February 2017 -- Tennis is one of the hardest sports to play and coach. However, it can be the most rewarding if we use five foundation blocks: Committed, Organized, Attentive, Creative, and Heartfelt (COACH). Coaches can be at the top echelons of their profession by applying these principles to help players at all levels become lifelong lovers of the sport.
1. Committed – Being a tennis coach takes complete commitment, especially when we can see it as a “calling” more than a career. While any certified coach has to complete requirements for certification and ongoing continuing education, it is important that coaches take steps to show real commitment to their students’ growth as well as their own professional growth. Below are some simple and effective ways to do that:
- Watch your students play in tournaments. When you recognize improvement in their match play, let them know it as a way of reinforcing what you’ve taught them in lessons. In addition, use software like Dartfish or other similar programs to create and send videos to students and parents, highlighting places where they clearly show improvement.
- Use the knowledge gained from continuing education to submit articles, provide video tips for your members, and set up free high school coach workshops in your area where you can give presentations.
- Audit a college communication class, read a book on communication or a book written by a great coach, either in tennis or another sport. This shows commitment to one of the most important aspects of your craft – communication.
2. Organized – An organized coach in practice will translate into an organized player and problem solver in a match. This goes beyond having a lesson plan ready or showing up 10 minutes early to have everything set up. Below are some effective ways to show your organizational skills to students and parents at your club.
- After each session has ended, provide evaluation forms for parents on their child’s progress recommending what class or drill the player should do next.
- Provide tools for your students to use when they play in tournaments. For example, create a simple one- or two-word action plan for serve, return of serve, rallying, and both offensive and defensive situations. Players can look at this action plan during change- overs. Also provide your players a post-match assessment form that has them evaluate their performance on major shots – forehand, backhand, serve, return of serve, volley and overhead – and talk about it with them later.
- Provide new ideas to grow your program and bring new players. For example, to develop more tournament players, hold in-house tournaments to help players get used to the pressure of tournament play. To help young players understand the fun of competition, hold a Games and Tournament Red Ball night with music, pizza and prizes. After the event, send a thank you email or letter that includes a picture of the group to all the parents.
3. Attentive – When we think of being attentive, we think of the legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s quote, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Below are some examples of how being attentive can go a long way:
- Parents like to see that you care about their child as a person first and an athlete second. Most children play other sports and participate in other activities. If you know they had an event such as a dance recital or soccer match, ask them about it.
- Be attentive to tennis-specific items, such as whether the child is left-handed or what grip the student uses in the ready position for returns of serve.
- If parents ask why you corrected something, give them productive and purposeful reasoning for your suggestions and let them know specifically how it well help the child in the long run. This approach will help lead to more commitment from the student and parent.
- In group lessons, remember to keep your eyes focused on the court you are coaching. If you need to give specific advice to someone in the group lesson who is on the other side of the net, go to that person rather than yell across the court.
4. Creative – A coach’s ability to be creative in setting up a fun atmosphere is one of the most important foundations for coaching. Note the following statistic on kids dropping out of sports from this CNN article, “How to make your kids hate sports without really trying,” by Kelly Wallace on Jan. 21, 2016 (www.cnn.com/2016/01/21/health/kids-youth-sports-parents). “Seventy percent of children leave organized sports by the age 13, according to research by the National Alliance for Sports. Let’s put it this way: If your daughter or son plays on a soccer team, seven out of 10 of the members of that team won’t be playing soccer or any organized sport whatsoever by the time they enter their teenage years.”
The same statistic is highlighted in an article titled “Why Kids Quit Sports” published in Coaching, Problems in Youth Sports, Sports Parenting by John O’Sullivan on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 (changingthegameproject.com/why-kids-quit-sports). “As I have stated here many times, 70% of children are dropping out of organized sports by age of 13.” The O’Sullivan article goes on to mention the main reasons why kids walk away from sports – it’s no longer fun and they are afraid to make mistakes. Below are ways tennis coaches can help students overcome those barriers:
- Frustration while learning to serve prevents students from enjoying the game of tennis. The serve is the most psychologically challenging shot because you have a lot of time. Many negative or vague thoughts can come into a player’s mind when serving. For example, many students think, “I just want to get the serve in.” A research study showed that a person using this thought process before a serve got 15 percent in less than the same player who thinks before each serve, “I will serve to the person’s backhand and I will aim one foot from the service line and one foot from the sideline.” This is because the brain works best with a specific plan. Furthermore, with a plan of just getting the serve in, you will be going to the opponent’s strength too often.
- The coach should stop players when they use negative comments such as “I can’t get my first serve in.” Coaches should immediately say, “You will get your first serve in and here is how you are going to do it.” The advice should be positive and productive so the student can apply those comments when struggling in a match. One way to practice this is to play 12-point tiebreaks with your student. If during the 12-point tiebreak he misses first serve, have him verbally say the comments before he serves so you know that he is thinking about a positive and productive way to handle the situation.
- Some adults get frustrated with the serve. If they have great forehands and backhands, they may not work on the serve because they figure they can win with just their groundstrokes. But that’s a bad idea. Explain that the serve sets up the forehand and backhand, and that eventually they will play a big server. They will also need a big serve. For example, you could have your players play a 12-point tiebreak and if they successfully apply a specific serve-plus-one-shot strategy – e.g., serve out wide on deuce side and forehand drive down the line – to win the point they get two points instead of one.
- Have serve games early in your practices that allow kids to compete from the beginning. Making a game of serving to a certain part of the box is a fun way for children to learn how to serve. This approach also helps them understand that missing a serve is part of the game of tennis and does not mean they are no longer a tennis player.
- The same game approach can be done with the return of serve. You can have two teams and call it “tag team return of serve.” Each team has multiple players taking turns one at a time serving and returning. Every time one team completes a successful serve and return, that team gets a point. The first team to seven points wins.
- Base all the other games you play on problem solving. You can do a game called “wheel of fortune” using an app on an iPad, or create one that has different wheels based on spins, style of play, etc. There are two players. The coach spins and whatever spot it lands on one player has to play with that style of play against another player who also has to play based on how the wheel is spun for him or her.
5. Heartfelt – It is not until your students realize how much you care about tennis that they will begin to understand how much you know about the sport. Below are heartfelt actions that will keep you motivated and show your true passion for the game as a coach:
- Go to tournaments and provide specific feedback after matches.
- Spend 10 minutes after a lesson giving parents specific feedback on their child’s progress.
- Hit with new members at the club when you have downtime and then provide them with names of members as potential hitting partners.
- Encourage fellow coaches to go above and beyond to help all the students they teach. Remember that your encouragement as a coach is what fuels a successful program with energy, creativity and continuity.
We hope these principles will encourage and guide you in a sport that can be very challenging at times, but the most rewarding sport you could ever coach!
Jeremy Carl is Director of Junior Tennis for Blue Chip Sports Management and is a USTA High Performance Coach. He was former head pro at Burke Racquet and Swim Club in Burke, Va., and former tennis director at Mount Vernon Athletic Club in Alexandria, Va.
Tim Bainton is the Founder and Executive Director of Blue Chip Sports Management and Blue Chip Tennis Academies. A multiple USTA, USPTA and PTR sectional Pro of the Year, he is an HPCE graduate and PTR Professional 5A. He received the 2016 IHRSA Rising Star Award for contributions to the Fitness Industry.
Farley Youman is a tennis professional with Blue Chip Tennis Academy. He is teaching full time at both the Worldgate Club (Herndon, Va.) and the Burke Club (Burke, Va.). He previously taught 250 students over the course of six months at Saddlebrook Tennis Resort (Wesley Chapel, Fla.), which is ranked third in the world by Tennis Resorts On Line.