How to Develop Strong Tennis Players

There is the second part of the interview with Chris Lewis, a tennis coach of America’s most promising young tennis players. He is talking about a secret of the most successful tennis program in the U.S.

Chris Lewis and John McEnroe

You are now a tennis coach at Woodbridge Tennis Club. All of your players are local kids, most of them go to a regular school and train after school hours. But their results are much more impressive in comparison to kids who play tennis 25-30 hours a week at tennis academies. What is the secret to this impressive success? 

At the most fundamental level, the key to the success we’ve had at Woodbridge Tennis Club is the quality of the coaching staff. Our team comprises Chuck Brymer, the Tennis Director, who is driven by a single objective; namely, to produce results; Erik Nyman, former number one at BYU, and an exceptionally hard working, highly competent tennis coach who is also success-oriented and passionate about developing talent; Jim Strong, who has a formidable record in producing national junior champions, Steve DeSilva, who not only knows his way around a court, but who also has a tremendous ability to pass that knowledge on to his students, and Chris Paish, who comes from a tennis background, played at a good competitive level, and fully understands what achievement and success require.

But that’s just the start. Admittedly, a great start, but having a first class group of individual coaches is not nearly enough to guarantee success if the way the program is structured inhibits individual initiative, breeds conflicts or stifles growth. At Woodbridge, all the tennis coaches are there because they want to be there. In fact, I would go further and say that they love being there. And when you combine the competence of each individual with that sort of passion all working together in a voluntary association, what that gives rise to is a culture of excellence where success is inevitable.

To make my point, just last week at the Easter Bowl, two of my students, Gage Brymer and Mayo Hibi, respectively won the Boys 18’s singles title (Gage also won the 16’s two years ago) and the Girls 18’s singles title. Both Gage and Mayo also work extensively with their fathers, and in Mayo’s case, she also receives major input from former pro, Debbie Graham. From such a small geographical pool of junior players, to have produced back to back age group winners in international junior events like the Orange Bowl, winners of the Eddie Herr junior international event, winners of Group 1 ITF events, winners of too many national junior tournaments to mention, winners of SoCal’s Triple Crown, and the development of a number of number one ranked players in their age group in the USA, is no coincidence. My contention is that no matter how good an individual coach is, if the environment within which the coaches and parents operate is disharmonious, the players and their results will suffer.

To further make my point, it’s always a very useful exercise to contrast what we have in place at Woodbridge Tennis Club with a program whose structure would be the exact opposite. The hallmarks of such a program would be bureaucracy, centralization, regimentation, conformity and involuntary association. The program would be very authoritarian in nature, a program that would be more about regulation than creativity, a program where players were treated more like statistics or temporary flavors of the month than as people, a program where coaches would be increasingly asked to ignore their own knowledge and instead substitute instructions and orders from whoever is in charge. Why? Because whoever is in charge, like any other bureaucratic mentality, would believe he has a monopoly on tennis knowledge and is driven by a desire to impose it on everybody else. What then follows is that the program is quickly infected by coach resentment, morale suffers, infighting and professional jealousy become the order of the day, and the program becomes more and more about job politics than about producing results. As a further consequence, the best individuals, both coaches and players, unable to stand such a toxic environment any longer, become disillusioned and seek a healthier and far more pleasant place to work.

Invariably, such programs are renowned for having a revolving door approach to player recruitment and coach retention. Recruiting players becomes an exercise in attempting to steal players from other, far more successful programs, and hiring and retaining coaches increasingly becomes an exercise in looking for coaches who would rather nod their heads in agreement than act on their own independent thought.

If you are reading this, and you suspect — or even worse — know that you are involved with such a tennis program, with your best interests in mind, the best advice I can give you is to get out of the program as fast as you can.

In contrast, at Woodbridge Tennis Club, the only recruitment tool we utilize is word of mouth. We don’t advertise, we don’t recruit, we just put our heads down, work and let the results speak for themselves. Accordingly, we have a phone that rings off the hook and a waiting list a mile long.


How to Develop Strong Tennis Players — 1 Comment

  1. Their program is not transparent and selective in training only the best tennis players and not those that wants to play tennis and trains them to be at their best. Very bias!