Tennis is one of those unique sports in that for the majority of a junior’s competitive career, the only people who consistently watch them play are their parents. Unlike team sports where the coach is with the team at practice and matches, tennis coaches often coach their hour-long private lesson and go home. That isn’t to say that coaches do a bad job, but it’s more of a criticism of player development as a whole. Take any weekend to go to a USTA tournament and you will find a sea of parents more confused about how to keep score than trying to analyze their child’s game. At best, most parents have played tennis at the recreational level. They don’t have the depth of understanding needed to really help their children progress in the sport, which is why they spend so much money on tennis lessons.
This is part of the reason why Tournament Support Programs are such a vital necessity. To fully develop a player at every level of the game, there needs to be coaching at every level of the game.
Having a tournament support team for junior players immediately gives these players an upper hand compared to players that don’t. For coaches, watching their player compete in this environment gives them a first-hand look at the product of their development. All players and coaches will tell you that tournament play is completely different from practice and, more often than not, the player’s performance will differ vastly from practice in the early stages of development. The ability for coaches to see the difference between practice and match play will give them a lot of insight into what their player needs to improve on.
For players, the benefit is having a coach there who can give feedback immediately after the match when it is still fresh in their minds. Even though parents can give some feedback, they are less likely to give the in-depth analysis needed that a coach can provide. However, there is more that can be provided than just the analysis of the player’s performance. Coaches can scout potential opponents to give their players an upper hand early in the match or they can help strategize to develop game plans and winning patterns of play. However, by being at tournaments and watching their players play under pressure, they are able to see another side of their players. This last part is often overlooked, but is the most important part of the game.
Seeing players play in stressful situations gives coaches a whole new insight into how their player competes, and what they need help with on the mental side of the game. But what is more valuable, and something that most coaches overlook, is the shared experiences players and coaches will have; these experiences build trust. This is much more important than one may think as having a player that doesn’t trust in the coaching staff may lead to arguments and many wasted hours on the court. Learning what a player likes off the court and being able to connect with them beyond tennis will create a much stronger player-coach bond and a stronger mentor-trainee dynamic. To fully understand what shortcomings a player has when it comes to the mental development of the game, a coach has to be able to get into the head of the player. Shared experiences and spending time with the player is how this is done, and will give coaches a much better idea of how to help that player on the other side of the game.
At the end of the day, the goal of a Tournament Support Program is to give players more feedback to create a well-rounded player. If you do not have enough coaching for all areas of the game, you’ll end up with a player that has severe deficiencies. By having coaches go to tournaments with players, we have the ability to develop the competitive side of the game. Practice and lessons can only do so much, but true match play can never be recreated in practice.
Learning a players habits, strengths and weaknesses, or what makes them nervous/confident, are aspects of the game that the Tournament Support Program deals with first hand. This is where huge improvements can be made in a specific player’s game, but also where improvements can be made in junior development as a whole.
Caleb Astwood is a tennis coach and the Tournament Support Director at Centercourt Tennis Academy. He is an alumnus of Centercourt’s High Performance Full Time Tennis program, and played collegiately at Wittenberg University. He is an ATPCA Level One Internationally Qualified Coach, and he serves as Centercourt’s Match Charting and Lead Analytics Coach. Astwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.