After years of playing and coaching tennis, I think I have learned what makes a good coach.
We here at the Newington Tennis Center have been driven to provide an enjoyable yet comfortable environment for everyone that comes through the door. Each coach that works for the NTC has tried their hardest to meet that standard and then specify with each lesson what needs to be done to make the customer happy. At times, its even odd for me to refer to people as customers. Our customers are our friends.
Anyway, for this volume of Tennis Tips, I am going to simply put in bullet form what I think makes a good coach so everyone that reads this can truly see in our coaches what they work so hard to do.
- Customization and Improvisation: I think being able to free flow a lesson to best mold a game-plan that suits the needs of the player is one of the most important and overlooked skill a coach can have. In most cases, a player that comes in has a stroke or two that they are not comfortable with and want to work on those strokes specifically to start. Repetition of drills can be useful in improvement but it does not promote active thinking while playing…hence the importance of a coach to be able to improvise on the fly.
- I’ll give a specific example of what I would do: Player A says they need help on their forehand. I say ok and do a bunch of stand still forehands from the baseline to see the form while constantly walking through both errors and good shots (for Player A’s skill level). Then I make the player move around and say that there will not be a standard location in which I feed the players from the hopper. During this period I do not correct as much and simply watch how and when they make forehand errors and once the hopper is over I talk to the player about what I had seen during the beginning part of the lesson and either continue with more forehand drills or let the player decide what they want to work on next.
- Communication: This leads me into Communication. It is probably the most important part of coaching. Actually, it is the most important part of coaching. Without proper verbal and visual communication, any gains in form in the short term is likely to be eventually lost. In my experience, it could lead to diminishing returns in all aspects of the game because, well, people have other lives. The tennis coach revolves their whole professional career around their knowledge of the game so oftentimes there is an immense knowledge gap that is hard to bridge properly to the player. This is why some all time greats in any sport simply cannot be good coaches.
- 9 times out of 10 a tennis coach will also have years and years of playing experience and going back to square one in order to properly teach someone while also coaching high level players can be difficult. This is why many tennis coaches can only coach well in a certain niche lane of age/playing level. Well at the Newington Tennis Center, we try and segment the players as such so that each player has the best fit possible as they try and improve their games. With that said, we are lucky because each of our coaches can coach each playing level while maintain a fun atmosphere.
- The only true way this can be done is through constant personal communication. This is especially important in group lessons when it is hard or impossible to give everyone the amount of time they truly need to improve. A good coach can address the needs of the individual through both individual and group communication. Doing this the right way can help players lead by their own example which breeds confidence…and no one can play an individual sport like tennis without confidence.
- Technical Know-How and Knowing One’s Lane: Improvisational and communicative skills can only go so far without the actual technical know-how to actually correct errors. A good coach can both identify AND correct errors. Some coaches are only good at one of the two (usually the former not the latter). The reason why I listed it 3rd is because although one’s playing experience is often the core of the technical know-how, it is quite possible for someone to be a good or great coach without specifically being a tennis guru.
- Every coach can attest to coaching a player or meeting a parent that knows close to as much or more than you about the sport but simply are unable to be a coach. On the flip side, I’ve also met many coaches that get great results without being an aforementioned guru simply because they are well-rounded, can identify a flaw in someone’s game and then fix it. A good coach doesn’t need to be able to hit a great inside-out cross-court forehand to be able to teach it and, in many cases, a coach doesn’t have to really know the intricacies on how to set up and execute that shot to a be good coach. The difference is that a good coach goes into lessons knowing this and doesn’t try and coach something they don’t really know about. Trust me, that will eventually drive the unfortunate next coach in the line insane because there are more errors to correct. *Sighs*
- This is why it is good that USTA and PTR give out coaching certificates in tiers. It helps specify the strengths of a coach. I personally think that each coach should introduce themselves to potential clients by explaining to them what they are really good at it. This leads to a better professional relationship that will likely continue for months if not years.
- Me personally, I often tell people that I do not have a coaching certification because I am not a big fan of simply “teaching by the book”. I, of course, have insurance and passed background checks to coach and that is important, but getting boxed in a corner by curriculum decided by other nameless coaches is not my style. A good coach brings their own flair and style to the game and the players they coach can sense it which eventually leads to a positive contagious atmosphere for everyone involved. I’ve coached both ways and get much better results when I have full creative control over my court. A good head pro can see this in a coach and grants it to him or her. A bad coach doesn’t care and goes vanilla.
- Results are most important and we get them. Getting a certificate is great but getting a player from the 50’s to the top 10 in USTA in about a year makes me feel fine about my coaching ability and makes others feel fine about it too. I’ll eventually get a certification but I am simply not a good test taker and would probably feel out of my element doing test drills and hitting drills (injured shoulder and wrist currently) to random people with me being evaluated and not the people I am coaching. Chances are my certification level would be in-congruent to my actual technical know how and intangibles as a coach. I’ll keep you updated on that.
- Giving Credit To The Player: I could go on forever with this issue of Tennis Tips but I’ll end it off right here on this point. This is not something to overlook from a coach’s perspective. Tennis is an individual game and without the player knowing that they are the primary reason for their own success, there will be a problem when they go off and play on their own.
- If the coach doesn’t properly and consistently communicate that throughout the span of time they spend with a player..well..it is equal to leaving the training wheels on the player. That goes for any and every skill level. Ever wonder why professional players continuously cycle coaches? Chances are those are the same players that have identified a specific flaw in their game through tough losses.
- A prime example of this is Andy Murray with Ivan Lendl and Amelie Mauresmo. From an outsider’s perspective, Andy needed aggression and competitive fire in his game when he hired Lendl (because he couldn’t clear the hurdles of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic) and there was an immediate positive result in that aspect of his game. Then, it appeared as if he was stressed and lost the love for the game so he switched (in my estimation) to Mauresmo. After the switch, he lost a bit of the fire he had under Lendl but gained some pleasure out of the sport.
- The reason I think this applies under this section is because sometimes a coach can be so good that the player begins to feel like they cannot achieve a specific goal without them. That is great and can work out but things always change in time and a player cannot realistically think that a specific coach will always be there for them. Coaches have lives too people! The good coach will give credit to the player for learning and improving and that gives them the confidence that they can do it on their own in a match. It could be the difference between a 6-4 6-4 loss and a 6-4 6-4 win.
Written by: @Coach_Marshal