Connecting with Players

The coach / player relationship is one of, if not the most important ingredients to success for a player.

To form a successful relationship, a coach needs to understand their player and as always, tailor their coaching style, including communication methods and delivery methods, to say more while speaking less.

Confused? Maybe. That’s ok. Am I always right? Probably not, but these are my experiences both on the pro tour, junior tour, college, and local players.

Regardless of what country the player is from, or what cultural, language and lifestyle differences the coach and player have, connecting on a deeper level than forehands and backhands while always break down any relationship barriers.

Critical things a coach needs to research or ascertain quickly when working with a new player can include: Age, Interests on and off court, Pain threshold in practice, language barriers, parent/family values, and Tennis IQ.

Coaches dont need to rush out and create marketing campaigns or speak out of character using words and expressions that are not at the core of who they are and what their coaching philosophy is all about. If they understand their player, good coaches will always be mindful of what they say and how they say it.

In my experience, keeping up with social trends has helped ‘break the ice’ with players of all levels in times where a player needs support. Social trends such as movies, TV shows, music, pop culture, food, cars, and much much more are very helpful. The list is actually endless.

As I’ve said before, when traveling with a player on tour, the relationship is fickle and an absolute roller coaster. Winning and losing is all that matters to an established mature player. It’s pretty easy when you are winning. But when things aren’t going so well, that’s what tests even the most solid relationships.

What you and your player do on days off, where you eat, religion (temple or church visits), shopping, and watching other sports are often one of the first things I like to understand about the player I’m working with.

This helps me plan ahead when things are going well or not so well.

Like I said, some coaches are stricter than me and probably look at other things such as statistics, match data, and other tangible things to connect and have a mutual understanding with a player. This isnt wrong. In fact, some players probably prefer this.

Regardless of the connection style a coach tries, the core of any connection is respect and honesty.

Fight to win, or go down swinging?

It’s been 20 years to the almost exact day that the only recorded NCAA Division 1 tennis match ended in an all in brawl. Yep, an all in brawl! During my freshman year, Austin Peay vs Tennessee Tech ended in a double TKO when all of the courts cleared for good old fashioned melee.

College tennis didn’t feature prominently in the news despite the quality of players playing at the time. From memory I can vaguely remember that the Bryan brothers were playing at Stanford and James Blake was playing at Harvard, obviously all went on to have amazing professional careers. (Ironically, the Bryan’s were known for their singles at this stage of their careers)

It would take something out of the ordinary to gain publicity back then. But then Austin Peay State University vs Tennessee Tech University happened. In fact, the brawl made ESPN Sportscentre, the ‘USA Today’ and various other national and regional newspapers. Thankfully this was a time before online social media, otherwise I’m sure it would have been a worldwide online viral sensation!

Going into the match there was some history between our two teams. Simply put, we didnt like each other. Tech’s assistant coach would do things like stand behind the court during doubles matches and yell out to his team what hand signals we were using and things like that. The last time we played some words had been exchanged (which wasn’t uncommon) but there was some still some tension and it showed on this day.

Our number 3 singles player was a guy named Steve from Florida. He was a serve and volley style player and played with a lot of emotion. (In fact, he once won a deciding rubber and after shaking his opponents hand, rode his racquet like a horse around the court cheering and pretending to whip its butt. Still one of the funniest things I have ever seen on a court!)

Steve was playing Gustavo from Tennessee Tech. On a change of ends Steve and Gustavo exchanged words, heated words. Things escalated quickly and out of nowhere Gustavo punched Steve in the face!!! The umpire had no choice but to default Gustavo and award Steve the match. Naturally the two didn’t shake hands as they had to be separated. As Steve walked off the court his opponent chased him and they physically got into it. Then court by court, players cleared and an all in brawl ensued!

Haymakers were being thrown everywhere and the referee defaulted everyone. Marcus from Sydney was our number 6 player and in an attempt to break up the fight put an opponent named Volkan in a Rugby League style spear tackle that had to be seen to be believed. Our number 1 player Pavel was a massive unit and was first on the scene to try to break things up. Even our team booster and number 1 fan, George, who was in his 70’s, but nonetheless a former green beret US soldior, got caught up in the brawl. I didnt see it, but our beautiful female assistant coach Angie from Canada was seen in amongst it!

From Austin Peay, Steve was suspended for 2 matches, while Marcus and Pavel were given 1 match suspensions.

For Tennessee Tech, Gustavo and Volkan were banned for 5 matches

The match gave our team our 15 minutes of fame and gives the expression ‘Fight to win’ a whole new meaning!

8 minute noodors

In 2016, I was coaching a player who I thought would clearly qualify in the last round of the $25,000 ITF in Bangkok She was seeded #1 in the qualifying.

Enter Jihee Lee from Korea

This Korean girl was an unseeded grinder. A nasty lefty grinder. She beat the girl I was coaching. Jihee never gave up a free point!

After the match I congratulated Jihee and from that moment I knew she was special. She was very humble and almost too nice.

I had a chat with her and the first thing I noticed was her Tennis IQ…

It was out of this world! I gave her my email, Facebook, phone number, and told her when she was ready to retire and coach, to call me.

I didn’t hold my breath but she did. Still capable of running amok on tour we planned her coming to Melbourne and dominating the coaching scene. That she did.

She is a one eyed Collingwood supporter and Jeremy Howe is missing out on this catch

She slotted into coaching so easily I never asked her about her philosophy, goals or anything like that. I knew she was good.

All I know is that she has been there and done that. She is too humble to tell you how good she is. She is the best!

Why 8 minute noodors? Because 2 minute noodors with her takes 6 minutes talking and 2 minutes eating.

Love you Jihee xoxo

A coaching philosophy and branding in tennis

This blog isn’t about who is a good coach and who isnt. In just throwing up and occasional lob.

I’ve applied for four jobs in my club coaching career and been successful three out of the four times. I’ve always thought I prepared for the interviews well by refining my coaching philosophy, providing up to date examples of how I have developed players from grass roots to college or pro tour, dropped names of top 100 players I have worked with, wins against top 10 players, and even brought my racquet and wore tennis clothes to the interviews in case by the off chance the people interviewing me wanted to see if I could feed a ball let alone actually coach! Alas, I’ve never been asked to prove I can hit a ball (some may say that’s lucky) and I’ve always noticed the guys before and after me wore business suits and a tie…

One noticable thing that was never asked of me during club coaching interviews was what my coaching philosophy was… I will come back to this point later…

When working with grand slam level players it’s common knowledge you dont need to sell yourself or try to find players, they know who you are, what your personality is like, what your style is, and what they can gain from working with you. They will come and seek you!!

Like they say in the NBA, if you need a resume when you apply for a coaching job, forget it, you are not good enough!

Last Wednesday I had a coffee with one of Australia’s leading tennis coaches. He’s a top bloke who helped me through my Tennis Australia High Performance Coaching course 10 years ago. Amongst footy and other banter, we talked about the debacle of the ITF World Tour, local participation coaching VS performance coaching and then we got into how our coaching philosophies have evolved over the years.

A coaching philosophy is simple. It’s your defined purpose of what you do, including your values and beliefs, and then add what your coaching style is. How do you develop a coaching philosophy? That’s another blog.

My own coaching philosophy is basic. Its ” To be the coach that the player needs the most at that point in time”.

Where do I draw my inspirations and form my philosophy? I like to connect with my players on many levels – another blog.

Other sports, fashion, pop culture, comedy, and obviously my background in coaching at local, national, international, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and the Grand Slam players I have worked with also help. Networking and having a glass or 2 of vino in the players cafe at Wimbledon with other coaches certainly taught me a lot of things you cant learn in a classroom.

This brings me back to the conversation I had with the coach over coffee on Wednesday. What is the current coaching situation in Melbourne today and what are their philosophies.

There are a lot of coaches who are like tradesman. Great at the job, terrible at the business side. Or the opposite, great at running a business but not actually improving players. You only have to look on social media to see how many “Australia’s leading tennis Academies” there are. (Nevermind the run down 2 court club with holes in the nets, cracks in the court, 1960’s change rooms, and um….no high performance player!) they are still Australia’s leading tennis Academies!

The best coaches developing players in Melbourne dont have YouTube channels with videos reinventing the serve. They dont need to tell you how good they are. They don’t self promote because they probably have full schedules and dont want or need the extra work. Sure, they could delegate and delegate, but they know that would dilute the quality of their product.

Bored of my rant so far? Probably, but thanks for reading this much. Game of thrones comes back soon so go catch up and rewatch.

So what about the branding of coaching businesses? Well, the beauty of social media and the internet is that you can say whatever you want and nobody can stop you! I know of a local coach who last year had a losing record in grade 9 pennant but is a self annointed former professional player who has developed numerous national level players. Nobody has ever seen his alleged professional playing career or heard of these players he has developed, but it was on his gumtree ad so it must be true.

Branding, branding, branding!

The real problem here is that branding isn’t what you put on your brochure, flyer or business card. It’s not even your new tracksuit, t-shirt or sunglasses. These things might differentiate one business from another, but it’s definitely not your brand!

A strong brand is what people say about you when you are not there.

Coaches can invest as much time and money into their advertising campaigns and unless their is more ‘sausage’ than ‘sizzle’ in their performance and results, unfortunately they are just selling ‘snake oil’.

Having said this, when working with a tour player and on the road in a country where I can’t speak the language or know directions, nine out of ten times I’m always asked the same question after the first practice session…. “What do you want to do for dinner?”

I’m not hating on anyone, it’s just my occasional lob.

See you on the court.

Matt

The Warm Up….

It’s been over 15 years that I have been involved in tennis coaching.

I have seen many things at local, national, and international level and want to share with readers my experiences, perceptions, and knowledge of what I have seen first hand.

I hope that you enjoy my blog which I have aptly named ‘The Occasional Lob’.

Like tennis, every game starts with love.

Love, Matt