Written by: Conor Casey
***In Canada the highest level of certification is Coach 5. Conor Casey, Canadian Tennis analyst and coach for ‘The Tennis Channel’ introduces Coach 6.***
Coaching tennis is a tough gig. A good tennis coach teaches a tennis player the value of hard work, patience, and confidence. Regardless of all the arguments and all the talk of which coaching methods are the best or the most efficient there are elements to coaching that are not disputable. Coaching too has its certainties. Here are the facts about coaching:
- A coach/player relationship shares a common goal; to create a successful tennis player, a successful human being.
- A coach is concerned with getting a player to play their best tennis and to have the proper values.
- It is a coach’s job to help his player win and handle the different problems he faces.
Based on these certainties it is safe to conclude that a coach must know what it means to win, or at the very least what it feels like. This doesn’t mean that they have to have been an ex-successful tennis player. A coach doesn’t have to have been a winning ex-hero of the sport. A coach must know what it feels like to have competed; or rather to have wanted to win. They must understand competition, and what type of people is able to succeed in competitive environments. The ant and the grasshopper. The types of people, who succeed, in any situation, are hardworking, respectful and patient.
The Basis of Coaching
A coach that has respect and understanding of success is able to help a player. However, before he can do his job he must have a player who wants to win. A real athlete is motivated to win, and therefore must feel that they are empty without victory. It is a coach’s job to intensify this desire or in rare cases even create it. Creating this desire is a whole other article (look for it). For present sake I shall focus on the player that wants to win. The player who feel that without success he is missing something. His fitness, his technical and his mentality are all working in the same direction to help fulfill this deprivation. It is his job to win, why he wakes up and goes to bed exhausted. Someone who has the utmost respect for their profession is someone who is able to take their hard work and dedication seriously. Therefore a coach teaches a player how to be a respectful competitor that wants nothing more than to win.
Coach’s Job in a metaphor: A good tennis player is like the classic shark “Jaws”. Jaws had a little taste of human blood and from that point on he was a man-eating shark on a mission to fulfill his newfound craving for humans. A man-eating predator all because of one taste. A player who has felt the desire to win, and has a personal understanding of what it takes to win becomes obsessed with the feeling of victory. One little win or “close loss” has turned them into a victory hungry competitor. Unfortunately Jaws was blinded by his desire to fulfill his urge which resulted in a dismal fate for the big fish. A tennis player can also be blinded by their desire and eagerness to win. It is the coach who must help a player control and channel this energy. A good coach understands the desire and must help tame the beast. Many coaches, as in all sports, have been that guy who was a smart player, loved to compete, but for some reason they couldn’t get to the top. They have or had the desire. They have now rededicated themselves to helping players and to providing guidance and advice based on experience. They understand the desire and dedication required and they don’t want other players to miss the opportunities when they arise.
Taming the beast
Coaching is a self-reflection process that requires maturity and respect. The young players that exert confidence and mental control early on tend to be the players that succeed. They also tend to be around older players or coaches that exert the same behaviour. But don’t let this fool you. A player can go from being mentally out of control to a mental rock. It is a coach’s job to make sure that their player exerts professionalism both on and off the court. Tennis is a gentleman’s game, and it is appears consistent that no matter what changes technically, etc with the sport, the “professionals of professionals” lead the pack (Sampras, Federer, Borg, Lendl, Edberg, Rafter). These guys are well-rounded men, who exhibit sheer control and confidence no matter what the score, round, etc… They all also claim to have been obnoxious juniors who threw temper tantrums, but became stone faced warriors. They are sharks that have managed to control their victory-thirst. Federer’s parents took his racquets away from him and told him if he keeps behaving like a brat he would not be allowed to play. Same thing happened with Edberg and Rafter. They learned from watching the players before them, they learned and copied from the best. Importantly they had good parents and good coaching. Mentors that disciplined them for disrespectful behavior. This is essential, because if a player is going to act like a brat in practice, it is almost a certainty that when a match gets tough, they will go back to acting like a brat. So stop this behaviour in practice, and you won’t have to worry about it in a match.
Think of it, if you see someone around the office that walks around whistling and seemingly in a good mood, you get the feeling that they have everything under control. They could be the laziest and most insecure person in the world, but if they can stay calm and relaxed and show everyone that they are comfortable in the situation they are in, then others will leave them alone. So often when a player can just keep their cool no matter how tough of a situation they are in, they find themselves still with chances to win. Also patience and confidence early in a match, even when playing poorly, makes your opponent think “wow this guy stays so calm while he plays like crap. He must think he can win no matter what. Hell, he’s probably about to turn it on any second!”
So if there is anything to be learned from this article it is that a coach is more of a mentor and big brother than an instructor. A coach is to a tennis player what a great sensei is to a young warrior who was much to learn. Both put their student through vigorous training and tough simulations of competition which are all layered with deep life-lessons. Their warrior comes out not only a better fighter but a better person. Oh and yes a coach also helps with the technical and tactical aspects of the game. But remember, a tennis instructor focuses on technique and can give a great 1 hour private lesson. He goes to work from 9-5 and then goes home thinking what a tough day at work. A coach can’t sleep unless he feels he has done his job.