifices, and this inevitably results in an imbalance in our lives.

In my (Kyle) experience, I have not encountered any successful tennis coach with a stable work-life balance. It’s a deal that we make to pursue our passion, and we never seem to get out of it because we love what we do. Even on bad days or long days, there is something that keeps us coming back, like an addiction to the game and the desire to give back to the sport. However, there are coaches who have left the industry due to the heavily influenced service industry and it’s demanding work hours.

As coaches, we are part of the service industry, and it’s essential to make a distinction that we are not in the servant industry. Respect for our time is crucial. We do ourselves a disservice when we undercut our fellow professionals or resort to territorial behavior. Working together and helping each other out is the way to succeed. It’s the little extra effort that sets apart ordinary from extraordinary, and we need to make that extra effort to excel.

There is no right answer to achieving work-life balance, but being a tennis coach is one of the most rewarding and powerful professions. In fact, if you ask 100 people on the street who the most influential person in their life is, they are likely to say a teacher or a coach. The impact we can make is significant and long-lasting. A great coach leaves a legacy that lives on, even if they have struggled with work-life balance. It’s this legacy that makes it all worth it in the end.

Have we as tennis coaches become too soft?

You could certainly make arguments for both sides, but I believe that there was a certain generation of coaches who were more dogmatic in their approach.

While it is necessary for coaches to be strict and stern when it comes to technique, the laws of physics, and the geometry of the court, there are other aspects where you have to loosen the reins a little bit and understand your player’s personality and preferences.

Great coaches, even in the past, were able to understand and read their players better than just a good coach. Adaptability is key in coaching, and while it may have been more acceptable in the past to treat players a certain way based on what was known, now there is more education and information available to make everyone better.

With the world changing and social media allowing anyone to record and share anything they want, there is an opportunity for coaches and players alike to be more well-informed.

Q: Is it possible to be both adaptable and foster an environment in which there are some clear non-negotiables?

As a coach, it’s important to establish clear boundaries and expectations for your players. There’s a certain line that you cannot cross with certain coaches, but it’s important to communicate those standards based on your relationship with each player.

The line can always change, depending on the player and the situation. For example, Phil Jackson did not coach Michael Jordan the same way he coached Dennis Rodman. As a coach, you need to treat everyone fairly, but not necessarily the same way, as everyone is different and on a different journey. You must adapt to each player and their needs, rather than expecting them to adapt to you.

To effectively communicate your expectations, you need crystal clear clarity from the start. Make sure that the player understands where you’re coming from, what you want them to do, and encourage them to be honest and upfront with you as well.

Without that foundation of honesty, you have nothing. Ask the player about their non-negotiables and what they need from you. Understanding their boundaries and expectations will help you provide the best possible service.

At a higher level, like the pro tour, coaches are typically employees of the player, so it’s important to work together and establish a good working relationship. At a club level, coaches are usually in charge, but at the tour level, players have more say. Regardless of the level, the three keys to success are clear communication, adaptability, and honesty. By establishing these from the beginning, you can avoid issues down the line and build a successful relationship with your player.

Get the player to believe the change comes from them

Coaching is based on several factors, including content, method, and coaching quality, rather than just one buzzword or unique theory.

The principles of tennis, such as the geometry of the court and laws of physics, are critical in coaching. What matters most is getting from point A to point B, and how you achieve it doesn’t matter.

Tennis requires a lot of repetition-based activities, which can be challenging for players. Therefore, a coach must tailor their approach to the player’s abilities and strengths. It’s crucial to identify players’ strengths and weaknesses and work with them accordingly.

Coaches need to be adaptable and connect with players on a personal level. Without this connection, there can be no direction.

Therefore, a great coach must understand the player, not only on a technical level, but also personally. A great coach has the ability to get the player to believe that the change is coming from them, rather than the coach. Ultimately, the coach’s ability to adapt and understand the player is crucial to success, as every player is unique and requires a tailored approach.

It’s not what a coach does it’s how they do it

In 2018, I (Kyle) began a masters at Stanford University, and my master’s thesis focused on coaching, specifically on what athlete’s experience with great coaching. I (Kyle) interviewed 98 athletes that competed and practiced under legendary coaches in various sports, including basketball, football, and professional and college programs. With these 98 athletes, I (Kyle) found four common themes that emerged.

Simply put, a good coach can make a significant difference, but a great coach can teach their players lessons that will last a lifetime and have a life-changing impact on an athlete. The title of my (Kyle) master’s thesis was “It’s Not What They Do, but How They Do It: Athletes’ Experiences with Great Coaching.”

Notably, the athletes I (Kyle) interviewed played under championship-winning coaches, the best of the best. The most common answers from the athletes were related to four specific factors.

Firstly, great coaches created a unique learning environment on and off the court, during bus or plane trips, and in locker rooms. The coach would share their wisdom and knowledge, making everything a life or game lesson, and always making it relatable. For example, one football player I interviewed recalled a coach who had them practice in a field during a blizzard when their bus broke down. This experience helped them in the game, which was also snowing.

Secondly, great coaches put the athlete first, protecting them and always having their best interests at heart. It wasn’t about the coach’s ego or interests, but about fostering a team environment.

Thirdly, great coaches hold the team and themselves to a higher standard. They create positive habits and ensure everyone is on the same page, and they do this without punishing players.

Finally, every practice a great coach leads is purposeful, intense, and meticulous.

In summary, all coaches teach, communicate, prepare, and have expectations. But great coaches teach details and lessons on and off the court, communicate honestly, prepare meticulously, and expect to see their expectations met. So, in conclusion, it’s not about what a coach does, but how they do it that sets great coaches apart.

#101: Kyle LaCroix – It’s not WHAT a coach does, it’s HOW


Hi guys, In this episode you are going to listen to Kyle LaCroix. Kyle holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Stanford University. He is among a bunch of other certifications a USTA High Performance Coach and last year he was named USPTA Master Professional which is the highest achievable rating a tennis professional can hold. On a day-to-day basis Kyle is running Sets consulting that specializes in educational tennis solutions,

You’ll get to know:

  • How to adapt and set high standards
  • How to balance work-life as a tennis coach
  • How to consider the legacy that you leave behind

Enjoy the show!


01:00 The shared denominators of great coaches
05:30 No connection, no direction
08:30 Balancing adaptability
11:15 Adaptability and standards
12:40 How to communicate standards
15:30 Work life balance as a tennis coach
21:45 Failure
26:25 The semantics around failure
31:10 The best way to fight negativity
36:30 Holding up your end of the bargain + flicking with the wrist
48:50 On court coaching – for it against it
53:45 Is serve and volley on it’s way back to tennis?
60:15 My aces my faults – owning your mistakes, gratitude and perspective

Be careful of “Why” questions when…

A type of question to consider carefully is Why questions. Why questions are fantastic after a positive experience or the player having done something really well. But the minute you say: “Why did you throw your racket?” or “Why did you behave that way?” – especially teenage kids will deny it.

They will go: “I didn’t throw the racquet three times.” They’ll justify it. “Oh, well, he made a bad line call or annoyed me” or “Well, my favorite player throws his racquet, so why can’t I?”. So, it’s downward rabbit hole spiral. Just be mindful of it.

Adapting your coaching style to different players

On a trip in 2018 with the Australian Junior Fed Cup team I (Emma) found that I had three completely different personalities.

So essentially, I had to bring out the best in the team. I had to change who I was.

So, for example, one of my players, she was from far north Queensland, top out of Australia, and she’s so casual and she’s so relaxed. At the change of ends it almost looks like she’s sort of lying down. I have my chart and my notepad. And she’s like: “Coach, you don’t need that.” I got my pen and chart and then I was like “Oh, I don’t need that” And I put it down.

The next player where half Russian, half Australian. Yes. She’s like “Come on” and in a little more in your face. So, I was up and down, off my chair.

The third player she was 6-0, 0-6 and who would know what would happen in the 3rd set. So, I had to be like a flatline.

The reasoning I mention this story is that I think even though I’m an extrovert and I’m fun and I’m energetic that wouldn’t have brought out the best in all three of those players if I was myself. So, at the end of the week it’s almost like, I have multiple personality disorder.

At the end of the day, they didn’t really care what I knew. They knew that I cared. I cared through the accountability of the value, the incredible raging elephant. Once you get buy in from the players to create the behaviors, then as the coach, the accountability is so much easier. How do you think we went with improvement today? Did we do our charting or whatever it might be?

We all need to do a better job on how we coach female players and language, is number one.

Female Empowerment

In 2018 I (Emma) was the Australian Junior Fed Cup coach. It had been a long time since last time I had been out with a junior national team. I’d taken sort of 20 Aussie junior teams away. Now all of a sudden it was kind of 10 years later. I’ve been given this opportunity to take another team away and I haven’t done it in so long.

Last time I took a team away, there were no mobile phones. Especially not on the dinner table, etc. And I thought, well, rather than come in and give all these rules and tell these 16-year-old girls, I’m the coach and you need to listen to me. We ended up doing a values session. So, we’ve got all these cards and they’re all spread out on the floor and each of the players and me. And we had one of the support percent chose three values each. Then we did a voting system and then we came up with a really funny acronym for the team.

So, we were the incredible raging elephant. We stood for improvement, respect and enjoyment, and then they created the behaviors of improvement. So, what we’re going to be the behaviors around improvement. For example, one of the things around improvement was that we were going to scout our PNO, our potential next opponent. So, Improvement was one of the players would chart one of the players we were next going to play against.

Respect. We had to ask the Malaysian Uber drivers one question about culture each morning.

Enjoyment. We had the same playlist. We had no mobile phones at breakfast, lunch and dinner, not even on the table. And I took them overnight as well. We also visualized every morning on the top floor of the hotel just a short visualization, and we had breakfast in the morning before any other country. So, we’re always, no matter what time, whether we’re first on a second on.

when then I was caught with these certain players, what I found was that I had three different, completely different personalities.

Direct vs indirect coaching

As coaches, we live along the continuum from being direct to indirect. Being direct essentially means who’s making the decision within the learning environment. So, if I’m (Emma) being direct, then the coach is making the decisions for the player. If you’re working with a bunch of five-year-old’s and say “Come over here and place your toes on the white line” that is a direct command. Which is much needed for a group of five-year old’s and in terms of instruction. So, I’m not saying one is better than the other, but obviously that direct command is what comes naturally generally to most coaches.

I’d say 80 percent of the coaches do not need to learn direct commands as a tennis coach, that’s what they’re pretty good at, naturally. On the other end of the continuum is the indirect coaching style, which is where the student is making the decisions. Within the lesson, the coach potentially sets up a great learning environment and then the player is allowed to explore and what that the benefits of that are is unlocking the cognitive and what’s called the effective domain, which is the enjoyment. Because if the child has to think and try to solve problems and work it out, most kids, especially in Western culture, very much enjoy that process. They’re encouraged to do it because that is how they are they learning these days on their tablet, on the phone playing Minecraft and these games where they have to do the decision making and the thinking by themselves.

So, it’s so much a part of our world that if we can tap into that and unlock that in tennis, I’m a huge believer in that. So basically, having this knowledge of direct versus indirect and knowing that when we practice being more indirect, this is how we really can help to unlock the decision making and the learning within the player, which is essentially our sport.

That’s how we strengthen the coach or the inner voice. Let’s be honest, our ultimate goal, I always say, is to make ourselves redundant.

And yes, we may still stay in contact with our students. And certainly, my highlight of my career is when I attend a wedding or even watch one of my ex-students give her father’s funeral speech. Those are the moments that really excite me to see them as adults and be able to use this voice to help them, no matter what they do in their life. And build that character is the ultimate job for me as a coach. So, I think the more we can practice those indirect skills is absolutely critical to our ability to unlock the learning within the player.