Is a player dependant on the coach or is the coach dependant on the player?
Hopefully, the answer is neither but I am seeing a worrying trend of coaches creating a dependency between themselves and the player. As usual, if you are offended by that statement then I am clearly not meaning you.
I am about to get all philosophical on you so strap yourself in. Can a tennis player improve without a coach? Yes, of course they can. They learn from experiences just like everyone else. If they have an open mind and reflect on their performances then this process will be accelerated.
So, what does a great coach do? In my opinion, they further steepen the learning curve. An experienced coach will know how to get from A to B more efficiently than a less effective coach. They know the pitfalls to avoid therefore saving time. They will know how to work effectively to get the best out of each individual and this will further steepen the curve.
Let’s think about what tennis demands of players:
- Cerebral sport – your brain is always being challenged to solve problems.
- Individual sport (singles) – you are always out there on your own
- Experiences – you only learn when you reflect on what happened
- Travel – you have to be able to plan and organise how to get from A to B
- Planning – you have to be able to prioritise and organise your own time
- Budget – sooner rather than later you must understand how to manage money
- Understanding your body – over time you must understand how best to train. It is different for everybody and at the same time understand what and when to eat, drink, rest and sleep.
Tennis is amongst the most demanding of sports in the world and, in my opinion, THAT is the reason it is 1 of the most popular individual sports in the world.
Therefore, our job as a coach is to create an environment where learning the above can take place. There are too many coaches who attempt to formally teach what can often be learned in a more implicit way. It is this teaching which can create a dependancy on the coach. I was asked recently to attempt to incapsulate my coaching philosophy in one sentence…
“It is my genuine pleasure to be involved in helping a person learn all of the main skills required to be more able to play the amazing game of tennis in the hope they enjoy it and can transfer the learnings into their everyday life”
That is it, that is my coaching philosophy in one sentence.
I want players to experience everything that tennis has to offer. That means the good AND the bad. Quite often the bad helps you appreciate the good even more. I now genuinely prioritise happiness and health over everything else.
So, coaches, I would love for you to reflect on these questions….
- To you have a teaching or a learning philosophy?
- Do you encourage problem solving in training?
- Are you comfortable with your players messing up?
- Are you comfortable for your players to own their experiences?
- Do you empower your players to plan their own tournament schedule?
- Do you empower them to plan their travel?
- Are you encouraging them to manage their own money even when they don’t need to?
- Do you allow them to make their mistakes when it comes to diet and sleep?
It is really important for me to be clear here. I have learned from my mistakes as a coach….
I have made mistakes in all of the above areas at various times so I am not writing this from some imaginary pedestal. In my 20’s and early 30’s I fell into all of these traps regularly. However, I am more than comfortable to tell you my superpower……. I am a learner….. and I’m now comfortable saying I am bloody good at it.
Do we, as coaches, truly allow our players to learn or are we too caught up in the idea they need us to teach them? I believe, very strongly, players don’t need us. They can, and will, get better without us so it is crucial we create healthy learning environments where their learning can flourish.
The end goal is to create an independent, self-reliant, problem solving player who loves playing the game of tennis.
If you are lucky, you will then be asked by the player to be part of their team and you will experience inter-dependance as a coach.
Always remember, coaching is a privilege….