Coaching today


Being a good tennis coach has always been a tough job. It is not only about coming to the tennis lesson on time, hit some balls, or throw some ideas at the player. It's way more complex job than it might seems for many people. The whole philosophy of tennis players giving salary to their tennis coaches and in theory being a boss in this cooperation brings coach often to awkward situations. Walking on such a thin ice brings often very stressful situations without any feeling of security. It seems the coaching in tennis started to take some new directions. Former tennis stars started coming back in to the highlights again. Of course they start from the top by coaching the very best professional players. Yes, it is a great marketing tool and definitely makes tennis a more interesting sport. I bet, that Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, or other former stars have so much to share with their players. Just their experience, little psychology and some tactics can make a big difference at this top level. But what signal is this new trend sending to the lower level players and their parents or sponsors? Swiss tennis coach Martin Baroch thinks, that psychology / personality of the top player, who needs to be selfish and is mostly introverted, differs mostly from the psychology /personality of a great coach really developing players, who needs to be rather extroverted and rather selfless... This doesn't so much matter on the top with complete players where the former stars add the missing element to an existing system, but can often be a problem while working as a coach with player on the development pathway.  

There are tens of thousands of players in development at this moment and they need to be more ready than ever to be tested by tennis with its harsh and unforgiving system. I am confident that these players are in need of the complete and well educated tennis coaches. The question for the futue is, that are we going to hire big names and former players instead of educated coaches? But what does it really mean to be a great tennis coach? I am afraid we somehow loss track of that in competitive tennis. It is so hard for players or their parents to tell who is really a good coach. So, they first look at the name, who with or where has he / she previously worked at, then on how many years is he or she in the business, and then what and how many coaching licenses and badges he /she has collected. So let’s look at these factors supposedly deciding on who is a good coach: …is it the playing history, past or current rankings on tour and how good of a player is the coach now? It is definitely not enough to make a great coach. Former players can sure be a great sparing partners and motivate the players to be more competitive. But are former pros necessarily good coaches? Coaches with big names as former players can very easily get well paid jobs with talented or high ranked players without proving their quality as coaches. Many top gifted players make results despite of whom they work with. This often goes hand in hand with making top coaching career automatically. Ivan Lendl or Boris Becker never coached or developed an average junior on ITF circuit into becoming a top world class player, did they? It is not an unusual thing to find players in top 100 or even top 20 ATP, which don’t even know what grips or stances they are using and why. They deserve the respect for what they have accomplished as players, but does that make them a good or great coach right away? Not necessarily. …is it the years in business and experience of the coach? I would say no. 20, 30, 40 or 60 years old coaches can make the same mistakes as well as they can be helpful at any age. What is more important is, that in how many places and with how many different levels and types of players they have worked with, rather than how many years they keep feeding the balls at the same club or academy. It is also very individual and some coaches just learn faster and some are just better for some reason. …is it the certifications, accreditations, licenses or badges on the t-shirt the coach is wearing? No. Anyone can collect and pay for those. Another trend and business tool of today’s competitive tennis world are the new commercial associations awarding coaching licenses / accreditations that supposed to give coaches recognition and value. Looking at the quality and system of this education, it is clearly a great business model rather than quality boost spreading into the less experienced coaching world. Many federations also differ in quality of their coach education and even thou some countries such as Canada are doing a fantastic job, there is still lots of work to be done. Some better than others, these associations can be a good addition to a coach education, but are definitely not a substitution for the quality time in college.

What makes a tennis coach a good coach is the responsibility towards his job and his clients. Good coach goes by example by being prepared, on time and passionate. He does not do things wrong and he learns things from other good coaches and then uses it with his players. To be at this level takes more personal dedication then the talent. What makes a tennis coach a great coach is firstly the willingness to learn and help the players.

Great coach is ambitious, hungry to win, but prepared to accept a loss. Great coach looks at the player and has a vision of where he can get the player in two years. It is not only the 2 day seminars or school education he has, but it is the ability to listen and understand, that make him better. Great coach knows how the muscles and brain of their player works and how to prevent the injuries by being educated in basics of sport psychology, human anatomy, physiology of exercise, conditioning / fitness training, recovery / rehabilitation / stretching, testing / periodization, technique of footwork and strokes, and tactics / strategy. But it’s not only the theoretical knowledge but it’s the ability to use this knowledge and other tricks and methods effectively to improve the player. Great coach has the ability and confidence to make the critical judgments at the right time. Great coaches experiment but do it carefully.

But what makes the coach extraordinary, is the ability to see deeper, discover and solve the key issues or problems. These coaches are flexible and can anticipate the responses in advance and therefore are able to prevent possible obstacles. Extraordinary coaches are flexible to adopt and manipulate the player to get him/her where he/she needs to be in order to succeed. Extraordinary coaches experiment but do it with confidence so the player shouldn’t feel insecure even stepping into the dark. Same like the talented players, these coaches as well have a unique talent that separates them from the others. In conclusion I would bring the fact, that even these qualities of a coach are sometimes not enough to build a successful cooperation between the player and a coach. Common chemistry, priorities and decisions of the player (his/her parents or sponsors) have more power over the future development of the player’s career. I hope this helps to look at coaching from a little bit different perspective. Being honest and judging our work before we judge our clients, might be a good start to become even better and more effective coaches. In this mentally challenging job, it’s good to look for sometimes lost motivation and visions we as coaches need to keep going and then spread it on our players.