Tennis Tips Volume VI: Good Coaching

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 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

The 2015 US Open is over…now it’s time to get excited about your own play!

Pennetta beat her but who cares?

Djokovic’s dominance, Federer’s rejuvenation and quest for another slam, the ongoing struggle of Nadal, and last, but certainly not least, the journey of Serena through tournament draw after tournament draw have all been storylines that garnered quite a bit of attention and rounded up 2015 into a great year for tennis. Altogether, it has helped the sport gain traction in the mainstream media more than it had in the recent past…and hopefully it will lead to more adults choosing tennis to learn and play, signing up their kids to learn and play, or to simply having some of their racquets dusted off in a triumphant return to the court.

I would also wager that it has additionally invigorated those of you who were already interested in the pro tour and playing on a semi-regular basis. I know that is the case for me and many people I speak to anyway.

Any time a Grand Slam comes and goes, I get more and more interested in getting out onto the court myself. The spirit of competition starts to flood back into my system and the intricate details and nuances of a high level match sparks my tennis intellect into hyper-drive. (It’s not until I suffer through a double fault or the absence of the ability to call for the Chase review that I then come back to reality)

Regardless of how good of a player you are, there are things you can assuredly pick up from watching the best of the best go at it. For instance…according to Roberta Vinci, the complex strategy of ‘running and getting the ball in’ was the decisive factor in beating one of the greatest players of all time. If that isn’t inspiring to you and your tennis game then I don’t know what is. Although…on second thought…John Isner has been a pro for 8 years and still can’t execute the former of the two part Vinci plan, so who knows?

All jokes aside, it is truly inspiring to see the great players playing great, the young guns making names for themselves and the seasoned veterans making a push for glory. One of the most beautiful aspects of the sport of tennis is that there is always something someone can relate to just by watching. Whether it is a coach, a player, a swing, a strategy or even just fashion…there is always something.

So when you walk back through the doors of the Newington Tennis Center, walk back in with the exuberance of a kid on their first day of school…or it’s equivalent, the exuberance of an unseeded veteran doubles player that just knocked off one of the greatest competitors in athletic history. Whether it was a smile or a crisply struck slice backhand that has you inspired, keep that inspiration in mind as you do your best and enjoy the wonderful sport that we, in one way or another, hold so dear to us.

Tennis Tips Volume V: Hitting Down the Line

Picture credit to

While dismissed by many as “easy to do”, being able to go down the line with your shots when you want to do so is crucial in match play and harder to do than it seems.

The first instinct of many is to simply adjust the racquet head and perhaps the grip based on where they want the ball to go. This doesn’t lead to consistent nor great results. Once in a blue moon a fantastic shot can be hit… but it is oftentimes fools gold.

What is more important to change, on a base level, is the footwork in preparation to the shot. Don’t get me wrong, the racquet head angle and grips change depending on which type of shot you are trying to hit (slice, extreme top-spin, flat etc.), but this happens no matter what anyway so it is independent of the subject at hand.

In terms of foot-work and going down the line, a quick and easy solution to your problems is to simply attack the ball coming diagonally forward towards the line of which you are targeting. This will bring your body and momentum naturally in the right direction and won’t tamper with your head causing you to perhaps over-think or incorrectly time your swing to make contact. As per most shots, short and quick steps are better than a couple long strides to the ball so don’t get lazy!

It is vitally important to be able to hit down the line in matches. You’re not going to win matches often by keeping the ball in the middle of the court and thus not making the opponent move…and you’re also not going to win matches if you can just hit cross-court. Hitting down the line is particularly useful if your opponent has a glaring weakness in one of their ground-strokes…and is the best (and I’d argue that it should pretty much be the only…with rare exception) shot to hit as an approach to the net. If you have a strong forehand and your opponent has a weaker backhand, the automatic play is to go down the line, especially when A) you want to put away the point aggressively B) want to force the other player to hit a great shot to beat you if you come to the net or not or C) simply try to get an unforced error.

Caution #1: Don’t focus on a weakness too much because it may become less of a weakness as the match goes on. Practice makes perfect, even in a match. Pay close attention to whether they are improving during the match with said weakness or not and adjust game-plan accordingly.

If you do not know from geometry, you can see by looking at the graphic at the beginning of the article that it is a far shorter distance when you go in a straight line. Perhaps shorter than you would initially expect. 4.5 feet is a lot of distance in tennis. It doesn’t take the most vivid imagination to realize how much less time the other player will have to get to the ball when you hit down the line…unless you have an absolute cannon cross court shot or the player is all the way off the court. Another reason for this is that it gives you as a soon to be net player less of the court to cover in order to get to the spot you want to get to. A shot 75% as hard with good precision down the line is more likely to be effective than a shot cross court as an approach shot.

Caution #2: The net is higher at their ends. You need to be able to adjust to this.

In conclusion, hitting down the line well is a necessary ability to win matches…in singles or in doubles. Whether it is to expose weakness in your opponent, put the ball away, hit an approach shot, tire your opponent out by giving them less time to get to the ball, or to just simply mix it up…you need to be able to hit down the line if you want to win more matches than you lose.

5 Proven Reasons To Play Tennis (Amongst Many)

Tennis in Newington-page-001

2014 Italian Open Final Results

The Champs (Credit to SI)

The 2014 Italian Open is now complete and two familiar names finished on top: Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic. The next big tournament up on the docket is the French Open at Roland Garros (May 25th).

ATP Results


  • Grigor Dimitrov defeated Tommy Haas 6-2 (ret.) Good win for Grigor as it was inevitable after the first set…and a tough break for Tommy who was playing some good tennis.
  • All of the other matches in the Quarterfinals went three sets. Nadal beat Murray 1-6; 6-3; 7-5, Djokovic beat Ferrer 7-5; 4-6; 6-3 and Raonic beat Chardy 6-3; 7-5; 6-2. Typical of Novak and Rafa to pull out tough matches against great competitors.


  • Novak won again in 3 sets, this time against Milos Raonic, 6-7; 7-6; 6-3. Tough break for Milos, especially seeing that he had a legitimate shot to knock off Novak in the second round. This victory is the epitome of what makes Novak so great though…no matter how bleak a match seems, or how close he may be to losing, he cannot be counted out until the absolute last point.
  • Nadal beat Baby Fed 6-2; 6-2. Good run for Grigor, but not a surprising result here. Nadal on clay is just too much for him.


  • Novak beat Rafa in three, 4-6; 6-3; 6-3. Another let-down for Rafa, but you can’t really blame anyone for losing to Novak at this point in time. He is just on another planet and is completely relentless, especially in big matches. His last four matches went three sets..two of which he lost the first set. An absolutely marvelous run for him.

WTA Results


  • Serena Williams defeated Zhang Shuai 6-1; 6-3, Jelena Jankovic defeated Radwanska 6-4; 6-4, Sara Errani defeated Li Na 6-3; 4-6; 6-2, and Ana Ivanovic defeated Carla Suarez-Navarro 6-4; 3-6; 6-4. Tough day for the Chinese with Shuai failing to upset Serena and Na falling in an upset to the Italian Errani.


  • In an odd result, Serena defeated Ivanovic 6-1; 3-6; 6-1. Serena utterly dominated the first set, was nearly completely reversed in the second and then dominated the third set. It shows that Serena is the type of sports legend that has an on/off switch where she can all of a sudden just ramp up her skills to another level when needed.
  • With the home crowd behind her, Errani defeated Jankovic 6-3; 7-5. As the last Italian standing, she was playing with a lot of pride and came through in straights.


A tearful Errani after losing to Serena in Italy.

  • Unfortunately for Errani, her run at the Italian Open came to a screeching halt against Serena in the finals. Serena looked nearly unbeatable in what amounted to a 6-3; 6-0 victory. Good for the 10th seeded Errani to make a run in Italy, but she simply ran into a Serena playing great tennis.

The Season is Winding Down

Unfortunately, the tennis season at the center is nearing its finale. Technically speaking, next week is the last week for our season courts. Many have make-ups from snow over the winter or other reasons, so they will be coming in afterwards, but it is still a sad time for the workers here.

We sincerely enjoy your company and see everyone as friends. Perhaps some of us will run into others elsewhere over the summer, but the experience at the center will be sorely missed.

In any event, the JDP sessions are mostly running through the beginning of June. Because of this, if there is a rainy day and you would like to come in, you may be able to. Try to give us a bit of notice though so we can accommodate you.

I know for sure that I will be able to work the desk Tuesdays because I will be working JDP there from 4-5:30..but I would still like to know in advance if I should stay afterwards or not. If it is already raining or is forecasted to rain, I will probably hang out awhile just to see if people call in.

Also, I am looking into running something every once in a while during the night, maybe some sort of open hitting session where people can just figure out what they want to do when they come in, or an occasional mini-tournament. I’d like some feedback on what would be best for the most amount of people..but I am leaning towards something on Friday nights. It would be very cheap.

Tennis Tips Volume IV: Be Confident but not Over-Confident and Diagnosing your Opponent

In terms of confidence, there are two terrible things you could do going into a match. The first thing is to go into it thinking you are going to lose and the second is to take your opponent for granted by thinking he/she is not any good.

I wouldn’t quite recommend adhering to the Middle Way of the Buddha Sidhartha Gautama in terms of confidence, but it is definitely best to avoid being at either extreme before a match. I think it is better to come into a match with unwavering confidence that you are able to win the match instead of being directly in the middle and not having any idea or thinking that you have no chance of winning or losing.

If you enter a match believing that you have no chance of losing, chances are you are going to find yourself surprised at some point in the match. Either the other player is going to get off to a hot start and you will find yourself down a break or you will be up early and allow them to sneak back into the match. In any event, it will cause you to perhaps play erratically and lose sense of any semblance of a strategy you have and force you to gather yourself and get your act together…otherwise you will be in a big hole and drop a set or even worse, lose the match.

It is imperative to feel confident in your abilities and also take note of your opponent’s skills and tendencies during the warm-up period if you haven’t yet seen them play.

Regardless of what you see in this period, your confidence shouldn’t change but your preparation and strategy might…as you pick up on things in the other player’s game that you should take advantage of. Warming-up is just as much for your own skills as it is diagnosing your opponent’s skills. Maybe they seem to have a weak backhand, have shotty volleying technique or have trouble with slice. No matter what you see, you should remain confident that you have the ability to expose the player(s) on the other side of the court and be able to play the best match you can against them.

In terms of your own skills during the warm-up…do not get rattled. It shouldn’t matter if you think that you aren’t hitting or serving well before the match. Furthermore, do not find yourself in awe of the other player. They could look like Pete Sampras in warm-ups and end up being more like Tommy Haas (that might be an on-going joke for my writings). Some people simply are practice warriors that look and play unbelievable until the first serve is hit. Just as you shouldn’t worry about your failures in warm-ups, you shouldn’t let the success of your opponent get to you either. It takes two to tango and you should be confident that you can lead the dance regardless of how the warm-ups go.

In conclusion, the only thing that should really change before or during your match should be your strategy. You should always consider different approaches and remain pragmatic and be able to improvise based on what you see…just do not change how you feel. All that can do is put a self-imposed handicap on the match and start an up-hill battle or a slide down a slippery slope. Stay unwavering on the plateau.

Look ahead physically, stay consistent mentally.