Winning is a biproduct of doing all the right things. If you win & you’re not developing quality young people, then winning is worthless! The reality of our profession is that when our career in Tennis Coaching is over only few of us will have had the priviledge of coaching a player to be able to live of playing tennis. The majority of the players that we will interact with during our career will never go anywhere near making a living of playing tennis. So developing values & skills for life is essential no matter how far the persons/players that we have on court will end up going as Tennis Players. We of course need to be ready to facilitate an environment in which the exceptionally good players have the opportunity to get closer to their goals & dreams, but we must never forget that Tennis is an amazing vehicle to teach kids life lessons that can be applied through out the rest of their lives.
How the coach interacts with the athlete is still the number one determining factor for success and no advanced tech can replace that! If more information was the answer then we would all produce perfect forehands & backhands, we would have players with unbelievalbe hand-eye coordination & a lot more of us could call ourselves coaches of Grand Slam Winners, but of course reality isn’t like that. It’s so easy, & I get caught up in the hamster wheel of exercises & drills available on Facebook & Youtube all the time myself as well. It’s so easy to look for new drills & new technologies, but in the end we have to remember that we are coaching human beings & our ability to interact & connect with the player is a prerequisite for good coaching. The drills & technology can built upon that, but will never be able to replace our interpersonal skills.
If practice sessions don’t include game-like situations, we are developing players who excel in practice but not in matches. I have so often heard players say that they are brilliant in practice but they just can’t seem to get it out in matches & they just need to make it click now in matches & they will reach a completely different level. It’s my true belief that in most cases that is simply not the truth. I have seen world champions in hitting the neutral forehand & backhand, but the reality of matches is that you’re rarely hitting neutral balls, most of the time you are either in offense or defense so if you use most of the time in practice sessions on hitting from neutral you will as a natural consequence struggle in matches. It’s not the players’ fault, but we as coaches need to make sure that every practice session include both defensive, neutral & offensive gamesituations in order to simulate what is actually going on in matches.
To help a Tennis Players we need to pick their brain, get to know how they tick, how to best communicate with them & get our messages across. We can be the most knowledgeable coaches in the world but if we can’t figure out a way to get our messages across to the player right in front of us it really doesn’t matter. As coaches we need to remember not only to improve our knowledge about the game of tennis but also prioritize time to improve our interpersonal skills & explore how we can communicate more effectively with different kinds of players on & off the court.
Coaching isn’t about how much you know or what degree you can put on your CV. It’s about what you can get players to do on & off the court. Dominic King & Dean Hollingworth have both so wisely said: “The players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” Does that mean that you shouldn’t continually try to get better & seek new knowledge as a coach – absolutely not, but don’t forget the care factor.
Be consistent with your approach. Kids make mistakes. We help & support them. Next day we start all over again repeating the same messages. One thing that I have consistently heard as the most important characteristic for a Tennis Coach when I have interviewed more accomplished or experienced coaches than myself is that a Tennis Coach needs to be PATIENT. The complexity of the game ensures that it’s going to take a lot of purpose full training even to get the basics right, so we better be consistent with our approaches & stay patient with the players.
Facilitate an environment that values effort over avoiding failure. If we experience players that are constantly afraid of making mistakes it’s seldom a sign that the player is mentally weak or they need to go see a psychologist. Oftentimes it’s properly because of the way that we act & the things that we as coaches say on & off the court. It’s a direct consequence of what we show the players that is important in the environment that we facilitate. So if we do think that e.g. effort is more important than avoiding failure, then we need to set up drills & in general go about the daily practice & what we do at tournaments in a way where the behaviour off excellent effort is rewarded in the both the non-verbal & verbal communication to the players. At the same time make sure that the players understand the math of tennis, that they understand that you can’t win every single point & mistakes are a natural part of tennis. That they also understand that if you are afraid of making mistakes you are going to have a really hard time improving on or off the court, because mistakes are a natural consequence of trying out something new, which all of us eventually have to do if we want to improve in the long run.
Help increasing motivation by allowing young players some autonomy – the feeling of being able to have buy in & ownership of their own development is one of the most empowering things you can do for young aspiring Tennis Professionals. You as the Tennis Coach is of course going to help the player with the long term vision & then work backwards how to simply have the opportunity to get there, but controlling everything from the coach’s perspective can be dangerous motivational wise as well as create dependent players in the long run.
The best Tennis Coaches that I have come across give to receive. If you want respect, respect the players. If you want your players to listen, listen to your players
If you speak a little less your players might think a little more which may lead them to be comfortable trying out a little more on their own. Earlier on I didn’t “Check my ego at the door” as one of my previous posts was called. I was busy trying to show all of the players everything that I knew at once. I wasn’t able to only give feedback on 1 thing at a time & I only now realize how confusing it most have been for some of the players that I previously worked with to be bombarded with everything that they did wrong. Now it’s extremely important for me to never have more than one aspect in focus per drill & preferably per day. Sometimes I still get impatient or give feedback on what my eye see instead of the defined focus, but I find the development of the players to be much faster & less confusing the previously.