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“Come on, you have to move your feet or it’s not worth our time,” I sternly remarked to my slow-moving teenage student. “Go, go, go, you can get to that ball,” I continued. One of the greatest coaching challenges is when the young student just doesn’t want to be on the tennis court. There is that very delicate fine line where the coach needs to push the player but not drive too hard because you don’t want to lose the student forever. As luck would have it, one of my adult friends was watching with his wife and she was completely intimidated. Fortunately, my good friend was able to explain to his bride that coaches sometimes have to know to push a particular button to motivate.
Sadly, there are many people who do not understand that coaches wear many different hats to adjust to various situations. So, for one particular junior clinic, the coach may have to be hard-driving and almost forceful. Where on the other hand, when a coach is teaching a 2.0 or 2.5 level player, he reaches into his teaching toolbox and utilizes a different approach. Believe me, top tennis coaches (I have been surrounded by some of the best people in the world) understand how to communicate with all levels of the game and have had great success. If we have 12 different people in a drill class, each person has a special set of requirements. With a dozen people on three different courts, a handful of students will desire an aggressive coaching approach. On the other hand, there are at least two or three players who cannot handle criticism and the coach must tread lightly. And, to round out the group, there are two or three students who can process constructive criticism but it needs to be delicately presented.
Every pro has a group class where the tennis players (often, men) really don’t want to listen to too much coaching. In this case, the pro will run a variety of fast-paced drills to keep the tempo as fast as possible. We have classes where one person loves to ask questions but the pro must be aware of the pace of the class as the others may wish to move and sweat. One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever heard was offered from a pro/psychologist from San Diego who offered this nugget. “Doug, you can yell as loud as you want at an extroverted kid but be as quiet as a mouse with an introverted person. Believe me; the quiet kid can hear your quiet voice from a hundred yards away. If you ever make the mistake of yelling at that quiet player, it will take quite a while to win back her trust,” Mike Swanson explained to me.
Literally, two days later, I was at the Jack Kramer Tennis Club in the greater LA area when I was on-court coaching Pete Sampras! Fortunately for me, the day before we hit the courts, we played basketball together for almost three hours and I got to know him and his personality. He was shy but not taciturn so I knew that he could be engaged into a conversation on the tennis court. For one solid hour, he would strike a ball during a drill and then quickly ask me if it was the right shot. “Your back hip turned too quickly on that backhand down the line so you have to hold it longer or you can’t go down the line,” I said to 18 year-old Pete. Without fail, he was open to my suggestion and then wanted to try the idea on the next ball. Winners love to absorb information and simply gobble it up so they can continually develop.
Unfortunately, insecure people are so afraid to listen to criticism that they don’t allow growth because they are threatened by it. The key is to understand that high-level tennis professionals have the capacity to adapt to any level player and adjust to all kinds of personalities. Most competitive people are fueled by trials and it is invigorating to connect with all sorts of different on-court characters. When I observe my outstanding coaches; one minute they are encouraging brand new five-year old kids and the next hour they are teaching a competitive championship ladies’ team with great results. Great coaches are versatile and they know how to teach just about anyone who wishes to hit the tennis court.
Doug Browne is the Hideaway Beach Tennis Director and the new Collier County USPTA Pro of the Year. Additionally, Doug has been the International Hall of Fame Director of Tennis this past summer. Doug has been writing his tennis column for the past fifteen years and welcomes your feedback.