What Makes a Good Tennis Coach
The Best Tennis Coaches Make your Classes Worthwhile
There are many tennis coaches and academies in Singapore, so how shall we decide on what makes a good tennis coach? Finding a good coach is important, as he or she is responsible for making your tennis lessons enjoyable and worthwhile. I’ll share some of my thoughts here, drawing examples from the WTA and ATP tours.
It is off-season time, which means the coach carousel has started once again. With Angelique Kerber hiring Rainer Schuettler as her coach, and Elina Svitolina promoting Andrew Bettles as her new head coach after her WTA Finals win, this round of musical chairs seems to be well underway. When trophies are carved, the only names are the players’ names. But behind those names are the teams that follow a player all year to shape the player into the person they become. Whether their coach happens to be a family member or a world-renowned coach, all professional players share one thing in common—the trust they have in their coaches and the belief that their coaches will help them achieve their goals. Here’s what I think are the attributes of a good tennis coach.
The Best Tennis Coaches are Versatile
Tennis coaches have to be versatile. There have been some partnerships that have caught our attention. One that stood out was Nishikori-Chang. Nishikori tries to paint the lines and go aggressive in his shot placement on the tennis court. Chang was used to counter-punching, retrieving every ball that landed inside the court. A partnership we thought would not work out seemed to turn out brilliantly. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era.
Once called up for the job, coaches know how to change their coaching strategy from player to player. A good tennis coach needs to understand the player’s personality and adopt a methodology that the player would be receptive to. The first few weeks of a new partnership may be rocky, and the ability of the coach to adapt will be one of the keys to building a successful coaching relationship.
The Best Tennis Coaches are Observant
Good tennis coaches have an extraordinarily keen eye for detail. They need to be very observant of the details in matches and in practice sessions. In a sport that is decided by the smallest of margins, a coach should be quick to notice when a player hits a ball with an open racquet face, and subsequently provide the appropriate advice to his or her player.
Even the best are not perfect. Roger Federer partnered up with Stefan Edberg from 2013 to 2015 to perfect his serve-and-volley game. Together, they developed the Sneak Attack by Roger (SABR), where Federer would return second serves with half-volleys, fooling opponents and then going on to break their serves with ease. If players were perfect, they would never have lost a match in their career and probably would not have needed a coach in the first place. In order to help a tennis player reach his or her fullest potential, the coach should be sensitive enough to pick out details.
The Best Tennis Coaches are Effective Communicators
Tennis coaches are also very good talkers. They learn how to get into the heads of their players. They know how to reserve comments, a good sense of the appropriate time to talk to their players, and the best way to provide advice to their players. Some players do not mind their coach beating around the bush, while others might want information straight in their faces. However, at the end of the day, whatever the message, it needs to be conveyed.
At the recent Kremlin Cup, Daria Kasatkina called her coach Philippe Dehaes on court. On the WTA tour, players are allowed to call for their coaches during the 90-second changeover break once per set (this rule only applies outside Grand Slams). What happened next must have fired up a frustrated Kasatkina and contributed to her winning the title. “Remember the Great Wall of China?” Her coach asked. “Now, I want you to be the Russian Wall!” It was these words that struck Daria, and she played some of her best tennis to eventually clinch the title in Moscow. Coaches need to be effective in their communication and say the right words at the right time to get into the heads of their players.
The Best Tennis Coaches are Goal-Oriented
Good tennis coaches should be goal oriented. This is sometimes overlooked. A tennis coach must set goals for his or her players and ensure that the players believe in those goals as much as the coach does. Whether it is getting a first win under a player’s belt or going for a Grand Slam success, tennis coaches should set the goals clearly from the start. If a tennis coach does not have the same ambition as the tennis player, it is unlikely that the partnership will work, no matter who the coach or player is.
Patrick Mouratoglou always tells Serena Williams that if she does not feel that she can win the tournament that she is in, then she should withdraw. He expects Serena to go in feeling and believing that she can win the event, rather than win one match. This drive has led to Serena picking up 10 Grand Slam titles under Patrick. Such goals fire up players, giving them the hunger and desire that would make them want to work harder and eventually win. A good tennis coach needs to help motivate the players, in the hopes that this motivation would push players to achieve great things in their careers, or in the case of club players, win a few matches.
These are some of the important qualities that I believe make up a good tennis coach. Coaching is a different ball game compared to playing, so being a great player does not make one a great coach. As a player, you should look out for these qualities in your tennis coach: versatility, observant, effective communication skills, and goal-orientedness. Once there is trust and chemistry between the coach and the player, there will be a higher chance of success in the partnership.