Teaching vs. Coaching

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Honestly, after checking out every dictionary, the great minds have concluded that both “teaching” and “coaching” are synonymous—and no one will ever argue with that. But, how about trying to look at it in a different way? What can be so different about teaching and coaching? How could they be?

When one mentions “teaching,” the classroom flashes, and nothing more—well obviously, the headaches of homework, (the always annoying) pop quizzes, tests, exams, your friend bothering from behind, etc. also come to mind.

When one says “coaching,” in my case, I recognize an instructor in my head telling me to run laps for not hitting a target and using my volleys in the corner target of the court in a five-min. time span. As opposed to a teacher, who I was fortunate enough to encounter and expressed: “It’s good to set up the volley at that point because it will give a higher percentage of winning the point.” This will reflect both in terms of learning a stroke as well. Teachers will break down a particular stroke and explain the reason behind the technique, as opposed to coaches, (well, most coaches, in my opinion), who will likely just show you the technique and would likely say, “Just do it this way, imitate me, and it will work” (of course, I’m exaggerating here!).

I believe the difference between teachers and coaches is simple … it’s not what one says, it’s how one says it—and how one describes something—and to who—whether it be eloquently or just plain bluntly. It is about ‘what you say to who you say and how you say’ is the basic idea behind coaching versus teaching.

I would like to emphasize, again, that this is based upon on my personal experiences in tennis, both playing and working—and might not reflect yours. I’ve had both types of “instructors”—teachers and coaches—and teachers have helped me at certain levels (beginners to intermediates), while coaches have helped me at other levels (intermediate to advanced levels).

In our academy, we encounter a variety of players of all ages and levels—from the basic 10 & Under QuickStart players, to advanced ranked juniors. They are all unique in their way of learning and understanding and being who they really are! Instructors have to understand that children are unique, and that their minds are still developing, trying to sort out the good from the bad, right from wrong, and what is fun and not fun. Adults, to some extent, already know what is right for them and are reluctant to change their ways. Kids, on the other hand, are sponges—always absorbing what they see or hear and as instructors, we must take advantage of this and realize that every player/student of the game learns the game in their own way.

The maturation as a person and a player (physically) are not one and the same. Over the years, I have encountered different sets of instructions from different perspectives, and I’ve had the good fortune to learn certain things at certain levels—good, proper guidance, is what I call it. The beauty of learning from both personalities of instructors is that players can thrive at certain levels/ages of learning the game.

I believe that teachers and coaches are the same, but the tone or how they project information is what differentiates the two. For me, I was extremely fortunate to have teachers who were calm, collective, and most importantly, had the patience of a saint (remember, every student of the game is unique and will learn the sport in their own way). I’ve also been surrounded by coaches who are prone to be boisterous and aggressive—whereas this is the exact opposite of what teachers are—to some extent.

Instructors have to indentify the personality of a student, their background, enthusiasm, humility, competitiveness—to name a few—to see and evaluate what method of instruction is best for them. The method I would describe would be the personality of the instructor: Whether they are a teacher or a coach. As an instructor, I cannot, in the right frame of mind, instruct or work with a player the way I was instructed—because every player/person learns differently and should be handled with care.

Most people who have studied education and have done extensive research in the field of neuroscience have shown that every person is different—this is not news and this should remind us of fingerprints or snowflakes and every one of them is unique and learn the fundamentals of their livelihood differently. Some are auditory maestros, and some are visually-orientated, while some can do both.

I grew up with players and coaches who instructed me to do it do the way they did—I was never as talented or athletically gifted as my instructors. But they thought that if it worked for them—the way they were taught—it would eventually work for me. To this day, and in my humble opinion, I have to decline that and I never became or came close to who they were. However, I was fortunate enough to learn from them and be successful to a certain degree. My instructors and I are not the same … never were and never will be.

Some love to see a pro in action and imitate them, whereas some players want to see a video of themselves and compare it to the ability of a pro—both are visual learners, but are learners nonetheless. Some players can actually repeat what you tell them auditoria—“brush the outside part of the ball using your wrist, which will get you to hit cross-courts”—and they instantly grab the concept and run with it (of course, a few dead ball drills help)—but you get the idea.

The next time you are with a player on the court, have an open mind to your instructing skills and take a step back and evaluate and educate. There is no wrong way to accommodate a player to their needs.