“The Leader in Sports Entertainment” is ESPN, and one of their top correspondents, Sal Palantonio, lectured at SUNY Oneonta where I coach men’s and women’s tennis. When he spoke, something he said resonated with me. He noted, "Always use the tools to be successful that are available to you.” A sports reporter from the leading sports network said such a simple thing and it truly resonated with me.
I am a tennis coach, and when I listen to experts in their field who have had a high degree of success, I quickly try to take their knowledge and translate it to tennis and coaching. What can I take away from Mr. Palantonio’s lecture to morph it to a valuable relatable tennis coaching session? Well, sports, and certainly our game of tennis, is a microcosm of life isn't it? What tools are available to us to improve as a tennis player or coach and augment a training session for added value to that student and player?
How about the knowledge I have gained as tennis coach? It is a growing body of science that says, “Critical parts of the brain involved in decision-making are not fully developed until years later at age 25 or so.” Not 18 and 21-years-of-age because the law says so. The tool I have is that knowledge now tells me I cannot expect a young 18- or 19-year-old to think rationally when learning the game of tennis. I often asked myself why don't young players learn the way I want them to or allow themselves to be coached by someone who not only has more experience on the tennis court but is more experienced in life? The answer may simply be science and chemistry is not allowing these players to absorb this knowledge at a rate I would wish them to.
Given the black eye that recent controversies have generated for the coaching profession, including the recent developments at Rutgers University, we, as coaches, must know a little bit about science as I have described above. Coaches need to be great teachers and not screamers or people who berate their players. When they do resort to such tactics, it may be a cover up of the coaches’ own insecurities. It is time to understand that a coach will have players who might forget their teammates and opponents, but likely will never forget their coach. A coach most often will do things for their pupils and players who will never pay them back. However, it has been said by people wiser than me that you have never had a perfect day until you have done something for someone who will never pay you back. I try very hard to keep this in mind as I continue to develop my philosophy, my drive and my approach to my students and players.
In many cases, young students/tennis players are simply not mature enough to appreciate what it is being done for them. I am not just talking about trying to teach a student the proper technique, strategy and/or mental approach to the game. I am talking about teaching them things that will lie dormant for a number of years until that player is mature enough to have that knowledge emerge as a viable tool for success in life. After all, what does tennis really teach us? It teaches us discipline, perseverance, mental discipline and fair play just to name a few which are tools that help students become better human beings.
I know many people who read New York Tennis Magazine are tennis coaches and professionals. When you read this article, please embrace the all too powerful tool that you have to make a difference in somebody's life, young or old.
Do not look for a thank you because the majority of the time, you will not get it. Here is the thanks you get … ask yourself if you made a difference today? If so, you may have changed the world a little. All done with a racquet and a tennis ball as your tools. Understand the chemistry of the young player, and it will help you understand the power you possess as a teacher. When you leave the court after teaching several hours, laying the foundation in the beginner, think that you may have just changed the world. A pretty powerful tool you have there isn't it? Your wisdom, your experience and care used as the tools channeled in the development of the tennis player are highly influential. The players will know if you care or not, if you indeed care you will be rewarded in a very meaningful way … I promise.
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.