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Team Coach 7 Sharpening and Taking Care of Your Tools

June 2016

If we zoom out a bit to discuss the texture of our relationships in the greater coaching community, we can identify with three or more categories of meddle. When we are new to coaching we have rough edges. As we enter the nexus of our physical, mental and emotional discipline coupled with years of experience the potential is there for us to become polished smooth and shiny. Regardless of any pinnacle of achievement we may have attained we all succumb to the rust. It takes a lot of time and energy to take the iron ore of raw coaching ability to remove the rough edges and shape it into a strong set of tools.

Who I Am Hates Who I Have Been

Everyone starts as a raw product, and I am not a stranger to that. In fact in the stories I tell here, I see some glimpses of my former self and it’s not a great feeling, but we need to accept ourselves, acknowledge our flaws and continue to work on them. After 28 years of coaching, I do believe that the work from so many years of learning and working to refine, have produced some tools that others can use. We at USATennisCoach are also working hard to push back the onset of rust. We are certainly driven to provide a high level of service to the coaching community at large. That’s what its all about, serving. The older rusty ones still have a wealth to offer, those with the shiny tools are maybe better equipped to translate that knowledge to the new generation, and the new generation should speak up, but also be eager to learn and be molded by those with sharper tools than their own. We want to work with up and coming coaches, collaborate early and often everyone, especially our peers, and all lean toward the deep tennis knowledge of the all time greats. Which leads to some recent examples of how this all works, and how the mining process breaks down.

Mentorship or Gatekeeping?

I have had some interesting interactions with coaches at various levels in the past few days, and they speak the nature of geology of coaching. I had the distinct privilege to spend an hour with Steve Keller, Director of Education for the PTR. The intent of which was not to curry favor, learn or teach, but simply to get to know one another better. Steve is a friendly guy, and while it might seem that it’s status quo, really we find that there are some crusty nuggets out there with sharp edges that they don’t mind who they infect. Steve as are pretty much all of the PTR brass are quite polished and with a shine that says ‘ready for service’. Steve if you read this, thank you for the hand of friendship. Steve delivered a great talk in Irvine, CA geared toward some of he issues that get overlooked in coaching, and where are we headed as a tennis nation. Steve also offered to collaborate, which is awesome, and for the time being USATennisCoach plans to be staunchly independent until we have established our own identity.

One of the topics that came up in Steve and I, our talk, was reaching out the venerable genius’ of our sport, the rusty ones if you will. The coaches with immense experience, and have seen all the trends and fads, and now their metal is weathered, but tried and true. Our mission is to reach them, mine those vital truths so we can share them with the next generation. You can find some of my interviews with many coaches, but a large percentage of them are in the 70s and 80s and some have since passed. You can download an mp3 from the player to keep, and it’s all FREE.

Push Back, Giving Voice to Dissent, Empowering Tough Questions

Which brings us to my talk in Irvine, and I was pleased that it was so well received. There was an interesting moment in my ‘player centered coaching’ presentation of “How to get your players to the net.” I was going through the part of the talk which is the hard part, the part when coaches work to execute it, players will have difficulty. They will have extreme difficulty and want to stop. There is no getting around the fact that when you challenge players with having only one serve, and that the returner must come to the net, that it’s going to be pretty ugly for at least 10 to 15 minutes. They will miss serves, they will miss approach shots, there will be very few points won at net. But give it 20-30 minutes and the serves will go in, the approach shots will be made and players will gain experience. We must allow our players to struggle under assigned challenges. So a young man in his mid to late twenties or so, asked me with a challenging “Questatement”, (Which is a common things coaches do to other coaches, they ask questions that are really statements.) His offering was something to the affect of, “I have a problem with when you say the player MUST come to the net. They should have to make a decision. So you really make them come to the net? It doesn’t seem realistic.”

Stop and think for a moment about how you might react to that moment, when you are talking. Do you want someone to do that? Would an interaction like that be a problem? Do you want your ideas openly tested in front of 60 people? I do! I have tremendous respect for a young coach who will put themselves out with their opinion, like that. So I answered the coach, “Yes, absolutely, I put the players in a position where they have no choice, because I know that given the choice, they won’t do it. The decision has been made for them, and all they now need do is execute. It’s freeing, rather than restricting. And, yes you are right it’s not realistic, but in the next step of the progression over a number of days, it becomes more realistic, and in the following step after that, even more so, then the decision making is trained. Players then learn automatically to recognize a short ball and attack it by moving forward to make an approach.”

Test Everything

Later, a few different veteran coaches said things to me like “Way to put that young buck in his place.” Wow, I thought, that’s not what I was doing, I was engaging with his challenge, answering it fully, and I am thankful he did that, because without it, no one else would have seen the answer to the objection of doing the most crucial step of the progression, so without his challenge then the talk would have not have been as valuable. I hope my tone was not punitive, and I expressed my appreciation to that guy for his great challenge. Perhaps he was a little rough in the way he expressed it, but lets say the way I responded showed him a more refined approach, just as it did the veteran coaches who still have their barbs showing. So I was glad that these experienced coaches said that to me, so I could answer that I liked the question, and that I saw value in it for everyone. I hope that clipped the edge of a barb right there.


We see on different levels. Young coaches emerging, experienced coaches working with well polished tools together, or using still unfinished tools to make imprecise cuts, and finally someone to bring them together to do the same work all together in community.

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