A conversation I was having yesterday got me thinking about the difficulties I felt as a high performance coach, and how differently I was seen to my male counterparts by players, parents and male coaches. Some of the conversations I had with male coaches completely baffled me and made no sense, but were somehow deemed acceptable in the world of tennis. I should quickly state that I have encountered these views on many occasions, and this is not about one place specifically or anywhere I have worked as a coach but a general attitude in tennis in this country. I really could write about this all day but here are a couple of points that leave me with complete confusion and disappointment.
The biggest thing that surprised me when I first started coaching was that I can only coach girls. It wasn’t a question, there were no discussions, and it was just assumed that I would be brought in to work with the girls. I got this from every academy I thought about joining, yet every one currently had a male coach heading up the girls side. The men could coach any player they wanted but I was restricted to teenage girls and mini red (I guess that is something to do with having a mothering instinct or some utter nonsense like that… but that is for another day).
Now it is one thing if the choice is between 2 coaches one male and one female that have very similar credentials, experience and knowledge. However, coaches that had not played at Wimbledon, or even on the tour, or even managed to get a ranking, or even a junior ranking ousted me. They had reached a County standard of playing and had maybe coached some players who won a few matches at Nationals. And yet I stood in amazement as the players, parents and coaches never even considered that I could help with the boy’s tennis.
When I asked at the many academies I visited why I would not be considered to even cover a boys session, I was met with the exact same bollocks justification from each of them which is “boys tennis is very different to girls tennis”. This is normally accompanied by condescendingly raised eyebrows, a belittling stare and an air of ‘you are out of your depth here love, this is boy’s coaching’.
If I take that literally it is insulting to me that they think I am so stupid not to notice the differences between the two games, and so arrogant that they know the differences so are qualified to coach both the boys and the girls. It is also naïve of them to think that I have not watched hours and hours of boys and men’s tennis when I have been competing alongside them on the circuit and in Grand Slams.
Of course they do not mean this literally as there are far too many flaws in their argument, they mean that men’s tennis is far superior to women’s tennis and I have also heard many male coaches state that women’s tennis is ‘easy’. I am then quick to point out that they have been coaching girls for years but have never had one reach the tour so it must be so incredibly easy.
Women’s tennis is very different to Men’s tennis in so many ways… we don’t have the luxury of banging down serves at 130mph, which means we start in a neutral position in the point most of the time, so momentum swings are more common and 6-1 0-6 6-2 scores more frequent. No it is not because we are more emotional!!! We don’t have the upper body strength to create such impressive angles like the men do, which means the game is narrower and it is so tough to get the ball past the opponent so bludgeoning ensues. We hit the ball flatter so we don’t have enough time to get to the net as frequently as men… I could go on. But I do enjoy the notion that if I were to coach a top 14 year old boy, within a year under my tuition he would be planting on the baseline, creaming everything as flat as possible and grunting like Azarenka.
Female performance coaches are already up against it as even if they don’t admit it, 99% of boys want to work with a male coach and probably around 50% of girls prefer working with a male coach as well. I was at the Junior Australian Open as a coach a few years ago and I was the only female, even though half the tournament are girls. I have never coached a teenage boy, and I wonder if I ever will after seeing the ridiculous reaction Murray got for hiring double Grand Slam winner Amelie Mauresmo, but it was completely fine when he was coached by Miles Maclagan, who interestingly had a career high of 2 places above me at 172 and is now an excellent world class coach. Will it change? It has to.