Considering I’ve been around tennis for over 50 years, I can honestly say that tennis is one of those sports that’s harder than it looks! From playing tennis, coaching juniors, traveling and coaching on the tour, and managing tennis programs at federations and academies – over the years I’ve been involved with tennis in different roles and from different perspectives and one of the questions I am often asked is, “What did I learn over the years?”
Tennis is a roller coaster for the player and for the coach. There are no short cuts and tennis requires both player and coach to concentrate on the long game. That means celebrating the win and learning from the loss because both offer an opportunity to improve. While you may play brilliantly, you may still lose the match because you simply won a few less points at the end of the day.
As a coach, looking at a player’s development from a long-term perspective is critical. Most players are going to lose many more matches than they will win, or in the best-case scenario it is a 50/50 split. With the exception a few of the top players with unbelievable results, for the rest there is a lot of losing going on and naturally a lot of emotion as well.
That is why consistency is key. If a player is struggling, losing focus, misbehaving or not doing what you they have been asked to do, a consistent message and steady emotions are critical. Chopping and changing the message every day depending on your mood or the mood of the player not only creates uncertainty and confusion, it makes it easy to drift away from the plan. Both coach and player need to accept that some days you win and some days you lose but, no matter what, tomorrow we go to work again. Quick fixes or tweaks often end up causing more harm than good and create a great deal of confusion at the same time. Consistency is essential so stick to the plan!
Being the best coach
Being the best coach doesn’t necessarily mean being the most famous coach or the most expensive coach. Being the best coach is a result of the relationship between a player and coach—the player makes the coach as much as the coach makes the player, no matter what people say. Of course, the coach’s ability, experience and character are all important but a coach makes only a small input on a player’s game in the end. In turn, the player needs to possess the character, capabilities and talent to reach their personal goals. A coach is like a guide, keeping a player on the path they’ve chosen. For me personally, some of my best coaching was with players that never made it to the tour even though they improved and got closer to their goals. Regardless, as a coach being humble is key and keeping your feet on the ground and head out of the clouds has always been my motto.
Using the data
It is clear that embracing technology and making it part of coaching strategy is not a choice, it’s a necessity. I have seen first-hand how coaches are using the available technology and analytics as tools to improve a player’s game. There are so many powerful tools on the market today, and combined with the statistical data available so, as a coach, understanding how to use this information, extracting what you as a coach thinks is most important for your players and synthesizing that into a coaching message will be not only strategic but also essential.
I’ve seen juniors trying to hit a winner after the first shot, being too aggressive and forcing it instead of playing with controlled aggression. Following the data blindly without considering where the player is in their game might not always get you where you want to be. In the end, you still need to hit the ball back, you still need to rally the ball, you still need to defend, and you still need to learn how to take time away from your opponent. Paralysis by analysis is something to avoid. With all the statistics, video capabilities and information that are readily available, learning how not to over coach is going to be key.
Biting your tongue
Like any good coach, your natural instinct is to want to help. Sometimes just listening to a player is the best thing you can do. Realizing that silence can be golden is one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my years of coaching. It wasn’t always easy but I learned when to keep my mouth shut and even at times bite my tongue because I thought, “Okay, now is not the time but I will save it for later, for the right moment.” So, listen to your player and think before you speak because sometimes you only get that one shot to reach them and you might do more harm than good.
Tennis has always been an important part of my life and I’ve been fortunate enough to stay involved in the sport through the years. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that successful coaching creates a healthy competitive environment that forms and influences a space for success. As well, in today’s game incorporating technology and analytical data into the coaching toolbox is something all coaches need to bring onboard. And just like in life, in tennis you need to avoid getting lost in the noise by staying consistent and keeping your focus on the plan. Perhaps most important though, being a good tennis coach is about teaching, and teaching is about listening to your student.
Rohan Goetzke is the Director of High Performance at Bogota Racquet Club. He began his tennis career in Australia and competed on the professional circuit in Australian and European tournaments, before taking a coaching opportunity at a private tennis club in Belarus. After that, he rose up the ranks of the Dutch Tennis Federation as Technical Director and National Head Coach. He has coached top players such as Richard Krajicek and Mario Ancic, helping the former win the Wimbledon singles title in 1996.