Written by: Larry Jurovich
***Larry is an international coaching consultant specializing in coach, player, and program development. He works with National Governing Bodies, Private Organizations and players supporting them in all of these areas. As the Head of Coach Education and Performance Manager for the Lawn Tennis Association he led the restructuring and development of their coach education program and tutor workforce. He also worked very closely with the UK’s top academies supporting their coaches and players on and off the court. Larry has served as a member of the ITF Coach Education Task force and worked closely with Tennis Canada in redeveloping and delivering their performance coach education. Larry has vast experience in program development, in addition to consulting the UKs top programs he founded the largest must successful tennis academy in Ireland developing multiple Davis Cup players and National Champions and restructured one of the largest clubs in Canada elevating it to Tennis Canada’s highest rating of junior program. On court Larry has experience with everthing from leading the Tennis Canada National Training Centre U10 program in Toronto, to developing players that have won dozens of national championships, to being the personal coach of multiple Davis Cup and tour players. Larry is a dynamic speaker and has presented at International, National, and Regional conferences and workshops in 10 countries on 3 continents. He has worked with organiztions such as the ITF, LTA, Tennis Canada, USPTA, RPT, Tennis Slovenia and more.***
ONcourt: Can you please provide us with an overview of the countries you have? worked in?
Larry Jurovich: I have spent the majority of the last 11 years working all over the world. I spent nearly 5 years owning and running an academy in Ireland, 4 years working for the LTA in the UK and have recently started a significant contract working with the Chinese Tennis Federation. Of course I have still worked a lot in Canada both for Tennis Canada and the time I spent as the Tennis Director of Ontario Racquet Club. In addition to these large commitments I have coached, given workshops or delivered lectures in many many places i.e. Belgium, Spain, Slovenia, and Italy etc.
ONcourt: What are the positives and setbacks you see in each country?
LJ: There are a lot of similarities in how different countries are working but of course everyone’s unique circumstances lead to differences as well.
There is a lot of consistency throughout the country, they have had the same leadership for many years and the Head National Coach is also Davis Cup Captain and develops coach education. This small but consistent team approach allows them to deliver their vision through the whole sport.
What is their strength can also be their weakness. If you have a different point of view then you are not always appreciated by the powers that be. Also because of their limited budget they have chosen to concentrate a large part of their budget on only a couple players, which can be a dangerous strategy.
The UK has a very professional and dedicated group of people involved in tennis. The amount of money in the sport allows for so many people to have opportunities in, not only playing but also coaching, umpiring, tournament organization etc.
The biggest problem in the UK is the inability to stay the course. There is so much pressure for immediate results put on by the press and tennis community that they are always looking for a magic pill. They keep inviting new people in to help but then the vision changes all of the time and they are unable to develop any type of continuity. The constant changing has led to a real blame culture where coaches blame players for lack of commitment, parents and players blame coaches for not being good enough and they all blame the LTA for not doing enough. They need a real culture change where everyone takes more responsibility and stops blaming the federation or somebody else for their failures.
I have only started there recently so it would be impossible to make any significant opinions. At first impression they have a lot of players with a great work ethic and a very motivated federation. It is easy to imagine a time in the not so distant future that Chinese tennis is a force to be reckoned with.
The one thing that is clear in these countries and all of the others that I have spent various amounts of time in is that tennis is just going to get tougher and tougher. There are so many people in so many countries that are educating themselves, improving their knowledge and ability and this can only translate to more people doing good things and more players improving more and faster then ever before. You truly appreciate the thought that if you are not improving yourself you are moving backwards.
ONcourt: Do you think it is possible to develop Canadian players in Canada to ?look like the top players who have been developed on clay courts in other? countries?
LJ: In a word……yes. I believe anything is possible. I know this debate is common in Canada at this point and I believe we need to make sure we think laterally and not just take the simple approach of “many top tennis countries develop their players on clay and therefore if we developed our players on clay we would have more top players”. I believe that logic is flawed at worst, and incomplete at best. If you look at these countries (mostly people refer to Spain, France, Argentina) they have a lot of other things in common. Tennis is played by millions more people, tennis is much cheaper as it can be played outdoors for much of the year, and maybe we even need to consider they are all massive football (soccer) countries.
There are undoubtedly many benefits of training on clay. The longer rallies lead to a better development of a complete player. Tactically they need to be able to construct points more effectively learn to neutralize opponents well. Technically they need the tools to implement more tactics, physically the ability to stay in longer points and matches and mentally the ability to fight for longer periods of time.
I do believe however that all of those things can be taught on other surfaces as well; we just need to be more creative. Progressive tennis for example has the same affect of slowing the game down and making points last longer so that is already a move in the right direction. We also need to train our coaches to understand these philosophies. I think a bigger challenge we face is how few of our coaches get to see tennis played like that at a high level except for on TV. If we had more coaches seeing how the Pros but even the juniors train and play on these surfaces and at that level in Europe and South America then they would have a better idea if how to develop our players to do the same.
All of that said we would be remiss not to take into account the other points I make. The more people we can get playing the game the better chance we develop champions. The more often we can get people playing because we find cheaper ways to play indoors in our environment the better chance we have. Lastly…….Football, the better movers with good eye foot coordination we have in Canada the better chance we have to develop champions.
You probably didn’t expect such a long-winded answer, sorry, I just always feel this argument is so unsophisticated. In the end, yes I am very confident we can develop players like those on clay but to do that we have a lot of work to do. I believe we need to expose our coaches to that level, we need to be creative in our approach, we need to be better at developing technical, tactical, physical, and mental fundamentals, we need to grow our game, we need to develop better movement in our athletes and yes training on clay can be part of the solution to all of those things but would not work in isolation.
ONcourt: Can you please give us an overview of the coaching systems and ?evaluations for all the countries that you have been in?
LJ: The only ones I have enough understanding of are the ones from Ireland, the UK, and Belgium. Ireland is set up very similar to Canada although the courses are not as long. The UK also has a very similar structure but much more of the evaluation is based on your actual coaching of your players and in your club. Canada has been moving more towards this but without the LTA funding machine behind it, it is challenging to so closely monitor the work in the field. Another difference in the UK is their highest level is a very individual program. It is designed after a university type masters program. Coaches pick the main area of their studies and then in addition to some core content they have to do a project around their topic that demonstrates their research and development in the specific field i.e. Biomechanics or communication etc.
The Belgians coach education has a much larger emphasis on demonstration (about 30% of their level 1 is geared towards helping candidates demo effective strokes for that level) and sport science.
I believe Canada was one of the first countries to go to a two stream approach with Club Pro and Coach courses. During my time with the ITF Coach Education Task Force this was a model that was being heavily endorsed and is now used in Australia and the UK and maybe more places. I believe Canada has been at the forefront with their coach education system for years. Not only with the two stream approach, but also with the competency based approach and doing more and more project based work in a coaches home environment. There has been great leadership shown by the organization and they are an effective organization at implementing change quickly to keep ahead of what is happening everywhere else. Over the last couple years Tennis Canada has done a great job of linking the coach development and player development teams, which has seen coaches going through their qualifications gain a lot more access to coaching leaders like Bob Brett and Louis Borfiga. The biggest challenge that Canada has in training coaches just comes down to geography and funding. When the FTA coaching leader reviewed the TC system he reported that the courses were very efficient and developing coaches as good as possible with the limited time the courses run for. The challenge is with the size of Canada it would cost so much to regroup the coaches more often or to work with them in their home environments so are biggest challenge becomes the relatively small amount of time we get with the coaches.