top of page

Athlete Centered Coach 24. Develop Decision Makers, Early and Often

I am not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions. ~ Stephen Covey

All three of our last three posts could have occurred in a different order. We started very heavy with the ultimate consequences of leaving the character development, as it pertains to our athletes in the arena of our influence, to someone else. I am not talking about going out of our way on a regular basis to be a surrogate parent. Yes, we do play a role, and many times coaches can be heroes to a family, when youngsters go astray. Parents many times struggle with difficult, powerful, unmotivated and special needs children. A coach many times can be the other reasonable and respected adult who can be the perfect influence, and affirm the values of the family.


Ultimately, when we use progressive discipline, the youngster has an opportunity to make a better choice at any point along the way. When we use progressive discipline, and we have not repeated steps, but move up in levels of action, we have a stronger basis with parents. Establishing trust with parents can be done more easily when we can prove that the call home is not part of a knee jerk reaction, but a measured strategy to intervene in the child’s decision making. When young participants choose wisely, then we have a chance to praise them for their good choice. If they continue to choose poorly, allowing the parents a moment to work their magic with their own child makes our job easier. After the parent has had a chance to talk with the player, we will quickly see if they intend to continue to make bad choices. From there, we can decide how much tolerance can be shown, or whether the student is too much of a disruptive influence. Using the progressive discipline template, making it work for you is vital to the overall effectiveness of your program. It’s completely up to you to decide how to escalate the consequences, or remain at a certain level.


In cases where players seem to lack self control to some degree and might be a mild distraction at times, we can help them to learn a better measure, but we might not need to go to the point of suspending them from the program. Other at-risk youth can be toxic to an entire program because of the extreme negativity, lack of self control, or danger they bring to the program. Players who are not safe with their racquets can injure other players easily. Explaining an injury to one of your best behaved players from your worst behaved player, is not something you want to have to do with that parent. If you have allowed the unsafe condition to persist, then you the coach would have to take responsibility for allowing that. Over 29 years of coaching, I have had a couple of instances where young participants uttered overt racial insults. We have zero tolerance for that, so we immediately suspended that player in lieu of a sincere apology, with the acknowledgement of how harmful that is to the other person, and the overall camp. At other times, we have had players who were so uncooperative, negative, or demeaning with others that we took them through every step of our progression, with the hope that they might change their choices, but when they proved that they would not over six steps, and many different interventions, then we gladly removed the player. In most cases there was a dramatic difference in the culture of the program with the subtraction of one negative influence.

Growth Not Loss

Now I know that some people may find that as harsh, and they may believe that we have lost a player and it may hurt the game. I counter with this, that perhaps the good kids in your program will leave, when you show that you don’t value good behavior. More often than not, parents who value good behavior may take their player to another program. Also, the middle of the road players may decide its ok to act up, and your program is negatively influenced by the inaction of dealing with the situation. So you have more to lose by being overly permissive, than you do in the short run of losing a player. The game also grows, and in a more healthy way. My general rule of thumb is that I see three more students joining the program, within a few weeks of letting a disruptive player go. A camp program I took over averaged about 25 kids per week with some serious dips under 20 in the summer before I arrived. In our first year, I called every parent from the previous summer to let them know what we were going to do in terms of a more disciplined and fun camp. We averaged over 32 players per camp. By the next summer, we had to cap our weekly attendance at 38 students per camp. The word got out, and kids really loved coming to our camp, many called it the highlight of their summer. This after we dealt with some hard issues.

Learn from Previous Years

I had heard that the previous camp director was not really directly involved with discipline. Camp counselors were known for yelling at the campers, and punishing them with running laps if they hit a ball over the fence. This, of course, functioned to give negative attention to those who did that, and they responded by hitting many balls over the fence.

Don’t Get Sucked Into the Vortex

In the first few minutes of the very first camp I ran at that club, a player known for being among the worst behaved, hit a ball over the fence. All eyes were on me. I pretended like I didn’t even see it.

Kids: “Aren’t you going to make him run a lap?”

Me: “Why would I do that?”

Kids: “Because that’s what they did last year!”

Me: “This isn’t last year.”

Flip the Script

At the end of the activity I took a moment with the player who had hit a ball over the fence and politely asked him, “Please don’t hit balls over the fence, yes it can happen accidentally, but let’s not do it on purpose. Balls are expensive.” Where the camp the year before had maybe hundreds of balls over the fence, we had only a few, and we never punished players for it, unless it was clearly intentional. We then used progressive discipline to snuff out that behavior, without granting negative attention to the player who was doing it. Players chose to play tennis, instead of seeking negative attention, and our tennis got better and better. Very little time was lost with players running laps, distracting their campmates, and retrieving balls. Much more time was spent hitting the ball, and doing it well. We gave players a lot of attention for their massive improvements over the week.

Yesterday a 7 year old little wild girl broke one of my on court rules. I asked her if she knew the rule. She tried to answer with a question. I asked her to state the rule. She did, but not without some determination on my part. Then I asked her who is in charge of making sure she follows my rules. She said that I am. I asked again, who is in charge of YOU following the rules. She said that she was and we moved on...


Do You Want To Know When A New Post Is Available?

Coming Soon: The Complete Guide to Coaching Team Tennis Course with David Smith.


Jack Broudy System Of Technique

Visual Training For Tennis 4th Edition

Blazepods are a Great Visual Training, Decision Making Tool

SwingVision - A Game Changer!

SpecTennis - A Much More Tennis Like Alternative to Pickleball Played On Tennis or Pickleball Courts

High School Tennis Coaches Group


Take the 30-day generosity challenge! For 30 days, tip everyone who gives you service, at the coffee shop, rideshare driver, hair cut, etc. You will be surprised at the good things coming your way!

you can Venmo a couple of bucks to @billpatton720

Bill Patton's Books

Bill Patton's Coach Tube Courses

I look forward to your comments, if you comment I will respond, but not looking to have a huge conversation!

Thank you for watching, it’s like a convention every day with no travel expenses or registration fees.

If you would like to book me as a Keynote, MC, or to give a presentation on:

* The Art of Coaching High School Tennis

* Visual Training for Tennis

* How to get Your Players to the Net

* Top 5 Strategies and Tactics for Winning Tennis

Tennis, coaching, strokes, backhand, shot combinations, strategy, Uspta, ptr, etc, tennis Haus, tennis congress, essential tennis, Bill Patton, the art of coaching high school tennis, tennis evolution, the art of winning, transform the practice court, USTA player development, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Serena Williams Essential tennis, fuzzy yellow balls, Brent Abel,, Jeff Salzenstein, evolution tennis, USTA, Uspta, ptr, Roger Federer, strategy and tactics, athlete-centered coach, Bill Patton, tennis lessons, how to, Styrling Strother, brain game tennis, the art of winning, dan Travis, Wimbledon 2021, dominant eye tennis, Robert Lansdorp, Vic Braden

Recent Posts

See All

NetPlay Blog #1

Those seen dancing were thought mad by those who could not hear the music. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche Introduction You have probably reached a point of pain in your net game, something has triggered your c

My Headspace #8 Relaxation and Concentration

I’m writing today from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, although some may call it the foothills, even though we are are 4,500 feet. It feels mountainy enough for me. And yes, this post may have some new


bottom of page