When I was coaching for a few years I was so surprised of how little tennis coaching I did. Every day it was about getting the teenagers to work hard, be disciplined and find their inner drive and love for the sport. I so wanted to teach them about shot selection, variations, strengths and weaknesses but unfortunately until you know how to push yourself and how to train, it can be a bit pointless.
Of course motivating your player is all part of being a coach, and I have no problem with this but the reality is that a lot of kids you work with (teenagers not under 12’s) are in complete denial and don’t really want to work hard. They say they want to be ‘number one in the world!’, ‘and top 100!’ but then you ask them why they didn’t deliver their best possible shot and they shrug their shoulders and don’t seem to care. I was always frustrated by this and yet every day I came in, explained how much they need to give each session, explained it again, in a different way, in a different way again, I demonstrated the application needed for each shot and while I made some ground, they just didn’t get it.
I decided to compete professionally again so I gave up my much loved job and instead of taking the sessions I joined in. I picked up right where I left off 4 years previous and loved every minute of it. My fitness was pretty low to begin with so I was pushing myself even harder to get back to where I had been before. I was on the floor after every session giving as much as I could to every ball. I didn’t want to waste a single shot as each one had so much value to me.
Amazingly within a few weeks I saw a huge impact on the kids. The kids I had spent so much time and emotion with, trying to get them to train at their best, were now training at such a high level. They were really putting it in and I was so proud! I had set the standards and they had finally stepped up. Not because I was telling them, but because I was showing them. I had showed them before in demonstrations and occasional sessions, but showing them the relentlessness of putting it in drill after drill, hour after hour and day after day was what did it. I am still not sure why it took this to make them step up… did they not believe what I was telling them before? When I said that their quality of shot needs to improve to cut it in 10Ks, did they think I was making it up?
So after years of trying to coach standards quite unsuccessfully I have cracked it. I let my racket do the talking. They feel the standards and the drive from my end and they have to deal with it. Not just with forehands and backhands, physically or mentally, but emotionally as well. It is exhausting taking an onslaught from the other end, having to remain positive, focused and so resilient for up to 3 and a half hours, but that is what’s coming for you. Oh and by the way I am only talking about the level I reached which is top 200 and that puts you in Grand Slam qualifying, not the main event.
So funnily enough the job I was paid to do I ended up doing far better after I gave it up. When I stopped focusing on the player and just focused on myself they stepped up all by themselves. So that is what I do now. The sessions I do on court are just me training and it is for the player to keep up.
Now here is the important bit. A lot of parents might be reading this thinking that hitting with a player who hits the ball as well as me is the crucial part. This is a common theme from parents always striving for the best hits and writing off practice partners as they aren’t good enough. While I understand you are trying to do the best for you child you are kind of missing the point. It is the work ethic, the drive, the emotional input, the commitment and the care in each shot that the kids learn from hitting with me. Any half decent 16 year old boy can hit the ball as well as me, pay them a tenner and the ball will come back hard and deep over and over. But nothing compares to being on the receiving end of someone putting in every last drop of energy and emotion to make sure every single shot is the best it can possibly be, then going out again and trying to do it better.
This all causes a bit of a problem because I can only maintain my standards for a certain amount of hours per week. I couldn’t do this full time to earn a living as 30 hours a week is just not possible. So I have decided to take on a few players that I like and believe can meet the standards and I will put in up to 8 hours a week of this quality. They all have their own coaches to work on technique and other important bits and pieces but they know what they are going to get when they come on court with me… standards, quality and repetition. Then it is up to them to put this in to their other sessions during the week. I won’t do any other coaching as I am all about quality over quantity so I will explore new opportunities in the rest of my time.
A quick point before you wonder what right I have to lecture on standards when I didn’t even reach the top 100. Truly I am not talking about the top 100, I am talking about the top 250, maybe even 300. I was in Sacramento recently watching Kalinina playing Bellis in the first or second round of a 50k. They were probably playing for 5 ranking points and $200 but the quality of input was quite extraordinary. Shot after shot, point after point, it was utterly relentless for the pair of them. And the real kicker is that after all of that, one of them lost and is out of a low tier tournament in the early rounds. So then what? They get back on the practice court and go again.